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5 Apps I Use A Lot (Mac Edition)

Let’s say you want a to-do list for your desktop computer and your mobile device. There are so many dang apps to choose from out there — dozens and dozens, in this case — that it’s almost impossible to know which to choose. Add to that the fact that you can’t always trust user reviews, since any number of them may be ringers working for the company that built the app(s) in question, and it’s even more confusing. That’s why I’ve started searching out more-or-less unbiased reviews of apps on blogs, which help identify the standouts from the pack — and why I decided to go ahead and do one of my own. So here goes — five apps that don’t suck!

Bit by bit, I’ve been trying to move my digital life onto “the cloud.” I just traded in my old MacBook for an Air, which has many advantages over its comparatively clunky older brother, but hard drive space ain’t one of ‘em. So I’m even more cloud-dependent now. I had signed up for Mobile Me, which comes with many gigabytes worth of online storage space, hoping that I could store files I worked on frequently (writing documents and the like) on my iDisk and always be working on the same copy no matter which computer I was using — but the Achilles heel of Mac’s iDisk is that it is PAINFULLY SLOW. Desperate for a better solution, I found something called Dropbox. It acts just like your iDisk — but it’s MUCH faster. I’m actually able to save as I go while writing something (and I save a lot), and that save, which took like 10-15 painful seconds using my iDisk, is as instantaneous as saving to my internal hard drive with Dropbox. (I’m told that has to do with how Dropbox updates files — by just uploading your changes to a file rather than the whole thing every time.) It also has a public folder, with which you can easily share things with other users via URL (just right-click on a file to see the URL), and at $100/year for 50GB of space, it’s competitive with Mobile Me. Also, it’s cross-platform, so it’s not just a Mac thing. If you’re not ready to commit, you can get 2GB of Dropbox space for free. Full disclosure: I get some extra space for referring you, but so does anyone who uses the referral — 250mb, I believe.

Everyone needs a to-do list — or at least I do. Of the many there are to choose from, the one I’ve tried that I actually *use* is called Things. At $50 it may seem a bit steep, but rest assured that you’re getting some bang for your buck. (There’s also a two-week fully-functional free trial period.) The iPhone and iPad version cost extra ($10 each, I believe) and while the developer promises cloud-based syncing between desktop and mobile devices in the very near future, for now you’ll have to settle for WiFi syncing. But the benefits outweigh that slight inconvenience. I won’t go into every feature, but suffice to say that it organizes things supremely well, and it allows me to separate out various tasks into projects, so they’re not all in one big list. It also lets me mark certain tasks as urgent, create repeating tasks (like “pay the rent, dummy!”) and it syncs with iCal.

For years I used only Microsoft Word, but last year I switched to Pages, a Mac word processor that’s part of the iWork suite, and I’m loving it. I do more word processing than anything else, and I find its interface simple and intuitive and uncluttered. It’s much easier to add images and tables and other graphic elements to documents in Pages than it was in Word. My favorite feature, though, is “full screen,” which centers your document on the screen and blacks out the rest, so I can work for long periods of time without being distracted by other things on my desktop or bouncing icons in my dock. It’s great for those times when I really need to focus on nothing but writing. I wrote the novel I have coming out in June in Pages, and created the 99% graphical proposal for my Talking Pictures book in it, too. I’m definitely a convert. Oh, and as far as compatibility is concerned, not to worry — it’s easy to export Word-versions of whatever doc you’re working on, so the luddites in your life can work with them, too.

I’m embarrassed to admit that for years I stored all my critical passwords in a Stickies note that lived in the background of my desktop. Not exactly the most secure location — though it was easy to access. A few weeks ago I found a much better solution — a program called 1password. It stores all your passwords and usernames, links up with your web browsers to auto-fill forms and passwords when needed, and can auto-generate strong passwords (and then remember them) when you’re out of pet names or birthdays (kidding, I know you guys make better passwords than that — right?). It backs up to Dropbox (see item one!) so you can access it from any computer and your passwords aren’t all lost in case of hard drive failure, and the program itself is password-protected to keep out fancy hackers. It’s $40, and worth every penny.

I devoted a whole post to F.lux a couple of weeks ago, but at the time I had only just installed the program on my computer. Now I can definitely recommend it with no reservations. Not only does it make staring at your monitor after dark easier on your eyes, it may also relieve insomnia. Read more about it here. (Also, it’s free.)

What are your favorite desktop apps?

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March 4th, 2011

Stranger to the World


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