There’s an app for that… [OSX Edition]

It has been a while since I have written about the applications I am using in my day-to-day workflow. With it being the Easter break, I thought this was an excellent opportunity to rectify that.

Today, I am going to focus on the apps that I am using on my MacBook Air and tomorrow I will share what I am using on my iPhone. I hope that some of you find this useful…



Alfred 2 is an app launcher; clipboard; productivity toolbox, if you will, that helps me to exercise my inner control freak. Hazel helps with that too! Between the two apps I can automate searches, workflows, and keep folders tidy and up-to-date. One of the main ways that I use Alfred 2 is to search both the web and my MacBook via the Alfred interface. You can add very specific custom searches that you can action with keywords. I have custom searches for creative commons photos on Flickr, tags in Tumblr, the Mozilla Developer Network and my Delicious bookmarks as well as a host of others.

TextExpander took a while to get used to but now I think I would be lost without it. TE makes writing a lot less painful by allowing you to write in any app using shorthand which it expands into pre-defined full text. I have snippets for email signatures, file naming conventions and phrases/expressions that I use on a regular basis.

Dropbox – The obligatory file syncing app, which also helps me to back up the important stuff.

CloudApp is where I upload images and screen grabs for sharing… I stopped using all other image/upload services in my efforts to reduce the number of accounts that I use, as well as seeking to retain a greater level of ownership of my data.

Time Machine is how I keep my MacBook Air backed up.


nvALT – You know I love this app, right!? I have tried many other writing/note-taking apps (TextEdit, Byword, SublimeText) but in the end I always come back to nvALT; writing everything (blog posts, emails, speaker notes) in Markdown. The app’s interface is clean, the CSS customisable and has a useful set of shortcuts that let you use it efficiently in full screen mode. Notes are stored as plain text and synced via a folder in Dropbox. This set up is both simple and liberating.

Google Docs (Drive) might be my most used app at the moment. I write and publish material for my M.Ed. with it; I work collaboratively with colleagues; I work collaboratively with my students… the list goes on. Anything that is of high importance, I periodically download and add to a folder in Dropbox. I am all about redundancies.


Brackets is an open source HTML/CSS editor. It does exactly what it says on the tin and has auto pairing of HTML/CSS syntax built in, which is winning in my book.

*FileZilla is not strictly an app that I code with but it doesn’t really fit anywhere else. I make manual edits to my home page/blog and also upload/maintain HTML5 presentations, like this one.


Mail – Using a couple of hacks to make GMail and Mail integrate more effectively, I have come to find Apple’s built in inbox perfectly usable.

Tweetbot is a bit pricey for some but I love the iOS version; using it on OSX is just a natural fit. Moreover, considering the value that Twitter has added to my career as an educator through the numerous connections I have made, it is worth every penny.

Google+ – My use of G+ is sporadic. Sometimes I remember to share a post but more often than not I tend to be using it for the Hangouts feature, connecting and chatting with fellow educators.


Until Any.DO launches their web version, I have returned to using Wunderlist. It is the app that currently meets my needs the most. Any.DO is almost there but without a web/desktop app it falls a short.

Google Calendar – iCal is a terrible app to use both in terms of UI and UX. I’ve tried a few others, including QuickCal but I continually find myself entering items via the Google Calendar web interface. Until something better comes along, I will be sticking with it.

nvALT – Again!? Well of course… alongside writing blog posts and emails, I also keep snippets, lists and reference materials in nvALT. It is my everything bucket.

Evernote has helped me keep my M.Ed. notes, reading and data analysis organised. I use it for this sole purpose.


Google Chrome with a few tweaks (DuckDuckGo anyone?) has been my browser of choice for some time now. The UI/UX is cleaner/more user friendly than Firefox and it’s way faster than Safari. I try to keep Chrome as lean as possible, as such I only have four extensions installed. These are AdBlock as I don’t want to see advertisements while I’m browsing, Delicious Tools to bookmark content on the fly, Pocket, to save content for later and nvIt which is a neat little extension that allows me to grab text from a web page and open it as new note in nvALT.

Reeder is how I keep on top of RSS. It is not dead people and Reeder is due to be updated on OSX to include support for Feedbin which I have signed up to following the announcement from Google that they’re retiring Google Reader.

Pocket is where I put all that stuff I want to read/watch but simply do not have the time. I will get to it someday…


iTunes is still my music app of choice. My library is housed in an external hard drive as I currently have 112GB of music!

Quicktime with Perian installed allows me to watch most video formats. However, my main use for Quicktime is screen capture, recording and editing video tutorials and lectures.

*YouTube – Not strictly an app but I use it a lot at the moment, uploading weekly video lectures for the open online course I am running.

Preview – Apart from viewing/reading PDF files, I use Preview to edit images. It is perfect for balancing levels, adjusting hue/saturation, as well as cropping and resizing images. When I need to do more robust editing I turn to Gimp. Running something like Photoshop is not really an option on my MacBook Air. Gimp is lighter and open source… which makes me ‘happy, happy, happy’!

And that, as they say, is that. If you would like to know more about how I use a specific app, either add a comment below or get in touch via Twitter. I’ll be back tomorrow to share the apps that I am using on my iPhone.

Published by

James Michie

Husband, Educator, Writer, Runner...

7 thoughts on “There’s an app for that… [OSX Edition]”

    1. Hi Andy, I have not come across aText. I have TE set up across both of my machines with a folder in dropbox that syncs all of my snippets. I’ll take a look at aText though just for comparisons sake.

      Alfred 2 is stunning… I have just added some more info above about some of the custom web searches I have added. The full list is as follows:

      – FlickrCC
      – Tumblr (Tags)
      – Delicious Bookmarks (specifically my own)
      – Mozilla Developer Network (for HTML and CSS goodness)
      – Giphy

      I also have some custom searches for nvALT that allow me to find notes quickly as well as creating new ones.

      On the workflow side of things I have three installed at the moment. These are:

      – Google Autocomplete to DDG. It adds Google’s autocomplete/instant search features to a DuckDuckGo search via the Alfred interface.
      – AlfredTweet which lets me tweet, search @replies, DMs, Lists amongst other things via Alfred.
      – Search Mail which does what it says on the tin.

      The last two and also the theme I use in Alfred are courtesy of David Ferguson who works for Alfred. His site is a treasure trove of Alfred goodness:

      I have never used LaunchBar, I looked at it, QuickSilver and Alfred (1) when I was originally looking for a more advanced version of Spotlight. I picked Alfred at that time and have never looked back.

      1. Having read a bit more it seems aText is a great alternative to TE, but if you already have TE there would be little point. Decided to have a go with Alfred!

        Some great workflows out there – I’ve added the fantastical one, egg timer (which is fab!), and one which shortens URLs… Will keep playing.

    1. I’ve shied away from Clear due to the cost. While I have obviously invested money into a number of the apps that I use, I’m more than a bit fickle when it comes to ‘todo’ apps.

      I really want to Any.DO to succeed. I just wish their development would speed up. My top priority with a todo app is to be able to organise my tasks both in terms of time and also context. That is why I really like Any.DO. I use the time based approach to (re)organise my day, week, etc. And I add everything to a context (folder) which is useful for when I do my weekly review. Wunderlist offers the same functionality I just don’t feel the app looks as nice, nor is the input process as smooth.

      How do you find clear works in terms of organisation? I see that you can have multiple lists, but is it possible to organise your tasks by day, week, etc?

      1. It isn’t possible to organise tasks by date due, I’m afraid. But then, I find that I personally prefer not having to add details to a task as it makes adding tasks simpler and quicker. I usually know when tasks are due and so prefer to organise them manually by dragging and dropping them by my own priorities, which can change during the week. Recurring tasks tend to be put into my calendar instead with reminders.

        Just my thoughts, each person probably has their own workflow which works best for them. Like I said, the ease of adding and sorting tasks (and deleting and re-adding them as well) is what is more important for me. I would probably have stuck with Any.DO if they had had a desktop client, I hope they get one eventually.

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