Pimp my Mac
December 18, 2016 5:55 AM   Subscribe

Lifelong Windows user, recently got a Macbook Pro. What do I put on it?

So, courtesy of my university, I got a shiny new Macbook Pro (no touch bar, if it makes a difference) to do graphics design on, and for general portability. When at home I'll still use my beast of a Windows computer, but I want to be able to just do things on the Mac, which naturally leads me to wondering which apps of the "I cannot live without X for Y task" variety I'm missing.

Here's what I already have, either installed or on my "get this if needed" list:
  • Browser (Vivaldi)
  • Various communication apps (Skype, WhatsApp)
  • Creative Cloud (duh)
  • Office suite (both in the form of Pages / Numbers / Keynote, which I uninstalled but can reobtain, and in the form of Microsoft Office, to which I have a free subscription courtesy of university)
  • Amphetamine
  • Dr. Cleaner
  • Battery Health
  • The Unarchiver
  • VLC
Here's some things I could use, and questions I have:
  • An Avidemux equivalent. I know about Handbrake, but all I really need is the ability to watch through a video clip (being able to go frame by frame if needed), press a key to mark a start point, press another key to mark an end point, and save the clipped video without re-encoding. Handbrake seems significantly more complex... or am I being daft and missing something really obvious? :)
  • A bog-standard text editor, something that opens fast and saves equally fast. Bonus points for syntax highlighting, in case I want to stick my nose into HTML or CSS (or anything else) again, but bare-bones works.
  • Is there some way I'm missing of getting a basic calendar to pop up if I need it to, like clicking the clock in the Windows 7 taskbar? I know of apps like ItsyCal and Mini Calendar, but this seems like there'd be a native way to do it, surely? I don't need a full calendar app that keeps track of my schedule, just a quick way to look up "what date will be next Wednesday", "what day of the week is May 15" and suchlike.
  • I've seen people recommend AppCleaner, is this something I need if I've already got Dr. Cleaner or would it be redundant?
  • Is there a reliable Facebook Messenger app? (I'm content just using messenger.com if not.)
  • Decent mail app that isn't the default one? (I have multiple gmail accounts, plus an Outlook account from my university, which I do need to check. I'm content using webmail if there's nothing really shiny.)
And in general, like I said, anything of the "I cannot live without X for Y task" persuasion. Even if I don't need to do X task right now, knowing which app to go for if I do end up needing one would be very helpful.

Free apps preferred, but wouldn't be opposed to paying for something really great. Small hard drive footprint preferred, since I've only got 128GB to work with (though I'm getting a portable external for files, I'd still rather avoid filling up my drive entirely with apps).
posted by sailoreagle to Computers & Internet (34 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
There's a barebones text editor built in (called TextEdit). Atom is free, but is probably overkill for you.
posted by hoyland at 6:12 AM on December 18, 2016

For the text editor, you probably want Sublime.
posted by deathpanels at 6:37 AM on December 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

For text editing, Atom or TextWrangler.
posted by neushoorn at 6:39 AM on December 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm going through the same experience as you having just gotten a macbook pro for the first time. Three Finger swipe to the right on the touchpad brings up a standard calendar and some other widgets.
posted by Jacob G at 6:54 AM on December 18, 2016

Onyx does some logfile deleting and clean-up on your mac and I've always liked Disk Inventory X for figuring out what is using up space if you're not comfortable with the command line.

Thunderbird is the most full-features Mail App replacement and has a bunch of plug-ins that come with it, plus you can use it on your PC too if you want. I wouldn't call it shiny but it does work just fine.

Handbrake is good for ripping DVDs and converting files to ones you can play on more devices. Also Audacity for working with audio files. I like Gimp for the rare times I have to edit images (though Preview which comes with the Mac has some pretty good basic editing features.) Mowgli might be a good calendar? I just open the calendar app since it's pretty quick to load.
posted by jessamyn at 6:55 AM on December 18, 2016

I use Airmail for email. It's $10 in the app store, but the beta version is free. I use Atom sometimes for editing, but mostly I go old school with Aquamacs. At least on El Capitan, I found any other browser besides Safari used a lot more of the battery power, but ymmv. I occasionally use AppCleaner to remove apps; Dr. Cleaner seems like it does the same stuff and more (I'm not sure the "more" is necessary. OS X doesn't need much maintenance). Make sure you set up Time Machine for backups!

For the "I cannot live without X for Y task" In general, I usually live in the Terminal, and if you're going to be doing anything technical, it's nice to get used to the command line. For command line tools, I think Homebrew is now standard.
posted by bluefly at 7:10 AM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Text editor - you want BBEdit. Made by Bare Bones software funnily enough. It's practically an institution. And free, although the premium features lock out after 30 days.

The most vital thing for me though is Ghostery adblock. Not sure if it would work with your Vivaldi browser thing though (I've not heard of it before), I use Safari and it still shocks me how many different ads and trackers it blocks from just one webpage.
posted by derbs at 7:18 AM on December 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Parallels and VMWare make really good virtual-machine apps for Mac. These allow you to run Windows programs almost seamlessly (if you want, you can have them appear in a window on the desktop, alongside whatever Mac apps you're running). Works great for those Windows apps that the Mac versions just aren't as good, or are quirky and hard to use if you know the other app, or things like that. (Like, MSOffice specifically, the Mac versions of which are hard to use if you're good at the Windows versions.)
posted by spacewrench at 7:40 AM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

A new initiative is SetApp, a collection of well-curated apps. The model will be a monthly subscription, with all updates done automatically. I believe it will be free, upon requested invitation, until March 2017.
posted by yclipse at 7:41 AM on December 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Text editor: Atom

Pop-up calender: Day-O

Avidemux equivalent: Lossless Cut. It does only what you asked for: preview and trim a video without re-encoding. I’ve had some problems with it producing corrupt output though, so test it carefully.

Bonus suggestion: Alfred. It's an app launcher / search tool / automation thing. It's the front-end interface I use to stuff on my Mac instead of Spotlight and the Dock.

If you're at all hacker-inclined iTerm2 is a good Terminal.app replacement. You'll end up wanting Homebrew, too.

Be sure to set up Time Machine backups to an external hard drive. And if you have a choice don't buy / install stuff from the Mac App Store: it has severe restrictions on apps and many of the App Store versions are crippled in some way.
posted by Nelson at 8:06 AM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Things like AppCleaner are pointless. Just drag the application to the trash if you wish to be rid of it; 95% of the apps on macOS are self-contained packages. The few files left behind are trivial and generally nothing more than a preference file or two, and perhaps some cache files. Anything more complicated will generally have its own uninstaller. You can ignore applications like Onyx as well. macOS is Unix—it'll handle all that log file housecleaning and more if you just leave it alone. I've been professionally troubleshooting and repairing Mac hardware and software for over 15 years now, and it never ceases to astound me how often people try to overcomplicate things.

I'll second BBEdit as a text editor. It's amazing, and Bare Bones Software has been developing for Mac OS for ages. TexWrangler is a lighter-weight version from the same company that's available for free if your needs aren't too complicated. The Unarchiver is useful and covers most any bases the built-in Archive utility doesn't.

And what Nelson said: Use Time Machine on that external volume! For the love of God, use Time Machine.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 8:13 AM on December 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

You don't need Amphetamine if you learn the command line and the caffeinate command.
posted by Ampersand692 at 8:19 AM on December 18, 2016

Use Homebrew to install taskwarrior ('brew install task' + 'brew install tasksh') as well as calc, ledger, git, etc. If you might like to do any programming, don't be tempted by the fact that the machine comes with several languages installed. Use something like perlbrew, rvm, pyenv, or the Homebrew distribution of the language to get your own dev environment so that the modules you add don't affect the system install.
posted by Wobbuffet at 8:34 AM on December 18, 2016

Oh, as a graphic designer messing around with HTML/CSS, you'll probably want VirtualBox and some of these virtual machines for testing IE.
posted by Wobbuffet at 8:49 AM on December 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ah, excellent. Some of those I never would've found by myself.

Trying to avoid threadsitting, but some notes:
  • Vivaldi is Chromium-based, so all standard extensions work, so definitely getting an adblocker etcetera.
  • Yep, definitely going to Time Machine backups. That's a good part of the reason I'm getting a portable external.
  • The reason I was looking at AppCleaner is because one of the first thing I did was go uninstall things I was never going to use (because of space and clutter), and one of them was GarageBand, and after uninstalling that there were still 2GB++ of instrument / lesson files, and I had to Google to figure out where those live, which was obnoxious. Any better solution to that kind of issue?

posted by sailoreagle at 8:50 AM on December 18, 2016

You want to install Quicksilver, and never look back.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:38 AM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

BetterTouchTool is literally the first thing I install on any Mac. Fixes the window management, and then some. Also, KeePassX.
posted by fifthrider at 10:19 AM on December 18, 2016

OMG yes, QuickSilver. When I use my PC at work, I miss it so much.
posted by radioamy at 10:33 AM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

For quick and dirty uninstalling, Clean My Mac. It can work on a schedule, and will take care of those extra Garage Band (etc.) files left laying around.
posted by emelenjr at 11:46 AM on December 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Spectacle is a really nice little window manager, it lets you quickly resize and move windows around with the keyboard. Particularly handy if you use a laptop with a separate desktop screen.

If you tend to work (or surf) into the evening, F.lux is a nice app for reducing the blue light from your screen. It's very customisable and really helps with eye strain.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:21 PM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes, BBEdit, yes I say yes.

Gimp is OK for some tasks but for full design work for print you probably still want InDeign and PhotoShop. But beyond those flagship apps there are free equivalents for most of the things you need.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:12 PM on December 18, 2016

I'd avoid TextWrangler/BBEdit as a text editor if you are used to Windows, use Sublime Text or Atom instead, the advantage for both of these is that they tend to use the typical shortcuts you're used to and they both offer Windows and Unix ports so that you can use the same editor on your work machine as well.
posted by furtive at 4:55 PM on December 18, 2016

Also, you don't need to install Quicksilver, macOS has offered the same functionality built into Spotlight for ages, and it's just as good for 80-90% of what you'd use quicksilver for.
posted by furtive at 4:57 PM on December 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

If in Windows you're used to using Windows Key + Left/Right/up arrow to move windows to the left/right/maximize then you'll want to check out BetterSnapTool or an alternative since OSX doesn't really include this functionality natively.
posted by furtive at 5:06 PM on December 18, 2016

Fantastical gives you the quick calendar access you're asking for. It also gives a bunch of features and may be overkill for you. But I'm in love with the natural text entry for events, and all the other bells and whistles.

Soulver is super handy for doing quick math. Spillo is a good manager for Pinboard bookmarks. If you ever need to do git stuff, Tower is your best choice.
posted by Banknote of the year at 5:26 PM on December 18, 2016

For taking notes, nvALT is the best. Plain text note taking, a hotkey to bring it up instantly, and then effortless search. I've used it at work for years and love it.
posted by overleaf at 6:51 PM on December 18, 2016

PS: Google can answer questions like "what day of the week is May 15" although it's a little lacking on some other kinds of calendar queries. Command-space-"Calendar" will bring up the pre-installed Calendar app (or just click on it in the dock) for just looking at dates.
posted by overleaf at 7:03 PM on December 18, 2016

A few notes from me, a giant Mac nerd:
  • I'm still not sure why folks really want to swap out Mail. It works for me, and does some things that a lot of new-hotness mail clients don't do, like actual offline mail access. But you do you, and the costs of experimenting are low.
  • Text editors are religious choices. I still mostly use TextMate (I'm typing this in TM, in fact), but it's effectively dead. Sublime is the follow-on choice for most people. Atom is interesting, but probably overkill. And, of course, you can get versions of emacs and vi if you want them. (IMO, you do NOT want BBEdit, whose time has long since passed.)
  • And if you DO want emacs, I'd suggest using the actual Gnu Emacs for Mac and not Aquamacs. I experimented quite a bit with both when I was adopting orgmode, and found that the former was substantially faster AND more up to date, which mattered to me.
  • Yes, get Onyx.
  • For virtual machine needs, the current performance winner is VMWare Fusion, but Parallels will probably leapfrog them within a few revs because, as I understand it, VMWare has laid off the Fusion team. I'd avoid the free virtualizing solutions; they tend to perform badly compared to the commercial options, and your time has value.
  • I can't live without Alfred. Seriously. It's better than Quicksilver at this point, which is sad to say. Spotlight is in no way a substitute for Alfred or Quicksilver, though -- anyone who says so doesn't understand what those apps can do.
  • I use Fantastical, not the built-in calendar. I prefer the interface and the natural language processing.
  • Mac tools to "tune" or "clean" are pointless. They depend on you thinking that the Mac and Windows are equivalently needy on this point, but they're really not. There is no Registry equivalent on a Mac that will bog you down over time. There's nothing like the Windows Installer folder that steadily and irrevocably grows over time on a Mac. You don't need to wipe and reinstall everything every so often, and you don't need a cleaner app. (The long-term maintenance difference is probably because Apple made a clean break with the past around the turn of the century, which is something Microsoft has yet to do, so they are still tied in some ways to design choices made 20+ years ago that weren't super great at the time, even.)
  • That said, if you're looking for large application support stuff, it's gonna be in /Library. You don't need to search for it, but by and large the situation you had with the built-in Garage Band isn't going to recur with things you actually install.

posted by uberchet at 8:43 AM on December 19, 2016

Three Finger swipe to the right on the touchpad brings up a standard calendar and some other widgets.

Or a two finger swipe from the right edge of the trackpad to bring up the notification centre, to which you can add a calendar or a 'today' summary.
posted by spindle at 12:13 PM on December 19, 2016

For calendars, I've actually found that BusyCal is better than any of the other options in terms of both natural language input and tremendous ability to customize.
posted by klangklangston at 2:58 PM on December 19, 2016

Why are you installing battery apps on your brand new computer? And log clean up programs???? What?!!!

I think an equivalent and more useful approach would be to not install things that you don't need (faster computer, more space, more battery).

Macs are different.

Take your time and get used to the philosophy of your machine. Less is more. Play with Automator. Learn how to use the terminal. This isn't windows -- discover the differences and enjoy it! Run every app that came with the computer to begin with. There's a graphing calculator in the utilities folder - did you know that? Go graph a torus.
Form opinions about those programs. Fall in love with some of them. Get frustrated by them and then seek alternatives.

The CCleaner glory days of Windows are behind you. Are beneath you. That stuff isn't important on a Mac.

And with 128 GB space, you don't have a lot of space to waste anyhow.

Have fun!
posted by oceanjesse at 10:04 PM on December 19, 2016

But definitely go with Sublime Text :)
posted by oceanjesse at 10:08 PM on December 19, 2016

Well, yeah, I'm not planning on installing most of this stuff until I actually feel I need it. There's no point in choking a shiny new computer with programs I don't need. But I wanted to have a list of what's good for various things, so when I do need a particular one, I can just go grab that instead of spending an hour googling. Call it preemptive research :)
posted by sailoreagle at 6:25 AM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just a note about text editors: I personally love TextWrangler and use it more than any other app on my Mac, and it's free, so you could try it out for free and switch to Sublime or something if you don't like it. But I'm recommending it not because it's free, but because it's awesome.
posted by kristi at 12:28 PM on December 20, 2016

« Older Surprise birthday planning tips   |   How would fusilli Jerry prepare this pasta for... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.