Five Mac applications web development companies shouldn’t live without
The motto behind Blacktree’s Quicksilver application is “act without doing”. Whilst the technology to move the mouse pointer with out minds and write application code via telekinesis is still science fiction, Quicksilver brings this concept closer to reality. Quicksilver is a productivity tool. It allows me to find what I want, and find it immediately. Similar to the ‘Live Search’ tool we have in the upper right of this site, as you begin to type matches are displayed and gradually filtered down upon further key-presses. Being a mac application, it hooks into absolutely everything. I type a few characters of an associates’ name and immediately I’m granted with the options to ‘copy to clipboard’ their e-mail address, or display their phone number on the screen. Set it up to browse your files, and it’ll pick up your documents as you type too. This cuts out the messy browse through Finder, and you can open your work immediately.
This application borrows a lot from the idea of mouse gestures. I suppose you could call it ‘keyboard gestures’, almost. Of course, I’ve only scratched the surface here; once you start using Quicksilver as part of your day-to-day mac work flow, you’ll wonder why Blacktree haven’t been approached to make it part of the core OS X distribution… it’s that effective.
My next entry (which is likely to cause debate) is the excellent Textmate plain text editor by Macromates. At the time of writing, I have been coding on a Mac for about eighteen months. Originally, I was skeptical about developing on a Mac, after many fruitful years of PC development. As the majority of the machines in the Kaweb offices are Macs, I was thrown in at the deep end immediately and started work with the Adobe suite (which is a nice introduction to Macs, as I had the software for PC also).
Keeping an open mind initially, I learned to love my work machine; however, it isn’t just down to OS X’s BSD roots. It’s down to the Cocoa framework and the excellent programs that are being authored for the Mac platform — Textmate is a perfect example of such a program. Like most good applications, it appears initially very simplistic. Under the hood however, is a formidable ‘bundle’ engine that can support many (read as: any) language you care to throw at it. Even if you are not a programmer, the text manipulation features are very useful and it’s leagues ahead of the bundled ‘Textedit’ application that ships with OS X.
There are many FTP clients available for the Mac, but time and time again I come back to transmit. I actually do not use it that much in the office (due to most of my work being done via Subversion repositories), but when I do need to FTP files I often choose Transmit over the competition (namely Filezilla and Cyberduck). Panic Software, the company behind the application, have built up a large following of fans based on the quality of transmit and their popular text editor Coda. Having used the editor (which actually has Transmit seamlessly embedded within it) for awhile, it is easy to see why. Following the Apple paradigm of design, everything is neatly laid out. The application is probably so simple, somebody completely oblivious to FTP could work out what to do to transfer files to another machine. And isn’t that what sets great programs from just “good” programs?
iBiz is a new entry on my list. I was recommended this piece of software one day whilst lamenting on just how difficult it is to estimate how long a programming job will take. This application is really only useful if your company has clients that it charges based on time accrued. In short, iBiz is an application that can be used to track the time spent on your projects. We run it in a client-server setup (on our Mac OS X Server) so that everybody in the office can share the client pool. Once it’s set up, you can stick in a widget to your Dashboard (it looks like a little egg timer, with a large start/stop button). Clicking on the play button starts off a nice chunky digital timer. I start work on whichever task I need to complete for that client, and once I have completed the task I hit stop. Simplicity in itself!
Once you’ve stopped the timer, you can accredit that time spent to a client. Common jobs, along with the hourly rate for each of these, can be set up in advance (which we have set up for things like database maintenance which is a frequently-requested task). All sorts of graphs, reports and information can be gathered from the application (to the delight of your manager!) so you can see areas where perhaps you are spending a lot of time, and therefore money. At Kaweb, we’ve found it useful for seeing how accurate our time estimations have been with regards to projects. It’s one of those applications that really becomes more essential over time.If you need something more money-orientated, try Cashbox instead
Finally, we come to iTerm. Although this is one the most used applications in the office I couldn’t see fit to place it higher than fifth. Mac OS X ships with a standard application called Terminal which for all intents and purposes is a fine program. iTerm does not bring a great deal more to the table. However, the few enhancements it does bring are very good. First of all (and most important) is tabs. Since the launch of Firefox a few years ago, most people seem to almost expect their programs to come with a tabbed interface. I am definitely no exception to this rule. As I’m sure you can imagine, Kaweb manage several different servers on a daily basis. Without having a tabular interface, it involves opening several different terminals (which all look similar) and switching between them. Anybody that is used to Windows ALT+TAB will have a rude awakening trying to get the same functionality from their Mac (and as a sidenote, if this does annoy you, there is a program called Witch that sorts this for you). So, tabs is a massive plus point for iTerm.
It is also helped by the fact that the software is completely free. Obviously, Terminal doesn’t cost a sausage with it being bundled with the operating system… but it is special, along with Quicksilver, in that it doesn’t cost anything. It also seems to handle meta key requests a lot better than terminal (which I found pretty handy when using CLI applications such as vim on our servers). Try it out – I think you’ll agree that for free, it’s better than the standard OS X Terminal
And that wraps up my top five. I’ve tried to avoid ubiquitous applications such as Firefox since that’s pretty much a given, and applications I feel some businesses will have no use for (such as the popular instant messaging client, Adium).
Any good applications that you would like to share? Please leave the Kaweb team a message in the comments to this article!