The applications and utilities that ship with a machine like the MacBook Pro are plentiful, easy to use and effective. You get programs like word processors and video editors for free out of the box, but what happens if you need more? What about tools for power users, developers or those who constantly want to tinker?
If the Mac is your primary tool for work, then it serves you to configure it to work more efficiently for you. Sometimes the default tools just don’t cut it. I’ve put together a list of some of the best and most useful applications and utilities for bringing out the true power of working on a Mac. Let’s take a look.
Homebrew is a package manager for macOS that enables you to install a wide array of open-source software on your Mac. Just like
yum on Linux, Homebrew lets you install and keep packages updated on your system.
Using Brew allows you to install software quickly and satisfy dependencies efficiently so you can get back to the task at hand. Here’s an example of how simple it is to install a package using Brew:
brew install wget
After the command completes you’ll end up with the
wget utility installed. Homebrew also makes it incredibly easy to develop and add your own packages. These custom packages are called “formulae” and are built using the Ruby programming language.
It’s so easy to get started with Homebrew. Head over to their site where you can install with one simple command.
This little utility has come in handy more times than I can count. Caffeine is a small application that let’s you prevent your Mac from going to sleep at the click of a button.
No menu diving, no adjusting sleep timeouts, just press the cup of coffee icon and your machine will stay awake as long as you want.
This can be a lifesaver if you’re working with a long-running script or need your computer to be awake to accept incoming connections. In the past I’ve also used this during presentations or product demonstrations to ensure my machine never hibernates in those critical moments.
One of the shortcomings of window management on a Mac is the lack of a robust grid system. There is no easy way to get things to snap or align the way you want them to. Some native ways do exist to align windows but they are a lacking approximation of a real solution.
Rectangle solves this problem.
After installation you get a convenient tray icon that let’s you quickly apply a wide range of different window splits at the click of a button or via keyboard shortcuts.
If you remember an older application called Spectacle, Rectangle is its newer and more frequently updated sibling.
Animated GIFs! Who doesn’t love a good GIF? Viewing them is one thing, but creating them is another. LICEcap let’s you take quick animated GIFs of your screen so you can easily show how something works (or doesn’t work).
I’ve used LICEcap to take countless GIFs illustrating application usage or showing off a new feature. I’ve also used to to catch tricky UI bugs and more effectively communicate issues to colleagues or users.
The interface for LICEcap is super easy to use (albeit a bit dated) and does something important, it gets out of your way. You have access to a recording pane that you can resize to target different portions of an app or window. You don’t have to mess with video settings or change desktop preferences to achieve a quick, relatively high-quality GIF.
Have you ever wanted to tweak how the trackpad works on your MacBook? Squeezing even more productivity out of this input device is possible using jitouch2. This is an application that lets you configure custom gestures and tap combinations in order to do things like launch applications or open different files.
The possibilities are endless for interesting productivity improvements. You can even do neat things like setup character recognition on the trackpad so that when you gesture a letter it will interpret it and perform an action.
One example of a useful productivity hack might be to map a gesture to open a new browser window pointing towards a local web app like React or Ember. Rather than opening a new browser and having to type in the same thing over and over, you gesture once and like magic your app is open in front of you.
Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about some of these important Mac utilities. Give them a test drive to see how they can improve your own workflow.