Recently I was offered a job for a company the write web applications, specifically a PHP framework among other things. Since I’m desperate for a job I began working my ass off, learning two programming languages from scratch (PHP and MySQL), researching tutorials and learning new technigues, as well as downloading free ebooks on the subject.
(By the way, I know this awesome site where you can download full ebooks for free. When I say ebooks, I don’t mean they give you a few chapters, they give you the whole book. And they’re popular books too. I just downloaded a book on PHP that I was going to buy from Barnes and Noble.)
Wow, I can never stay on subject. So anyway, working on this stuff had me sitting at a computer most of the time. As time went on I started to get frustrated by my lack of efficiency. Over time I saw that it took too many steps to do one thing. For example, I had a web editor called Taco HTML Editor. In order to work with more than one file you needed to have a bunch of different screens open. Now back when I was a beginner I didn’t mind because I never needed more than one or two editor windows open at once. Now I did. I also noticed that I was collecting scaps of information with nowhere to put them. I had a folder structure with notes here, pictures here, PDFs there, but when the folders got to be filled with information it was a bitch to go through and try to find one line of info or a piece of code even when I knew what folder it was in. Enter my favorite Mac apps.
I apologise Windows users, all of these except for one are for Mac. But read on because the one that is for both Mac and Windows is truly awesome…
Before I get into reviewing these apps I want to say that all of these are beautiful and powerful. Mac users are really lucky to have to many great applications that are free or nearly free. Windows users would have to pay big bucks to get the kind programs we get for free… except for one on this list. I searched the web and have personaly tried each and every one of these apps. I tried multiple applications that did the same thing so I could make sure the program I use for a particular purpose is right for me. That said, here are the programs I tried. I review multiple programs that do the same thing so you can make an informed choice.
WriteRoom: Costs Money
Do I use it: No
WriteRoom is really clever application. It reminds me of Blogo’s full screen mode but even better. Blogo’s full screen has to have some buttons because its main function is to edit blogs. WriteRoom is a straight up minimalist writing application. Its just a black screen with white text. No frills. I recommend it.
Do I use it? Yes.
JDarkRoom is a free program that does what WriteRoom does. Its for both Mac and Windows. You can really concentrate on just the writing using this program. When its running it looks like one of those old school IBMs that you had to press Y or N to do something. You know, the ones with the black screen and distinctly computer like font. The ones that had those enormous floppy disks. Funny stuff. I wrote this entire blog using JDarkRoom. As you can see, it really lets you get into the writing. There are no mouse controls except one. You save, copy, paste and do everything by using key combinations like Command+C for copy or Control+H for help. The only thing the mouse lets you do is move the cursor to a certain spot. But thats all. It doesnt select words or text. Just places a cursor where you want it. It really works like an old school IBM. I like this program a lot. Writing is so enjoyable I actually thought about writing a book using it.
Blogo: (Costs money - Demo Available)
Do I use it? : Yes. I wish I could keep it but I don’t have the money. Once my trial period is up it will be deleted.
Blogo is an awesome program. Its simple at first glance but powerful under the hood. When I first opened it I thought I was going to hate it but it grew on me. Its very graphocs oriented. You won’t find much text in the user interface unless you hover over the buttons. It does exactly what you would want a blogging application to do. It lets you write blogs, add tags and assign your post a category. You can go back and edit previous posts (which I’m doing right now) and add trackbacks and ping servers from the list of servers built in or from a list of servers you specify. Full screen mode is the feature I love most. You hit the button and you get a blue screen with a white text box in the middle. All you see it the program. Nothing else. No Apple menu, no dock, nothing but the text and some word processing buttons that blend in to the background. Thats whats cool too, the buttons. If you’re in full screen mode you don’t need to exit it in order to add a link or a photo, or to make text bold, underlined, etc. Full screen mode cuts out all distractions and lets you just write.
Ecto: Costs money - demo available
Do I use it? : It will be my main blog editor when Blogo’s trial period ends.
Ecto is a cool product too. Before I found blogo I thought it was the be all and end all of blog editors. It does everything blogo does but its focus isn’t really on the writing itself like Blogo. Ecto encourages you to add photos and other media to your blog. It has a flickr plug-in built right in so you can add photos from your flickr account to your blog. There are other plug-ins but I haven’t tried them out yet.
Do I use it? Not anymore. Before I got a hold of a free copy of ecto Bleezer was my fave.
Bleezer is a great blogging tool and its free. It does what the other two do and it does it well. Before I got a free copy of ecto and before I got my Blogo demo, this was what I had settled on. There are only two things I don’t like about this program. First, for some reason it wasn’t able to fetch my list of categories for posts so I had to leave my posts without a category. The other thing was its icon. It has this clipart looking typewriter icon. I know it has nothing to do with the functionality but I keep a link to my blogging app in my dock for easy access and I don’t want an ugly icon in there. But if you don’t want to spend money on blogging software by all means get Bleezer. It works just as well as the other two.
Do I use it? Hell NO!
This thing sucks. First it took forever to load. This program things its photoshop or something with its splash screen and its listing of components to load. A blog editor should not be as big as Photoshop nor should it take as long to load. Then it wouldn’t connect to my wordpress account. Then it decided not to startup. It sucks. But I should expect that from a program written in Java. Java programs, unless they are small and simple, suck. They may run smoothly at first but after five minutes they start sucking up system memory like a system memory junkie. Limewire does this sort of thing. Thats why I switched to Acquisition.
Do I use it: No way!
I’m sure everyone has used Limewire by now. Its an old program. I’ll keep this short. It starts sucking up memory thus slowing down your computer if left running for more than five minutes. There are better alternatives, especially for Mac users.
Xtorrent: FREE and Pay Versions available
Do I use it: No
Xtorrent is a torrent downloading program based on Transmission (I’m pretty sure). It adds search functionality right in program so you don’t have to use an online torrent tracker like Pirate Bay. The problem is that since its connected to the Gnutella network (I think… I know it connects to the same network as Limewire) there’s nothing but music and video files. No one on the Gnutella network i
s sharing torrents, they’re just sharing files directly using P2P. So you end up having to go to an online torrent site if you want anything other than music and video. Thats why I dropped it. Of course it does just fine as a torrent program but the extra funtionality is for nothing. I just use Transmission - its a lighter faster program that does the same thing.
Acquisition: FREE and Pay Versions available
Do I use it? Yes
Acquisition is my replacement for Limewire. Its fast and doesn’t use up all my system memory. Its also a great looking program. The user interface couldn’t be outdone by Apple itself. It was created by the same guy who made Xtorrent so it has some of the same features. If you’re looking to download music or movies/photos then this is your Limewire alternative. Forget Xtorrent. I use this for my music and movies and Transmission for my torrents. You’re probably saying “why not just use Xtorrent for both?”. Because I’m usually looking for files other than music. So I use Transmission because it is light and allows me to use some heavy duty programs while it sits in the background and downloads. If I were to use Xtorrent I would be keeping a program thats more likely to use more memory thus leading to less efficiency.
Do I use it? FUCK NO!
This is an exact replica of Limewire. All they did was change the name, color, and some icons. And worst of all, it manages to be even more of a memory hog and much much slower than Limewire. Fuck whoever came up with this one.
Do I use it? Yes I do
Small useful little utility that hides/shows hidden files or folders. This is really useful if you’re developing software or doing any highly technical stuff. It removes the need to type in the folder path in the Apple Menu’s “Go to folder…” option. I usually have to edit hidden files when I’m programming and its really annoying to have to open Onyx (a great program for customizing your Mac with hidden features) and then enter my password and then tell it I don’t want to check the S.M.A.R.T. status of my hard drive then press cancel on the little popup that tells me I should verify my system permissions then click the “Paramters” button, wait for the loading bar to reach 100% then enter the ‘Finder’ tab and finally click on “Show hidden files and folder”. If it took you long to read that imagine how long it takes to actually do it.
BBEdit: Costs Money
Do I use it? Most of the time so far.
I fortunate enough to come across a free verion (and no, I didn’t “steal” it) of BBEdit and I love it. Now that I’m doing some more advanced web programming this app has become extremely useful. The great thing about it is its Projects and Groups. When you save a project it saves all the files you work with together. When you create a group you name it and add all the files that belong to the group. Then they all show up in the sidebar together. Its better than having tabs. All the files I need are listed neatly in the sidebar. No more flipping through open editor windows trying to find the file I want to edit anymore. I can have as many open files as I want with one window open. Its light and fast. Just the way I want my programs.
Coda: Costs Money
Do I use it? Yes
I haven’t used this program much so far but from what I see its more powerful than BBEdit. It has a beautiful user interface with a sidebar listing the files and folder in your main web site folder beside the main editing window. It has a leg up on BBedit in that it allows you to access the terminal from within the program. It also makes it easy to access files on a remote server in order to edit them. It doesn’t have the groups like BBEdit but if all your files are within your site or program’s main folder, which they usually are, you should have no trouble accessing those files. It also supports tabs. Oh, and I forgot it has a live preview option. You can preview what your site will look like in Safari without having to open it. Coda uses Safari’s webkit engine to display your site exactly how Safari would display it.
Do I use it? Constantly
I love Safari 4. The general public can’t get the new version until January if they release it on time. Since I’m a member of Apple’s development community over at Apple.com I was able to pick up a copy. Part of the terms of being a member is that I’m not allowed to say anything about it. So this is all I’ll say: Its fast. It has no bugs so far. The new features are subtle. Only a few. But there isn’t much to improve about Safari anyway. Since I can’t get into detail (they could sue me) all I’ll say is that I recommend it. Safari 3 is available now. Get it and by the time version 4 comes you’ll be hooked. Windows users - Safari is available for you too. Try it out, I’m sure you’ll love it. This is not the app that has a windows version I was talking about earlier… that one comes later…
Do I use it? Yes
Shift is a program that connects to your MySQL database. It allows you to manage your database, tables and all, using an interface instead of coding by hand. I currently don’t have databases on a web server. I have Apache running MySQL and PHP 5 running on my Mac. Thats what I’ve been using as a server environment. It can connect to your database even if its on your own machine. I used to use PHPMyAdmin then I used YourSQL which worked just as well as Shift but Shift has a prettier interface. When in doubt I always go with the better looking program.
Yojimbo: Costs money
Do I use it? Not anymore
Yojimbo is a personal information manager. What’s that? It stores all sorts of scraps and random information. Yojimbo boasts that it lets you organize your information the way you want but after having tried other software like it I know thats not true. I had Yojimbo for a while and liked it until I found other PIM apps could do far more. Its not a bad program. It just didn’t fit me. This is why I switched to another PIM: The icon. Haha, again a superficial reason. But I want my personal info manager to be my digital Moleskine. A big red circle (think: Japanese flag) with a sillouhette of a guy karate kicking in front of it doesn’t encourage me to treat it as if it were a Moleskine. It boxed me into holding only certain types of information. Yojimbo holds notes, bookmarks, web archives (copies of web sites to be read offline), photos, passwords, and serial numbers. I want it to hold pdfs too. It doesn’t allow you to create your own folders to group information the way you would like to. The categories I just listed are the only ones you will ever have. Yojimbo doesn’t offer any text editing capabilities. If you write a note it will always be black text on a white background and it will always be in Arial size 12. I want to be able to make text big or small, red or green or blue or whatever, and have any font I desire. Thats why I switched after finding others that do a better job.
Journler: FREE! for now…
Do I use it? Not anymore
Journler is really cool. It does what Yojimbo does but it lets you organize your way. You can create category folders to keep certain types of scraps in. And best of all its FREE!!! But not for long. In January it will costs $30 or something. You can get Journler 2.5.x right now for free but as soon as 2.6 comes along early next year you will have to pay. So get it now before its gone… or read on to learn of an even better program.
Mori and Notae: Both Cost money
Do I use them? Not anymore
Both Notae and Mori are beautiful applications that do what Yojimbo and Journler do. They are PIMs. Both of these programs have pretty much the same features. You can group notes and store any type of file i
n them, etc. The big difference I found is in how the organization looks. Let me explain. In Mori the folders you create sit on the left side of the screen. The look like a folder tree. Each folder having a little triangle next to it that when you click all the folders within it drop down like a tree branch. I personally didn’t like the way that looked but I thought Mori had a prettier user interface so I rate it higher than Notae (when in doubt…). Notae on the other hand, displays its folders like iTunes but slightly different. You know how in iTunes you have the columns for Artist, Song, Album, etc. that you can scroll through. Well Notae’s folder view looks like that. Your main folders sit in the first column to the left and when you click a folder it displays any folders it has within it in a column to its right. If you can picture how iTunes does it I’m sure you get how this works. I liked the way Notae displayed its folders but not the overall look of the program. One selling point for Notae is that its program icon is two Moleskines stacked on one another.
Now for the program you’ve all been waiting for. The mother of all Personal Information Managers. Its the rare kind of program that is for both Mac and Windows. Its…
Do I use it? I wouldn’t use anything else
There is so much to say about evernote. It does what all the PIMs listed above to and more. It truly is my digital Moleskine. I can create notebooks, which are basically folders, and create saved searches. So say I wanted to search for all my scaps that are tagged with or contain a password I would first search for them then save the search. Once the search is saved I now have a smart folder that will add scraps to itself automatically based on what terms I was searching for. Evernote comes with a free web service that allows you to access any information online or from your cell phone. It can handle any file you throw at it. Music, movies, pictures, web pages. It even lets you take a screen shot of the current web page in your browser for later use. This could be helpful for a lot of things. For me I could take a screen shot of a programming tutorial online. This is how I use mine. So far I have two notebooks in Evernote. The first one I created so that I could load everything I used to have in Yjimbo and the other PIMs by importing the information. So right now that notebook is a mess. But even if your notebook is a mess you tag entries when you enter them. So if you have tons of information all you need to do is type what you’re looking for in the search bar and it comes up instantly. This works like magic especially if you are consistent with your tagging. Since Evernote can be used as part of their web service (you can use just the application and not the web service if you like. But why note both? Its free and very useful) you can allow your notebook’s contents to be shared publicly with others online or privately just for you or you can create a notebook that doesn’t sync up with the site at all. I didn’t explain syncing have I? Well if you have a free account you are allowed to store 40MB of information on their web site so you can access it from anywhere. You can get more storage if you become a premium member. What I do is I have a notebook that isn’t synced online. It contains things like large files that I wouldn’t need anywhere else and passwords and serial numbers. My other notebook is private but is also synced online. So far I’ve used 15MB of my 40MB monthly limit. If you happen to reach the monthly limit, no worries. You can still store an unlimited amount of info in your program on the computer and just wait until next month. Or if there’s something you really need to get online just move some files into a non synced notebook to make space. I must stress that this program is free, has no limitations, does not require you to join their service, and you can keep your files as public or private as you want. You can encrypt any text or file you want and it will show up like those dots where you enter your passwords online. To see the text just enter your password. There is really a million ways you can use this program and its service to organize your digital life. This is actually a program that I would pay for and not only do I get a program but a free online service that lets me access my “digital Moleskine” from anywhere. Windows user, ever wanted to know what it feels like to have awesome software? This is your chance. Evernote is free.
And this is important. So important it needed its own paragraph. There is one benefit to signing up for the free online service. If there is any text in a picture you store, when Evernotes syncs it will read and catalog any writing in the photos you store. When its done syncing you can search for the words contained in a photo and it will highlight them. So say you’re out somewhere and you get a phone number. You can write it down, take a picture of it with your phone, send it to Evernote using their phone (you can set up your phone to do that) then when you get to your computer you search for… lets say you wrote the words “Phone number on the sheet of paper you took a picture of… you search for “phone number” and that picture will come up and the words “phone number” will be highlighted. Amazing. I just got it yesterday but I’m already working it hard. I have it organized so that I can get to my passwords, song lyrics, blog ideas, books, tutorials, etc. with just one click. If you collect a lot of junk and scraps of info from online and you have no place to put it or no way of easily wading through the jungle of files and folders you’ve created in an attempt to get organized easily, Evernote is for you.
Toast Titanium: Expensive
Do I use it? Yes
I just got this program today. It saddens me to say that I have outgrown iLife. iDVD doesn’t allow me to burn downloaded movies and the movies I can burn have a time limit of 90 minutes. Unless I’m burning a Disney film that sucks. So I got toast. And I love it. I have an iMac G5 thats about four years old and it burned Interview with the Vampire in about 3 hours. Thats fast considering the fact that my computer is a little old, I had to convert the movie from .avi to DVD format, and burn it at 2X speed. My dad’s newer computer running Windows XP has a DVD+/-R drive and software specifically for it and it wouldn’t burn the movie because of some stupid error. I never get errors like that on my Mac. But anyway, Toast Titanium is a great program. I thought it would eat away at my RAM but surprisingly it didn’t. Don’t go and open Photoshop while you’re converting or burning but you can do simple things like surfing the web, email, or blogging like I’m doing.
If you’re an organization nerd like I am, check out the Google Group I started called “Digital/Analog”. I’m the only member but hey, groups don’t just have 100 members over night.