The 46 Mac Apps I Actually Use and Why
When I wrote “Level 2 Clean Install of Ventura Solves Deep-Rooted Problems” (10 April 2023), I stopped at the point of declaring—and I am not being smug about this, universe!—seeming victory over several previously intractable problems. What I glossed over was the remaining step of reinstalling third-party apps. It was tedious but fascinating because I learned precisely which apps I really use and the order I needed them. The start of this list is less indicative than the latter part: I installed many of the early apps more or less simultaneously and then added back other apps when the task for which I use them cropped up.
Here then, are the 46 apps I rely on (so far!), with a few words of explanation for each. Note that while I do recommend all of these apps individually, that’s partly because I pay for hardly any of them. If I were working under a typical budget, I would be somewhat more circumspect, particularly with multiple apps in the same category.
The first app I reinstalled—using Apple’s bundled Safari, of course—is the privacy-focused Web browser Brave. I’ve been a fan of Brave’s privacy protections for some time, and, as a Chromium-based browser, it supports the handful of Chrome extensions I need. I also like its efforts to eliminate cookie dialogs and its integration of Brave Search (see “Brave Search Public Beta Offers Alternative to Google,” 8 July 2021). As you’ll see, I keep a handful of Web browsers installed, but I tend to switch my default browser infrequently. Which makes it all the more ironic that my very first app install is one I’m no longer using because its replacement is the most transformative app I’ve used in years. Consider yourself teased.
Email is life, and when the Gmail Web interface began to wear on me, Mimestream had just become available for beta testing. I’ve used it non-stop ever since. While it currently supports only Gmail, I consider Mimestream the best email client I’ve used since Eudora. (It’s not really much like Eudora, but the spirit behind it evokes the same sort of response.) Mimestream is the focused vision of a single programmer, Neil Jhaveri, who has lived and breathed email for years, including over 7 years leading engineering teams that worked on Apple’s Mail and Notes. Best of all, he fixes my bugs and takes my interface suggestions seriously. For our initial coverage, see “Mimestream Brings Gmail Features to a Mac Email App” (25 September 2020).
Now that I’ve switched from LastPass to 1Password (see “LastPass Publishes More Details about Its Data Breaches,” 3 March 2023), I needed access to my passwords, so a near-immediate installation of 1Password was in order. I’m quite enjoying the opportunity to clean up my stored credentials as part of the switch—it’s a lot of work, but I’m a bit of a neat freak when it comes to data.
Google Drive for Desktop
Although much of my work in Google Drive is best done in a browser—because I’m opening files in the Web-based Google Docs—I also store a wide variety of other essential and frequently used standalone files in Google Drive. Installing Drive for Desktop lets me access those files in the Finder and enjoy them being automatically synced across all my devices (for more on the general topic, see “Apple’s File Provider Forces Mac Cloud Storage Changes,” 10 March 2023).
Before Google Drive and iCloud Drive, I relied on Dropbox for all shared cloud storage. Dropbox’s constant need to go beyond its core storage function muddied the waters for me, and the restriction of free accounts to only three devices has pushed me toward other services (see “Dropbox Limits Free Accounts to Three Devices,” 14 March 2019). Nonetheless, I still use Dropbox for various tasks, including syncing Keyboard Maestro macros between Macs.
I’ve tried innumerable snippet keepers and note-taking apps over the years, and I’ve been burned a few times, such as by the late lamented Circus Ponies Notebook (see “Circus Ponies Closes Its Doors,” 7 January 2016). But I’ve never liked Apple’s Notes, whereas Agenda’s outline-friendly approach works well for me (see “Agenda Offers a New Take on Note-Taking and Task Management,” 8 May 2018). I needed somewhere to record this list of apps, so Agenda got the nod—and an early download.
I can’t use a Mac without Peter Lewis’s macro utility, which we’ve covered for years. It’s one of a very small number of vital apps that feel like extensions of my virtual hands. I have innumerable keyboard shortcuts wired into my fingers, most notably mapping the F-keys on my keyboard to switch among my most frequently used apps. I instantly notice when it’s not installed.
Although I use Google Docs for the vast majority of my writing because its collaborative capabilities, I still rely on BBEdit regularly to manipulate text files, take ephemeral notes, and store random text files (such as all those kernel panic logs I collected en route to my Level 2 clean install).
The brainchild of Ukrainian software firm MacPaw, Setapp is a well-curated selection of Mac apps. A $9.99-per-month subscription gets you access to all of them. (All apps in Setapp are also available independently.) While I’ve used many over the years, the next four apps are the ones I reinstalled right away.
I desperately need to review this fantastic screenshot app. If you’re looking for features beyond Command-Shift-5, including annotations, scrolling capture, a self-timer, crosshairs, and oodles of options, CleanShot X is worth a look.
I’m not sure why I chose to reinstall iStat Menus so soon because I don’t look at it regularly. Nevertheless, I like how its menus show details about disk space, CPU and GPU, and network usage, and I appreciate its weather forecast and notifications.
I haven’t needed to monitor a physical server for many years, but without Josh’s ear to the social media ground, I need something to alert me to changes on key Apple pages. It took me longer than I’d like to get Simon working the way I want—it’s a case of extreme flexibility creating complexity—but now I receive a notification each time a watched page changes, and a single click opens it in my browser to see what’s new. Simon runs only when my Mac is on, but that’s sufficient for my purposes, and it’s far better than the Visualping service that got confused by page changes that didn’t involve actual content.
Although I do only a little freelance consulting and writing outside of TidBITS and the syndicated articles I produce for TidBITS Content Network subscribers, when I do take on a project to help a friend, I use Timing to track my hours. It’s fabulous at watching window titles and the like to match activity to a project automatically.
As much as I’ve been a dedicated LaunchBar user for years, possibly decades, I consider it my duty to remain open to new alternatives. Raycast is, like LaunchBar, a keyboard-based launcher that learns the abbreviations you prefer. Also like LaunchBar, Raycast can be extended in a wide variety of ways, and I’ve found it sufficiently different from how I was using LaunchBar to stick with it. Again, it’s on the list for a review.
Because I do so much writing in Google Docs, I strongly prefer to keep document tabs separate from my regular browser tabs, a key benefit of site-specific browsers. For a great deal more on this topic, read “The Best Mac Site-Specific Browser for Google Docs” (18 June 2021) and “Site-Specific Browser Examples from TidBITS Sponsor Coherence X” (15 February 2023). To continue the tease, although it was an early install after my clean install, my Coherence X site-specific browser for Google Docs was also superseded by the app that replaced Brave.
Although Apple’s Calendar provides access to all my calendar data, it makes my fingers itch, so as soon as I needed to add something to my calendar, I downloaded Fantastical. It’s a great calendar app and one I’ve written about numerous times.
Peanut butter and jelly, Fantastical and Cardhop. When you subscribe to Flexibits Premium, you get both, and Cardhop’s vision for managing contacts differs significantly from Apple’s Contacts, which I like even less than Calendar. (See “Cardhop Puts Contacts Front and Center,” 18 October 2017, and “Cardhop 2.0 Bundled with Fantastical in Flexibits Premium,” 27 May 2021)
Although my Slack usage pales in comparison with email, it’s still how I communicate with the core group of TidBITS writers and my extended family (see “Fed Up with Facebook? Move Your Family to Slack,” 12 February 2019), so it didn’t take long before I had to install the Slack app again. Interestingly, it was the first app I installed from the Mac App Store and one of only a few overall.
I didn’t note how long it took between my wipe and reinstalling Firefox—I imagine it was at least several days since I use Firefox infrequently. I launch the browser primarily to separate out specific sites that need a different login or to test something that’s not working correctly in another browser.
Zoom is my nexus for nearly all videoconferencing, partly because it’s what Cornell University uses, and thus most individuals in Ithaca consider it the standard. I should have installed Zoom sooner because I had a scheduled call come up and realized that I needed to download it and log in, which took more time than I had. Luckily, I was able to bring it up on my MacBook Air quickly. (I later remembered that it’s also available in a browser and works best in Chrome.)
As part of my migration from LastPass to 1Password, I’m slowly migrating all my two-factor authentication codes to 1Password. In the meantime, I need to keep access to Authy, where I’m also storing all my recreated codes, just in case.
Microsoft 365 (Excel and Word)
I prefer Google Sheets to Excel for most of my real spreadsheet work, but I also frequently have to download running race registration spreadsheets for minor adjustments and sharing. That use case cropped up, so I downloaded the Microsoft 365 suite. I also rely on Word once a month for some TCN distribution work, but I don’t use PowerPoint or Outlook at all. Tonya uses Word and Excel much more heavily, so it’s still worth it for us to subscribe to Microsoft 365.
The three parts of my backup strategy are Time Machine, a bootable duplicate created with SuperDuper, and Internet backups using Backblaze, which I’ve used and written about for years. Reinstalling the software was easy, but Backblaze requires a lengthy and somewhat fussy Inherit Backup process when you’re reinstalling on a freshly formatted Mac.
By this point, I was starting to work on TidBITS articles again, and in the process of researching and writing “macOS Photo Screen Savers Still Don’t Properly Display Rotated or Edited Images” (5 March 2023), I discovered that I needed to reinstall my favorite screen saver of all time, Electric Sheep. (As much as I enjoyed After Dark, the flying toasters were more amusing than constantly attractive.)
Writing that article also forced me to install Retrobatch, an unusual app from Flying Meat that enables bulk image processing. Several years ago, Joe Kissell developed a clever Retrobatch workflow for bordering macOS windows with rounded corners, and I’ve been relying on a modified version of that Take Control tool ever since. Screenshot bordering is essential because Apple’s default screenshots have a huge, space-wasting drop shadow. However, the alternative—holding down the Option key while taking the screenshot—eliminates the drop shadow and leaves many windows with no visible border.
This image markup app from Aged & Distilled is no longer available in the Mac App Store, and my version hasn’t been updated since 2017. Nonetheless, it’s the best tool I’ve found for combining multiple screenshots, so I manually restored it from my backup. (TidBITS contributor Glenn Fleishman says he dreads the day it no longer works under macOS.) If anyone knows of an app that lets you quickly arrange two or three images (with alignment snapping) on an arbitrary canvas and then export a combined image that’s exactly the size necessary to contain the image data, let me know.
Installing Zoom reminded me that I like Rogue Amoeba’s SoundSource for seeing and managing all my audio inputs and outputs. We wrote about it years ago in “SoundSource 3 Simplifies Mac Audio Management” (17 February 2017), and it has evolved since then.
Affinity Publisher, Designer, and Photo
I don’t do much design work, and the Finger Lakes Runners Club has moved a bunch of what I previously did on my own to Canva for its easy-to-use tools and collaborative capabilities. But I still use Affinity Publisher and Affinity Designer for certain tasks (see “Consider Switching from Creative Cloud to Affinity V2,” 5 December 2022).
A few days after my clean install, I noticed that my Desktop wallpaper hadn’t changed. I have long used Irvue to bring in new images from Unsplash to liven up my Desktop (see “Desktop, Screensaver, and Browser Tab Eye Candy for Your Mac,” 10 July 2017). It’s a little clunky to configure, but I enjoy seeing new images whenever I reveal my Desktop.
HP Easy Start
I have been grappling with my HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M477fdw for years, so I wasn’t surprised when, after setting up the printer from scratch using Apple’s driver, the very first document I tried to print failed, with a File Is Corrupt error. Rather than muck about with a PostScript driver, as I’d written about in “LittleBITS: watchOS 8 Birthday Wishes, Printer Predicaments” (3 December 2021), I decided to install whatever I could get directly from HP. That necessitated downloading and running the HP Easy Start app, but whatever driver I ended up with has printed flawlessly since.
About this time, I remembered that I hadn’t updated my archive of Apple hardware tech specs. Whenever Apple releases a new product, I save a Web archive of its tech specs in DEVONthink, something I’ve kept up with since 2015. It’s remarkably helpful when a new model of some product arrives, and I want to compare it against the previous one. Apple does now maintain a Tech Specs overview page with links to each model’s specific features, but there’s no consistent format across generations of devices, preventing quick comparisons.
Back in the Take Control days, we lived and died by Trello, with cards for tracking books through the publishing workflow and process lists for everything (see “Trello Offers Compelling Collaboration Tool,” 9 July 2012). I use Trello much less now, but Tonya still likes it for certain things, so I need to access it. For the amount I use Trello, I realized later that I could just stick with the website.
Although I use Excel for quick work with downloaded files and Google Sheets for all my real spreadsheet work, our charts for Apple earnings articles are in Numbers, which provides highly attractive and customizable charting. Plus, although I seldom use Pages, I turn to Keynote a few times per year when I need to create a presentation.
Nisus Writer Pro
As with BBEdit, I genuinely enjoy using Nisus Writer Pro (see “Nisus Writer Pro 3.0 Hits New Levels of Word-Processing Power,” 29 October 2018), but without the seamless collaboration of Google Docs, I find myself relying on Nisus Writer Pro only for a few macros that I need for TCN distribution and TidBITS financial records. It’s sad not to have more of an excuse to use it, but once we sold Take Control Books to Joe Kissell, I just didn’t need a powerful word processor anymore.
EasyFind and Find Any File
While writing “Apple’s File Provider Forces Mac Cloud Storage Changes” (10 March 2023), I became suspicious that Spotlight wasn’t finding files in Dropbox or Google Drive. I’m still not entirely sure that Spotlight is doing the right thing, but EasyFind from DEVONtechnologies and Find Any File from Thomas Tempelmann are excellent search utilities that don’t rely on the Spotlight index. While not as fast, they’re tenacious and provide significantly more control over searches. I don’t use either regularly, but they’re nice to have.
After a major update, I delay restarting my bootable duplicate in case some problem necessitates rolling back. With a Level 2 clean install, that’s particularly important since I might need to restore an app. As such, it took some time before I was comfortable moving my old Applications folder to an archive drive and overwriting the previous bootable duplicate with the contents of my current boot drive. I’ve tapped SuperDuper for bootable duplicates for a long time because I have a license for it, though Carbon Copy Cloner is also a top-notch option.
Watchman Monitoring is a tool that managed service providers use to keep tabs on the Macs under their care. I’ve been running it for years on my Macs and a few of my relatives’ Macs. It does an excellent job of generating alerts for a wide variety of issues (see “Apple Starts Pushing High Sierra on Unsuspecting Mac Users,” 15 November 2017). After it realized that its client software was no longer installed on my Mac, Watchman Monitoring complained, so I put it back. I mostly don’t need to pay attention to it, but it’s essential now and then, such as when it generated the first warnings that my previous iMac’s SSD was dying in 2020 (see “Six Lessons Learned from Dealing with an iMac’s Dead SSD,” 27 April 2020).
I don’t use virtualization tools much, but I quickly discovered a need in Ventura. I frequently write about macOS settings, which used to be located in System Preferences and are now in the interface abomination Apple calls System Settings. Because both my 2020 iMac and my M1 MacBook Air now run Ventura, the only way I could check the location of items in macOS 12 Monterey’s System Preferences was to run it in VMware Fusion. Overkill? Probably, but I don’t see any alternative, and the free personal license for VMware Fusion Player makes it an easy choice.
This simple utility has been a mainstay on my Mac for many years, ever since Jeff Carlson wrote “Tools We Use: Backdrop” (1 May 2006). When setting up certain kinds of complex screenshots, I use Backdrop to put a white window over my Desktop, with its wallpaper and lined-up icons, thus taking them out of the eventual picture.
No, Microsoft Edge is not the browser that has replaced Brave and Coherence X for me, but I wanted to try Bing’s AI chatbot capabilities, which work only in Edge. So I downloaded it and launch it whenever I want to try something in Bing. Otherwise, it’s just another browser to keep around for testing.
In reality, there are already a few additional apps that I have downloaded to test but don’t anticipate using again and should delete afterward. Most of the apps mentioned above, particularly those I installed right away, are here to stay, even when they’re not daily drivers.
Could you also mention the browser plugins/add-ons you must have? In many cases, they are just as important as standalone apps.
The Firefox add-ons I always use are:
And the Mac OS X Jaguar Pinstripe classic theme. Beause I’ve always loved this look.
And for those who might care, here are the apps that I use all the time. In no particular order:
I also used Napkin a lot and miss it.
I’ve been making a concerted effort to get rid of apps I don’t use. I’m doing this over the course of a year, as I can be hasty. But these are the ones I use at least weekly, if not daily.
AHD5 This is the complete American Heritage Dictionary; I dearly love it. Audio, charts, Proto Indo-European roots (By Cal Watkins), usage notes, etymologies.
BBedit I use it for a lot of writing, most HTML and CSS, local HTML notes for research, teaching, reading notes, some Apple Script drafts, some basic Perl, grep.
Bear Drafting blog posts, and bits of other kinds of writing
Brother Print and Scan Lovely B & W laser printer that hates my Mac, but this lets me print PDFs
Calibre Managing and backup of ebooks, going back tp Palm Pilot books
DEVONThink Scholary/research .pdfs. research data
DropBox File transportation, some apps,
EagleFiler Personal data
NetNewswire Reading periodicals, Websites with RSS
PDF Expert Annotation and .pdf wrangling beyond Preview
Scrivener Long form writing
SetApp for Bartender, CleanMyMac, Downie, CleanShotX and when I need an app for a specific but not daily occurrence
TextExpander Lots of HTML, CSS, bibliographic citations, frequent user support help snippets,
VueScan Better than the Canon software
Edited to add: A member asked me to exo\plain how/why I use them.
Adding to the list…
(Still running Mojave so some might not run under Ventura)
I also use MS365, Filemaker & Firefox regularly.
I couldn’t live without :
And yes, Office 365 & the Affinity Suite, especially Publisher.
Like Adam, I’ve just rebuilt an M1 Air from scratch — and I’m finding people’s preferences here fascinating! Thank you Adam!
I use my iPad more than my MacBook Pro (2011 or 2012?), running High Sierra… But when i do, I use these Apps:
Clean My Mac
MS Word (2011)
Adam mentioned Napkin. I have never heard of this App, but it sounds like something I would use. I take screen shots all the time and would love to “join” them into 1 picture/PDF. Is napkin still available in the App Store/
First things I install are
Adobe Creative Cloud
Topaz image stuff
Frankly…although I have lots of other apps installed…outside of apps installed with macOS that’s really about all I use consistently…everything else is ‘eh, I need that this month’.
OK, I may be dense here. I keep scrolling and I cannot discover what the teased browser replacement is. What am I missing?
my MustHave list is shorter:
Aquamacs, Firefox, Graphic Converter, Vuescan, Default Folder, Carbon Copy Cloner, A Better Finder Rename, Big Mean Folder Machine (the last two I use to handle photos when I go on vacation), OpenVPN, Handbrake OnePassword used to be on that list (for the last couple of years, it’s not as old as the others), but I’m stuck on 7 since I won’t go to their cloud service.
And those are mostly things I’ve used since the early OS X days (and before, for some of them!)
There are other things that I install, but I can’t say I use regularly (OmniGraffle, for one, because I never really learned how to use it well. Also the Affinity suite, same story there.)
Given my chronic problems with Music.app, I’m tempted to do the clean install. There’s a lot of cruft on this machine from several machines worth of “migration”.
It’s very different, has some intriguing features, but is not great if you’re visually disabled. I checked it out earlier in the beta, at which point it seemed almost hostile, speaking as a user who has trouble seeing.
I decided to try again in a year or so.
It’s interesting to me how many of your app choices are my second-choice apps! There’s much overlap (1Password, BBEdit, PDF Expert, TextExpander, VueScan), but I use Notebooks for everything that you use Bear, DEVONThink, Scrivener, and EagleFiler (all of which are great!) for, ReadKit instead of NetNewsWire, ForkLift instead of Fetch (which I used in the ’90s).
But I’m really replying to ask about AHDEL 5. I purchased it some years back for my iPad, but it now refuses to acknowledge that I’ve paid for it — and I can’t get any useful reply from the developer. I had no idea there was a Mac version — could you provide a link?
The dictionary itself is of course the best since Webster’s New International (now 110 years old). And Calvert Watkins’ PIE appendices are pure gold. I took several seminars with him at Harvard in the ’80s, and even had dinner with him once — he was a brilliant man, and every bit as friendly and approachable as brilliant.
Some apps, like Fetch and NetNewsWire, I’ve used for so long that I have workflows associated with them. I haven’t spent much time checking checking out alternatives for things I’ve used for years. I use Bear, because it works (and the HTML export is fairly clean), and haven’t really looked at alternatives. DevonThink and EagleFiler are “new” to me as of January of this year. My research collection of .pdf files was becoming too cumbersome for relying on the Finder, and there was a really good Take Control book about DevonThink. I also wanted to keep personal and work data separated, more completely than using a separate database.
I started using the AHD digitally under OS 9. They’ve not been good about upgrade policies, at all. I bought a new license for the 5th edition, via the App store.
I am a Cal Watkins fan. He arrived at UCLA just as I was leaving,
I’m a fan of Napkin too. I was shocked to read it being written about in the near past-tense. The copyright statement on the version (1.5.3) I’m running says “2023” and it continues to work well for me. Now I have nothing but anxiety about it. Lol.
The top of my list of apps are:
Nisus Writer Pro: by far my favorite word processor
Firefox: almost all of my browsing
Graphic Converter: indispensable in handling art and photos
Zoom: much better than Google or MS Teams
Quicken: Business and personal finance
Otter.ai : A speech-to-text web app that turns Zooms or recorded interviews into text.
VueScan: not a favorite, but the only one I can use with my Epson Perfection V330 Photo scanner. (EpsonScan 2 no longer works with Monterey)
Nikon’s photo apps
Microsoft Office (a must for a professional writer because most publishers demand it)
Adobe Acrobat Reader (because Preview can’t do everything I need)
OK, I’ve been meaning to record all this for a while now, so this thread is a welcome excuse. This list represents about 33% of the apps on my 2021 MacBook Pro (M1 Max) — honestly!; I often use another 33%; the remaining third consists mostly of legacy apps I keep around for opening old files, and new apps I’m trying out. Here goes…
~/Library/CloudStorage/into other folders so that they can be backed up properly by CCC and Arq; Econ Technologies should be commended for their very generous upgrade policy: buy the app, and all upgrades are free, forever.
.DS_Storefile); Thomas Templemann again to the rescue!
TransitTransmit for a while, but Forklift has really “clicked” for me.
The suspense! When will he reveal it?
(The short answer is when I finish writing, hopefully next week.)
Difficult to tackle this…but some are easy to identify. Some hook into each other, some do not.
DEVONthink - truly my off board brain. Research, company stuff, legal, family docs, teaching, a database for each aspect of my life.
Agenda - the best notes app, if DT is an archive, Agenda is my workspace. Indispensable at this point, the hooks to my calendar are great, it is so smartly made, it’s both useful and a pleasure.
BusyCal - the engine of my week, I love how configurable it is.
Hazel, Keyboard Maestro, Automator, Script Editor, Raycast - the glue that holds my mac together.
Reminders and Due - I need help here, Reminders for the one-offs, Due for the repeats.
Mailmate - I loved Mailsmith and Mailmate feels like its heir. The most productive email client.
iWork - I use all three, they’re all great. I prefer Numbers to Excel, yep. Keynote is extraordinary of course, I use Pages for everyday short word-processing.
Nisus Writer Pro - used only for long documents or misbehaving Word docs, but I do enjoy greatly.
Bike and Folding Text - two outliners from one developer, the ever inventive Jesse Grosjean. I only occasionally need a full outliner application but I enjoy using these.
Capture One Pro - I own every image editing tool known to humanity, this is the best overall, sadly let down by a new licensing model which has sharply divided users.
Final Cut Pro and ScreenFlow - I own nearly all the video editors too, these two are my favourites.
Handbrake and IINA - more useful than Compressor and QuickTime Player.
Notion - a great flexible tool which has a bazillion features I only use a fraction of. I use this to build webpages with tutorials and recorded lectures for my students, very flexible and simple, I can manage the flow, restrict access and monitor engagement, free for education.
Sketch - a UI/UX design tool which I find useful for mocking up various designs.
Photoshop, Pixelmator Pro, Affinity Photo - I used the first since v1, in my bones at this point, but I make a point of using the others, to point my students there as well as wean myself off.
Zoom - too useful to not have now it seems.
I made an inventory list of apps I need to install so that it is easy for me to upgrade to new machines (not that I do it often):
Utilities and etc.
Thanks for an excellent list and explanations. We have some similar tastes!
I’m intrigued by this. Like you, I use both CCC and Arq for backups, but I’ve naïvely assumed that they backup
~/Library/CloudStorage/just like any other folder. Are there issues that mean these backups won’t restore properly if needed?
Can I suggest you try Script Debugger? Even the free version is significantly better than Script Editor, so worth a look.
tl;dr: There’s no reason to use ChronoSync to backup iCloud Drive files for the purpose of then backing them up with CCC, SuperDuper, or Arq.
@jzw [Any relation to jwz?],
Let me start by saying that, though I’m a long-time Mac user (1984) and, comparatively speaking, a “power user,” I’m no Mac expert — and am especially no expert when it comes to Apple’s implementation of iCloud / iCloud Drive / Mobile Documents / &c.
Not that long ago (one year? two?), I needed to restore an iCloud Drive file and was stunned to find that CCC hadn’t backed it up — or, at least, I wasn’t able to find it or any of its sibling files.
As I looked into this just now, though, to verify my memory and to point you to a definitive source, I find that Mike Bombich has specifically addressed this question:
and he says point blank that CCC does automatically back these files up (though it doesn’t, of course, back up files that are only in the cloud — they have to be on your hard drive). So, it’s possible that I was right and that my backup selection criteria in some way missed these files, or perhaps that the version of CCC I was using at the time was buggy or didn’t yet support iCloud Drive documents, or ….
And of course Joe Kissell’s TCo iCloud (both v8 and v9) includes:
I’ve gone just now and checked one of my CCC backup drives (filled with APFS snapshots), navigating to the pseudo-folder
~/Library/Mobile Documents/, and comparing that listing to what I see when I navigate to the “same” pseudo-folder on my MBP.
The backed-up version of my “folder” contains 105 folders and the live version contains 87. The names of the folders, of course, are very different. What’s called
Pixelmator Proin the live version is called
4R6749AYRE~com~pixelmatorteam~pixelmatorin my backup folder. The live version is empty, but the backup contains two folders, one of which has 26 Pixelmator “preview” files.
Ah… I think I see what must’ve happened last year. The file I was looking for should have been in a folder titled
Notebooks. Since the folder names are completely different, and there is no backup folder titled Notebooks, I would’ve initiated a Finder search within the Mobile Documents backup folder — and found nothing, which might be because these files count as “System files” and I forgot to include those in the search criteria, or because I had my backup drive excluded from Spotlight indexing.
In fact, the folder is there on the backup drive, named
iCloud~com~aschmid~notebooks/Documents/— which is perfectly clear and parseable, but not predictable. And it includes all the files I’d expect it to.
Honestly, however, I get nervous enough about iCloud Drive that I think I’ll probably continue redundantly backing up the directories that contain my most important files. But it does indeed seem that there is no requirement to do so.
Thank you for triggering this research — I’ve definitely learned something!
I went through this process when I bought a new MBP a couple of years ago - a cathartic experience to rid myself of unused apps. If I was doing it again this is what I’d have.
Development (I’m retired so mainly supporting existing apps)
Sequel Ace (formerly Sequel Pro)
RePicvid Free Photo Recovery - the BEST photo recovery tool - truly amazing
FinalCutPro (barely touch it so might switch to DaVince Resolve or just use iMovie)
I’m most comfortable with Photoshop but it’s likely I could make do with just Affinity Photo and C1
I currently have Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator and Acrobat installed - but only because it’s paid for by my former employer so I can continue some consulting/development work for them.
Carbon Copy Cloner
Find Any File
Forklift (has replaced Transmit)
AdBlock Plus and 1Blocker (I couldn’t watch youtube or many other sites without these)
Others I’d install if needed but don’t consider necessary
I used to do a lot of presentations and audio visual work - don’t really do it any more.
I also have a lot of company/business specific apps - mostly things I’ve written over the years.
In my menu bar:
And on my dock:
And other apps that I use:
I don’t use a 2FA app on my Mac, though I suppose I could install the iPadOS version of the one I am currently using - OTP Auth. If I need an OTP I just check my phone, watch, or iPad, at least one of which is always with me.
As a heavy user of computers for 60+ years (anybody remember the IBM 650? Univac 1100 series? card punches?), with nine working computing devices in the house (and lots more that are dead), I was mildly astonished to find only six of Adam’s 46 apps on my primary machine (1PW, Dropbox, BBEdit, FF, MS365, Zoom). Other commentors have mentioned some of the four critically important apps that I would add: DOSBox, Fetch, Graphic Converter and Reunion. But I will certainly explore some of those mentioned by Adam and others, especially as I know I need to do more in the way of systematic backups.
What I most need, which seems not have been mentioned here yet, is a really good duplicate file & folder finder that doesn’t insist on automagically deleting “excess” files. I may end up rolling my own using REXX and AppleScript.
I’d never heard of DayOne but it looked interesting (as do many of the other apps mentioned). I would happily have bought it but I’ll never subscribe.
At the moment the only subscription apps I have are the Adobe apps and the moment someone else stops paying for them they’ll be deleted. Same will apply to any other app I’m using which goes the subscription model.
I’ve enjoyed seeing new and interesting apps in this thread, and it’s also interesting to see those which are popular amongst advanced users. 1PW, DefaultFolder, Find any File, BBEdit and CCC all seem to have nailed their target audience.
There’s a rumor this week that DayOne may be Sherlocked this fall when iOS 17 and MacOS 14 are released with an included journaling app that can draw info from the many apps on your device (email, calendar, health, photos, etc.)
That said, DayOne is a great app. It’s worth it for me. I have a 1640 day streak going (at least one entry per day) right now.
Is there a good REXX interpreter for macOS? I last used it years ago when i was running OS/2 (which uses it as an extension of the DOS-style batch file language). It’s a great language, but I have always assumed it to be an IBM-proprietary language.
I don’t do much scripting on my Mac, but on Linux, where I do a lot of it, I tend to use shell scripts for simple things and Python for more complicated things. I used to use perl a lot, but it’s too hard to remember everything you need to use it effectively if you aren’t using it all the time.
Yes, it has been interesting, so many listed I forgot to mention, Default Folder X and others.
Would be interesting to see a similar listing for iOS.
Yes, there is – see https://www.rexxla.org/ and https://regina-rexx.sourceforge.io/ for details.
As much as I don’t want to pay a subscription, I also don’t like stuff getting Sherlocked. Apple throws around its significant weight when it comes to smaller developers.
I forgot about Mail Steward. It archives (Mac) emails into an SQL database that can be searched.
My archives go back to my first Macs ~2004! I have saved the archives on Bluray disks for long term storage (acknowledging that being able to read Bluray in the years to come may be an issue)
Isn’t this a great topic!
In my small list above, I neglected to include BBEdit — how could I have overlooked it! It’s almost the one constant in everyone’s list.
I use it to preview HTML code — and above all to strip non-ASCII code from text to go into MailChimp or Affinity Publisher.
It’s always open… I can’t imagine life without it!
Right, that’s why I mentioned it - at this point I wouldn’t suggest starting a subscription if you haven’t used this app already. I obviously have a lot of value stored in DayOne already and I’ll see what happens if this truly comes to pass - whether there will be an easy way to get info from DayOne into Apple’s app, whether the feature set matches what I want from it, etc. I do use this app more in iOS, as it tracks significant locations, so I can make entries based on those later on, but I do occasionally do draft posts on the phone and edit them later on the Mac.
No, I wasn’t aware of jwz and am certainly not trying to gain any credibility by association!
jzwwas the first Unix username I was assigned when I went to university (for reasons unknown since my middle name doesn’t start with ‘z’) and I liked it so have used it in various places ever since.
Thanks for the explanation and for going back and checking things, it’s good to know that standard CCC/Arq backups are picking up the files in
Mobile Documents. Your issue with using Spotlight to search in that folder is precisely why when I’m hunting for a file or folder, I don’t even bother with Spotlight, I go straight to Find Any File. Find Any File’s determinism is invaluable – I know it will search where I point it and search everything there. With Spotlight I’m never sure if there’s some place it hasn’t indexed or isn’t searching because it thinks I should never need to poke around there.
As you’ve noted regarding folder names, what you see in
Mobile Documentsis very different to what’s on disk. Not only are the actual names different, but there are loads of folders that don’t display at all in the Finder. For instance, if I list the contents in Terminal I have the folder
N2WF5DAF43~com~runloop~secondswhich must come from years ago when I tried out the ‘Seconds’ app on my iPhone. But it doesn’t show up at all in the Finder.
The other place to be aware of folder display name issues in case you’re trying to locate something is
~/Library/Containers. In the Finder, you’ll see loads of folders that appear to have identical names. For instance:
If you do a Get Info on these folders, they actually have very different names:
This is another area where Find Any File is excellent. You can toggle
Show Localised File Namesto see either what’s displayed in the Finder:
or what the actual folder name is:
There was some discussion of utilities for this kind of thing in February – might be worth a read through if you missed it:
Now that you mention it, I forgot to mention my all-time favorite editor - GNU Emacs. I either compile my own build from sources or (if I’m feeling lazy), I download a binary installation from https://emacsformacos.com/.
I realize that my preference is not typical. I think that’s because I came to Mac OS X (in 2002) from a Unix background. At the time, I was looking to switch away from Windows PCs and my first choice was actually going to be a low end Sun/SPARC system (at the time, I thought Linux was still just a fad). Then when Apple released a system based on Unix, I decided that would be the best of both worlds - all the Unix goodness I like, plus a pre-existing library of Mac software.
Hence my use of lots of apps that are popular in the Linux/Unix world - Firefox, Thunderbird, Emacs, Python scripting, X11 graphics, etc.
My favourite app at the moment is TinkerTool System 8. It got me out of a massive hole when the permissions on a folder with hundreds of folders and thousands of files going back to 1984 got the dreaded duplicate “Every One” permission. After hours of research TinkerTool fixed it a couple of minutes. A “life” saver!
I have also faced the prospect of reinstalling applications and have prioritized what goes first. After all the utilities and calendar and those that have already been mentioned, I need to install the main work programs that I use daily. I write scientific papers, so the first one I install is the TeX distribution from Mactex https://tug.org/mactex/. It bundles TeXShop as a front end, although I mostly use BBedit for my writing. I also need a program for visualizing my data and install (sigh of lament) Kaleidagraph. It does a lot of good things but does not have a good Mac interface. I have been trying DataGraph instead. To make my figures, I have to have a drawing program. I always liked the way Macdraw and then Freehand worked and moved to Intaglio once those were gone. Alas, Intaglio is also gone. I am replacing it with Eazydraw, but I don’t find that so easy. I add Scrivener for its ability to integrate LaTex templates. I have to have a spreadsheet program, so Numbers it is. As a footnote, I loved an ancient program called Trapeze. It could manipulate and plot data in many powerful ways. It also did not survive even the transition to Macs with more than 8 MB of ram and went the way of the dodo.
I’d love to try this out but unfortunately, it does not run on Intel Macs. I guess I’ll have to wait until I get a new Mac.
Ooo, good point. I’m not sure if there’s an article here, but the Chrome extensions that I really depend on are:
Others I use occasionally:
OK, thanks. I’ll try that. In LaunchBar I have always used the very explicit ⌘A to Assign Abbreviation.
As a retired scientist (physics), I have a somewhat different set of must-have Mac apps. I have written a physics textbook and am working on another one. I also do some occasional development of physics demos using Xcode. I originally developed for iOS but, now that Apple has dumped Intel, I am developing for the Mac again, the Apple platform of greatest interest to me.
So far as everyday apps are concerned, I am happy with the stock Apple apps for the Mac:
Safari - great browser (also have Firefox for the rare occasion when I need it).
Mail - meets all my current email needs.
Keychain - works well for me (I avoid subscription apps or ones based on electron on principle and don’t use any non-Apple platforms. I cringe when I use electron-based Zoom which uses up so much of the Mac’s resources, but I have little choice).
iCloud Drive - indispensable for me. I used Dropbox until I found that its was using 2 GB of RAM with 1100 threads for some routine activities. I try to keep poor platform citizens off my computer and have been very happy with iCloud.
Xcode - development. Huge (and updates take forever) but necessary if using the macOS/iOS GUI is important. I never got the hang of autolayout.
My “scientific” apps, mainly for publication, are:
TeXshop - a superb free TeX and LaTeX app with excellent support. Makes beautiful documents with a bit of mathematical content.
ViaCAD - a superb clone of the award-winning Vellum CAD app (from the previous century) with an excellent user interface and a great price compared to the Aslhar (Vellum) products. I use it for making diagrams for publishing.
LaTeXiT - a free and indispensable app for short LaTeX items which I use for graph labels.
DataGraph - a very good graphing app which makes publication quality graphs (I formerly used Igor Pro, but the developers seem about to abandon the Mac platform. It is also very expensive.)
OmniGraffle - Used mainly to produce a PDF page with PDF components inside which can be easily moved around and resized.
Homebrew - source for compilers and apps like Octave for doing scientific calculations. Octave does most of what MatLab does but is free.
That’s about it. Sorry for the longish list…
The publisher of the American Heritage Dictionary changed developers for the iOS app awhile back. I discovered this when iOS 9, I think, broke the app, and I went looking for an update. At the time, the new/current developer didn’t honor purchases of the previous app, so if I wanted AHD5, I would have had to pay for it again. Is it possible you’re in the same situation now I was in?
I think a few years ago, the current iOS app was updated to recognize the purchase of AHD5 from the previous developer, and it was supposed to detect the old app and automatically give access to the full dictionary without having to pay again. In my case, it didn’t work, so I contacted the developer. I was surprised to actually get a prompt reply with a code for an in-app purchase. That code didn’t work, but we eventually got it straightened out.
Years back, I used test pre-release versions of OS X, which involved a lot of clean installs, so I streamlined the process of setting up a new system.
It’s interesting to see what app other physics/science-oriented people are using.
The first two app that get installed are 1Password and LaunchBar. I need 1Password so I can log into web sites, get my license codes, etc., and I’m so used to my shortcuts in LaunchBar that it’s kind of difficult to use the computer without it.
If I were pressed for time, these apps would be installed first:
Next priority would include the apps and extensions I could live without but whose absence I would quickly notice:
The rest include:
No list, but I note that if you are paying for Microsoft Office anyway, it comes with the excellent OneNote, which stores notes in many formats in a hierarchical system. Also syncs well with mobile devices.
I may have missed these in the lists, but …
Personal VPN for protection when at a cafe
Silverfast for scanning
SMART Reporter to check my hard drive
Flycut Flycut Flycut to remember recent clipboard contents and select when desired
Re Napkin app … having no knowledge of how it works (just Adam’s description) I thought that perhaps Freeform (Apple’s new app) could achieve the results Napkin users desire?
“… I still rely on BBEdit regularly to manipulate text files, take ephemeral notes, and store random text files.”
… nothing beats BBEdit’s taming of regular expressions!
I just went through my apps and added to the list with some descriptions - just realised there were quite a few apps that I relied on every day but take for granted!
Me too! We’re dying from suspense here!
It would have been helpful to say in the article somewhere that the answer is yet to come.
The implication I got from the article was that the app was going to be part of the list.
Whew! I thought it was just me that wasn’t smart enough to figure out the teased A#1 app
StopTheMadness now offers “web rules,” which associate a URL with any installed browser, which can replace some of Choosy’s function
Good thinking, and indeed Freeform works well for arranging screenshots and aligning them and adding annotations and all that. But it can’t export just the image content as a PNG as far as I can see. There’s an Export as PDF command, but I need a PNG or JPEG.
All will be revealed! 7000 words written, editing in progress.
I don’t think XLD was mentioned, but it is a great app if you need to convert audio files to different formats easily and it also has batch capabilities. Its AccurateRip database helps ensure that your results are error free when doing CD rips.
While I don’t use (or even heard of) most of the apps you mention, here are my own comments on some I’m familiar with:
Mimestream - extremely nice and responsive developer. But I never really got into how it handles images and marking up images and some other things like how conversation threads are displayed, and the ability to move emails between accounts. So I ended up sticking with standard Mail and use MsgFiler for filing in folders. I haven’t used it in some time now, so maybe things have improved?
1Password - I still use PasswordWallet on my devices. It seems sufficient, though sometimes a manual sync, via DropBox is needed. The developer is responsive. And there isn’t an annual subscription.
Google Drive for Desktop - I’ve moved away from Google Drive in favor of Microsoft OneDrive and my inexpensive (just $69/year) Office365 subscription. At first I did this because I was mad at Google for taking away our free Legacy Gmail Suite accounts - and for the ones they had left blocked us from adding more paid Google Drive space! Now I find I just like Microsoft’s apps more. Plus Microsoft actually has customer service to help with stuff, like doing things in Excel. It’s almost impossible to get Google support for anything.
Dropbox - I love it. It’s been the most reliable storage and file sharing system for me for years. I agree with where you wrote, “Dropbox’s constant need to go beyond its core storage function muddied the waters for me…” and I’ve tried some of their other services and just stick with storage.
BBEdit - the best. The developers are responsive, and the software is great.
Firefox - so nice I wish it was still in the lead. I use it for testing mostly though. I feel like I need to use Chrome mostly because everybody else does. By the way, Microsoft Edge on the Mac is quite nice, and you can import your stuff from Chrome and Firefox, and play with their AI apps.
Zoom - I use it of course. But recently discovered RingCentral. It looks like a Zoom clone! I’d like to understand more about that back store. The nice thing about RingCentral is that you can have video conferences for up to 100 people for free without the 40 minute time restriction of Zoom. That would have come in handy this past week while I was on a plane during a regularly scheduled volunteer group meeting and I couldn’t temporarily hand my credentials over to another host.
Microsoft 365 - I mentioned this above, and I do like it and appreciate the support, etc.
Backblaze - I highly recommend it. I have 3 backups: Time Machine, Carbon Copy Cloner (which I’m surprised you didn’t mention), and Backblaze.
Microsoft Edge - I mentioned this above.
And why about CyberDuck - great for FTP!
Points to @medievalist for guessing correctly!
I can’t speak to issues surrounding being visually disabled.
My simplistic approach would be to Export as PDF to a temp folder and open in Preview and export as PNG.
A more complex approach could be to make an Automator.app (or Shortcuts) workflow and use a “hot folder” approach to auto convert PDFs into a suitable PNG file.
Note: Using Export as PDF will give a small white margin (200 pixels) around the extremities of the objects (or text frames) on the whiteboard that may need to be trimmed.
Using the Print command and choose the option for PDF (Open in Preview option) as PDF uses the printer driver to determine a page size (i.e. Letter, A4, A3) which could result in a lot more white space.
Speaking of apps we cannot do without, I’ve been using Eagle for the past few months (don’t get it confused with EagleFiler). I discovered this app purely by accident.
Although it’s being touted as an image organizer, it also works beautifully to store and organize all your documents. It’s a perfect place to keep your bills, receipts, notes, etc. About the only drawback is it does not have an iOS version. But they’re supposedly working on it.
I didn’t think anybody would still remember the IBM 650! Was working on it in the early ‘60s!
While currently working on a fairly big project I’ve re-discovered Things. It’s expensive - and you have to pay 3 times for Mac, iPad and iPhone - but there’s a simple elegance about it that just works. I’ve tried using Apple’s Reminders but we just don’t get along.
I wouldn’t say Things would be the first app I’d install on a new Mac, but for the way I’m using it, it’s been extremely helpful.
There are a couple of apps that I typically install on new personal machines. I’ll mention Snagit in particular. It’s marketed as a screen capture/recording app, but I mostly use it to annotate screenshots and other PNG/JPG files. I find that it is a super convenient and fast way to mark up images with arrows, borders, text, and so on. I use it several times a week without fail.
Every time I return to Things I am reminded of just how good it is.
It’s not my day to day, a todo list in Agenda takes care of that, but for a large project I can definitely see myself using it.
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