My Mac Life

I get asked this often enough by colleagues, friends, and students that I thought it would be easiest just to compile all the answers into a single post and then point people to it. What’s the question you ask? What apps do I use?

The short answer is that I try out any number of apps because I’m always curious to see how other people imagine problems. I pay for a small percentage of those apps. And I end up depending upon a fraction of that. And, no, I don’t mind paying for apps I don’t use. None of the apps listed below represented a monumental investment — nothing like paying for either Microsoft Office or even the Student and Home edition. In fact, for that same $150 you pay for the latter, you could buy the first three apps listed here. The fact is the Mac software world is filled with really great deals on software that will help you work the way you want to work. You only have to explore the territory a bit.

That said, I know plenty of people who never explore the territory at all and are very productive cranking out novels and essays and all manner of other things using Microsoft Word. More power to them. Because there is also some portion of the population out there that isn’t getting near as much work done because they are always seeking the holy grail of productivity, the perfect solution to whatever they think their problem is. (Their problem being that they think some piece of software will magically make the words come. It won’t.) I spent plenty of time in the first group, and, given the chance, I would gladly spend a lot more time with the latter group — hey, [Merlin Mann]( has made a good living and travels all around the world pretty much talking and writing about what he imagines will be *the* solution to his creativity woes. So much so that *that* is now his topic.

It’s a wacky world.

### The Apps I Use ###

That said, here’s what I use:

#### Writing ####

For long-form writing, I tend to use [Scrivener](, an app actually coded by a novelist and writer. I like it because it does several things well: it let’s me outline and organize writing quickly and in a way that I can “see” and “feel” — hard to qualify this latter dimension, I know. It also let’s me take snapshots of pieces of my outline so if I want to roll-back changes or keep different versions of a section — for different outputs — that’s all taken care of in-app and in a way that’s easily previewed. I can also split the screen and put media with which I am working next to where I am writing. If I am trying to describe a landscape, I can look at it, zoom in and out, pan and tilt. If I am listening to an audio file in order to transcribe it, I can do that within the app. Or I can work with PDFs without having to switch windows or switch apps. None of that. It’s a bit like iTunes for writers.

Scrivener in Action

For short-form writing, if it’s just text or if I am working with a Scrivener output that needs some adjusting before getting mailed or e-mail, then I rely on [Nisus Writer Express]( Its native format is RTF, and it can produce fairly robust documents within that format:

Nisus Writer Express

This screenshot is from the Nisus site. I don’t think I’ve ever made a document that looked like this.

For more complex layouts, I have changed to Apple’s own [Pages]( This was brought about in part when I had to deal with a two-column layout, with illustrations, for an IEEE submission and Word simply couldn’t handle it. Don’t get me wrong: I use Word. I depended upon Word for two decades, but now that Pages offers a superior outlining view and seems to handle layout better than Word, the only reason I still keep a contemporary version of the latter around is because everyone else uses it and I have to be able to work with those documents. It’s no longer for the love.

Three, even four, apps for writing? Seems weird doesn’t it? Well, yes. And, no. Mostly it’s just two, Scrivener and NWE. And there’s really no thinking necessary for which app I am going to use. If it’s short, like a letter, or I am moving quickly, it’s going to be NWE. If it’s going to be anything more than a few sections, I’m going to fire up Scrivener.

#### Organizing ####

For those projects that have not matured into a writing activity yet, or may never be a writing project but maybe a teaching project or simply stuff I like to think about, I have long used [DevonThink]( — I actually own the Pro version. It’s my kitchen sink application. I’ve looked at other apps, like Yojimbo — mostly because it has MobileMe syncing — but in the end I just keep using DevonThink. It does a marvelous job of letting me dump all kinds of information into it and then search for it when I need it. It also keeps track of URLs of web pages I’ve copied, *and* it appears that you will soon be able to tag things. *Yay!*

Most of my planning for teaching is done in [Omnioutliner Pro]( I have used OmniOutliner elsewhere in the past, for collecting notes or for organizing longer projects, but other apps now handle that space. (A number of us have been pressing the OmniGroup for years now to pay some attention to the app that has fathered both OmniFocus and OmniPlan, and perhaps they will at some point. For now, OO has languished, which has meant many of us have moved on.)

That said, I do try to use [OmniFocus]( to keep up with everything I should be doing. I don’t know about anyone else, but one of my problems with GTD is that if I really do capture all the things that I need or want to do, it’s an overwhelming list. And so I end up writing down little tiny one-offs in my notebook, because peering into the great Pandorian box of OmniFocus is scare. I know, I know. A wiser man would move a chunk of things into a *Later* category. But, yes, I do try, and when I do, I use OmniFocus. (It’s nice because it syncs itself through MobileMe not only to both my Macs but also to my iPhone.

It’s for that reason that I recently picked up [MacJournal]( It looks to be able to do the same magical syncing thing, *and* to post materials to this blog. (How cool is that?)

Every digital image I have taken for the last 5 to 6 years is sitting in a [Lightroom]( library.

All these magical apps! I don’t know at what point I went over to the *iTunes way*, but there it is. I was fairly happy, and reasonably productive, using nothing more than a text editor and outputting materials by writing in Markdown or MultiMarkdown and then running things through a series of Perl or PHP or Ruby scripts or some XML transformations. But it take up time. And no one else was doing it.

Yes, I would love it if my fellow humanists would use some version of plain text or at least used applications whose file formats were suitable to checking into modern version control systems like Subversion or Git, but they aren’t. By and large, most humanists are still using word processing applications, mostly Word, as fancy typewriters. And, hey, it works for them. But I’m not going to bang my head against a wall worrying about their data. I got plenty of my own data to worry about, and I’m hoping to produce more of it every day. The apps I use take reasonably good care of my data and do not lock it in a way that, should one of them fail, I will lose a huge amount of work.

Plus, plus, I just got tired of doing everything at the file level. Yeah, Spotlight works, but do I really feel like adding all the metadata by hand? Metadata is where it’s at when you’re in the middle of an information deluge, and these apps handle metadata superbly, making it easy for me to find stuff.

Are there more apps I use? Yes. Keynote, GraphicConverter, OmniGraffle. To name a few. SketchUp when I can. Photoshop and Illustrator when it’s time to go big.

This list is probably too much, too long. But you asked. (No, not you, but the person standing behind you. Oh? You didn’t know someone was standing behind you? Well, never mind. I don’t think they looked too dangerous.)

### The Sites I Visit ###

I also sometimes get asked how I know all the things, about technology, that I know. The answer is I read a lot. Here is a short list of things I read with a promise that I will work on making it longer in the near future:

* [Finer Things in Mac]( is a non-stop stream of “hey, I didn’t know OS X or app X did that, or could do that.” Sometimes there are, usually well-deserved and well-considered, complaints and/or critiques.
* For general news about the Mac world and sometimes insights either into design matters or the politics of it all, I read John Gruber’s [Daring Fireball](
* For trouble-shooting, I turn to my fellow denizens of the [Macintoshian Achaia](, one of many forums at [Ars Technica](, which has recently gone down hill, I’m afraid, so my only recommendation is for the forum itself. For general technical news — because we don’t live in an Apple-branded universe (thank goodness), I read [Wired]( The writing is sharper than AT, more thoughtful. (And there’s less re-blogging.) For re-blogging, there’s always [Slashdot](, and, increasingly it seems all the major news outlets. But then you knew that already, right?

It’s time to slip on the echo-chamber-noise-cancellation headphones and get back to work.