Mac utilities I like

A screen capture of my modded macMy primary work machine is a dual g5 powermac. Coming to it from linux-land I have found that the default interface norms of OS X are not quite to my liking. Here’s a list of the utilities that have made my life easier:

  • Quicksilver (free): Easily the most important utility to have for your mac, this amazing tool is like a cli/launcher; you can see its open menu-thing in the center of my desktop image. The main thing it lets me do is rapidly launch applications by typing a few letters of the application’s name. This app has allowed me to punt on the sub-folder layout I used to use back in pre-OSX days to make applications easy to find, something that is especially valuable given that Apple refuses to pay attention to where I put applications and constantly installs updates in /Applications. You can use it for many more things but I have not yet advanced to that stage of ninjahood.
  • CodeTek VirtualDesktop Lite (aka CTVD) (US$20): This is the pager-thingy in the lower left hand corner of the screen. Standard issue in XWindows ( Linux ) environments, this gives you more desktops. I use it mostly so that I can keep apps that really want to be full-screen (like Thunderbird) full-screen without having to dicker with window sort issues. I also somewhat use it as a workspace tool, where I work for me on one desktop and work for others on another. I tried this app back when I had a 12″ PowerBook, and I found it less than pleasant – it visibly minimized/grew windows when you switched desktops. At that point I switched to the free Desktop Manager, which used apple’s built-in (but disabled) virtual desktop support, and worked much better. I don’t know if it has been dramatically improved or my G5 is that much faster, but CTVD is much better behaved now. I may still punt on it, as one of the main “uses” I have for it is doing work on one virtual desktop and playing SimCity on another, and CTVD seems to mess with SimCity’s grasp of the mouse.
  • Path Finder (US$34.95): The OS X Finder represents the single biggest disappointment of the switch to NeXt from the old Mac OS. The old mac OS was truly spatial: things you put places stayed there until you moved them. I won’t go into too much detail about a subject that has already been covered in depth elsewhere, but I have mostly just tolerated the Finder. Unfortunately, in 10.4, Apple pushed me over the edge – the auto-updating action meant I routinely opened the wrong file as the window changed under me. As with CTVD, I had tried an earlier incarnation of Path Finder on my PowerBook and found it too slow, but the new version is both quite snappy and has essential features that make it a must-have.
  • TransparentDock (US$8): Once you get Path Finder running, a few more hacks are necessary to get (almost) complete replacement. The most important is getting the Finder off the Dock. There are a bunch of utilities that do this, but TransparentDock lets me remove the Finder and stick the Dock in the lower-right hand corner where it doesn’t get in the way of the virtual desktop pager. Since the Dock, like almost all of OS X, ignores Fitt’s Law, I don’t have anything stuck on the dock permanently – Quicksilver gives me access to my apps more effectively.

So that’s the short list of utilities I find essential; if anyone knows of a really nice OS X utility I haven’t mentioned, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

3 thoughts on “Mac utilities I like

  1. Great rundown. You mention that you use a virtual desktop manager to be able to have apps fullscreen (like simcity), and switch between different workspaces. How do you do this with simcity? I’ve tried Virtue as well as the two you mention, but the keyboard shortcuts to switch desktops simply don’t do anything when I’m in the fullscreen mode of SimCity.

    Is there something I’m missing?

  2. Yeah, you have to run SimCity in a window the size of your display; hold down option when starting SimCity to select the video settings.

  3. ah, okay. I thought you meant you were running it in full screen mode rather than a window which happens to be as big as the screen.

    FYI, your site is having some weird issues with safari. Whenever I mouse over a link, that section seems to be dissapearing due to some javascript thing.

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