Useful Mac OS X Software

This is a big page. It was designed to be, so that you could print it out and read it in bed at your leisure. I’ve personally used all of these applications and will testify to every single one’s usefulness and usability. (Almost all, if not all, of the applications below are Universal Binaries, so they’ll run at full speed goodness on your shiny new Intel Mac.)

Free Stuff

While the Mac is primarily known for its incredibly healthy shareware community, there’s also a ton of good freeware for it, with a growing amount of open-source software. Here’s my shortlist.

  • MenuMeters adds a very useful set of network, disk, memory and CPU usage meters to your menu bar. I find the CPU usage meter to be invaluable, since it can tell you when some badly-behaved piece of software decides to slow down everything else on your system. The network meter’s also useful. I personally don’t use the disk usage or memory graphs meters. MenuMeters looks like this:

  • Quicksilver is regarded by a ton of people to be the most invaluable utility they’ve ever installed, although I personally don’t use it much. It’s hard to describe and does a lot of things, but it basically gives you a universal command line when you press a hotkey (e.g. Cmd-Space) where you can do all sorts of crazy stuff like type in the first few letters of an application name to launch it, type in a person’s name to pop up their address book entry, or type in a song name to start playing it in iTunes. You get the idea. Here’s a screenshot of it in action:
  • Perian is probably the only extra QuickTime codec you’ll need to install. It handles just about everything: DivX, xvid, Matroska, random MPEG-4 codecs, Flash (FLV), and even SSA and SRT subtitles. While VLC can play all those videos, with this codec you can play all those videos in QuickTime—meaning that all your QuickTime-based applications (such as Front Row, and Keynote) can play DivX videos too. (If you’d like to play Ogg Theora or Ogg Vorbis media, you want to install the XiphQT components too.) Just about the only thing that Perian doesn’t handle is…
  • Flip4Mac WMV Codec for QuickTime. Windows Media support for QuickTime. This thing is actually even better than the actual real-deal Windows Media Player support on Windows.
  • PTHVolume is useful if you frequently plug in headphones and USB speakers. It adds a new item to your menu bar where you can quickly switch between what sound thingy is used for recording or playback, and also lets you use assign volume keys if you don’t have an Apple keyboard.
  • Skype is an essential program to keep in touch with friends, family and workmates across the globe these dayhs, even if it’s evil and proprietary and Google Talk is going to nail its ass to the wall in two years’ time. Both the audio chat and video chat quality is nowhere near iChat AV’s league (seriously, Skype’s echo cancellation is a joke compared to iChat’s), but hey, at least those inferior Windows and Linux users can talk to you too! ;-)
  • VLC is absolutely essential for at least two reasons: (1) playing back DVDs if you have a region-free RPC-1 drive where Apple’s DVD Player will still annoy you due to draconian legal reasons, and (2) it’ll play back pretty much video file you throw at it, unlike QuickTime. The downside is that I don’t think VLC’s interface is as nice to use or as polished as QuickTime Player, so generally I try stuff in QuickTime first, and then try it in VLC only if QuickTime is giving me grief. (Disclaimer: I used to write some code for VLC.) MPlayer OSX is also useful if you’re a UNIX junkie and actually like tinkering with the exact three brazillion command-line parameters it can accept, although I think VLC is a ton more mature than it these days and pretty much displaces MPlayer OSX on the Macintosh. (Though, sometimes there’s just no substitute for having mplayer and mencoder binaries handy.)
  • NeoOffice is a fantastic free program for people who work with Microsoft Office files, but don’t want to shell out the $$$ for Microsoft Office. If you work with Microsoft Office all day long, there’s still no substitute for the real thing, but NeoOffice is perfect for the many of us who work with Office documents occasionally. For those of you who know, NeoOffice is simply packaged up in an Aqua interface, so it doesn’t look like an Ugly Bob on the Mac platform.
  • YuBurner is a handy free CD/DVD burning program that complements the fairly limited CD/DVD services offered by Finder and Disk Utility. If you can afford to shell out for Toast Titanium, I’d do that instead, but otherwise YuBurner works just fine. (Note: I haven’t tested YuBurner under Leopard yet, but I’m guessing it’ll work fine.)
  • NetNewsWire is the RSS reader of choice for pretty much any platform, and was made free (as in beer) in January 2008 or so. I know some folks who almost never touch Safari anymore and spend the entire day in this application. It has a very slick interface that somehow makes news reading a lot more pleasant than any other RSS reader application I’ve used. (I can’t quite put my finger on why!) I used to recommend the Vienna RSS Reader, but now that NetNewsWire is free, Vienna’s going to find it hard to compete!
  • I use Growl for two primary reasons. One’s HardwareGrowler. Unlike Windows, Mac OS X doesn’t notify you that much when you plug in or remove hardware devices, and I find that kind of information pretty damn useful. Another is GrowlSafari, which will alert you via Growl when a download has finished in Safari.
  • If you use Apple Mail and have a widescreen monitor, you’ll probably want Letterbox or WideMail. (I used Letterbox, but lots of people like WideMail.) Both of them change the split-horizontal-view in Apple Mail to be an Outlook Express-style three-pane view, like this:
  • I’m quite happy with Safari as the standard Web browser, but a ton of people prefer Mozilla Firefox. If you’d a bit of a Aqua fiend like me, don’t use many Firefox plugins, and want Firefox’s Gecko rendering engine but wrapped up in a more Aqua-like interface, try Camino instead: it’s basically Firefox minus the cross-platform XUL interface and more Aqua-like instead.
  • ICeCoffEE is a simple utility that adds the ability to Cmd-click on a URL link in any Mac OS X text box to open it in your preferred Web browser. Handy. (ICeCoffEE isn’t yet compatible with Leopard, unfortuantely.)
  • SynergyKM is a must if you work frequently with other computers next to your Mac and have each of them connected to different monitors. Run Synergy on each machine, and it’ll enable you to control all those computers from a single keyboard and mouse. (It’s mature enough that it even works well with games running on Windows PCs; I personally know a few people who use it on Windows PC that’s pretty much running World of Warcraft 24/7…). There’s also other Synergy clients available for Windows and Linux at the main Synergy website.
  • More Internet is a small System Preference that enables you to change your default email program, Web browser, FTP client etc to the one of your choice. Technically speaking, it changes the URL handlers.
  • Disctop wins an award for being a nearly superfluous but cool program. It simply puts a transparent image of a CD or DVD on your desktop to let you know that you’ve got one in your computer. Hell yeah!
  • Many Mac users will know that the Cmd-Tab key combination will switch between applications. However, what if you have a dozen documents open in one application that you need to rapidly switch between? Mac gurus will tell you to use Cmd-backtick (the ~ key). Unfortunately, Cmd-backtick is somewhat useless since pressing it just switches to the “next” window, where “next” means “whatever the application decides is the next window”. What you really want is something that works like Cmd-Tab, where pressing Cmd-backtick will switch back to the last window that you were working on. This way, you can rapidly ping-pong between two windows with the keystroke, which makes the keystroke actually useful. (The technical term for this is most recently used window switching ordering, or MRU.) Enter Witch, a System Preference which takes over the Cmd-backtick key to do exactly this, among a ton of other small useful things. Just make sure you set up its system preference pane to look like this:
  • SizzlingKeys4iTunes enables you to control iTunes with the keyboard. You can do this with Quicksilver already of course, but I quite like SizzlingKeys’s little Growl-like display. I use Ctrl-Opt-Cmd-Up to play/pause iTunes, Ctrl-Opt-Cmd-Right/Left to go to the Next and Previous tracks, and Ctrl-Opt-Cmd-backtick/1/2/3/4/5 to assign 0/1/2/3/4/5 stars to the current song.
  • If you’re one of those addicted BitTorrent people, grab Azureus or the official BitTorrent client. The official BitTorrent client is just fine, but some Torrent trackers seem to be only accepting Azureus as an acceptable client these days, for whatever reasons. (I’m not really fo sheezy with the whole BitTorrent culture whack yo, so I dunno why they do that.)
  • IRC junkies may really like Colloquy, a quite different-looking (and much more “Mac-like”) IRC client than the usual Xchat-style IRC interface. If you don’t like Colloquy, there’s a ton of other free Mac IRC clients available (including irssi, for all you hardcore UNIX terminal geeks); just have a look around.
  • Clutter will automatically retrieve artwork for the currently playing iTunes track from Amazon and copy it over to your iTunes library with a single keystroke. If you listen to a lot of music in iTunes, having artwork makes it just so much cooler (even if it’s only for the schweet Coverflow mode).
  • Cyberduck is a free FTP client that does the job just fine—while I’m normally a FTP command-line junkie and can’t live without the incredible lftp, Cyberduck is great when you want a GUI application that’s better integrated with the rest of the system. (You can’t get lftp to launch when clicking on ftp://-style URLs, for instance. Well, I’m sure you can, but I haven’t bothered setting it up yet)
  • HandBrake is the tool of choice for the discriminating DVD to MPEG-4 ripper. What could be easier than inserting the DVD, telling HandBrake how big you want the resulting file to be, and hitting “Rip”? It’ll output an iPod-compliant MPEG-4 video file that you can play on just about every system out there, and it supports subtitles, multiple languages, rescaling the ripped video, and all that other good stuff.
  • MacTheRipper complements HandBrake: rather than rip DVDs to MPEG-4, MacTheRipper does the same job as DVDDecrypter on Windows. That is, it’ll rip the raw contents of the DVD to your hard disk without any of that stupid CSS encryption. Mighty handy to make those DVD, uhh, “backups” of your originals to your hard disk, so you can do the time-consuming MPEG-4 encode later. Note that while MacTheRipper is a PowerPC binary, it works just fine on Intel Macs and isn’t slow at all (since it’s I/O-limited rather than CPU-limited). It’s also a testament to just how feature-complete and awesome Rosetta is.
  • FairMount (part of the DVDRemaster suite) is another tool in the DVD-ripping menagerie. Run FairMount, and it’ll watch for any DVDs you insert into your Mac. When you do, it’ll decrypt the DVD and present an unencrypted DVD disc to the system. This means that you can use HandBrake with a CSS-protected DVD without having to perform the incredibly annoying step of stripping the CSS from it via MacTheRipper first.
  • Those of you who use Gallery or Flickr for storing your photos and use iPhoto for your local photo management will want to check out the iPhotoToGallery and FlickrExport for iPhoto, respectively. (Note: Version 2 of FlickrExport is shareware, whereas version 1 was free.)
  • I’m quite happy with using iChat as my instant messaging client (using as a proxy service so I can log into MSN and other chat networks via iChat’s Jabber support), but those of you who are logging for the be-all-and-end-all chat program will probably want to check out Adium X instead: I know a few people who use it and could never look back. If you’re going to stick with iChat, check out Chax, an iChat hack that adds a ton of features to it.
  • coconutBattery is a very simple utility that I keep around for one reason: it can tell you your current maximum battery capacity vs how much it originally held. (If you didn’t know, batteries degrade over time.) Run coconutBattery once every few months to see when you need to buy a new battery.
  • Battery Hen is a Dashboard widget that’s just too damn cute to ignore (a screenshot’s below). It also means that you can remove the battery meter from your menu bar, which frees up precious menu bar space!
  • If you use VNC at all, Mac OS X Leopard comes with a pretty decent VNC client named “Screen Sharing” (buried in the /System/Library/CoreServices/ folder). For the odd occasion where Screen Sharing doesn’t do the job, I’ve found the best Mac OS X VNC client so far to be Chicken of the VNC. (Maybe Mac developers have a fetish for hens and chickens that I haven’t encountered yet.)
  • SuperDuper! is a program that does just one thing, and does it very well: it clones hard disks. That’s it. Don’t underestimate this, though, because it results in a bootable backup of all your data. Resulting down time if your hard disk crashes: zero minutes. If you pay the measly $20 to register it, it’ll automatically schedule the backup for you. Even if you’re using Time Machine, SuperDuper! is very handy to make sure you have a bootable backup of your disk. (You can even partition an external hard disk into one partition for Time Machine, and another for SuperDuper.) I’d highly recommend you have some sort of backup scheme in place unless you actually don’t care if you lose 12 years worth of email, photos, and home movies, and SuperDuper! or Time Machine are by far the best two solutions around. If you’re a UNIX wizard and are tempted to roll your own rsync scripts, cron jobs etc, just don’t, because you’ll have to really know what you’re doing to make your drive bootable, and to correctly preserve the metadata stored on Mac OS X’s HFS+ filesystems.
  • Pester is a really simple alarm clock that has nevertheless found a permanent place on my Dock. It has a very simple interface, and you can drive it completely by the keyboard, so it’s easy to switch to it, set an alarm in 5 seconds flat, and go back to what you were working on. (Make sure you get Pester 1.1b7—not 1.0—which is compatible with Leopard)

  • The Unarchiver is a simple drop-in replacement for the Finder’s default unarchiving application that will handle a ton more formats (Zip, RAR, 7-Zip, LHA, StuffIt, BinHex, MacBinary, Gzip, Bzip2, tar, ACE, etc etc…).
  • Generally, you can just drag a program to the Trash1 to uninstall it in Mac OS X, but if you want to guarantee blowing away all its preference files, startup items and all that, uApp is a free simple uninstaller program that I’ve used a few times.
  • Grand Perspective is a great utility for those of us that are consistently running near zero bytes free on our hard disks all the time. It’ll give you a very helpful graphical overview of what files are taking up the most space, and quite often you can free up many gigs worth of disk space just by looking at the output of these two programs. I used to recommend WhatSize because it was free, but it’s shareware now, in which case I’d recommend OmniDiskSweeper. OmniDiskSweeper isn’t technically free, but the Omni group appear to be happy for you to use it for free, and are requesting $15 for it only if you really want to use the Delete button from inside the program.
  • HexColorPicker adds the #RRGGBB colour format that’s so pervasive these days to the standard Mac OS X colour picker. I’ve found it useful quite a few times.
  • If you take a lot of screenshots, Backdrop is a tiny program that simply sets your desktop to a plain white picture.
  • For those of you poor students with no alarm clock because you spent all your money on a MacBook, check out iTaf, a simple alarm clock for iTunes. (It’s so much better waking up to good music than to a screaming buzzer!)
  • Doodim is a great program for those of you with 5-second attention spans like me. It dims the windows of background applications so that you can concentrate on just the front-most application that you’re working with. (It’s also great for taking screenshots.) Here’s a screenshot without and with Doodim:
  • SafariBlock is a cheap and cheery little plugin for Safari that blocks advertising. (I have zero ethical problems with advertising on websites, but the usual practice of making such things animated GIFs drives me batty.) There’s no need to maintain it: once installed, it keeps itself up-to-date.

Programs that Cost Some Money

  • RapidWeaver (USD$49) is an excellent program you can use to build a website: it’s what I used to do this one. Its tagline is “Powerful website creation”, and it fills a large gap in between the far-too-simple website building programs (i.e. iWeb) and the professional tools (Dreamweaver and FrontPage) that are far too expensive and complicated for your average home user. (Disclaimer: I do development work for Realmac Software. I started on RapidWeaver as a user though!) In the interest of fairness, if you don’t find RapidWeaver to be good, check out our competitor, Karelia’s Sandvox.
  • VMware Fusion is my virtualisation program of choice for when I need to access Windows or Linux. (I used to recommend Parallels Desktop, but I’ve found that beta 3 of VMware Fusion is now better.) Keep in mind that you’ll want a reasonable amount of disk space available for either Boot Camp or your virtual Windows disk images: you’ll want at least 6GB for a somewhat useful Windows installation. My Boot Camp partition is 11GB, and that’s enough to do install all the essential Windows utilities (virus scanners, anti-Spyware programs, CD burning utilities etc), Microsoft Office Reader programs, and a few heavyweight applications such as Microsoft Visual Studio C++ Express. I’d format your Boot Camp partition as NTFS so that you can take advantage of NTFS compression, to save more space. If you’re looking for a free solution, I’ve also heard some good things about VirtualBox, but I won’t give that a personal recommendation since I haven’t used it.
  • LaunchBar is very similar to Quicksilver, except that it costs a bit of money ($19.95). Where it wins over Quicksilver is speed and ease of use: unlike Quicksilver, when my system’s under heavy grind, LaunchBar always somehow remains extremely responsive; for the developers out there, I strongly suspect that LaunchBar uses mlock() and friends. LaunchBar’s also somehow a lot more intuitive and less hassle than Quicksilver, and it’s well worth the cost of two lunches for me.
  • VisualHub ($USD23.32) is a swiss-army-knife video converter from pretty much any video format to any other video format. Sure, if you know what you’re doing, you can go read the documentation for mencoder and ffmpeg and spend about ten hours frakking around with ten million command-line switches in Terminal… or you could pay $23, which is probably about half an hour of your time, and never have to stare at three-hundred-character-long lines in Terminal again. I know what I’d rather do!
  • QuickTime Pro (USD$30) turns QuickTime Player from a pretty lame movie player to a serious video editing machine. It ain’t no Final Cut Pro, but it is incredibly useful (especially if you want to chop up videos for Keynote presentations)! You can cut’n’paste movies together and crop out bits you don’t want, rotate movies, copy and paste multiple video or audio tracks, and generally do a ton of video editing with incredible ease. (If you’ve got the the DivX and WMV codecs installed for QuickTime, this will even work fine on those movies too!)
  • Keynote (USD$80, part of the iWork suite) is arguably the best presentation program around. It doesn’t match PowerPoint/NeoOffice feature-for-feature, but you have got zero hope in hell of creating slides in PowerPoint that are anywhere near as beautiful as what Keynote can do. If you give presentations often and actually care how good they are, you need Keynote.
  • Photoshop Elements (USD$80) might not be cheap enough to be an impulse buy, but it’s still a very useful tool. Some of you will find the Mac package of The Gimpshop good enough (which is free), but I still prefer Photoshop for doing any serious image work.
  • Toast Titanium (USD$80). On one level, I despise the idea that a CD/DVD burning program can cost so much money. CDs and DVDs are ubiquitous enough these days that I think they really should be fully supported in all parts of the system, and unfortunately Mac OS X is pretty lacking in this department since all you have is Finder and Disk Utility (although YuBurner goes a long way to filling this gap). So, I don’t like it that I have to pay extra for a burning program. However, Toast is complete, and polished. It’s really complete. It’ll copy video DVDs and shrink them down the correct size so you can copy dual-layer ones to a single-layer one just fine. It completely integrates with iTunes to burn enhanced audio CDs and MP3 CDs. It’ll burn NTSC/PAL VCDs, SVCDs, video DVDs, DivX discs from whatever video format QuickTime supports, and also from VIDEO_TS folders. It’ll easily put in interactive DVD menus on your DVDs that you burn from your home movies, like iDVD, if you like. It can mount CD images to appear as real CDs to the system, and will write the industry-standard Bin/Cue files unlike Disk Utility. It’ll let you do this from a very simple and well-designed interface.
  • If you’ve got a Bluetooth-enabled phone, you want Salling Clicker (USD$24), which enables you to use your phone as a remote control for your computer. It supports a ton of different types of phones, and it’s totally extensible so you can write Clicker scripts for programs that it doesn’t support out-of-the-box. Control your Keynote presentation with your phone; switch iTunes tracks; lock your computer automatically when you take your phone out of Bluetooth distance from it, and a ton more.
  • If you’re an book, CD or movie collector, Delicious Library (USD$40) is just plain beautiful. “A cataloguing program?” you say, “what’s the big deal about that?”. How about being able to scan the ISBN number from the back of your item with your iSight and have Delicious Library do all the boring data entry work for you? And did I mention that it just looks beautiful? Check out the screenshot below.

  • iPodRip (USD$15) is a very simple utility that, uhhh, copies songs back from your iPod to iTunes. I know that other free alternatives exist, such as Senuti”, but iPodRip, like Toast Titanium, is complete. It’ll two-way sync between your iPod and iTunes, properly copy and sync playlists back and forth, copy the songs to folders on your disk instead of directly adding it to iTunes, check that your iPod database is OK, and more. (Note: iPodRip doesn’t seem to be compatible with Leopard yet; boo, hiss. Use Senuti in the meantime!)
  • iGlasses (USD$8) is useful if you do a lot of video chatting. It’ll pump up the brightness of your iSight, which makes the video quality a ton better when the lighting in the room isn’t good (which it often isn’t).
  • If you use Boot Camp and want to access your Mac drives, MacDrive (USD$50) works very well. While I’d argue that this is a system-level utility that should really be free, it’s really hard work to write good, fast, filesystem drivers, so the asking price for it is pretty reasonable. I’ve had zero problems with it (I keep all my Windows games on a Mac-formatted Firewire drive), and a ton of people in the media industry use it heavily every day, so it’s a very mature product that should cause you zero problems. For the reverse (writing to NTFS partitions on Mac OS X), I use MacFUSE, which works just fine.

Hardware Bits

  • Postworx Speedballs and Snapballs (USD$20 and USD$10) are a small attachment that sit at the bottom of the back of your laptop. They provide a bit of elevation for it, which helps in two ways: (1) it provides better cooling, and more importantly, (2) it makes typing a lot more comfortable since the keyboard’s a bit raised. The latter helps a lot on plane tables.
  • The Marware Protection Pack (USD$20) protects the wristpad area of your laptop against dirt and oily hands, and also doubles as a softer layer to rest your hands on. The keyboard cover protects the screen against those nasty keyboard cap imprints, and doubles as a handy screen cleaner.
  • Elgato EyeTV (several hundred $): If you watch a ton of TV, the EyeTV has the best user interface for a TV tuner you’ve ever seen. It’s about the only digital TV tuner and hard disk recording solution that I’d be confident giving to my parents and having them use it without hassling me about how to do things every five minutes. You can also buy the EyeTV software separately from the hardware, if you’d really like to save on money.
  • If you have a laptop, get a backpack — not a shoulder bag — to carry your laptop around in. Really. Both STM and Crumpler sell excellent laptop backpacks that are impressively tough, can take a ton of abuse, and look really good too. You want a backpack rather than a shoulder bag for the simple reason that a backpack is ergonomically a ton better: I personally know a few people who used shoulder bags for a long time, and lo and behold, one of their shoulders started hurting a lot. My old STM Sports backpack (which is now discontinued) survived four years of being lugged to University every day, and there’s next to zero fraying, rips or tears in it — and I think I had a good 8 kilos worth of stuff in there each day. Now, I use and love the STM Medium Evolution (for 15” laptops) with a MacBook Pro, and the Small Evolution is great for the road warriors with MacBooks. Your shoulders will thank you in a few years.

UNIX Junkies

  • Apple’s Xcode Developer Tools is an essential install for any real UNIX hacker. It provides the normal UNIX development tools such as gcc, the GNU autotools, and just about everything else that you’d expect from a full-featured toolchain. You can install Xcode from Mac OS X installation CD/DVD, or just download it from Apple’s main Web site.
  • DarwinPorts (a.k.a. MacPorts) has a boatload of useful UNIX ports, such as ImageMagick, lftp, the most recent versions of GNU autoconf and automake, and a ton more. I personally install the GNU coreutils package on any computer, which gives you GNU versions of the essential UNIX system utilities like ls, cp, mv, etc. (They’re installed with a g prefix in front of their names, so to use the GNU versions, use gls rather than ls.) A lot of people know and use Fink, but I prefer DarwinPorts since I seem to have a lot less problems with it; the main downside is that DarwinPorts compiles everything from source code rather than pulling down binary packages, but things seem to build OK from DarwinPorts almost all the time.
  • LaTeX users can have their usual document-hacking environment by installing DarwinPorts (mentioned above) and then doing “port install teTeX”. (Note: the package name is case-sensitive).
  • Apple’s official X11 environment is pretty good, and supports things such as X OpenGL. It comes with its own window manager (quartz-wm) that integrates with the main Quartz windowing system, so that X11 applications at least superficially look like native Aqua applications.
  • Mike Ferris’s TextExtras is a Godsend for serious UNIX hackers: it adds a huge bunch of very useful capabilities to the text field and text view boxes in every Cocoa-based Mac OS X application (which is most of them, these days). You can do things such as select some text in a text field and run it through a UNIX filter of your choice. It also adds the Holy Avenger +5 Emacs-style M-/ dynamic abbreviation capability to a text field, which you just cannot live without after you’ve used it a few times. Note that Leopard has made life a little harder for those of us who use InputManagers, so you’ll have to be a little careful installing TextExtras on Leopard. I also have a custom build of TextExtras that works in garbage-collected applications (such as Xcode); I’ve sent the patches to Mike so hopefully it’ll be in the next public release, but just drop me an email if you’d like a copy of it. (My email’s at the bottom of this page.)

  • Carbon Emacs is a pretty solid Emacs distribution for Mac OS X. It looks a lot like a native Aqua application.
  • Those coming from the Linux audio world will be floored to hear that the JACK sound daemon has been ported to Mac OS X in the form of jackosx. jackosx even supports “jackifying” standard Mac OS X applications, so that any CoreAudio-based application can be routed through the JACK architecture. (Yes, this means that you can use JACK plugins with VLC or QuickTime Player: pretty cool huh?)
  • VirtueDesktops seems to be the virtual desktop manager of choice for those UNIX folks who just absolutely cannot live without their virtual desktops; I know a few people who still use this even though Leopard has Spaces. I personally think that Mac OS X’s window management facilities are just fine for me (Cmd-H and Exposé go a pretty long way to negating the need for them), but if you’d like to try something a bit different from Spaces, try out VirtueDesktops.
  • Terminator is a pretty good cross-platform terminal emulator. It’s written in Java, but don’t let that stop you: the Mac OS X port of it has had a lot of work done to make it look and feel like a native Aqua application, and it’s zippy and fast too. I personally find the default Mac OS X Terminal to be just fine for me (and I actually prefer it’s dtterm emulation over the myriad of xterm, vt100 and rxvt terminal types that a lot of other terminal emulators use), but you may prefer Terminator. I do not recommend iTerm, which a lot of other people do. I find iTerm to be very slow (far slower than Apple’s Terminal), a little bit lacking in features, its terminal emulation of a lot of escape sequences to be inaccurate, don’t find its multiple tabs to be all that useful, and when it crashes (which it does more often than you want it to, trust me), bang, there goes every single one of your 20 terminal windows! Plus, Leopard’s Terminal now has support for tabs, which pretty much my entire motivation for using iTerm.
  • HexFiend is a fine open-source hex editor for the Mac. After all, you can’t be a UNIX junkie without a decent hex editor on your system! Mac OS X also comes with a hexdump(1) utility that’s a superior replacement for the normal od -x bollocks that you have to put up with on UNIX platforms: hexdump -C will give you the canonical 80-column hex+ASCII display that we all know and love.
  • If you want to check the console output for an Aqua/GUI application, run in your Applications -> Utilities folder.


  • BibDesk is an essential utility for all you masters and Ph.D students doing any sort of computing research. Just as iTunes let you forget about the file structure of exactly where you put that friggin’ MP3 file, BibDesk will sort and archive all your research papers for you into one Grand Unified Database. You can drag’n’drop any paper from BibDesk to any other Cocoa text field, and it’ll automatically insert the BibTeX reference for you. For some researchers I know, it’s a killer reason to move to Mac OS X from another platform.

1 What happened to the cool British English and Australian localisation of Trash as Rubbish? Awwwww.