2008
11.05

Every time I review an Apple computer, or buy one, I feel my productivity inhibited until I get a few applications on my system. Here are the ones I use, in order of how much I miss them when a given Mac doesn’t have them installed…

1. Quicksilver
Hit a shortcut key (I set mine for double-tapping the Command key), then start typing. Applications and files pop up quickly. Hit enter to run, use your up and down arrow keys to select from the list of files and applications that come up, use your left and right arrow keys to burrow deeper into the functions of a program. With another click, you have a menu of actions that you can take, other than opening the program or file (revealing it in Finder, deleting it, moving it, etc.). It makes launching applications a breeze for me, as I’m a rather keyboard-driven person, and it’s absolutely free.

2. Witch
In short, this application, which appears to be shareware but so far hasn’t prompted me to buy it in any nagging fashion, is to the Mac what Alt-Tab is to the PC. Tired of only being able to switch between applications rather than windows in a specific application? This fixes that issue quite elegantly, though you don’t get the pretty previews of application windows you do in Windows Vista.

3. VLC
Quicktime is a decent video player. iTunes is a decent audio player. VLC does both, and does them elegantly. If you want to play a song without adding it to your iTunes library, VLC is what you want to use. You also get “play pretty much everything including DVDs” format support, which is especially useful in today’s world of fractured video file formats. As an added bonus, VLC tends to be lighter on resources than Apple’s own products. Best of all, it’s free.

4. A different web browser (Firefox, Minefield or Webkit)
Safari is cool, but it’s not the fastest, nor the most compatible, web browser out there. Firefox is a bit more compatible than Safari in terms of how sites function, plus it has tons of “extensions” so you can customize the browser to your heart’s content. If you’re feeling adventurous, Minefield if Firefox but with a heaping helping of extra speed…and extra bugs. If you like Safari and find it works for you, get Webkit…it’s significantly faster and generally improved compared with Safari. Be aware, however, of the beta status of Minefield and Webkit; on Webkit you’ll be grabbing a 35-megabyte application download every night or two, and Minefield isn’t much better. As with most web broswers, these are free.

5. Something for running WIndows programs (VMWare Fusion, Parallels, VIrtualbox, Crossover)
Let’s face it: you won’t be able to run all the applications you need on OS X. Some programs just run better, or run, period, on WIndows. Probably the most high-profile ways to do this are Boot Camp (installing Windows alongside Mac OS and dual-booting) and virtual machine programs like Parallels and VMWare Fusion, which run around $60. There’s another way: Crossover Mac, which basically “fakes” Windows so programs of that stripe can run. Crossover honestly isn’t as reliable as a virtual machine program, nor is it as compatible with as many applications, however it is faster (to the point that Windows games will work on OS X) and cheaper (the program runs around $40 and doesn’t require you to buy a copy of Windows).

If you’re wondering when I’ll give a similar list for PC users, don’t worry…that’s coming soon. You could even run the five PC apps in a virtual machine on a Mac, if you can follow that. At any rate, once you’ve checked out these programs, you won’t know how you lived without ‘em.

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