Tagged: mac

I chat, I message

Since I stopped using Windows as an OS for personal use, almost four years ago, I also gave up using IM chat programs. Back then, I was a fairly big user of MSN Messenger, but when I found the Mac version at that point to be flaky to say the least, I ditched it completely. And I didn’t miss it at all. Apart from using Skype for remote work purposes, I’ve shied away from almost all other chat programs.

On Thursday last week, I had read an article on Lifehacker about IM app Adium, and various plugins that were available for it. I decided to fire it up and connect it to my Google and Facebook accounts. To give me something to compare it against, I did the same with iChat – an app I’ve never clicked on since the day I got my first MacBook Pro. I found both apps to be pretty much similar in functionality, certainly for my uses, there was nothing to compel me to use one over the other.

Later that day, Apple announced Mountain Lion, their upcoming version of OS X. Included in this version will be a number of iOS-like features. One of them being Messages, the new version of iChat. The beta was released that day. Quite the coincidence I thought. Messages has one very compelling feature: integration with iMessage for iOS. This means that any iMessage conversations on iPad or iPhone can be carried on in Messages and vice versa. Having used this for a few days I’m certainly liking it. It puts iMessage at the centre of instant communication for Apple users. More importantly it means I can use the full size keyboard rather than having to tap away on the iPhone screen all the time!

This kind of app convergence across desktop and mobile devices is certainly seems to be the way forward. While it has it’s detractors, I’m all for it, and excited by it. Although it could do with some consistency – will the iMessage app on iOS open up and start supporting other IM protocols, such as Jabber and AIM? I’d like to think so.

If instant messaging becomes ubiquitous across devices and operating systems, the question begs, where does this leave email and SMS? 

Screen Sharing with Alfred’s Help

Now that I’ve got a few Macs hanging around my house (I think they are breeding), and only the one monitor, I’ve been using the Screen Sharing capability of OS X a fair bit.  While this is a quite excellent little tool, it’s hidden away in the System/Library/CoreServices folder, rather than in Applications, so not what you’d call easy to find.  It can be kept in the dock, but my preference is to keep the dock fairly sparse, so I started using ScreenSharingMenulet, a quite nifty little program that sits in the menu bar and lets you choose what Mac you want to start screen sharing with.  This worked great till I started using Alfred – it seemed wrong to be unable to use this quite wonderful tool to fire up screen sharing.  So I dipped into AppleScript and created the following script (Zoidberg is the name of the Mac I want to screen share with)…

    tell application “Screen Sharing”

        tell application “System Events”
            keystroke return
        end tell
    end tell

Then I fired up the Extensions tab in Alfred Preferences, chose the AppleScript extension and gave it a name (Screen Sharing).  I then pasted the code above into the AppleScript text box and gave it the Alfred keyword of SSZoidberg, with the Background box checked.

And simple as that, I can start screen sharing with just a few Alfred keystrokes, no trackpad or mouse required.  Lovely!

Enough For Me

Inspired by the Enough podcast and Minimal Mac site, both by Patrick Rhone, I’ve been thinking about how little software I’d need to do all the things I need to, both for work and leisure purposes.  I’ve been patiently waiting on the new Macbook Air refresh, as I’m looking to replace my 15″ 2008 Macbook Pro.  I’ve still not decided if I’m going 11″ or 13″, although the latter is looking more likely.  The base SSD size is 128GB for the current models.  That doesn’t seem very big, but I think I could easily get away with it, and have plenty to spare.  In fact, I’m sure the 11″ 64GB model would be fine too.  So what would I install?  Read on…

First up, without a doubt, would be Google Chrome, my browser of choice.  I made the move to Chrome a couple of years ago from Firefox and it has went from strength to strength.  Firefox was way too slow and clunky back then, and I really don’t miss it at all.  I’ve never liked Safari either, I did try it for a while, but found it’s features too limited.  Chrome is fast, extensible and fits perfectly into my workflow.

So that’s the browser sorted, what about email?  I’m a Gmail user, and the web client is excellent, but it’s nice to have a dedicated desktop application.  Sticking to a minimal “one thing well” theme, my client of choice is Sparrow.  I’ve been using this since the beta, and I love it, it gets better with every update.  Mail.app, Thunderbird and Outlook are all too heavy and they don’t play particularly nicely with Gmail for my liking.

1Password would be next.  I use strong passwords generated and stored by 1Password, without it I’d never remember how to login to most sites, as each password is different.  Really couldn’t get anything done without this most excellent piece of software, well worth the investment, which at $39.99 is nothing compared to the added security it gives you.

Next up is a fairly new app for me, but one that has completely changed the way I use my Mac in the short time since I installed it.  Step up Alfred!  Kind of a hard app to describe, as it does so much, but it’s a productivity app/launcher which has turned me into a serious keyboard ninja.  With the paid-for Powerpack, it’s an incredibly powerful and extensible piece of kit.  An absolute must have.  Already I’m finding it odd when I work on machines where it is not installed.

I’m a big Twitter user (I’m @grapefruitmoon), but I’m not keen on their web interface.  So Twitter for Mac would go on too.  I’ve tried a few client apps, but I like the simplicity of this one.  Others such as Tweetdeck are too busy for my liking, just too much going on.

Dropbox is another must have.  The ability to sync my documents across all machines and also be able to access them online is essential, and Dropbox does this perfectly.  I don’t use a great deal of the storage space available, but Selective Sync lets me choose exactly what folders I can sync to each machine, meaning I can save a bit of space if required.

For note-taking, my go-to app has been Evernote, but recently I’ve started experimenting with Simplenote and Notational Velocity.  I like the simple text-based format of the latter, very simple to use and importantly, very easy to get data in and out.  I still like Evernote and use it for PDFs, links and image-based notes.  But the issue with getting data out is one that bothers me somewhat, I’m really not a fan of proprietary formats.  I’m not overly impressed with their iOS apps either, editing text based notes is not as simple as it should be.  Simplenote on the other hand is perfect for this.  Anyway, for the time being, I’d be installing both.

One of my most favourite Mac apps is Scrivener.  For me, this is the best writing tool out there.  It’s not the kind of app I usually take to, given that it is extremely feature-heavy, but it makes writing, in it’s many forms, an enjoyable experience.  The ability to sync via Dropbox makes it a surefire winner.

OK, music and media next.  With such a small storage capacity, I’m not looking to keep any music, photos or video locally.  So Home Sharing via iTunes is a given.  When I’m not on my local wireless network, I’d use StreamToMe to get back to my media server.  And I’ve recently subscribed to Spotify Premium for streaming.  I like Spotify, but I really want to love it; however, the glaring holes in the catalogue frustrate the hell out of me.

So that’s pretty much it, that’s essentially what I would need.  For full on work purposes, I would really need VMWare Fusion, as I mainly work with MS SQL Server, but that’s not reasonable for a laptop with little storage.  I’d consider installing the various flavours of Navicat for connecting to remote SQL Server, mySQL and PostgreSQL instances.

Other apps I’d consider: Writeroom (nice distraction-free writing app, although not an essential if I’ve got Scrivener), MacJournal (good journalling app, but could use Simplenote or Evernote for the same purpose) and Skype.  I don’t particularly like Skype, but it’s probably the most widely used VOIP and chat app available.

Compiling this list has made me realise just how little space and processing power I actually require these days.  I’m conscious that I’m running a way over-powered Mac Pro at the moment, and I really don’t need that much kit.  When Lion is released, I’m going to experiment with using a Mac Mini as my main desktop.  I’ve already gone from a two monitor set up to one (24″), and I’m not missing the second one at all.  Streamlining and minimalism is the way to go!