Thinking about my pending purchase of a new mobile device, and my excitement over the new Turing and Ubuntu phones, got me to thinking about the features I would want to see. So, in wafting cloud of Microsoft-like hubris, I propose my list of mobile device features that would make me drop piles (piles!) of cash...
I've just upgraded my iMac to OS X Mountain Lion and, as with all OS upgrades, I need to tweak a few things, update some packages say goodbye to others. This got me thinking: What are the apps that I can't live without? To make my top-10 list, the software has have to been in-use for some time or be exceptional. Not all of the software is free s0, where applicable, prices are listed. In all cases, download links are provided.
So, presented in some sort of an order representing nothing logical, I present my list of Mike's Top-10 List of OS-X Software Without Which I Would I Would Hate Life...
#1 - 1Password
I learned about this application several years ago from a co-worker. Like most, I used simple passwords that rotated whenever I needed a change. Basically, I was trading security for simplicity and this worked pretty well for me until I started thinking about everything I could lose. Initial examination of the 1Password's website left me panting...$40 dollars for a single license?!? I bit the bullet and paid for a license, downloaded and installed it...and have never looked back.
Quite simply, I would be lost in the ether were it not for 1Password. As of this writing, I have 186 web logins and 19 system accounts stored. I also have all my software licenses recorded in the event something heads south -- indeed, this feature has saved my bacon from the fire on more than one occasion.
What makes it my Number-One app?
Well, I've given up on simple passwords. I use the auto-generator now for all my passwords and I feel a lot more secure when I read news about some web-repository being breached for their user/password list. If you get my apple password, you'll not get my gmail password so, win. Plus, using the auto-generator, you can specify a lot of options: length, combination of special characters, letters, numbers, case, etc.
Chrome, Safari and Netflix have browser extensions for 1Password which allow me to one-click enter my username/password combination for all my websites for which I've recorded logins. I love one-click functionality!
I have 1Password installed on all my iOS devices and I upgraded my license to the Mac/Windows combination. I use different passwords on each device to open 1Password so even if I lose a device, I'm covered.
1Password syncs to Dropbox and I keep back-up copies of the encrypted file locally because, you know, paranoia.
My only (remotely) negative comment about 1Password is that there's not a version available for Linux. However, you can still access your 1Password files via a web-browser accessing the dropbox-store html file graciously provided.
I've had occasion to contact AgileBit's technical support a couple times and, in all cases, the replies were friendly, prompt and astute. Very good people working there!
Don't worry about the costs of this application - once you start using all of the features available (like credit-card autofill for online retail therapy), you'll soon realize how awesome this program really is.
#2 - Caffeine
I started using caffeine a year or two ago and I really love this program. Whenever I am configuring a new system, I make sure this app is installed. What it does is prevent your computer from going to sleep. It installs and is visible in the menu bar and is (de)activated with a single click.
That's pretty much all it does.
It's a top-10 add because (a) it keeps me out of System Preferences and (b) it only takes one click. Useful for watching videos (Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.) because it's keeps your screen-saver off. Also, I hate it when the s/s kicks-in when I'm doing stuff on another machine but I am using the caffeine-box to monitor work-in-progress and the screen suddenly shuts off.
This app is mac-only, but there's a similar, alternative, program available as an indicator app for Ubuntu which works just as well.
#3 - Quicksilver
I've previously poo-poo'd apps like Quicksilver, Albert, and Apple's own finder because I'm pretty much a point-and-click person. Ubuntu 11.10 changed that for me with the Unity launcher. Previously, I'd always been a point-and-clicker...but I learned that you can launch apps much quicker with a few keystrokes and not have to fumble for and use the mouse to accomplish the same task.
I'm not a power user by any stretch. Friends of mine do a lot more stuff with their launcher apps (launchbar - which was cost-prohibitive) but, for me, Quicksilver works very well for search and launch tasks.
Quicksilver is an open-source groupware project and is free but if you like it, consider donating to keep the project alive.
There's lots of blog posts out there about how to be a power user with Quicksilver. Explore and enjoy.
#4 - Omnigraffle
Omnigraffle makes me a documentation god. It's available for the Mac and the iPad. It's expensive. Did I mention that it turns you into a documentation god?
Omnigraffle is a diagramming and drawing application. It uses a drag-n-drop interface coupled with a near-unlimited number of stencils that allows you to effortlessly create jaw-dropping diagrams.
I use this program a lot to document my software development and, whenever I publish documentation, my co-workers always ask me what tool I used to create my diagrams. I find it especially useful for ER diagrams and flowcharts but I've also used it for a variety of other diagrams.
The single user license is $99 and, trust me, is well worth the price for what you can do with this program.
One of my favorite features is to select-all and then paste my diagram into the other applications like Pages. Also, you can do easy image conversion by pasting other images into Omnigraffle and then re-selecting and copy-paste into your target app.
It works, has frequent updates and a generous update license and it freakin' turns you into a documentation god!
#5 - Cloudapp
Cloudapp is a simple little applet that sits quietly in your menu bar. The coin of the realm for this applet is something called raindrops. The applet is designed so that you can drag-and-drop music, links, files, and images (or hot-key them as raindrops) and then produce a short-url for sharing.
You can click on the site-icon (right to the left of the URL in your address bar) and drag it to the cloud icon in your menu bar. The web-site link is then pushed to Cloudapp where it's saved as one of your recent drops. The menu bar shows your most-recent five raindrops. You'll need to login to the web site to see all of your saved drops.
I like this app because it's a simple process to save a link that I want to review or evaluate later. I've not used the app for anything other than saving links so I can't speak to it's ability to save/share images and whatnot. But, for what I use it for, it's invaluable. I discovered this app before pinterest existed and, although I use both, I use cloudapp to remember mostly technical resources that I need to investigate further.
And, it's free.
I do a lot of work from the command line (cli) - I will use vi on the cli before I use any GUI text editor simply because it's faster and distraction free.
I love TotalTerminal (aka Visor) and if I don't have it on my system, I install it immediately.
Remember the Quake console? TotalTerminal provides you with a persistent Visor window which slides down (or in, or up) on a hot key (I use ctrl-~). Instead of alt-tabbing to your terminal, which also takes up desktop realestate, TotalTerminal slides in and out, gliding like a ninja in the night.
I set-up mine to have about 50% transparency, green text over black, so that I can see my desktop beneath the terminal window for visual cues as to commands I need to type, reminders of what I was doing when I was struck dumb my TotalTerminals effortless appearance, etc.
I use guake on my Ubuntu desktop which operates the same way.
I have maintained for years that the person who can write a unified calendar and address book will make enough money to own their own island complete with little umbrella drinks.
Syncing all my handheld devices (iOS and Android) with Apple calendar, Google calendar, and their respective address books, with my Mac, has been nothing short of a nightmare.
Of course I need seven duplicate listing for my vet in address book, right? I need four copies of the same meeting notice...
Busycal is a sexy calendar app for the Mac to replace Apple's Calendar and, since installing it over a year ago, I've never looked back. Nor have I had duplicate calendar entries unless I intentionally put them there.
I fully realize there may be some hidden juju magic to being able to sync cross-platform, cross-device but, to date, this escapes me leaving me feel I'm barely qualified enough to play Windows solitaire.
Busycal syncs with Google and Apple for my calendars. It displays my to-do lists. (Which are unused.) And it even shows me the current five-day forecast. (Clicking on the weather icon for today took me here.)
In short, it works. It has read-access to iCal calendars. It access my Google calendars effortlessly.
It's $49.99 and their technical support rocks.
#8 - F.lux
When I first heard about F.lux, I unsuccessfully bit back a derisive snort of laughter. Really? A program for adjusting my screen brightness? Depending on my location? And the time of day? Reducing my eyestrain?
Tell me more...
F.lux is a small, easily-configurable app, that sites in your menu bar. Once you configure the app to your location and your viewing preferences, it gradually adjusts the brightness and warmth (or coolness) of your screen display depending on your local time.
You can tweak all the settings, specifying different levels of adjustment in brightness (measured in K units), but all you really need to do is tell f.lux where you are, what kind of lighting your have, and it takes care of the rest.
I've noticed that when I'm using the computer during darkness, my screen is much warmer, less-blue, which is less stressful to my vision and relaxes me. And, according to their website, blue light in the evening can disturb your sleep patterns.
Anything for better sleep, I'm down with.
It's a free program and is available for Mac, Windows, Linux and iOS devices. Go f.lux your computer for a few days (sorry, it had to be said) and see if you can see how much more enjoyable your screen is.
#9 - Boom
Boom is a godsend for me. I'm hard-of-hearing and rely on binaural hearing aids for simple conversation.
Boom allows you to boost your system's volume and your music files. Plus, Boom also provides you with a system-wide equalizer. (I use the latter to selectively increase the frequencies that I have difficulty hearing.)
Overall, I think Boom, as a digital amplifier, only gives you about 20% more volume (then again, what do I know?) over the conservative db output of your conventional Mac.
For me, however, Boom is the difference between needing and not-needing close-captioning on Netflix. Being able to use Skype.
Boom boosts everything and is available on the app-store for a measly $5.99.
#10 - Google Voice
I love my Google Voice app. I give my GV number out now as my main contact number.
GV allows me to forward all GV calls to any number. Currently, I forward my calls to my cellphone (when I am in the US) and to my Skype number.
If I miss a call, GV transcribes (as best it can - some of you have serious diction issues) the voice mail left and then GV emails the transcript and texts me the transcription to my devices.
Did I mention that it's free?
GV works cross platform as long as you have speakers and a mic. Bonus, I can also use GV to send text messages.
Ok, that about wraps it up. I know top-10 lists are hideously subjective so please feel free to leave a comment about what you think should have made it to my list.
Oh, and bonus tip since I'm exiting on kind of a google note --
When you're outside the US and you want to use Google's US resources instead of the current-country, enter this in your URL bar before you sign-in to google:
The ncr means "no country re-direct" and will park you on the US property for the remainder of your stay.
Side note -- explaining how to set-up iCal to sync with exchange is not part of this article as I've no wish to re-live the pain of interacting with (any) Microsoft product unless absolutely necessary.
Since I've nearly completed by migration from .me to Google, the last element of the move was to get my calendars in-sync with each other.
Under my gMail account, I have a calendar linked to my gMail address. However, I cannot sync my iCal from my desktop up to Google in a way that the calendars that I've subscribed to on iCal are automagically transferred to gCal.
I can, however, sync my gMail calendar down to my iCal but it seems that the transfer is only one-way -- I can get stuff down from gCal but I can't send calendars (created outside the email@example.com account) up to gCal.
I googled the issue -- and I see where Google does offer a sync-tool for exchange to gCal -- but you have to be on Windows to use it. There's also some middleware that your IT office can install on the exchange side -- but the chances of IT installing anything "outside the box" on the corporate servers are pretty much nil.
I read through several Android forums -- (I've got another article coming out in a day or two about the experiences of dumping my iPhone-4 for the Thunderbolt) -- where I discovered that I'm far from being the only person to have this issue. One of the recommended solutions I did see on the forums was the integration/installation/use of a Mac-based application called BusyCal.
I initially downloaded and installed the trial versions of both BusyCal and BusySync - and that was because I didn't immediately understand that BusyCal is a superset of BusySync by providing the same functionality as BusySync along with a desktop application designed to replace iCal on the desktop.
Using the trial version - which limits you to 30-days of unrestricted use - I pretty much immediately got the sync results I desired once I plugged in my gMail account information. The application grabbed my calendar from .me, exchange and gCal and synced it so that everything now appears on gCal, and in the desktop application.
If I log into gCal through the web interface, I see everything which is nice for when I'm not at my work desktop where BusyCal is installed. And, bonus, since my new Android phone is linked to my gMail account, getting all my calendars down to my phone's calendar application was automatically accomplished.
One of the features I really like on the BusyCal desktop is that they show you the weather for the day for your area. It's a very nice add-on feature when you're working in San Francisco where the weather is, at best, flaky.
As you can see from the screenie, the BusyCal application also tracks to-do lists - a feature I don't personally use: I have Bugzilla for that - but I know a lot of folks rely on.
Well worth the $50 for the application to have something that simply works -- no more duplicate entries, no more alt-tab'ing between applications to see pieces of calendar -- everything is consolidated into a unified view via a solid and intuitive UX.