Favorite Mac programs and news readers

Here is a list of my favorite, and in my opinion, among the most useful Mac shareware programs for OS X. This is just my opinion, based on my experience using these programs, sometimes for years, since the OS 9 days. Concluding I will talk a bit about rss and news reading programs for both Mac and PC.

First, there are two programs that I use almost everyday; they are the “do everything” programs in their categories: Tex-Edit Plus and Graphic Converter. As their names imply, Tex-Edit Plus is a text editor (and so much more!), and Graphic Converter is an image editing program.

Here is how I use Tex-Edit Plus on a daily basis, which doesn’t exploit half the uses. Right now I am writing this post on Tex-Edit Plus. Why? I could use Word, but I want a plain text editor that won’t add funky formating; for this job I don’t need a word processor. Also, since I am writing a post for the Web, and I know I am going to be adding hyperlinks to this post, I can use one of the many free AppleScripts out there to format the hyperlinks automatically. That is one of the great things about Tex-Edit Plus: its use of AppleScript. No matter what you might use Tex-Edit Plus for, I am sure you can find some AppleScripts to help you do the job. For example, if you are coding HTML, there are many scripts to help; if you are trying to clean up an email and want to strip those “>” you can. I often use Tex-Edit Plus to clean up text that I have grabbed from a Web page. That includes getting rid of weird characters, smarten quotes, strip soft returns, what ever. And with OS X, as opposed to its OS 9 version, Tex-Edit Plus now has spell checker.

Graphic Converter is the second shareware program that is dominant in its category. As with all these programs I am writing about, Graphic Converter has won many awards. While it is one of the more expensive programs on my list ($30), I have found that to be a bargain. The program does so much, is always improving with updates appearing about every 8 weeks or so, not including bug fixes, and rarely is there an update fee. In the six years or so that I have been using Graphic Converter, I have had to purchase it once and paid an update charge once (I think). What does the program do? Just about anything you might need done with images, including converting them, some basic editing (which can be expanded because the program can also use PhotoShop plug-ins), easily browse many directories of images, make slide shows . . . and so much more. The program imports about 175 file formats, exports to around 75 formats, does batch conversions, optimizes images for the Web, and suports AppleScript. I don’t exploit the program for all its uses because I have PhotoShop, but nevertheless, Graphic Converter is still an indispensable program.

My next group of shareware programs for OS X are system enhancers or utilities. There are many good programs out there to make life with your Mac that much more pleasant, so my two favorites are just these two. On a daily basis I use Default Folder and Launch Bar no less than 10-15 times, and in the case of Default Folder, depending on what I am doing that day, I may use it 30-50 times in a day. These programs save me a lot of time doing everyday things: opening programs, finding files, saving files, opening folders and generally navigating around my Mac. I have been using Default Folder for more than six or seven years, since the days of OS 9; while you may think it is expensive for shareware ($34.95), there are not many update fees; I think maybe three in the entire time I have used it. Default Folder very important to my mental health: it makes navigating around my computer easier when trying to open or save files. It does this by altering the open/save dialog box to include a favorites list (favorite folders which you define), a recent folders list (you define how many folders that list should extend to), and a utilities list, which includes throwing things in the trash from the open/save dialog, renaming folders, assigning default folders for certain programs (for example, my default folder for Graphic Converter is images). There’s more, but I don’t use all the features. Also, with OS X, there is an Default Folder icon in the Dock, which means you don’t need the open/save dialog to open your favorite or recent folders.

The second system utility I have found useful, which is relatively new (OS X only), is Launch Bar. This utility ($19.95) continually has me wondering, how does it do that? What it does: open applications, files, emails, bookmarks, just about anything you want it to on your computer, all with a couple of key strokes. Here is an example of how I might use it: hit apple key-space bar and Launch Bar is activated from the menu bar near the system clock (this works from within any application, not just Finder); I type “GO” and the list of possible files or applications gets smaller until Adobe GoLive is at the top; I hit return and the application starts opening. That’s it! Here is the neat thing with Launch Bar: the program gets smarter and smarter the more you use it. When I first opened GoLive I had to type almost the whole word before it appeared at the top of the list of possible things to open (because I didn’t begin with Adobe). The same is true when I want to open Adobe PhotoShop; now I just type “PH” and there it is, at the top of the list. Here is another great thing about Launch Bar: the application is not bloated, runs in the background, and doesn’t slow your system down. Launch Bar is a serious time saver, keeping you from always reaching for the mouse.

There are two programs that make using the Web much easier; one of the programs is useful in collecting and organizing links, and the other is great at getting information from the Web without opening your Web browser. These programs are URL Manager Pro and Watson.

URL Manager Pro is a program that helps collect, organize, and make accessing your Web page bookmarks easy. Like some of the other programs I am writing about, I have been using this one since the OS 9 days, and like these other programs, the price ($25) is quite reasonable for ease of use and power it gives you over your collection of bookmarks. Honestly, the more bookmarks you have, the more useful you’ll find URL Manager Pro. The program integrates with just about any Web browser you use, and lets you save your organized bookmarks to the browser. In addition, you can find a shared menu that includes favorites, and other Web tools like collect all links that are on a particular Web page.

Watson ($29), again like other other programs mentioned, has won many awards. But, that alone should not sell you on the program, because maybe it isn’t useful to you specifically. Here is how Karelia describes what Watson is:

bq. A time-saving Swiss Army Knife program that packs over 20 time-saving, productivity-enhancing interfaces to the most important web content and services. Making the Web Elementary!

bq. URLs are hard to remember. Web services are scattered across the vastness of the web. Bookmark management is an oxymoron. Watson eliminates these problems and reduces your time-to-everything on the web — Watson makes getting information from the Web simple and straightforward.

Watson searches the Web for information and brings it to you in a user friendly format. Remember Sherlock for the Mac? Watson is better (though Sherlock 3 is nice too) because you never have to leave the program, open a Web browser, to read the information you want. For example, if you want to see what the local movies are in your area, use the movie tool. You can search by movies or theaters; when you find the movie you want you can read the description, get the movie times, and even watch the movie trailer, all from within the Watson program interface. This is just an example of the power of Watson. And there are many other Watson tools that integrate with Web sites: UPS package info, cooking recipes, baseball and football scores, Goggle searches, Yahoo! searches, image searches, local TV listings, phonebook, Amazon.com searching, eBay searching, and more tools are always being developed because the folks at Karelia make that process transparent, thus a Watson tool developers community has sprouted.

Lastly, I wanted to briefly address what I has been my greatest time saver in reading information on the Web: the use of rss files and a news reader program to browse, read, and organize those news feeds. Other people have better explained what an rss file is and how it can be used (here, and here, and here), so I will briefly give my explanation in the context of how I have used this tool. I open my news reader application once or twice a day to check for updates from my favorite sites; I have my news feeds categorized into groups like newspapers, blogs, Mac news, and fun stuff, and create new groups as needed. Depending on how the sites have their rss feeds implemented, you can either get the full text of the update or just a summary. In the case of newspapers, it is just a summary, but even that saves me time, not having to look at the whole site to read just one or two articles that interest me. Daily, I scan through the news feeds from about ten different newspapers and magazines. Using my news reader application I use my time much more efficiently.

The program I use to process and read these rss feeds is a Mac freeware program called NetNewsWire Lite (there is a shareware version which I will probably purchase at some point). News reader applications are not just a Mac thing, there are some good PC programs, like FeedReader, NewzCrawler, and Syndirella. Collecting favorite news feeds is not a problem using NetNewsWire Lite because there are many already included with the program (I’m assuming the same is for the PC programs). Adding new feeds, like the many new Yahoo! feeds, is easy. If you are looking for new rss feeds, here are two big sites that index them: Syndic8 and NewsIsFree.

These are just my opinions based upon my experiences; I have not been paid by person or company to endorse their products. If you decide to take any of my advice in regards to these programs, hopefully your mental health will improve just a little bit, and you will be a less frustrated person when using your computer.