Seriously Cool OS X Apps & Tools

While Linux remains my OS for everything “behind the scenes”, OS X has pretty much become my primary working environment in the last couple of years. When I was more X11-centric with Linux on my desktop, tailoring my working environment with various tools and hot keys was always especially crucial. I want tools to be at my fingertips, accessible by muscle-memory and well integrated.

During my vacation over the Christmas holiday I had some time to really zero in on a few apps that have piqued my interest over the last few months. I wanted to start off 2007 by sharing some pretty fabulous shareware and freeware apps that I highly recommend for your OS X desktop.

I want to give credit for a lot of these discoveries to Leo, Alex, Merlin and the TWiT gang through their various fantastic podcasts, namely: This Week in Media, MacBreak Weekly and TWiT.

More after the jump…


Quicksilver

To simply refer to this app as a launcher would be doing it a tremendous injustice. The flexibility of this app is tremendous and a little hard to describe. It really starts to shine once you begin to configure it to your own needs through its “triggers” and plug-ins.

In a nutshell, Quicksilver’s interface pops up through a hotkey of your choosing and allows you to very rapidly do… well… most anything. Launching apps is a common task, but the interface is context sensitive, minimizes keypresses and learns the things you do most so it can sort and narrow its assumptions. You can also build very complex “sentences” extremely rapidly to trigger complex events.

Cost: Free

More info: Tutorials (especially Dan Dickinson’s), Merlin’s blog posts, MacBreak episodes 12 and 17

Growl

Growl is a simple but powerful addition to your OS X desktop. Configured through a Preference Pane, Growl displays notices on your desktop from Growl-enabled applications. You control the appearance and behavior of the notifications as well as behaviors tied to priority levels, etc.

In my case, Growl pops up color-coded translucent notices near the top right of my screen, each appearing for a period of four seconds. They show me new mail I’ve received (with sender and subject), friends logging in and out of iChat, new RSS feed entries from NewsFire (see below), file transfers completed via YummyFTP (see below) and a host of other things. I’m even going to start having some of my critical Linux servers send me Growl notices via the network when various important events take place.

In a nutshell, Growl keeps me very informed about things happening all around me without so much application-switching. This is a very lightweight and powerful tool.

Cost: Free

More Info: Growl Website

Path Finder

Path Finder is considered by some to be a Finder replacement. While you likely won’t stop using the Finder for the basics, Path Finder will vastly enhance your management of files and a whole lot more. This app might well be overkill for the average user, but anyone doing more technical work, managing a lot of files, doing development work or coming from the UNIX world will definitely appreciate the power.
Tabbed windows, integrated shell access, more detailed file info and a highly customizable UI make this app a fantastic addition to the OS X environment.

Cost: $34.95

More Info: Cocoatech Website, MacBreak Episode 34

NewsFire

RSS is the glue that holds my information-driven world together. I had been using Safari’s integrated RSS abilities but was beginning to get a little annoyed with its performance and means of tracking read and unread items. NewsFire caught my eye a few weeks ago.

NewsFire is built for speed and simplicity. It allows me to group my feeds in various categories and then re-sorts the list in order of most to least unread items. The list is nicely animated and slides the feeds up and down based on relative size. More importantly, navigating the list centers around using the spacebar to rapidly page through stories and various hotkeys to flag items or open them in your browser.
Simple as it sounds, the feature to push articles to browser tabs AND keep the browser in the background is key to my love for this app. I have a tendency to flip rapidly through large batches of new feed items, marking the ones I want to read more closely. With NewsFire, I spacebar my way through batches of new items while tapping the ‘b’ key to shoot the ones I want into new tabs in Safari. After a bit, I switch to Safari and work through all the open tabs one by one to see the items I have chosen. Throw in Growl support and, for me, it’s a super workflow…

Cost: $18.99

More Info: NewsFire website

MainMenu

MainMenu gives you a menu along your top bar stuffed with great administrative, maintenance and housekeeping tools for OS X. Things like cache clearing, lookupd resets, permissions fixing, forced trash emptying, and dashboard killing all come in very handy. It’s a great, lightweight tool that I highly recommend.

Cost: Free

More Info: Santa Software website

Yummy FTP

If you want a tremendously fast and powerful FTP client, definitely check out Yummy FTP. The sheer number of options it provides is almost overwhelming. FTP is the primary means by which I move files around between my various Linux servers, so having a strong FTP tool is critical for my work.

Yummy automates interaction with various filetypes allowing you to work with tools like BBEdit so transparently that you’d think you were working off of a mounted network volume. I also love the synchronization feature that brings both sides of the connection up to date with one another, the ability to watch folders to automate transfers and a great droplet system.

Cost: $25.00

More Info: Yummy Software website

I hope others will find these tools as much as I do. I have more to write about, so keep an eye out for future posts…

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