4 Mac Apps that speed YOU up

Many people are obsessed with speed and I happily include myself in that category, at least with respect to the performance I get from my computer. Whether it's a faster processor, more memory, a quicker graphics card or a new high-speed hard drive, upgrading to the latest and greatest translates into getting things done more quickly.

It's not enough to just throw hardware at a problem, sometimes you have to optimize yourself. Of course I can do this by inhaling a rather large quantity of coffee first thing in the morning but what I'm talking about is finding applications that can improve how you use your computer. Though Macs have incredibly high usability right out of the box, over the last year I've found 4 applications that have really helped me improve my efficiency on my Mac. I've tried quite a few but these are the applications I've stuck with and found most valuable to me.

Like many people I spend a lot of time in a web browser (actually both Safari and Firefox). It seems that each site has a different cookie policy and password standard and each browser has different reliability when it comes to remembering my login credentials. You want to lose time during the day doing something that doesn't add any value other than challenging the Grey Matter to a memory exercise? Try remembering the username and password for every site that requires it. Think about the amount of time you waste when you try to log in and try every variation of a password you can think of, or waiting for a password reminder to come back to you in e-mail.

Then think about the repetitive forms with your contact information that need to be filled out and the purchase sites where you have to enter in your credit card details. Finally toss in those times when you need your frequent flyer number or child's social security number or application's license code.

1Password does a fantastic job of handling all of this for me. It plants itself in the toolbar of my browser and makes logging in to a site a one or two click affair. It will offer to remember my login credentials the first time I use it and then it retains it after that. Now when I hit nearly any form I can just tell 1Password to fill it out for me and it usually completes most of the common fields without any typing on my part.

Now that I have it synchronizing my 1Password data automatically through DropBox (which is a free service), both the Macs I use on a regular basis are current all the time. It is seamless and completely wonderful.

I realize I sound like I'm gushing about this application but it's one of those "you have to try it to appreciate it" types of things. It's also one of the few applications I immediately bought a family license for and put on my wife and kid's Macs. At $39.95 (single user) and $69.95 (family 5-pack) it's not the cheapest utility you can buy but well worth the money.

I have a confession: I am a keyboard junkie. I'll use an easily remembered keystroke combination over a mouse movement every time. It was for this reason that one of the first features in OS X I became enamored with was Spotlight. The ability to hit Command-Space and just type in the name of something and launch it by hitting Return was excellent.

The issue was that Spotlight had some issues about the time I was starting to really use it and I ended up trying out QuickSilver. While QuickSilver was great I started to see some minor issues with it and at the time the author of QuickSilver was indicating he was walking away from the project (that has since changed I believe). It was at this point that I started playing with LaunchBar and I've been hooked ever since.

LaunchBar makes it really fast to get to the application I want, whether it's running or not. Command-Space (I moved Spotlight to Control-Space), type in a couple letters and hit Return. It's much faster than Spotlight and allows me to do more than just launch an application. It also learns my personal shortcuts so that when I want to launch Pages I hit Command-Space, PG, Return and it's up and running.

Since it can also use what I type to search my address book I can find a person by typing part of their name, then hit the right arrow button and select and e-mail address, press Return and I've got a new mail message addressed to that person and ready for writing.

I use Skype for my phone calls and have installed some LaunchBar scripts to control it, allowing me to just navigate to a person's phone number through LaunchBar and hit Return; Skype dials them for me.

Though I can get by with Spotlight on a Mac that doesn't have LaunchBar installed, my productivity takes a bit of a dip. LaunchBar is €24.00 for a single user version and €39.00 for a 5 user family license.

I run lots of applications at the same time (right now I've got 16 running). Even with dual screens I like being able to arrange my application windows in a very structured way so I always know where to look for things. Spaces give me the ability to set up those work spaces and jump between them very quickly. The alternative is a bunch of windows that are either layered on top of one another or minimized down to the Dock Bar. I have found that jumping to a Space that contains the apps I need set up and ready for use saves me a lot of time throughout the day.

I've written quite a bit on how I've set up Spaces to optimize my daily routine. Though it's included in OS X and could really just be considered a part of the Mac experience I've observed a number of Mac users that never bother to. If you haven't already, give Spaces a try.

Though I'm a keyboard first kind of person there are plenty of times that I switch into "mouse mode". Usually this is when I'm browsing through information on a combination of web pages, links from Twitter, and from NetNewsWire. This is when I want my mouse to be more than just a 2 button hockey puck with a scroll wheel and go for heavier duty mice that have multiple programmable buttons.

Logitech is my mouse vendor of choice and while I love the hardware they produce the Mac mouse drivers they put out have been horrid. Fortunately SteerMouse has come to my rescue. It allows me to define custom actions on all of the buttons on my Logitech Mx510 mouse. While I would prefer that Logitech make serious efforts to improve their drivers I'll happily pay the $20 for SteerMouse because it makes my mouse that much more functional.

So there you have it, the four applications I use constantly to optimize the way I use my Mac. How about you? Got an application that helps you perform at your peak? Drop a note in the comments and share.


Anonymous said…
1password is a must- I'm waiting for 3.0 to upgrade to a Family Pack.

I haven't tried LaunchBar yet but the new 5 version may have me take a look. It does allow for a very clean Desktop/Dock

Spaces- I'd use it more if I had more RAM. I have a 24" now and contrary to popular believe I think Spaces becomes even better on large monitors but to run multiple apps you need RAM. My next computer will have 4GB of RAM minimum and I will organize the ones I leave running into Spaces.

Steermouse - I will be using this when I upgrade to a Logitech Revolution MX mouse.
Anonymous said…
My favorite for speeding up my every day workflow is simple windowsets. You set up some finder windows and then make a set of them. Using the program you can recall those sets any time you want. Since I'm in and out of folders all day long this is a real time saver.
Anonymous said…
For those who don't want to spend 24, you can search your address book with spotlight by typing "kind: addr" after the search name. Other "kind:" filters on your search are also available if you look into it a little more. A fun thing to do is use "kind: app" and then bring up all the apps in cover flow, just page through them and see what you've got that you may not even know about. Cheers!
Keleko said…
I use 1Password as well. I use it because I can sync it with my iPhone. I have too many different web sites with different logins (when my usual is taken or not sufficient) to remember without it.
Rick Baskett said…
I use all of those except for Steermouse. I chose instead to use iKey by ScriptSoftware. It allows me to modify all my mouse buttons, add modifiers, launch programs, and pretty much every shortcut you could ever think of and more than you would ever want! :)
Mr. Reeee said…
I use them all, except for SteerMouse.

LaunchBar is an excellent way to augment and compliment Spotlight.

You want FAST? Mice are inefficient and SLOW. A trackball is FAST! Especially with 2 monitors.
I use a Kensington Expert Mouse trackball with Kensington MouseWorks.

One thing missing from the list is Default Folder X! It speeds up open and Save dialogue boxes and lets you assign favorite folders and MUCH MORE. It's well worth the $35 shareware fee! I'm lost without it.

Do yourself a favor and check it out!
Mr. Reeee said…
A couple more things I just remembered...

AllBookmarks (free) adds a system wide browser bookmark menu. It works with any browser and can even combine bookmarks from multiple browsers.


JABMenu ($15), adds a menu item that lets you search the Address Book without running it. It has a sub-menu with an A thru Z sub-menus. A real time saver!

CaliMagNUFC said…
I also love to save time. The one thing that I always like to have around is KeyCue, I am a keyboard junkie (12" Powerbook and no mouse), I am also a new app junkie, so the fact that it will quickly teach me shortcuts for any mac app is really useful.
Just saw it is on sale today at http://maczot.com too, you should give it a go!
ukann said…
I am curious on your thoughts regarding QuickSilver vs. LaunchBar. I've always seen Quicksilver as the best application for Mac because it changes the way you do everything and integrates so well with Mac OS. Is there a reason that you would choose LaunchBar over QuickSilver if development for both are the same?
Hendrik said…
Another vote for Default Folder X.
It is quite the excellent addition to OSX.
David Alison said…
Thanks to all for some great suggestions here in the comments. I also got a couple on Twitter and through e-mail.

@019: That's a good question and one I covered in a couple of blog posts. I tried Quicksilver first and happily used it for a while before switching to LaunchBar. Here is the background on both:

Adding Quicksilver to your MacLaunchBar as a Quicksilver replacement@Mr. Reeee: You're one of several people that have tried to convince me that I should give a trackball a "spin". Any suggestions on which to use?
David Alison said…
@DCBrit: Excellent suggestion on KeyCue - really helpful for learning the key combos. Thanks!
Hendrik said…
I've tried and liked KeyCue before but couldn't justify paying the price they were asking. But for 15$ I might just buy it. Thanks for the MacZot pointer.
Using KeyCue to show the Textmate shortcuts is both impressive and useful.
Terry said…
If you use a laptop you can't live without Smart Scroll. David you should try out Warp for when you use Spaces. I use both of these every day. And for quick access to your Address Book try TapDex.
Mr. Reeee said…
I use BuddyPop, which is similar to TapDex. I must say, TapDex looks much nicer and free, too! Looks like I'll switch. Thanks!

For Spaces, Hyperspaces adds the ability to have different Desktop pictures for each space, so it's easier to tell where you are!

I use LaunchBar and chose it over QuickSilver because at the time, it seemed as though QuickSilver was in stasis and I hate whan an application or utility I get used to, suddenly disappears. Remember Concierge for Safari?
Mr. Reeee said…
Hey David, good blog!

I'm a trackball fiend and have been using them since the first 2-button Kensington Turbo Mouse with a Mac IIcx. I've owned and used maybe a dozen different trackballs over the years, but always went back to the Kensingtons. Some people think I'm nuts for using one, but they're simply better.

My favorite is the Kensington Expert Mouse. There are several great features.

1. The ball is large, so it's extremely easy to "throw" the cursor across your screen with one finger. I do CAD (VectorWorks) and use 2 monitors; a 1920 x 1200 and a MacBook Pro 15" (1440 x 900). That's a LOT of pixels to try and traverse with a mouse!

2. It's all optical, so there are no rollers to clean. I keep a small brush on my desk to occasionally sweep crud off the optical pickups.

3. The Scroll Ring surrounding the ball is Fantastic. You never need to reach for a scroll wheel. It's MUCH faster than a wheel, too, since you can keep a finger resting on it.

4. It has 4 buttons which are programmable and you can "chord" 2 buttons together for more flexibility with the Kensington MouseWorks software.

5. With any trackball, it's stationary, so you never run out of cable or desk space. It's space efficient, too.

The only negative I can think of is that learning trackball technique takes a little time. It involves resting your fingertips on the ball and pointing where you want the cursor to go. That's the advantage of the large ball, small trackballs are harder to use. There's also minimal hand stress, unlike actively gripping a mouse and having your hand in tension at all times.

Get one! You won't regret it!

(Gee, I wrote a short story!)
g7whatever said…
A couple things I agree with from the comments -

DefaultFolderX is AWESOME. Whenever I get on a mac without it I am saddened by what seems like a ton of extra time to navigate to a folder

Trackball - all the way. Besides being very fast - it save me wrist, neck and shoulder pain from the repetitive little movements - and it never moves. It is always in the same place so your hand can go to it instinctively.

KeyCue is great except for some reason it keeps crashing firefox on my. Not sure if others have this same problem. In updates they might have changed the launch preference, but before I could not change it.
David Alison said…
@Mr. Reeee, g7whatever: Interesting. I always avoided trackballs because I used to be a first person shooter gaming fanatic, though I've long since hung that up. Everyone I know that uses a trackball raves about it though; I'll have to give it a try. The reasoning behind it makes sense. Thanks much!
Daniel said…
I'm gonna try out SteerMouse :D I'm currently using USB Overdrive as I didn't know anything else existed but it hasn't had any development on it for many years and seems to crash my system severely sometimes so I'm always scared of it but I like my Logitech mouse too much to give it up so thanks for the post!
David Alison said…
@Daniel: I used to use USB Overdrive but found SteerMouse to be better.
Automaton said…
Hi David,

Since you're an aficionado of Mac software, I thought I'd point you to an app I've released:


If you like it, email me at the support email address and I'll send you a free license as a thankyou for an interesting blog.
Rick Baskett said…
Looks like Google released a new piece of software that competes with LaunchBar:

David Alison said…
@Rick Baskett: Thanks for the heads up Rick! Checking it out now.

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