Obligatory Mac Utilities

There are a handful of utilities on my Mac that I use all day, every day. I’ve written about most of them before over the years — try the search box on the right — but since people liked some of my past posts about favourite iOS apps, I thought I’d gather these into a quick list here.

  • Dropbox
    But then, you could have guessed that one. It’s on everybody’s list. ’Nuff said.
  • LaunchBar
    Unless your needs are very minimal, you need something to launch applications and utilities without having to burrow through folders in the Finder. Some people just use Spotlight, but there are quicker and more powerful options. In the past, I tried most of them but settled on LaunchBar and, despite occasional experiments with others, and though I use a tiny fraction of its facilities, I’m still using it 10 years after first installing it.
  • A clipboard history utility
    These give you the ability to store more than one thing in your clipboard. Cut, Copy and Paste will work as expected, but you have the option to go back and paste the thing-before-last that you copied. Or things from yesterday. This is one of those habits that you may never get into; it took me a long time to get used to the fact that I could copy a quote from a web page, and the author’s name, and the URL, and then go to my blog and compose a post with all the information at hand. But it’s very liberating: you can stick stuff in the clipboard without worrying about what it’s overwriting, and the history becomes a sort of temporary scratch space, like the back of an old envelope on your desk, in which you can put all sorts of short-term stuff. There are several utilities about, but LaunchBar comes with a good one built-in, so I just use that. Trust me, train yourself to do this and make sure the keyboard shortcut is the same on all your machines. I use alt-cmd-L, which is quick to type, and has become as instinctive as the cut, copy & paste keystrokes.
  • TextExpander
    This lets you type just a few characters, in almost any app, and have them converted instantly into a much larger chunk of text, optionally with lots of clever extra features and options. If you’re me, for example, it doesn’t take long to discover that ‘Quentin Stafford-Fraser’, what with its punctuation and capitals, can be a tedious thing to type many times a day, and to type ‘qqsf’ and have it automatically converted is a much better option. My own email addresses, which these days are often my usernames on various services, each have their own three-letter abbreviation, and so forth.
    I first used this back when it was called Textpander, and was free, and when that changed, for a long time I resisted paying $35 for something that just typed a few keystrokes for me. Until, that is, I realised just how many keystrokes it had typed for me — over 38,000 on this machine, for example (it keeps a record). I’m not sure over what time period that is, but that’s just on one of my machines, and I’m not a heavy user.
  • SuperDuper
    It clones your disk. Efficiently, flexibly and reliably, and if you’re cloning your main system disk, it will make the result bootable. I don’t use it often, but I do it without fail every single time I’m about to do a major operating system upgrade, so it’s had a lot of use recently!
  • Scrivener
    Not a utility, this one, but a substantial application. They used to say of Emacs, that it was not so much a text editor, more a way of life. Well, Scrivener inspires almost religious devotion amongst its enthusiasts. It is a word processor designed for professional writers — a category into which I certainly do not fall — but I’ve become rather fond of it for gathering together information associated with any project, and if I were to write anything substantial, it’s certainly what I’d use. I could write a great deal about Scrivener, but others have done so in numerous places, so I’ll just mark it as a favourite, and encourage you to investigate for yourself. There are plenty of screencasts, podcasts, books and many other resources to tell you about it and why it’s so yummy.
  • 1Password
    This is on all my devices, and in the toolbar of all my browsers on my Macs. How do people live without this (or something like it)? If you live without it by using the same password on many websites, then I hope you’re spending the money on medication instead to help you sleep at night.


A great list!

I use Alfred rather than Launchbar but otherwise am with you on your suggestions. One that has recently been added for me is DragonDrop, which lets you drag and drop files, text or images into a temporary space before dragging it into its final location. It sounds janky but is surprising how often you end up using it!

Good list! I’m another Alfred user, but the other app I don’t directly use but heavily depend upon is Hazel. Hazel automatically renames files and sweeps them away to sensible places. So, for example, my desktop acquires screenshots and random files; the screenshots get renamed and after a day move into a screenshot folder; the random files get tidied away after a little longer. Hazel can also add things to iTunes and so forth. Very helpful, although I essentially never interact with it.

Yes, I’ve heard good things about Hazel. One of the presenters on the (very good) Mac Power Users podcast was talking about an IFTTT rule that would notice photos tagged with her name on Instagram and put them in her Dropbox folder, and a Hazel rule that would take things from that Dropbox folder and put them in iPhoto…

Must have another look at it. Yes, you could probably do everything it does with cron jobs, folder actions and a bit of scripting, but in the end it’s sometimes well worth paying for nice packaging!

RipIt is another utility where I decided I could do it myself but it was well-worth paying for the convenience.

Oops! I forgot to put 1Password in my list! And it’s vital. Have added it now…

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