Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Mac Review

By now I think I can safely refer to myself as a veteran Mac user.
With my Mac tailored the exact way I want it to, my user experience is vastly superior to Windows’; I only use the latter if I really can’t get away with it. The Mac experience is also superior to Ubuntu’s, but you can’t really blame the latter: Ubuntu has to work on PCs designed for other operating systems and will therefore always get second hand drivers and such. Couple that with the Mac’s richer application environment and you will understand why my main computer of choice is the Mac while Ubuntu has been mostly relegated to server duties (which, I have to say, it performs flawlessly).
It goes without saying I have a problem preferring the Mac over Linux, with Apple being the nasty company it is. The question is how far Apple would go in ruining its platform in order to further secure control over its platform. I don’t know, but for now I’m enjoying its products; and until Apple does something drastic, like blocking apps that don’t come from its own app store, it is clear my next computer would be a Mac. The main question is which: The Mac Mini for server duties? The iMac for the grunt and top notch screen? Or another Mac Air when my current one dies? At this stage I’m too broke to tell, although I definitely covet either of the former two.
With that in mind, I thought I would summarize my Mac experience by listing my favourite applications – the ones I wouldn’t go anywhere without (with some reservations, as you will see below). For the record, I am running Mountain Lion with all the latest updates. I hope you will find the list useful:
  • Evernote: Across many a platform, Evernote is by far the best note keeping tool out there. Their privacy policy isn’t bad, either.
  • VLC: No media player out there is better than this free one, period. I particularly enjoy it playing to my Apple TV while I remote control it via an iPhone/iPad app.
  • Dropbox: Great for distributing files across PCs and across friends, as well as simply backing them up. Dropbox has a bit of a checkered history when it comes to privacy and security; they improved it recently by introducing two way authentication but I still do not leave sensitive stuff with them.
  • Tweetdeck: It seems Twitter has done its best to ruin Tweetdeck since they purchased it, but I still like Tweetdeck (not on the iPhone, though; that version was truly killed by Twitter). For my rather elementary demands, which come down to easily following my Twitter lists, Tweetdeck does a great job.
  • Microsoft Office 2011: No, I am not about to recommend this product; I regret installing it on my Mac as its main feature is reminding me exactly what it is that I hate about Microsoft products. However, this product does allow me the benefit of doing office work on my Mac.
  • LibreOffice: When the choice is with me, this is my office software of choice. Open source, free and good!
  • Keynote: Apple's take on the PowerPoint presentation formula is much superior to Microsoft's as well as much easier to use (Apple fanboys would kill me for the first part of the former sentence...).
  • Pixelmator: Pixelmator is an easy to use graphic manipulation tool not unlike Photoshop but without the intimidating price tag, the steep learning curve, and photo manipulation photos. I find it great for conjuring an image out of nowhere type of work/fun.
  • Chrome and Firefox: These are my browsers of choice. I use them in tandem, each tailored for mildly different uses. Firefox is the browser I use while logged in to Google and Microsoft, who like to track and maintain records of what I do. Chrome, my top browser preference, is used for everything else (including Google searches, which in the absence of logging in are stored against my IP address but not against my personal Google account).
  • Tor Browser: To be honest, I never used the Tor network for anything other than testing my ability to use it. However, I like to know that if online anonymity is what I am after, I have the tools to help me achieve that target.
  • Sophos: By now Apple has silently stopped selling Macs under the guise of security invincibility. Apple does not, however, actively advise its users that they need to look after themselves even while using a Mac. For that we need companies like Sophos, whose free anti malware software runs smoothly and without annoying ads.
  • Skype: Much has been said about Microsoft’s latest spoiled toy, from eaves dropping on calls to deteriorating call quality. That said, Skype has the advantage of universality that still leaves it as my [compromised] choice for interstate/international calls and video conferencing.
  • AppCleaner: Being Unix based, Macs don’t have registries like Windows PCs do. This means that when you want to remove an application you need to manually find all the files it spread around and delete them. AppCleaner is not perfect, but it does the best job of that.
  • TCPBlock: The Mac’s built in firewall is rather crude. For example, it can block incoming traffic at the application level but not outgoing. TCPBlock addresses that and other issues to improve your Mac's security.
  • Texura: One of the more annoying “features” of the Mac environment is its incompatibility with Windows storage. Files saved on a drive formatted for Windows can be read but not written to on a Mac. Texura fixes the situation there.
  • PS3 Media Server: Although I prefer to use my Apple TV when it comes to broadcasting videos to my home theater setup, simply due to the comfort of its east of use, the PS3 Media Server open source tool allows me to achieve pretty much the same using DLNA technology and my PlayStation 3. Sound quality is better than on the Apple TV, too.
  • Audacity: An open source tool for editing sound. Good for turning your favorite music into your new ringtone!
  • Calibre: An open source tool for managing all my ebooks. If you ask it to, this application will also do a good job of removing their DRM.
  • Spotify: The PC/Mac version of Spotify offers extra features to the mobile versions, allowing the acquisitions of new playlists through apps and the management of my own playlists. It also allows me to sync local music to my mobile devices wirelessly, thus helping me avoid using the dreaded iTunes app.
  • WiTopia: This app from my VPN provider of choice (WiTopia) lets me easily choose the location I want my perceived IP address to have. It’s easy and quick to use, allowing me to switch from being an Aussie to a Brit or an American within seconds.
  • Hugin: An open source application for creating panoramas out of individual photos. Aside of being free, this application offers quite a lot of versatility when it comes to creating the panorama.
  • Colloquy: A user friendly IRC client for chatting purposes. I recommend the iPhone/iPad version, too.

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