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Best Apple Mac OS X Software: Part One

Our Apple expert John C. Welch picks 22 lesser-known applications that can make your Mac experience more productive and more fun. Part 1 of 2.

This story originally appeared March 10, 2007.

Top Mac OS X Products

•  Image Gallery

•  Ecto

•  Transmit

•  Sync Services

•  BBEdit

•  Missing Sync for
Windows Mobile

•  OmniGraffle Pro

•  ConceptDraw

•  iChat AV

•  AppleScript

•  Script Debugger

•  Microsoft Entourage

•  SketchFighter
4000 Alpha

•  TypeIt4Me

•  NetworkLocation

•  Apple Remote
Desktop 3

•  MacLink Plus Deluxe

•  Parallels Desktop
for Mac

•  Remote Desktop

•  Snapz Pro X

•  Boot Camp

•  PDF

•  Lingon

•  Workgroup Manager

While Mac OS X is a top-notch operating system, there always are things it can't do, or could do a bit better. This applies to every operating system, because if they were all perfect, then no one would make money writing third-party software! I know the Internet abounds with various lists of "Mac Software You Can't Live Without"; if you can stand one more, I've compiled what I've found to be some cool and useful tools. No, I don't think you can't live without any of them, but they've all made my Mac experience more complete, and a little more fun, too. One further word: Don't take the order below too seriously; it's more a reflection of how and when things occurred, rather than a definitive comment on relative merit.

from Kuala Co. Ltd.

(click image for larger view)

Ecto is a feature-rich desktop blogging client; its html-editor screen is shown.

view the image gallery
Adriaan Tijsseling's blog posting application is one I use every day for the various blogs I post to, both out in public and in my "real" job. It is far and above better than anything that MovableType or WordPress have been able to come up with, and its flexibility in connecting to different blogging systems is one of its main strengths. The other reason I use and love Ecto is the flexibility it gives me. It allows me to write posts the way I want to, which is still rather behind the WYSIWYG curve. I do it all in plain text, and apply the tags manually. Ecto lets me set up custom tags however I like, and even grab clipboard data to enter in the tags. Makes adding long URLs a snap. It also lets me create tags that are custom to various blog systems, so that I'm not stuck with trying to remember far too many nonstandard tags. It's AppleScriptable (always a huge plus in my world), and it does what I want my apps to makes my work noticeably easier and more pleasant.

from Panic Software

(click image for larger view)

Transmit 3, from Panic Software, is an ftp program for Mac OS X.

view the image gallery
Yes, I know, using an FTP application isn't l33t, all the cool kids use the command line. OK, then, I'm not cool. But Transmit makes dealing with (S)FTP and the tasks I use FTP for smoother and easier. I love the split view, so that my FTP needs don't require multiple windows, either in the app or the Finder. (Yes, I love column view in the Finder, to the point that it's the only one I'll use.) It integrates with Sync Services and .Mac, so I can back up my favorites setting, and it gives me one-click integration with BBEdit, another application that I use nigh-continuously, (and yes, BBEdit's on the list, too). The only feature it's missing that I'd love to see is Kerberos support, but the Panic team has said it's coming soon. Even without that, it's the only FTP application on the Mac that works the way my brain does, and for that, I'll happily pay the thirty bucks.

Sync Services
part of Apple Mac OS X

Sync Services
(click image for larger view)

Sync Services allows any application that supports it to synchronize any kind of data to any other application that uses this data.

view the image gallery
OK, Sync Services isn't technically an application, but it's my list, so there. While most people (incorrectly) call this iSync, Sync Services are a set of OS Services that allow for automatic data sharing and integration. The most visible use of this is iSync, for synchronizing contacts and calendar data to phones and PIMs, and .Mac sync, which allows you to sync things like bookmarks, calendars, keychains, account data and others to your .Mac account.

However, that's the tip of the iceberg. What Sync Services does is allow any application that supports it to synchronize, well, any kind of data to any other application that uses this data. For example, the current version of Microsoft Entourage supports Sync Services for Notes, Contacts, Events, and Tasks. (You can choose Exchange or Local data for Contacts, Events, and Tasks.) However, iChat doesn't talk to Entourage, it talks to Address Book. Now, without Sync Services, I had to manually deal with this, and it was a pain. But with Entourage's Sync Services support, I don't have to mess with that. Any change I make in Entourage's address book is automatically synchronized with Apple's Address Book, or any other application that is Sync Services enabled and uses contact data. So instead of trying to make all applications use the same data source, they all just automatically share the same data in the format that is best for them.

When I use Missing Sync for Windows Mobile, from Mark/Space to synchronize my Windows Mobile phone to my Macbook, sure, it has an Entourage conduit, but I never use it. Missing Sync talks to Sync Services, too. Without Sync Services, you get into conduit hell. "Do I have a conduit for this device to talk to that application?" This is why Mac users who rely on Quicken are forced to use Treos. Pocket Quicken's Mac conduit is Palm only. If you want to use Windows Mobile, you have to sync with Windows. With Sync Services, the application never talks directly to the device. The device talks to Sync Services and the application(s) talk to Sync Services. So now, instead of synchronizing with an application, I'm only synchronizing data. It's really cool. Apple only supports Sync Services locally on your Mac, or remotely only to .Mac. However, Mark/Space recently released its SyncTogether application which extends Sync Services over your local network, or the Internet. Sync Services helped remove one of the single biggest headaches from my day, and that's why it's on the list.

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