More Gems I’m thankful for

Last fall—on Thanksgiving, appropriately enough—I wrote about a number of Gems I’m thankful for. That list wasn’t our most-recent compendium of all-time favorites, nor was it a preview of our since-published 2009 Gems of the Year article. Rather, as I noted at the time, it was “a list of Gems that I continue to use every day—Gems that have become such an integral part of my workflow that I often take them for granted.” That article turned out to be one of the most popular Gems-related stories of the year.

Well, it turns out that I missed quite a few of these “taken for granted” Gems. Why? Because they’ve become such an integral part of my workflow that I overlooked them while trying to root out the programs that have become an integral part of my workflow.

Ahem.

So before your attention begins to drift elsewhere this week, I thought I'd take a quick look at a few more Gems I’m thankful for. (Thanks go out to the readers who commented on the original article for bringing some of these omissions to my attention.)

  • Default Folder X : One of our all-time favorite Gems, this add-on modifies Mac OS X’s Open and Save dialogs to make them work how they should. You can assign a default folder for each program, it remembers the last folder and file you accessed in each program, and it makes recently used and favorite files and folders easily accessible. Because Default Folder tweaks Open and Save dialogs, you forget it’s there…until you use a Mac without Default Folder X installed and realize how primitive and limiting the stock dialogs are. (Note to Apple: Pay the developer lots of money and incorporate these features.)

  • 1Password : Another all-time favorite, 1Password is a combination of a standalone program and a browser add-on that lets you store passwords and other personal info in a secure database. Unlike OS X’s keychain entries, 1Password-stored passwords work across browsers. You can also save multiple logins for each site, create and store secure passwords, and store multiple identities (name, address, etc.) and credit-card records that you can auto-fill on any Web page. Although I use 1Password many times each day, it integrates so well with Safari that I often forget it’s not a built-in feature.

  • ClickToFlash : Another Safari add-on that integrates seamlessly, ClickToFlash was one of our 2009 Gems of the Year and an Eddy winner. In fact, it was the choosing of those awards that reminded me of how significantly ClickToFlash affects my browsing. Put simply, ClickToFlash is a Flash blocker, but one that lets you decide which Flash content to view on each Website. I also love that it can automatically load the H.264 version of YouTube videos, letting me avoid Flash content even there.

  • Bean : After reviewing, back in late 2008, this free alternative to OS X’s TextEdit, it became my default application for .rtf, .rtfd, and .doc files. Based on some of the same code that underlies TextEdit itself, Bean offers a better interface and lots of improved and additional features. Because I’ve assigned Bean to open many types of text and word-processing documents, it’s essentially become TextEdit on my Macs.

  • DropCopy : OS X offers many ways to share files with, and access files on, other computers, but if you just want the easiest way to copy files between Macs in your office or home, DropCopy is tough to beat. Just keep it running on all your Macs; to copy a file, drag the file onto the “drop zone” on your Desktop, then over the name of the destination computer—DropCopy automatically displays any other computers running DropCopy on your network.

  • CoverSutra : When I first reviewed CoverSutra, nearly three years ago, I wrote that it had a chance to replace Synergy on my Macs for controlling iTunes. At some point in those three years—I can’t even remember when—it had improved enough to do just that. The program lets you assign systemwide keyboard shortcuts for dozens of iTunes functions. You can also view—on the desktop or via Growl notifications—information about the playing track. But perhaps the best feature is CoverSutra’s Spotlight-like search menu, which lets you find and play any track without lifting your fingers from the keyboard.

  • Knox : Like OS X’s Disk Utility, Knox lets you create encrypted disk images for securely storing sensitive data. But Knox makes it easy, via a systemwide menu, to mount and unmount those disk images, and provides an automatic backup system that keeps older versions of each image—a datasaver if one of your encrypted images is ever damaged.

  • SoundSource : I’ve got a Mac Pro with multiple audio outputs and inputs; I regularly have various combinations of optical, USB, analog, and virtual audio devices connected. SoundSource gives me a handy systemwide menu for choosing which device to use for input and which to use for output. I can even choose a different audio-output device for system alerts and sounds, and I love that SoundSource automatically switches audio output to the headphone jack when I connect my headphones.

  • Backdrop : One of the simplest Gems ever, Backdrop gives you a false backdrop—using a desktop picture or color of your choosing—for taking uncluttered screenshots no matter how cluttered your desktop is. It’s been over five years since I reviewed Backdrop, yet I still use it regularly.

  • NetNewsWire : Since I reviewed this standout RSS reader in late 2008, the developer switched from hosting its own RSS-sync service to syncing with Google Reader. In my experience, the result has been less-reliable syncing between devices, but NetNewsWire itself is still the program I use to track well over 100 tech feeds each day. Its stellar interface and useful features—including live-updated smart searches, extensive keyboard control, and customizable article-reading styles—are still unmatched, in my experience.

  • Twitterrific : While I count over a dozen dedicated Twitter clients for the Mac, Twitterrific continues to be the one I count on to keep an eye on the small group of people and companies I actively follow. Twitterrific doesn’t have all the features of some of the newer offerings, but there’s something about the interface and keyboard control that just feel “right” in a way other Twitter clients don’t.

  • Name Mangler : My favorite utility for batch-renaming lots of files and folders, Name Mangler is powerful but simple to use. And after being down for several months, the developer’s Website is now back online.

  • Leech : From the same developer as Name Mangler, Leech is a download manager for Safari, Camino, OmniWeb, and Firefox that offers many features not found in those browsers. For example, Leech lets you download to multiple folders, configure rules for handling downloads, queue downloads while you’re offline, and much more.

Gone (?) but not forgotten

In addition to the actively developed Gems listed above, here are a couple that remain integral to my workflow despite being dead—or at least on indefinite hiatus. With every Mac OS update, I find myself crossing my fingers that these programs and add-ons will continue to work:

  • Docks : One of my 2009 Gems of the Year thanks to its ease of use and attractive interface, Docks lets you create and easily switch between multiple Dock configurations—great for taking screenshots using the stock Dock, or for using different Docks in different Spaces workspaces. A note on the developer’s Website states that Docks was sold to another company and will be available again soon, although it’s been several months since the site went dark.

  • LiteSwitch X : I’ve been using this utility since its original incarnation as a Mac OS 8 utility, and even today, under Snow Leopard, it’s a much better Command+Tab application switcher than Mac OS X’s built-in Command+Tab application switcher. Sadly, the developer’s Website has been dead for some time.

What software do you use everyday on your Mac that you take for granted? Let us know in the comments, below.

UPDATE 1/25/10, 1:59pm: The Many Tricks Website, which had been offline for several months at the time of publication, is now online again. As a result, Name Mangler and Leech have been moved to the list of active programs.

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