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OSX Utilities I couldn't live without

Simple blog looking at some of the applications and utilities that enhance my usage of Apple’s most excellent OSX platform.

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Updated 28-2-13
I thought this article was worth a re-visit given that the utilities I use have now evolved over the years….

I spend a lot of my time designing IT solutions and I do most of my writing in Apple’s OSX (Mountain Lion) environment. I quite like it - obviously - I find it fast, consistent and a good environment to work in. My set up is a fairly powerful Macbook Pro (late 2011) with 16Gb of RAM, a 256Gb SSD and a750Gb SATA drive for storage. It’s a fantastic platform.

There are however a number of add-on utilities that I use all the time that make my working life so much easier. I thought it may be worth summarising what these utilities are - you may find some of them useful.

Firstly, let’s look at some of the utilities I use to make the operating environment of OSX more flexible.

SizeUp
This is a great little application that gives you window control from the keyboard. You can push windows to the left/right, top/bottom etc. as well as to different screens and spaces. Personally I prefer using the keyboard so I find this little application invaluable. It’s written by Irradiated Software and can be obtained here:

Irradiated Software - SizeUp

Cinch
This is another great utility from Irradiated Software. Those of you familiar with Windows 7 are probably familiar with the way you can drag windows to each side of the screen, or to the top, to arrange the windows either half or full screen. Cinch adds this ability to OSX. A very useful tool and one I use constantly. It can be obtained here:

Irradiated Software - Cinch

Incidentally, for what it’s worth, I ran into a problem with this app recently as I wrote about here, however Irradiated Software came up with a fix quickly. Top work.

TinyGrab
TinyGrab is a fantastic little application that uploads your screen clippings to an online storage area and then pastes a URL into your clipboard pointing to the uploaded screen clipping. It’s invaluable for Internet forums or for showing people things in applications.

You can get the application here:
TinyGrab

NOTE: For a while I was losing the faith with TinyGrab - loads of operational issues, bugs and crashes. Now though it seems to be back and working well under OSX Mountain Lion.

Click2Flash
One other useful utility - Click2Flash. This great little plug-in for Safari stops flash content playing immediately. It gives you the choice. If you’re running on battery for example Flash can increase the workload of your machine significantly therefore reducing battery life. It can also pop-up inappropriate sound & content when you least expect it. With Click2Flash you have a choice. Also, I’ve noticed you can download a lot of content too - not always that easy to do with embedded flash content. You can get the product here:

Click2Flash

So that’s the environmental stuff, what about key applications? I don’t think there’ll be many surprises in this list here really.... but let’s have a look see anyways.

VMWare Fusion 5 & Parallels 8
Notice how I’ve listed both? I use both, regularly, but for slightly different things. Both of these applications are great at virtualising Windows products, of in fact pretty much any guest operating system. So why do I use both? Well, mainly down to scaling and experience.

I work predominantly with Windows based infrastructures so having access to those environments is vital. VMWare Fusion is fantastic for virtualising Windows server based operating systems and scales really well. My ‘demo’ environment includes anything up to 6 servers running Active Directory, Exchange, Lync Server and various clients. Fusion handles this well on my laptop - simply brilliant. In my experience Parallels doesn’t quite scale as well as Fusion for multiple server guest operating systems. So, why do I use Parallels?

I use Parallels for the my desktop vritualisation. I depend on applications such as Outlook, Visio and of course Lync. These are apps that are just so much better than equivalents on OSX - Outlook especially. Parallels enables me to run them well - and run them the same as any other application in OSX - in the dock, and in a Window.

So, I use Fusion for server based guests, and Parallels for desktop. It’s a great solution & works really well.

If I had to choose one out of the two - which would I choose? Well for me, with my dependency on running Server OS’, it would have to be Fusion. If it were just for desktop OS such as Windows 7/ however Parallels would get my vote.

NOTE: Now Fusion & Parallels have been updated, the scaling issues are less obvious. Parallels has got a lot better at running multiple hosts. If, like me, you find yourself having to port machines to ESX, I’d still recommend the Fusion route.

Microsoft Office 2011 on OSX & 2013 on Windows
Most of my main editing is done in Office 2011 using Word & Excel. It really is a great office suite. I have played with the Open Source stuff but as my documents include an awful lot of embedded objects I ran into compatibility issues with the systems my clients were using.

In addition, I also use Office 2013 in Windows 8 now. I think Outlook is fantastic for example - and even better in 2013 form. Have to say though it did take a while to get use to Windows 8 & Office 2013. Now I am use to them - I’d never go back.

Also, nearly all of my diagrams are done in Visio. There are comparable products on OSX such as Omnigraffle however Visio is compatible with all of my client’s systems. Maybe I should embrace open source more?

NOTE: To be fair, the OSX versions of Lync and Outlook are better than they were. Outlook however still isn’t a patch on the Windows version though, in my opinion.

EverNote
Wow, this one is a big update. I’ve been a fairly decent fan of Microsoft’s OneNote platform however it is of course aligned to the Windows platform really, although there are IOS clients for it now. Somebody recommended the EverNote product set to me - and wow, I’m stunned by it. It’s organisation of notes, seamless synchronisation across platforms (Windows/OSX, mobiles/iPad etc.) just simply blew me away.

Also, plug-in products like
EverNote Hello and EverNote vJournal make the product absolutely invaluable to my day to day work now. Simply cannot recommend it enough!

DropBox
What can you say about DropBox that hasn’t been said already? It just works. Blindingly simple application for keeping your information synchronised across devices. Be aware though there have been some security concerns over the last year or so - make sure you check those out so that you’re comfortable with what you’re doing.

SkyDrive
This is of course Microsoft’s answer to DropBox. I’ve found it compliments DropBox and I tend to use it for my larger storage requirements. I was fortunate in that I’ve had an account for a while so qualified for the 27Gb ‘free’ size - newer registrants only got 7Gb I believe. Only! That’s still fairly substantial isn’t it?

1Password
Another obvious one! This is a great multi-platform product for storing and generating complex web site passwords, and any other information you want to keep secure & encrypted. It’s beautifully designed, and integrates directly into your Web Browser so you can copy/paste those complex passwords without ever having to see or type them in. Great way to ensure you’re secure online.

There’s great clients for the mobile devices too - and synchronisation is simple either via DropBox or iCloud. Downsides? Well, it’s a little pricey I think….

Litte Snitch
This is an interesting application that may only be of value to the more technically astute out there. The application controls outward connections from your Mac so gives you great visibility on what your machine & sessions are trying to connect to. I’ve found it invaluable when trying to investigate connectivity issues with software - I can see
exactly what the software is trying to connect to, rather than going by what I assume it’s connecting to. I used it for example to track down the ports and targets for BackBlaze so that I could route my uploads to a separate ADSL line. Very useful.

Summary
So, nothing particularly stunning here in this article however I thought I’d mention some of the things that make OSX so good to use. Windows 7/8 of course also offers up a great user experience now too - certainly better than that offered by Windows XP or Windows Vista. I don’t think OSX is ‘better’ than Windows 7/8, nor visa versa - they’re just different. It’s the applications that make the product isn’t it, not the platform?

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