The Mac applications I run all day, every day

When I bought my new MacBook Pro I used the applications I had running on my previous MacBook Pro to help me determine what I would need in terms of horsepower. It was an interesting exercise, mainly because it gave me a good sense for all of the things I need my Mac to handle throughout the day.

I'm a software developer and do some of the development for SharedStatus, so my needs are a little biased towards that. I've broken down what's running on my Mac into two sections, Basics and Development. To give some perspective on how many apps I have loaded up as I write this, here's a snapshot of my current Spaces window zoomed out:

I've always been fascinated by these types of lists because it helps give people exposure to some apps they may not know about. Here are the ones I nearly always have running:


I love the speed of Safari and this remains my default browser. Nice and fast, Safari does have a tendency to crash on me if it's been running for a long time and I have a huge number of tabs open, though it always seems to happen when Flash based web sites are loaded up. Fortunately more and more sites are switching to HTML5 solutions instead of Flash. My iPhone and iPad are happy about that too.

Google Chrome
I really enjoying using Chrome. Why do I have two (well, three—see below) active browsers? Because I'm often logging in to different profiles (personal / business entity) on different online services. The fact that the URL bar and the search area are one and the same is also a cool feature. Chrome is—like Safari—very fast in rendering web pages.

Though I have some die hard Apple fans that tell me I should use iChat, I'm hopelessly addicted to Adium. The customizability of the interface is outstanding and the integrated support of multiple IM accounts means keeping everything consolidated in one place is easy. Having a friend that has Trollicons loaded up makes for some hilarious chats too.

Skype (version 2.8)
I continue to use Skype for my virtual phone and also for video conferencing, though Facetime may soon replace that function. I haven't upgraded beyond version 2.8 due to the horror stories associated with the most recent release. Combine Skype with some Applescripts and Launchbar goodness and it's a great replacement for a land line.

I'm very heavy into Twitter; it has effectively become my primary news channel, replacing my RSS feeds for the most part. Echofon is great because it syncs up from Desktop to iPad to iPhone, so as I switch between machines I don't have to scan through tweets I've already read on another device. Note: you can follow me on twitter @dalison.

I always have iCal loaded up; quickly seeing what's on deck, accepting e-mailed appointment invites, etc. all work nicely, and it syncs up well with my iPhone and iPad. I also have it mated up with my Google Calendar account.

I occasionally access e-mail through a web interface (especially for Gmail based accounts) but my default e-mail access point is I use IMAP to keep my folders synced up and the integration with the rest of the OS is good. With the Growl add-on installed (see below) I get a nice notification of new e-mail as well.

I'm doing more and more writing and blogging these days and my preferred tool for capturing initial drafts is Pages. I love the user interface, the application performance and in the unlikely event I need a document that is print (or more likely PDF) ready, Pages can create a really beautiful document quickly. I always seem to have it open.

Most of the notification oriented apps I run have Growl support. Rather than each app coming up with their own notification model, Growl provides a clean and highly customizable model that any OSX application can leverage. I love seeing a Growl notification that a file in my shared Dropbox account has been updated.

I've become a hard core keyboard user on my Macs as a direct result of LaunchBar. Not only can I quickly launch or open my existing applications from the keyboard (much like Spaces) but I can connect applications and documents together. I've written rather extensively about Launchbar in the past.

iStat Menu
I like to know what's going on with my Mac, whether it's the temperature inside the machine, the actual health of my batteries or to see if there is any odd network traffic flying across the pipes at the moment. iStat Menu is a staple on my Mac's menu bar.

I'm not sure how I got by without Dropbox before. It’s not that I couldn't quickly transfer files between my various machines, it's just that it required me intervening to do it. Dropbox makes it seamless. Just getting my 1Password files to synchronize automatically makes Dropbox invaluable to me.

The older I get, the less grey matter I seem to have to dedicate to remembering passwords, login names and some of the incantations sites require me to perform to obtain access. 1Password handles all that and fills out credit card and mailing address forms for me. The fact that it's synchronized between my various machines (and my iPhone and iPad) make it a necessity for me.

I often find myself passing screen shots of new features for SharedStatus back and forth with my partner Josiah. Skitch makes that easy, not just because it can take a screen shot so easily (OSX does that natively) but because it includes basic drawing tools to quickly call out parts of images captured. I can resize, crop, drop in arrows and call-out text in seconds.

You know when you fire up a long YouTube video or Skype video chat and your energy saver preferences kick in because you haven’t been touching the keyboard or mouse? Clicking the Caffeine coffee cup in the menu bar tells your Mac not to fire up the screen saver or drop into sleep mode for a pre-defined number of minutes. You can come close to this behavior with Exposé hotspot preferences (System Preferences / Exposé & Spaces), but Caffeine makes it much easier. And it's free.

I keep SMARTReporter running all the time because I like to keep an eye on the health of my hard drives. I don’t actively use it but I like that it passively sits in my menu bar and will notify me if one of my hard drives starts to act up. Also a great free utility.

As you can see on this list, I keep three different browsers running all the time. I also have two primary Macs that I use; Xmarks keeps my bookmarks and browser tool bars synchronized between each of my browsers and on each machine. Combine that with 1Password and I can get to anything from pretty much anywhere.

Time Machine
I've always been a big fan of Time Machine because it makes backups something that I do every single hour and I don't have to worry about it. Unless there's a Time Machine error of course. Time Machine has saved me hassles on more than one occasion; mate it up with a Time Capsule and you have roaming around the house backups.


2-3 Terminal windows
At any given time I have 2-3 Bash shell windows open. One is usually for local commands related to my Rails development, another is for a running instance of my development version of SharedStatus (or other project) and a third is usually open with an SSH session to a remote server.

I put Firefox into the development category because that's primarily how I use it. I've generally found that page rendering is a bit faster with Safari and Chrome than in Firefox, but neither of those browsers has the depth of extensions for playing with web pages.

As a Ruby on Rails developer you learn that a healthy combination of terminal windows and a programmers editor are your friend and TextMate is a fantastic editor for Ruby development. Lots of extensions for languages and version control systems too. It's also great for hacking on plain old text files, CSS pages, etc.

MySQL Server
I keep a MySQL Server instance running on my machine at all times (automatically started at login). A couple of the Rails projects I do use MySQL server so I like to have it available immediately in case I need a local development build of a web application.

Sequel Pro
When I need to browse through data sets or build up experimental queries, Sequel Pro is my go-to tool and I often just have it loaded and running in one of my Spaces windows. It’s perfect for jumping in and examining (and modifying) data. Another great free utility.

When I purchased one of the MacHeist bundles a while back I got Flow, an FTP client. Flow has a very OS X like user interface and feels natural running on Snow Leopard. I'm always pushing files up to web servers and having this open makes it simple. About the only thing I wish it did was integrate with 1Password.

I've been doing more and more iOS development lately (more learning than anything else) and as a result I nearly always have Xcode Version 4.0 loaded up with a project. Xcode can create some fairly heavy demand on a Mac, sometimes at really odd times. Why my CPU utilization pops up so high when parked on the New File dialog is but one example.

Most days these apps are all running at the same time, as you can see from the Spaces screen shot at the top of this post. I have lots of other applications that I use on an infrequent basis but they aren't always running, like the rest of the iWork suite, iPhoto, Preview, OmniGraffle, etc.

What's running on your Mac right now? Any cool applications that I should be using that I haven't already mentioned? Please drop a note in the comments and let me (and the other readers) know.


Zaidin said…
Hi David, I've switched from terminal to iterm2, and I find it really useful. Fullscreen support, split pane, high colors..., there is a lot of options for a heavy user of the unix side of the mac
David Alison said…
@Zaidin: Very cool - hadn't been looking so I never found it! Thanks for pointing it out, looks fantastic. A clickable link for those reading the comments: iTerm2.
brian said…
You and I use many of the same basic apps. I don't use iCal or Pages; I do all of that through Google now. Mini Usage is a cpu monitor that sits at the top and it's free. I switched to it when iStat started charging for the regular version, not the widget. It looks like Quicksilver is back to being supported so I'm deciding between that and Alfred. I like both. How do you use Twitter for news? You subscribe to news sites' twitter accounts?
brian said…
One other I forgot: Better Touch Tool. It's awesome. You can customize your trackpad in nearly infinite ways. Definitely worth a look.
David Alison said…
@brian: On the Twitter front my interests are in Macs, technology, entrepreneurship, cycling and my local sports franchises. By following the right people I get a curated look at the news from people I either know personally or have demonstrated a good grasp of finding good content to link to. I rarely miss good content. Also, I follow the big news sites (for me it's CNN and Washington Post).

I still use RSS (through River of News on my iPad - a Google News feed app), but that's more during weekends when I'm just catching up.

Thanks for the tip on Better Touch - I'll check it out.
Alan said…
Hi David,
How do you find Omnigraffle (pro?) compared to Visio for development?
Have you been buying any applications from the Mac App store or do you buy them elsewhere?
Is there any web apps/cloud services that you are consistently using?

Thanks for the heads up on Xmarks & Skitch those are two apps that fit my needs but I never knew were available.
David Alison said…
@Alan: Omnigraffle Pro is a fantastic application. The real power is in the templates available for it, so it's easy to layout anything from a data model in logical layers to a user interface with design elements for OSX, Windows, etc.

To be honest it's been a very long time since I used Visio. I recall it being a great application to work with though. From a usability standpoint Visio conforms to Windows UIs and Omnigraffle Pro conforms to the OSX UI model, so moving between them requires that type of adjustment. From an actual output standpoint I could produce anything in Omnigraffle Pro I could in Visio.

On the cloud application side I'm big on Google applications, am a HUGE fan of GitHub for version control and of course I use SharedStatus every day to collaborate with my team and some of our customers (yes, shameless plug, but the truth).

Glad you found Skitch and Xmarks! A couple of great tools.
Alan said…
One other question, what software are you using to do screen casts?
David Alison said…
@Alan: I use ScreenFlow for screencasts. Very happy with it.
Alancito said…
Free "SlimBatteryMonitor" gives a colorful indicator of battery charge in the menu bar:
Alancito said…
To get in practice for OS X Lion, I use the free Scroll Reverser
Anonymous said…
GregK: David, this one is for your MacBook: MarcoPolo. You can set it up so it will identify your "location" based on network settings, apps running, etc and then let you do system configurations automatically based on your location.

Have you looked at GraphicConverter. Quick easy way to do a set of edits to a photo. And if you have lots of edits that you do over and over again you can create a "script" that does them all at once to a file or a batch of files.

Gruml is a "in beta" Google Reader. Great little utility. You can tweet interesting articles, Post them directly to your blog, etc.

I'm sure you already know TextExpander. And KeyQue. Both handy little utilities.
Anonymous said…
Hey, great list!

My favorite local search tool: HoudahSpot, fast and flexible, Apple should learn from it.

Also, a good substitute for the old Apple menu: XMenu.

Anonymous said…
Quickeys is one I can't live without. Especially for keeping your hands on the keyboard.
MattF said…
A non-work application: the OS X version of Simon Tatham's Portable Puzzle Collection. A large collection of puzzles, some classic, some new and actively developed. My fave at the moment is Loopy.
Anonymous said…
David, as always I enjoy your blog posts. I can't stress enough that you should check out Alfred and especially the power pack. The Alfred searchable clip board and now snippet sync using dropbox is the best piece of software I have ever bought. I don't say that lightly.

On another note, when are you going to give up blogger for Wordpress? I'm biased of course because I do wordpress sites/hosting but it just kills me to look at the google blogger theme when I'm on your site. A switch would make for a couple good blog posts too. Something to think about...
Anonymous said…
For me there is no way without DefaultFolder

What an intuitive time saver...
David Alison said…
@Doug: Thanks for the kind words man. My business partner Josiah is a huge Alfred fan; I've installed and played with it but I didn't see any advantages to it that made me want to move away from Launchbar.

I've been running this blog on Blogger mainly because it can handle any traffic load; since I don't monetize this blog I need to keep expenses as low as possible and free is pretty low ;)

I've played with WordPress as well and have had several sites that used it. Every once in a while I think about switching over to a WordPress based site, consider the process of moving all my posts over and then realize I'm having a difficult enough time just getting the content for this blog done while running SharedStatus.

Some day though. Some day ;)
Anonymous said…
The true value of Alfred is definitely the powerpack. The basic launcher is nice, but nowhere near as powerful as launchbar. If you tried it without powerpack and the clipboard manager, then you didn't get the full picture. But as a launchbar power user you might just want to wait for a few more refinements (like getting out of beta) before you try it again.

As for Wordpress, it only takes a couple minutes to import blogger once it's authorized. That's how I moved mine (years ago). I'd be happy to give you a wordpress test site on my server you could try out (you know when you're bored or can't watch the Caps anymore). I think you just need to have the updated blogger to import. I don't know what your traffic is like, but as long as it's not insane I'd be happy to do it for the same price as google. Feel free to send me a message on twitter. I'm @itdoug.
Anonymous said…
Great list of applications!

I would add a few more that I use on a daily basis:

BusyCal ( It works much better at integrating with Google Calendar than iCal, and it has a lot more useful controls that iCal lacks, like keyboard shortcut keys to edit event info, create all day events, etc.

Pathfinder ( - A very powerful Finder replacement (probably the king of Finder replacements), with dual panel, tabs, return key to open applications, quick search by file name for a specific directory (much better than spotlight), terminal access, copy unix paths of directories, and a whole lot more.

TotalFinder ( - Another finder replacement. Not as powerful as Pathfinder, but still offers tabs, dual panels, etc. for a cheaper price.
Anonymous said…
A list of other more "Plugin" like software:

MagicPrefs ( - a must if you use the magic mouse. Adds like over 15 additional gestures and clicks. I like how it speeds up the mouse tracking speed too. Also adds features to the magic trackpad, and regular trackpad. Plus, it's free!

Fresh ( - With a shortcut key, it gives you access to the last files that were accessed as well as a "Cooler" where you can keep frequently used documents at your finger tips. You might ask, why would I want that? I did myself until I used it for awhile. Having access to your most recently downloaded, or used files is more useful than I thought. Hard to explain until you start using it. Now I can't be without this app!
Anonymous said…
For the "Flash" problem, I use the following plug in/extension for Safari:

Click to Flash ( - Blocks all flash, but you can manually activate the ones you want to watch

YouTube5 ( - Automatically changes all YouTube, Vimeo, and Facebook videos to HTML5. It works much better than YouTube's experimental HTML5 support.

Another plug-in I use for Safari:
Glims ( - too many features to list. A plugin for Safari. You get stuff like automatic reload of tabs from your last session, undo close tabs and it's history, instant search from the search menu field, etc.
David Alison said…
@Doug: Thanks for the kind offer man - I really appreciate it. Watching the Caps. Ouch.

I'll give Alfred another try. Skimmed right past the snippet sync using Dropbox. That sounds like genius right there.

@Paul7: Some cool stuff in there - thanks!
Chan said…
You gotta really have given a shot at Sparrow mail.

I gave up on desktop mail clients since the day I got my gmail invitation, all more i tried I fall back to Gmail ever and ever.

Sparrow mail was the only thing that got me in...
David Alison said…
@Chan: Sparrow Mail looks cool. Thanks for the tip, I'll check it out. I'm actually pretty addicted to and looking forward to the changes in Lion for Mail, but from what I see on their main page for Sparrow Mail it does look interesting.
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