My “Go-To” Mac Apps

© Bill Jones. Used with permission

You have to understand where all of this comes from to really get why this list of Mac apps is what it is. I left PCs behind in 2008. I was tired, so sick and tired, of not being able to get stuff done. I spent more time working on making my computer work than I did on actually working on work. It’s funny how things have changed in five years. I don’t use my computer as much as I used to. I do ninety percent of what needs doing from my iPhone or my iPad. My Mac has been relegated to a primary purpose of “writing tool.” I write blog posts on my Mac, I do a lot of my research on my Mac because I’m just faster at doing it with a computer.

A lot of these apps are also available for the iPad and iPhone, but some of them aren’t and they are the reason that I’m not ready to dump my laptop just yet. I don’t use my computer for gaming. I have a PS3 and a PS2 and a Wii and a DS and… the list goes on. Though I have been tempted to buy Knights of the Old Republic from the App Store, just for the sake of a little original Xbox nostalgia. I also have a couple of useful items here, but I have to tell you, the items that I’ve downloaded for my Mac aren’t always “daily use” apps. My daily use apps, are the apps that come with a Mac when you buy one. I’ll give these a quick run through and go more in depth on the stuff that I’ve actually had to buy later on.

Safari. I have to begin by talking about Safari. I have used other web browsers. Nothing else gives me the uncluttered web experience that I want. I’ve heard this developer or that developer say that this browser or that browser is faster and I’m sure that it’s true, but why would I bother looking? As an end user, Safari does the job. It’s pretty quick in its own right. I’ve seen Safari crash twice in my 5 year history of using Macs and both times there were patches for those bugs out within a week of my discovering them.  I have a relatively ad-free experience of the web. Sure, I do still get some ads, but they are the ads that don’t annoy me. No pop-ups. No dancing monkeys. No migraine inducing animated fluff. I’ve heard rumors that these things are still out there, but I just don’t believe it. As far as I’m concerned, annoying web ads are like Bigfoot.

Mail. I used a lot of mail apps before coming to the Mac. Once I started using Mail, I didn’t look back. Mail is easy to use. It’s pretty easy to set up on your own and it’s quick enough for the average user. If you’re a heavy email user, you might find yourself in need of something cooler. If so, I have no clue what that might be.

Spotlight. I’ve had Spotlight for as long as I’ve owned a Mac. Spotlight was added when Leopard was released. It works like this: See the little magnifying glass in the upper left hand corner of your screen? If you don’t, you’re either running Tiger, or Windows. Click on the magnifying glass. Type in what app you’re looking for, or the name of a person who sent you an email six months ago, or an item you searched for on Amazon last week or, whatever. If you did it on your Mac, Spotlight will find it for you. I don’t have any desktop icons for apps or folders. I don’t really even need the dock for loading apps, just give me spotlight and I’ve got all I need.

iTunes. I’ve used iTunes since Windows. iTunes for Windows sucks. I hate it. I wish Apple would do something about that, but honestly, that can be a selling point for a Mac, so I can appreciate why Apple wouldn’t bother to fix the busted Windows version. iTunes on the Mac though? It’s awesome. It’s not just stable, it’s like a freaking rock. It’s not just fast, it’s downright nimble, you should watch how long it takes to load iTunes on my Macbook Air. It will make you sick and my iTunes Library ain’t small.

iCal. iCal on my Mac is synced with iCal on my iPhone and iPad. I rarely put appointments in on my Mac, but they’re all there so if I’m sucked in to writing, or watching the latest episode of Downton Abbey on my Mac, it lets me know where ever I’m at, that I have to drop what I’m doing and get going. Combine that with Reminders, which helps me stay on task and get more stuff done and who needs a day planner?

Messages. I can have text messages, on my laptop? Yes please! What more is there to say? I use Messages on my Mac daily.

Stickies. If I’m on the phone and need to take a quick note, I can save trees by just using the Stickies app on my laptop. Virtual post it notes! Gotta love it!

Notes. This thing syncs between all of my Apple devices, which is awesome when I have a story idea while I’m sitting in the middle of the mall, or have things to add to a chapter that I’m already working on. I can just type it on my phone and when I get home, copy and paste it into Scrivener directly from my Notes.

Now, for the real stuff. These are the apps that do not come with a Mac that I use every day. If you do what I do, they are worth the money you spend.

scrivenerScrivener. You are seeing this blog post due to a cute little thing called WordPress. I do not write blog posts on WordPress anymore. I used to, but ever since I got Scrivener, I’ve had no need. As far as word processing goes, Scrivener blows the doors off of anything else out there.  I have a Scrivener project for my blog. Inside that project are folders for works in progress, published pieces, pieces I will never publish and pieces published on other blogs, sorted by the blog they were published on. For novels, I have a project for each novel and all the background research I do is stored in folders inside the project in Scrivener. I don’t have to have a messy system of bookmarks in my browser and folders with pictures strewn all over my hard drive. Nope. I just drag and drop it into the “Research” folder in Scrivener’s Binder and it’s there when I need to look back. Scrivener has completely changed the way I write and it has made sure that I write more, which should be the goal of any decent word processing software. Should you spend the 45$ it takes to pick up your own copy of Scrivener? Well, let me ask you a question.

Are you a writer?

This is word processing software for people who write large scale projects, novels, full length plays and the like. My blog is a huge, ongoing writing project. Most people don’t need Scrivener, Pages will do the job just fine for your day to day word processing needs, but if you plan to write something that will span over 200 pages that requires a lot of planning and research to put together, Scrivener’s what you need. So yes, you should spend the 45$, it’s well worth it.

pagesPages. When I want quick and dirty word processing so I can make flyers, or make up a pretty list of emergency phone numbers to keep on the fridge, or need to write a letter, I use Pages. Pages does everything that most people who use word processing software need. It also has some cool templates that come with it, so you can customize your letters and make them look personalized. It’s what I use for converting documents to other file formats and it prints PDFs, which is really great when you’re submitting a short story somewhere, because a lot of publishers are asking for PDF files now. Pages will set you back a mere 20$. At 20$, it’s way less expensive than Word for Mac, like a hundred and ten dollars less.

iphotoiPhoto. I take a lot of photos. Especially since I got my first iPhone. Apple says that the best camera is the one that’s in your pocket and they are so right! I can’t imagine the shots I would have missed out on if I hadn’t taken them with my iPhone and to back all of that iPhone photography up, there’s iPhoto. iPhoto automatically pulls every photo that I take from my Photostream and when I open my laptop, or my iPad, it’s there. It has some handy photo editing tools that make phone snap shots look nice and you can also use it to organize your photos into virtual albums, or design custom photo books, invitations, graduation notices and cards and order the prints you design from Apple, all right there within the app. Well worth the 20$ for this app on the App Store.

duplicate_annihilatorDuplicate Annihilator. I mentioned my photos and the fact that I take a lot of them. Not only do they get uploaded from my iPhone, but also my digital camera and my iPad and my daughter’s camera a million other sources. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but it happens that sometimes I upload the odd photo twice and iPhoto doesn’t seem to notice when I’ve got a pre-existing copy of that image. This can fill up your hard drive, fast. Images aren’t small, they take up lots of space and storing them when you’ve got a finite amount of disk space to work with. Managing a photo library like this without some kind of outside assistance can have you wondering what the heck happened to all that space you thought you were getting, that you didn’t even think about using because you knew you could never possibly fill a drive that big. Oh… wait, you happened to it. The first time I ran Duplicate Annihilator on my iPhoto library, it found over 2,000 duplicate images. No joke. When your average photo is around 2 MB, that’s 4 GB of hard drive space that you can easily get back with this cute little tool. This one’s not on the Mac App store, but you can get it here: and if you take a lot of photos and have a lot of different tools for adding photos to your iPhoto library, this thing will save you money on having to buy external drives or upgrading to larger drives, so at 8$, it’s a steal.

pixelmatorPixelmator. I used to live and die by Photoshop to edit all of my photos and create my own custom graphics. I was really upset and disappointed that in order to get Photoshop on my Mac, I had to buy Photoshop again. Have you ever priced Photoshop? It’s insane! At 15$, Pixelmator is much less expensive and really has all of the capabilities that I wanted from Photoshop, plus some new tricks of its own. I use it for fine tuning photos that I want to post on my blog, or for building custom graphics for my blog, some of which you’ve been looking at for years. When I update my blog, someday and yes, I know it’s looking dated, Pixelmator will be my best friend in adding that personal touch to it.

When I started writing this article, I felt like my list of apps wasn’t long enough. I’m sure there are other great apps out there for the Mac and that this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’d love to see your favorites in the comments!