Classic Mac Apps – the Survior Episode

Bill’s All Time Mac App Surviors

I’m doing this as a reverse top ten list .. because its almost New Years so everything has to be a Top XX list.

I noticed a sale on an old favorite piece of software the other day and it got me lamenting all the great tools of my Mac using past. Then I realized the few that have survived the transitions from various OSes and hardware changes.

So this is my list of the ones that have been around and still have some life in them. For the purposes on this list Apple Inc Applicatons need not apply. To make the list you had to run on Mac OS 9.x, PowerPC is fine, anything 680×0 is impressive. I’m trying to remember if there was an Apple // version of any of them but that part of my brain went to mush long ago.

The List

  1. [SpellCatcher][SpellCatcher] – SoundJam/iTunes doesn’t count so something from Casady & Greene had to make this list. If someone has a version of Glider PRO or Crystal Quest for Mavericks let me know..
  2. Quickeys – Before there was keyboard Maestro, there was Quickeys. What was a little suprising is you can still buy it.. For OS X and OS 9! The CE Software petegree is now with Startly Technologies but its still around.
  3. FileBuddy – Remember Resource Forks? before you could chmod anything on a Mac you needed a tool to sort and swtich some file attributes. Filebuddy was my tool of choice for a good chunk of the late 90s and early oughts. Don’t touch it much anymore but its still around.
  4. Stuffit Remember you first 5MB harddrive? Well that sounded like a lot, right?Stuffit kept files in check and allowed you to move stuff around at 2400 baud. Its usefullness is probably long past for most people but if you installed a OS7 through OS 9 program you probably needed Stuffit Expander. One of the few third party items that was distributed by Apple on new Macs
  5. Fetch That little dog ran alot of miles on my behalf. It still has a great use as a network testing tool. It was my speedtest tool before there was Speedtest.net. Still a great way to test point to point network transfer rates. And that’s before you talk about its ftp functionality.
  6. Default Folder One of the original Apple UI hacks. When you couldn’t control the settings Apple’s UI these little useful tools came along. Many got eaten by later OS updates. Default Folder has avoided getting “Sherlocked” and still provides some useful functionality. I was never a huge user but this stands as a long running app.
  7. Hourworld This is a little bit of a one trick pony but I like the trick a lot. This was developed by a one man operation that produced a nice little time app. There were (and still are) one person operations that made very useful stuff. Most never made a living at it but it was a somewhat profitable hobby for many, I hope.

    I still like to track the number of seconds of extra sunlight I’m getting .. 34 of them today.. as the days get longer. Never found a replacement.
  8. Interarchy if you want to go back further you can track this back to Anarchie from 1993. I’ve owned both. It’s probably not a coincidence that 2 ftp clients and no web browsers made this list. Credit Peter Lewis and Andrew Tomazos for stewarding this product along. and it has been back and forth between several hands.
  9. GraphicCoverter This has truly been a long running tool that still has a regular spot in my toolbelt. It can open everything from my //gs graphics to Camera RAW. The batch processing of images is still better than most other tools I’ve got. Don’t know how much I’ve contributed to Thorsten Lemke over the years but I don’t regret a bit of it.
  10. BBEdit BBedit gets my top spot because it has pretty much stayed at the top of the heap through too many OS versions to count. And they have the coolest tag line in the software business. “It doesn’t suck.®”

The Mentions

Honorable Mention has to go to Kagi .. before there was Paypal and the App store there was Kagi. They provided the market for a lot of “Shareware” apps and a path to software authors getting paid. I think you could say things like the Mac App Store owe a chunk of their existance to Kagi.

Another Honorable mention to OmniGroup. They predated OS X (kinda) too! There heritage is on the NextStep which became OS X. There current offerings are great and they did alot to push their Objective C advantage into the Mac world.

Commitment to Personal Productivity… Shifting, Sorting, Compiling, and Archiving

This is part IV in my little story arc on re-organizing my technology use. As stated in my first installment:

I’ve been looking at what I have and how I’ve been using it and it was time for a little Personal Technology Tune-up. I went on a little Data diet – sort of.

So you have all these places that information comes from, so the next question is where does it go?

As I mentioned in the opening of this series, that expecting to use a single tool in multiple situations is a little silly. After trying several ways to do things I ended up with 5 tools that collect information from all my online sources.

The longest running tool I’ve been using is Delicious for bookmarks. In addition to being a way of publicly marking useful sources, it has good support through many browsers. I still use it regularly but it tends to be my web archive rather than something I refer to in my workflow.

Screen shot of delicious bookmarks

Instapaper is my new workflow bookmarking tool. This is a little different because it actually caches the content of pages for you. This is especially useful in mobile access. I can collect up some pages and view it on my iPhone whether I’m connected or not. Again it is supported well with a bookmarklet in all my browsers and quick links in my feed readers. The idea here is if there is something worth reviewing I can send it to Instapaper which then becomes my ‘to do’ list of web content.

Instapaper - read later content

Where Instapaper really works well is during the distracting moments in web surfing. When you are searching with a specific purpose and find some content that is compelling frequently you get pulled off your main task. With Instapaper I can grab that content and know that I will get back to it when I review my Instapaper list.

So while Delicious is an archive, Instapaper is a transient ‘to-do’ list of items for review.

With other content I have a similar breakdown, one archive, one more transient source. For the grab and archive tool Evernote has worked well for me. Like Instapaper it works on my computer and iPhone and it can collect just about anything text, images, audio, and webpages.

Evernote Screen shot

Notational Velocity / SimpleNote

Notational Velocity Mac Application Screenshot

Commitment to Personal Productivity… Multiple Mailboxes and filtering

This is part III in my little story arc on re-organizing my technology use. As stated in my first instalment:

I’ve been looking at what I have and how I’ve been using it and it was time for a little Personal Technology Tune-up. I went on a little Data diet – sort of.

The next area was the details of email. I am lucky to control a number of domains so I have more flexability in email than most. But with the advent of gmail and other web services with large storage, owning a domain is less of a big deal.

Again, since I own my own domains I can have as many emails as I want. I had initially tried to segment my life by creating different emails and using them for different purposes. A general email address for common web use, a personal email of friends and family, and several company emails for business communication. Two problems with this, you have to be disciplined in giving the emails out and you have to rely on others to use them appropriately. That system also ignored the ‘search and find’ routine that unknown contacts will use to find you.

So that idea went out the door and I funnel and sort mentality replaced it. Almost all my email traffic funnels to a single account, then that account has some basic filters on what to do with them. As an intermediate state I have a single Gmail account that I can funnel my mail through. I then have 5 other accounts (some Gmail, some not) that I use for specific type if mail.

In general my mail runs into 4 piles, excluding spam.

The easiest to filter is the high volume listserve traffic. While RSS is okay for ‘news’ some sources of information and discussion are best consumed as an email digest. These are mostly technical and professional forums. Those filter through to a separate account, and then are marked by the list they come from. Some Google Alerts arrive via email also get sorted this way.

Adding Google Alerts

The second biggest pile is the business communication slightly above the Spam threshold. This is not listserve but it is regular mailings from companies I do business soliciting business or making special offers. I avoid deleting these outright because they are occasionally helpful but it is a high volume, low return pile of data. Typically only look through that when I’m very bored.

In a similar pattern to the RSS ideas before, the high volume stuff has been filtered out and the lower volume, higher return communication is left. Most of the last 2 piles stay in my personal mailbox. For lack of a better title, the Household Business mail is the notifications about bills, events, and other items that are important, require action, but seldom have a real person on the other end. Since this information comes from known sources it is easy to create rules to tag those items, leave them unread and await further action at at time of my connivence.

The final group is actually the important stuff. Typically this personal correspondence from family and friends. It also does leave items that either don’t have a rule from the 3 items above or aren’t easily classified. There is a little ambiguity there but the volume is sufficiently low that it really isn’t a distraction.

One of the items that make the multiple mail accounts a usable idea is an appropriate mail tool. Since I almost exclusively use Gmail for my domains I’ve recently moved to Mailplane to allow an easy way to jump between accounts without the hassle of continually logging in and out of a web identity. It is possible to do similar things with other desktop mail clients but once you commit to Gmail a custom tool that works with Gmail’s quirks is very useful.

Mailplane App Drag and drop to create attachments
Drag and drop to create attachments

A little tip here at the end.

The other feature of Gmail, and some other mail services, is the ability to create random mail identities. This is done by adding a “+” and any other text after your username. Unless the site does something to strip this out you can actually have unique addresses for any service you subscribe to. Which again makes filtering incoming mail very easy. It also allows tracking of how your email is getting to third parties. I add a timestamp to the email so things like admin@gmail.com becomes admin+1003290820@gmail.com (1003290820 = 2010/03/29 at 8:20AM). I have a little macro that creates these for me.


Commitment to Personal Productivity… Partitioning RSS

This is part II in my little story arc on re-organizing my technology use. As stated in my first installment:

I’ve been looking at what I have and how I’ve been using it and it was time for a little Personal Technology Tune-up. I went on a little Data diet – sort of.

One big area was the issue of how many RSS feeds I was subscribed to. In general the major ‘news’ sources, whether public media (BBC, CBC, NBC, Times) or a specific news ‘vertical’ such as gadget news (Engadget, Gizmodo, TechCrunch), tend to uncover the same stories and you end up with the same basic story in 10-20 different versions. So you are getting a lot of noise for a single piece of information. So I removed the more generic sources from my RSS reader and threw a little logic at it. In this case it was Shaun Inman’s logic through his RSS tool Fever. To make this work you need a server to put this on so this tool is not applicable to everyone. But in general, the idea is to break out the more generic ‘mass market news’ and get it away from the more specialized sources that typically get buried by the high volume sources.

Fever RSS Screenshot

Fever boils down the thousands of items in the all those high volume RSS feeds and gives you a top down list of the most popular stories. This provides you a customized filter of all that information which you can further customize by rating your feeds as either “Sparks” – more important feeds, or “Kindling” – less important feeds. So Fever provides you a way to absorb the most common stories. If something really does hit a cord I can email, save, or forward to a number of online sharing service. (More on those services in a later post).

That left my main RSS reader (Google Reader) with about 150 feeds down from almost 400. But the important point is only 10 of these average more than 2 posts/day. and the majority are less than 1 post/day on average. So I go from over 1000 items to read a day to less than 400 on a busy day and less than 100 on many days. Google Reader now only has my friends and colleagues blogs, specialty blogs like Flying, Education, and Photography. I also have a few specific searches, mostly from Google Alerts, that produce RSS feeds which are in Reader.

While 400 might even sound a bit high, a little workflow is required to manage that many. First the general selection of Google Reader opens the door to a number of ways to read the content. Both on any computer I happen to be in front of (via web interface), on any mobile device via the mobile version of the website, but also via a number of dedicated viewers. I find Google Reader a good experience on my laptop or desktop, the mobile version is not as usable. After a recommendation I tried Reeder for my iPhone. The unique iPhone interface makes it easy to triage RSS items and either mark them Read or Star them with a swipe of your thumb. This is an excellent application and it makes a few minutes in the store line or the time on the treadmill usable for scanning your more specific feeds.

Reeder ScreenShot
Screenshots from http://reederapp.com/2/#/2/
Reeder Screenshot, Sharing
Screenshots from http://reederapp.com/2/#/2/

Since I might scan my RSS a few times a day, it is seldom that I have more than 20-30 unread items to review. That is totally manageable.

Most of the RSS I watch is for general information and to stay on top of new ideas and information. When there is an RSS item that is specifically interest that is when I will use the tools to mark it for follow up at a later time. In Google Reader that is by ‘Staring’ the post (hit the S key while viewing) or with similar ease in Reeder on my iPhone. Then once I have time to go to the source and really get into the content I will review the items in my “Starred Items”. This is typically an evening activity at my main computer where I can be more engaged in the content. Once finished the Star comes off.

Adding new feeds, if I ever do feel the need to adding a new RSS feed to either Google Reader or Fever both have a bookmarklet that sits in you browser to add the RSS feed from any page to the tool with a click.

While that covers most of the RSS content, I will give an honorable mention to Feedly. Feedly provides another interface to you Google Reader feed in a Newspaper style format. It also provides a useful toolbar to email, tweet, bookmark, or share a webpage or feed.


The continuing problem of the 3/8″ wrench.

Okay no surprise here but I love technology, cool and otherwise.  But technology is only useful to the extent it gets something done for you.

So I’ve been looking at what I have and how I’ve been using it and it was time for a little Personal Technology Tune-up. There is just way too much information to get interested in everything that comes your way. So after listening to the Mac Power Users Podcast, I went on a little Data diet – sort of.

Before I get to what happen, I’ll lay out the punchline first – not the best standup strategy, buy what the hey. You collect applications and services that do things for you and you start trying to use them to THEIR potential rather than YOUR potential. Many would question why have more than one web browser (I have 4), more than one RSS reader (I have 5), and more than one word processor (lost count).

The trick is you have different tools for different purposes. A while ago I coined the term “the Problem of the 3/8″ wrench” the fact that many of us buy 101 piece tool sets but typically only use a few pieces on a regular basis. For example I have at least 8 tools that can turn a 3/8″ nut or bolt. Never thought that was excessive. They are different styles of tools for different applications.

So with software, you have multiple tools for different types of work. And that’s a good thing. I am constantly amazed how people try to jam all their needs into Word or Excel. That is what they have – forget a database or some other word processor. Even within a software category there are times when you need MS Word for your Master’s thesis and there are times you need TypePad for a blog posting. No shame in that.

I think the reluctance is ‘learning’ more software and I understand that.  Here’s the problem, when you try to use Tool A for something more easily done by Tool B you will likely spend more time figuring out obscure commands in your current Tool than it would take to get up to speed with a new tool that is a better fit for your task.

Take something simple like a web browser. With the expansion of online services where you login once and go many places I have different browsers for different identities. I have a browser for my personal surfing, my Google and Flickr accounts and associated blogging. The bookmarks there point to the places I go personally. Then I have another browser for my hobby blogging where I’m working with community and non-profits. It has separate bookmarks that point to that community and logs into its own blogs, google accounts, and online services. It solves the problem of constantly logging out and into different personas – and the embarrassment of posting a personal comment to a community blog. My RSS feeds have been pruned down to the ones that apply to the different personas and each with there own version of Google reader.

Now that is a simple data management problem. Not really different than having two local accounts on your computer. The simplicity of the example masks the power of the method. Going back to word processing, a high end word processor with rulers, styles, footnotes, tables of contents and so on is only really useful when you are creating for print or some other complex document. You can make simpler documents in complex software but why would you? If you are writing a blog post you only need to type plus maybe bold and underline, and be able to save the result – likely as a plain text document. Well you can get through the first part and if the distractions of 147 buttons and toggles don’t bother you every time you look at the top of the window, maybe that’s okay.  But then when you hit save, the complexity is right in your face, Export or Save as, find the appropriate drop down. No big deal but why bother?

Disambiguating your work is becoming a bigger and bigger part of my workflow. On the computer and on the web there are a massive number of tools many of them are free. The concept of standardization and single choice “best of breed” is something that evolved around supported corporate environments. When you are your own support environment there is no economy of scale.

Of Spring Cleaning and Passwords

Saturday being the first day of Spring, I wanted to get out and start my spring rituals of getting the yard sorted out and pulling out the outdoor tools from the back corner of the garage.

Well, I didn’t get as far with that as I would have liked it was a useful start. At the end of the day, with a week of productivity hints in my head, I took to cleaning up some of my online life. Like replacing the batteries in the smoke detector, I think its past time to get into the habit of rotating online passwords.

I’m a total convert to 1Password from the good folks at Agile Solutions. That is a great password keeper for a number of purposes. (Note: If you need a look at some password keeper solutions see this Lifehacker article) I still was in the bad habit of using the same password in multiple places. And there were still some passwords that weren’t as strong as they need to be.

1Password has a good password generator, frequently I base my password on their suggestions but make the odd change to make it more likely that I might remember it. However, the real step was to stop pretending I could remember them all. At one point you need to trust in an encrypted archive of passwords. It does have a sense of ‘all the eggs in one basket’ behind a single master password. However the threat is more likely is a phishing attack or compromised web service. So diverse and complex passwords are the best defence for the most likely security compromise.

In reality, the folks with a little black book of passwords may have had a good idea. I wouldn’t recommend that but I wouldn’t recommend the 2 or 3 standard passwords that I used everywhere for a couple years. There are simply too many places and too many services of various quality to rely on their security for your password.

So please consider taking the equinox (spring and fall) or the solstices, or all of these, as a time to change up the keys to your online life. I like the spring, I’m hoping my brain and fingers will adapt a little faster but there is a to-do on my calendar for this fall to do it all again.


Software I just like ….

I’ve always collected large piles of software, especially shareware, for my computers. Part of me just likes that ‘underdog’ role of the small developer. But the uniquely cool thing about being a Mac user is there are some mind-blowingly awesome small Mac developers. Microsoft, Adobe, and Apple all have a large chunk of my hard drives and rightfully so given the large footprint they have in the Marketplace. But more and more the software I really lean on are these little bits I’ve collected over the years.

So inspired by the regular free and cheap picks on Lifehacker, here are some of my recommendations.

First place has to go to GraphicConverter, if for no other reason that I’ve owned it and used it longer than any other piece of software. Think I’ve had it since System7 on my first color Mac. I remember it could open Amiga graphic files – probably still can. Technically I probably own 27 copies of this in various versions.

Coming in at a close second is BBEdit. Owned that one for a while to, can’t remember when I first got it but it predates OS X by a while. Plus I love the “Software that doesn’t Suck” tagline.

An honorable mention to Dragthing which I used sometime starting with System 8 and is still on my machine. Unfortunately it has lost the battle to LaunchBar which continues to have new tricks I continue to learn. Recently started using the clipping history for copy and paste – very nice.

Around for a good long time as well is Fetch and Interarchy, two file transfer utilities I keep around for slightly different reasons. Fetch I still use to speed test downloads because I like the transfer rate displays. Interarchy (nee Anarchie) is an all purpose file utility that I use for Web site updates and backups. Its mirroring and Netdisk features are still the best bridge between a GUI and the Unix world of ftp/sftp. Fetch comes from the pedigree of Dartmouth college alongside some other great Mac Software like Intermapper. Interarchy was another University derived software effort started with Peter N. Lewis which begat Stairways Software and was joined by Andrew Tomazos.

Got to go back to the folks at BareBones, owned just about all their software too, Mailsmith, Yojimbo, in addition to BBEdit. And I could still be using them all with their free lifetime support.

A newer connection is the folks at SmileonmyMac who have a lot of great stuff but TextExpander just works like nothing else I have. It must be hard to sell a little utility like that but this is a lifesaver. And I’ve got it on my iPhone. PDFpen is also the best PDF tool on the Mac. The number of times I’ve had to deal with a form or document and I just type on it and paste in a TIFF of my signature – that is what paperless was supposed to be about. Own just about all their stuff too.

Almost last but not least a special bouquet to HourWorld – a classic example of Mac Shareware. It lasted from OS 9 to OS X and still works on the latest machines – all be it in Rosetta compatibility mode. This bit of work has been on my Macs, and around my family of Macs for over a decade, through 3 major process migrations and at least 4 operating system architectures under Classic Mac OS and OS X.

And I add an “In Memorandum” section to some old software houses that aren’t producing anymore. The folks at Cassidy and Greene who did iTunes before Apple did with SoundJam and the classic game Glider. A morsel of their work still survives with SpellCatcher. A nod to Karelia Software who did desktop search before there even really was search. And Arlo Rose the original Widget-teer before Apple, Google and Microsoft.

Face it if these folks can make something useful for less than $29.95 chances are I’m going to buy it. If for no other reason than they will probably take the $29.95 and make something even better with it. Oh and I probably paid about a million dollars for all those $29.95 pieces of sofware, wonder how far back the records at Kagi go?? Maybe I can find it in my Eudora mailbox somewhere.