Must Have Apps for the Mac

Posted on November 19, 2009

Lots of folks have switched to Mac, its the most commonly used laptop in the Bay Area now. Sometimes people give me flack for using it, but I’ll tell you why I use a Mac laptop:

  1. It just works! When going to a client site, a conference, or just a cafe, there is nothing more embarrassing than spending 20 minutes trying to get your l337 *NIX laptop to connect to wireless or properly DHCP or work with a printer. This isn’t as big a problem as it once was but it can still happen. This is especially the case if you ever do a presentation where your fiddling with things in front of 30+ people. Mac’s just work, period.
  2. The Apps are high quality! Thanks to the Linux desktop invasion we have a lot of great apps for *NIX; however Mac apps have a very high standard for quality, all work more or less similarly, and there are lots of great apps. The problem I have on Windows these days is that there aren’t as many great apps for Windows as there are for OS X.
  3. Its UNIX! This is the most important fact for me, its a real desktop OS with a real UNIX underneath. I was a Mac hater prior to OS X, but developed a love affair with NeXT… when the two converged in OS X I was a happy camper indeed.
  4. The Apple Laptops are the best on the market! I can not find a PC Laptop with the same build quality and durability of the Apple’s. Most PC’s use cheap plastics, are too thick, too flimsy, etc. The MacBook Pro 15″ Aluminum is what I still use and love. The size is absolutely perfect, the thing is solid, and very comfortable to use. The power adapters are even better. Even if I wanted a machine just to run Solaris on metal, I’d want a MacBook Pro over any PC laptop available. In terms of hardware you really do seem to get what you pay for.

    Now, please note that I do not have nor do I ever plan to have a Mac desktop! For my daily work I need a real UNIX Workstation. I prefer to work with Enlightenment, Eterm, and have a real Solaris system on which to work. Without my desktop I can’t accomplish real work, but for the road I need my MacBook Pro.

    So here are some of my “must have apps” for OS X:

    • iTerm: It once was that OS X’s terminal was pretty basic and pathetic, glTerm and iTerm filled the void. Since that time the default terminal application has improved significantly making iTerm unnecessary, but I continue to be faithful to it.
    • Adium: Adium is the best multi-protocol IM client available for Mac. While iChat AV is fantastic for voice and video “chat”, I want to keep my desktop tidy which means I want IRC style chat in multiple tabs, not windows. I just can’t stand having a real discussion in those iChat balloons.
    • NewsFire: Best RSS reader, imho. The primary advantage to Newsfire is that it doesn’t make RSS look like email! Email feels like work, I just want to flip through RSS and see whats news. Newfire is free and really spiffy.
    • TrueCrypt: I’m not a really big crypto freak, I wish I were, but I’m lazy. Never the less, at some point you’ll go on the road and Sysadmins are bound to have text files containing sensitive information. TrueCrypt makes it easy to create a small encrypted drives on which to store that data. Plus, the virtual drives it creates are cross-platform, so your not locked into only retrieving the data on Mac like other encrypting archive apps.
    • Things: I think its the best todo application available. Its light-weight and easy to use. OmniFocus is a much more structured application and I think is good for people who need rigorous structure to keep them honest, but Things can be made to do almost everything OmniFocus can do, if you choose to, or be used much more casually.
    • RealVNC: The most popular VNC Viewer application for OS X is “Chicken of the VNC”. I love the name, love the icon, but a lot of times it doesn’t work for me. RealVNC isn’t so sexxy but works every time without a problem.
    • Colloquy: Great IRC application. Many *NIX folks will prefer a more traditional terminal based IRC client, but if your an Xchat users who’s looking for a nicely integrated IRC client for OS X Colloquy is the best imho.
    • VirtualBox: Very powerful and free to boot. I use both VirtualBox and VMware Fusion. Honestly, VMware is slightly faster, but VirtualBox is still fantastic and the additional portability is handy.
    • Apache Directory Studio: If there is one nifty app the Windows boys have its Softerra LDAP Administrator. Apache Directory Studio is the best alternative I’ve seen, and I think will ultimately surpass Softerra’s capabilities.
    • iShowU: Best screen recording app period. Very easy to use, very flexable and lightweight. When creating screencasts I recommend using the Quicktime Animation CODEC; you’ll be happy with it.
    • globalSAN iSCSI initiator for OS X: Its sad that even in Snow Leopard we don’t have an Apple supplied iSCSI Initiator, but thankfully globalSAN has us covered. Its free and works very well with COMSTAR.
    • Cornerstone: I didn’t think Subversion needed a GUI… but Zennaware Cornerstone changed my mind. Its expensive, but if you do a lot of SVN work you won’t want to miss it.

    I’ll add some more to the honorable mention list…

    • Textmate
    • iWork ’09
    • iLife ’09
    • Skitch
    • iStumbler
    • Netbeans
    • Navicat Lite
    • OmniGraffle

    On the hardware side, every UNIX Admin must be able to access an RS-232 serial console. This fact kept me away from Mac laptops for a long time. Which is why you need this:

    The Keyspan Serial-USB Adapter. Buy one, download the Keyspan Assistant software and install Zterm. Good to go!

    Finally let me point out 2 things which are already in Leopard that you may not be aware of:

    First, with the OS on the Install disk is the Apple Xcode IDE. Along with Xcode is the koolest GUI for DTrace you’ll ever see: Instruments Its really amazingly awesome and a must see.

    Secondly, OS X includes native Kerberos support and a ticket management GUI which is sort of buried: /System/Library/CoreServices/Kerberos. If you use Kerberos at all drag that binary onto your doc for quick access. Several other hidden gems can be found in the same directory.