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Who Wants That?

Entry 2093, on 2020-12-08 at 14:22:40 (Rating 2, Computers)

This is a follow-up from my previous blog post where I discussed why the "standard" or "obvious" software choices aren't always the best, specifically on the Mac platform. It doesn't matter so much on Windows of course, because that's always going to be a bad experience whatever software you use because of the horrible hardware and operating system! (Note: I'm not totally serious about that, because there is some fairly good PC hardware around)

As I have mentioned several times in the past, I tend to not use products from the most prominent companies, especially Microsoft and Adobe, so what do I use instead? Well, I think the easiest way to find out is to look at which programs I have used most in the last week or two. Of course, I am going to use the "killer app" for Mac to do that: Terminal! (more on that later) Anyway, here's the list...

Mail (by Apple). The default email client for Mac does a good job accessing email from multiple services, including Apple iCloud, Microsoft Exchange servers, and Google GMail servers. I know there are some features of these services (especially Exchange) which aren't supported, but I prefer to do without those so I can avoid using lesser programs, such as that slow, ugly, unintuitive pile of trash, Microsoft Outlook! Mail is pretty reliable, very fast, easy to use, surprisingly flexible, and it has Apple's beautiful uncluttered design.

Brave (by the Brave authors). I have tried many web browsers over the last few years, including Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, but I think Brave offers the best combination of speed, flexibility, reliability, compatibility, and security. It's based on the Chromium engine, so it basically gives me the power and compatibility of Google Chrome, without having Google constantly spying on me! Did I mention that I think Google is just as evil as Microsoft and Adobe? On a related matter, I use DuckDuckGo as my search engine instead of Google.

Station (by the Station team). I have a lot of "web apps" that I use constantly, and I found they were cluttering up my normal web browsing. I often had over fifty tabs open in Chrome and it was a nightmare. So I decided to use Station to handle my social media apps, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Wordpress, Whatsapp, Reddit, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and on-line purchasing sites like eBay and Ali Express. It works pretty well, but I really just treat it as another web browser, although it has some features which make it more specialised than a normal browser.

Calendar (by Apple). I need to try to keep my life organised, so I keep track of all my appointments, work, and other events in Apple's Calendar application. Again, this is primarily an alternative to Outlook. Note that Outlook bundles several "productivity" features (email, calendar, address book, notes, todos) into one program, where Apple splits these into individual apps. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages, but clearly I prefer Apple's approach. Again, Calendar is just much cleaner, faster, and generally more pleasant to use that Outlook.

Pixelmator Pro (by Pixelmator). This is the big one! I used Photoshop since it was first released and I still quite like it. But I don't like Adobe as a company, and even their best app (Photoshop) is starting to feel a bit clunky and bloated. Pixelmator Pro doesn't do quite as much as Photoshop, but it is easier to use, often faster, much more elegant, and a lot cheaper! Recently, it really has become a great app, and I never feel the need to return to Photoshop.

Safari (Apple). I have already mentioned Brave as my main web browser, plus Station for my web apps, so why do I have Safari as well? I spend a lot of time on the web and having the different web functions split between three browsers is often useful. I use Safari as my "technical" browser, to test and debug my web sites, and do more advanced web related work. It continues the "Apple theme" of speed, reliability, and elegant design.

Pages (Apple). I still remember the day I switched from Word to Pages. I was trying to create a moderately complex worksheet for my wife, who was a teacher at the time, which involved text flowing around graphics with arrowed lines extending from the text to the graphics. I eventually got it looking OK on the screen, but only after great frustration. Unfortunately, when I printed it, the arrows pointed to the wrong place. Word had just moved everything around. After an hour of messing around - and a lot of cursing - I re-created the document in Pages and it printed perfectly first time. As well as that, Word is a bloated, clumsy pile of poorly integrated functions. Pages just feels like it has been designed rather than thrown together by a committee of incompetents!

Numbers (Apple). I do have to confess here that Numbers probably isn't quite in the same league as Excel. In fact Excel is the only Microsoft product I have a certain amount of respect for. Don't worry though, I still think it is ugly and poorly designed, but it is a bit better than the other Microsoft products. Numbers is OK for most people's use, but if you are a truly serious spreadsheet user you might really need Excel (sad, but true).

Keynote (Apple). See my notes on Word, but tone it down slightly (because PowerPoint isn't quite as revolting as Word) and you can apply that to PowerPoint. Keynote is just so much more elegant, and the end result always looks better to me. It also doesn't seem susceptible to messing up movies, fonts, and graphics like PowerPoint sometimes does. If you are going to do a presentation you need a program you can rely on. For me, that's Keynote.

Photos (Apple). I am an enthusiastic amateur photographer so you might think that the fairly simple, default photo program on the Mac would be inadequate. But Photos is surprisingly functional, and I find it does most of what I need. I do use Pixelmator Pro (see above) to edit photos, but Photos is great for storage, retrieval, and synchronising photos between my devices.

BBEdit (Bare Bones Software). I love this program. It's "just a text editor" but when you are a programmer and consultant, a good text editor is one of your most important tools. BBEdit just gets the job done when you need it to. It's very solid, very fast, and has an amazing collection of useful tools and utilities, including an excellent GREP search and replace facility. I possibly use it more than any other program, and I'm using it to write this document now.

Preview (Apple). Preview is a "hidden gem" which I think is under-appreciated. It can be used to view and edit many document formats, especially PDFs and graphic formats such as JPEG. The PDF editing is limited, but many people find it good enough to rearrange pages, delete pages, merge PDFs together, and do basic markup. Unfortunately, it cannot actually edit the text in a PDF (but see later).

Messages (Apple). I prefer to communicate with my friends, family, and clients through text and instant messages. If I have my iPhone or iPad (or even Apple Watch) handy I might use those, but the computer is still the easiest way to type messages. Having all my messages (including texts) sync between the phone and computer is really convenient, so I often use the Messages app to communicate. People wonder how I type message so quickly and include media like movies and pictures so easily. My secret is that, while these can be done on a phone, the Messages app on the computer is so much easier!

Dictionary (Apple). I'm pretty good at spelling and have a good vocabulary, but I often want to look for alternative words, just to get the exact nuance of meaning I want. So I use Apple's dictionary app - which also has a thesaurus - to check my word use. It's very fast, easy, and complete.

PDF Expert (Readdle). I mentioned above that my PDF viewer, Preview, can't edit the actual content of PDFs, so I needed another solution, and the obvious answer was Acrobat. But that is a clunky, ugly program, and it is made by Adobe. So I now use PDF Expert which has a far nicer interface. I must admit, I use it rarely so I'm not sure how the two compare in terms of their total feature set, but PDF Expert has never failed me yet.

Remote Desktop (Apple). I have many servers and other computers I need to control remotely and Remote Desktop does the job brilliantly. Unlike the other Apple apps I have listed, this isn't free because Apple consider it a professional program, but I bought a license many years ago and it still works. I don't have to keep paying. Did you hear that Microsoft and Adobe?

Terminal (Apple). As I said at the start of this post, Terminal is the killer app for the Mac, so I will finish with it here. I'm not totally serious, because most people shouldn't use it, but I use it a lot, sometimes even for stuff I could also do using a graphical interface program, like Finder.

So that's my list - or at least part of it, because I have about 500 apps on my Mac. And do you know what's so great about these: most of them come free, bundled with the computer, and the rest were relatively cheap single payments with no subscriptions! Macs cost a bit more, but you do get some great software included. Buy a PC and you will have to buy the software you need, but worse still, you will most likely buy really bad software with a licensing scheme meaning you are trapped for the rest of your life into paying Microsoft or Adobe. And who wants that?


Comment 1 (6259) by Anonymous on 2021-01-19 at 12:12:05:

Any opinions on the following categories? games, database, video player?


Comment 2 (6260) by OJB on 2021-01-19 at 12:12:22:

The Mac is not a good gaming platform, although there are some games available. I tend to do casual gaming on my iPad. So no recommendation there. FileMaker Pro works fairly well for databases, but I find it frustrating in some ways. I do "real" database work using MySQL, but that is not the best choice for non-programmers. QuickTime Player plays most video formats OK, but if it can't, VLC is an alternative.


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