Shawn Blanc lives in Kansas City with his wife Anna, their sons Noah and Giovanni, and two green couches. He is a creative-director-turned-full-time-writer who works from home publishing several tech- and design-centric websites. More by Shawn Blanc
LaunchBar, the keyboard-based app that offers a faster way to open the applications and files you use most, started 20 years ago as a folder full of shell scripts that could be triggered by a specific abbreviation typed into a Terminal shell. It was clever, but clunky. It didn’t take long, however, for the developers behind LaunchBar, Objective Development, to realize that their folder full of scripts would be much more powerful as an actual launching application—as a bar that helps you launch things—with an index of everything on the computer, thus allowing the app itself to figure out what it is you’re searching for.
That’s how LaunchBar was born, and it was immediately useful. Today, however, LaunchBar, recently updated to version 6, is the single most important utility I have installed on my Mac.
Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. Since then he's covered most of the company's major product releases and reviewed every major revision of iOS. In his "copious" free time, he's usually grinding away on a novel or two. More by Dan Moren
These days, though I seem to get more and more of my news through Twitter, I haven’t yet been able to ditch RSS, in large part because there’s something about it that still feels comprehensive. Still, I’ve been looking for a better RSS experience on my Mac, and I’ve alit upon Silvio Rizzi’s new Reeder 2 for Mac ($10; Mac App Store link), an update to the original Reeder for Mac.
Built around a multi-paned interface, Reeder presents a logical hierarchy of RSS: At the far left are your accounts—you can connect to one or more feed-syncing services such as Feedly, Feedbin, FeedWrangler, and Fever. (You can also, if you prefer, use Reeder without using a sync service, as long as you don’t need to sync between multiple devices.) For each account, you can specify settings such as the frequency of retrieval, how items are marked as read, subscription sorting, and more.
I’ve written about a number of “focused-writing apps” for Mac—text editors that let you focus on your words, shutting out other computer-based distractions. Tanmay Sonawane’s new $10 Write (Mac App Store link) brings that same philosophy to a note-taking app. With Markdown support and the capability to share texts in a wide variety of formats, Write offers some powerful text-editing features wrapped up in a note-taking context.
Write offers a single-window interface. Along the left-hand side of the window is a list of locations where you’ve stored files. If you want to use the companion iOS app and sync your documents between iOS and Mac, you’ll want to opt for Dropbox or iCloud, but you can work with files in any folder (including folders that sync with other cloud services, such as Google Drive or Box). You can also work with files in multiple locations, so you can maintain separate folders for, say, work and personal notes.
The middle (Notes) column lists the notes in the selected location, along with a short preview of each and information about its size and when it was last saved. The large editor pane on the right-hand side shows the text of the selected note. (You can open a note in its own window, by right-clicking it in the Notes column and choosing Open in New Window, but doing so is purely optional.) Write also offers a full-screen, distraction-free mode that you access by right-clicking a note, or by using the View menu.
At the office, I have a MacBook Pro hooked up to an 1TB LaCie drive. I’ve partitioned that external into two volumes: one for Time Machine, the other for maintaining a bootable clone of the MacBook’s hard drive.
Such a setup is not particularly unusual. Nor is the minor hassle of disconnecting that drive from my MacBook whenever I want to take the laptop to a meeting or home: I switch to the Finder, scroll down to the Devices section of the sidebar, click the Eject icon next to one of those external volumes (or, if I remember, press Command+E), then click the Eject All button in the subsequent dialog box. If I forget to do all that, I’m rewarded with two more dialog boxes chastising me that the volumes were not ejected properly.
As I say, in the grand scheme of things, the process is a minor hassle. But I unmount (or forget to unmount) those two volumes frequently enough that the hassle turns into a headache. I’d like a quicker, easier way to unmount external volumes without giving OS X fits.
Serenity has been writing and talking and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, writes, acts, sings, and wears an assortment of hats. More by Serenity Caldwell
When I chatted with Adobe a few weeks back about the Adobe Voice app, an Adobe engineer noted that the frustrating thing with presentation software such as Keynote or PowerPoint is the sheer amount of customization you feel like you must do before making your very first slide. Like Voice, Unsigned Integer's $20 Deckset (Mac App Store link) aims to remove this obstacle while making it easy to create clean, attractive presentations. But unlike Adobe’s iPad creation, this Mac app goes about the task in a very different—and delightful—way.
Though it offers eight beautiful themes for your presentations, the majority of your visual work with Deckset is done outside the app, in your favorite plain-text editor. That’s because Deckset uses basic Markdown syntax to style your text to your theme. Deckset’s formatting will be easily familiar to those with Markdown experience, and for those unfamiliar, the app offers a great tutorial—in, of course, slideshow form.
Roman has covered technology since the early 1990s. His career started at MacUser, and he's worked for MacAddict, Mac|Life, TechTV, PC/Computing, and Windows NT Systems. More by Roman Loyola
As my 15-inch 2.3GHz Retina MacBook Pro approaches its second birthday, I’ve become more and more curious about the general health of the built-in battery. Battery Diag (Mac App Store link) is a simple and good-looking utility for quickly checking basic battery stats. Battery Diag is usually $2, but is currently free for a limited time.
Battery Diag displays much of the same battery data that you can find using OS X’s System Information app (in Applications > Utilities). But instead of forcing you to dig through all the screens of System Information, Battery Diag presents the most important battery stats with just a click on the utility’s menubar icon.
Dan writes about OS X, iOS, utilities, cool apps, and troubleshooting. He also covers hardware; mobile, audio, and AV gear; input devices; and accessories. He's been writing about tech since 1994, and he's also published software, worked in IT, and worked as a policy analyst. You can find him on the web at danfrakes.com. More by Dan Frakes
Early last year, I reviewed Beamer 1.5.3, an app that lets you easily stream any video file from your Mac to an Apple TV. It’s a great app if you want to watch Mac-hosted videos on your TV instead of physically connecting the computer to the TV using cables.
As I explained in that original review, OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and OS X 10.9 Mavericks include AirPlay mirroring, but that feature mirrors your Mac’s entire screen to your Apple TV, rather than just your video file, and it’s available only on recent Macs. You can stream video to an Apple TV using iTunes, but only if iTunes supports the format of the video file—and sometimes you don’t want to add a video to your iTunes library just to watch it once on your TV.
Beamer, on the other hand, streams individual video files to your Apple TV, and it supports “all common formats, codecs and resolutions”—a blanket statement that includes AVI, FLV, MKV, MOV, MP4, and WMV files. (It doesn’t, however, work with DRM-protected videos.) The company says Beamer is optimized for high-quality video playback—if you’ve got a Mac that just barely supports AirPlay mirroring, you may find that streaming videos using Beamer looks a lot better, and stutters less, than mirroring your Mac’s display.