The 10 must-have utilities for macOS Sierra

For the least frustration and most efficiency on your Mac, install these handy extras.

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Pastebot

Pastebot ($10) is the newest entrant on my must-have list, and its core features are certainly not unique. In fact, you can find some of them in LaunchBar. But I’ve never adopted a clipboard manager before, as I didn’t find existing implementations fit the way I want to retain, tag, search, and use them. Pastebot just shipped in December 2016 (as version 2, because of a long beta), and its the best all-around utility for clipboard management and text transformation.

With Pastebot, every time you copy or cut an item using the system editing tools, Pastebot retains a copy. By default, it holds the last 100 items, but you can decrease it to 50 or increase to 500. Everything held in Pastebot retains its native format—whether rich text, image, plain text, a URL, and so forth—and you can perform a full-text search against the stored items. (Read our review.)

pastebot 2 main clippings window

Pastebot captures the clipboard and provides easy access to dozens to hundreds of most recent entries.

Pastebot also offers text filters, which can process and transform text, like formatting it as HTML, cleaning up a URL, and changing rich text to plain text. You can build filters, which can have multiple steps in sequence. Filters can apply to a stored item in Pastebot or, via a keystroke you can assign, to the current clipboard’s contents.

There’s one oddball feature in Pastebot I quite like and am still getting used to: sequential paste. With this option, you can copy things in order from one place that you want to paste in the same order elsewhere. It’s terrific for forms and contacts, where you’re trying to copy a number of disparate items and put them in the same or different fields.

There are many alternatives for managing clipboard history; we published a roundup in early 2015 that includes one that’s free.

BusyContacts

Apple’s Contacts app isn’t as bad as it used to be, but it’s highly limited in a digital world in which we might have accounts (and thus contacts) all over. I switched a few years ago to BusyContacts ($30), which works with the Contacts database to sync with iCloud, but can also incorporate conduits to Fastmail, Fruux, Google, Office 360, and Yahoo, and pull in contact information from Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. It works with generic CardDAV servers and Exchange servers, too.

BusyContacts

Combine all your contact services plus link the same people across multiple services in BusyContacts.

When you create a contact, you can assign it to one of the various sources with which you’re syncing, but you can also move a contact later from one place to another. More powerfully, BusyContacts lets you link cards, so that data from multiple sources appears in one consolidated entry, or link and merge cards, copying information to each of the sources and providing a single listing. For creating contacts, you can add a card and fill it out or use a quick-creation tool that lets you type nearly freeform and have values dropped into the right places.

I particularly like the inclusion of Twitter, as it makes it easy to find Twitter contacts you’re connected with in a way that native and third-party Twitter apps don’t. (We last reviewed BusyContacts for version 1.0.)

BusyContacts’ Activity pane is an additional bonus, and one of its selling points: it can show previews of activity related to all accounts in a contact card. That includes events, matching emails, and tweets.

Airfoil ecosystem

AirPlay was a terrific idea, but Apple never took it far enough, such as licensing it broadly (after an early wave of such efforts) to make it become a necessary included option on stereo receivers and other gear. I’m lucky enough to own a Yamaha receiver made at just the right time that it includes AirPlay support, and some receivers still feature it, but not many.

best sierra utilities airfoil

Airfoil lets you turn any computer or mobile device into a receiver.

Airfoil ecosystem lets you extend the utility of AirPlay by creating both AirPlay sources and destinations. With a retired iPhone or iPod touch plus Airfoil apps, you can add on AirPlay without any fuss.

The main Airfoil app ($29) (also available for Windows) lets you pick a source app or device on your computer and then direct it to one or more destinations. This includes native AirPlay devices, like an Apple TV, AirPort Express, receivers, and other audio gear. But Airfoil also streams over the Google Cast protocol to Chromecast and TVs and speakers with Google support. And you can stream to Bluetooth connected devices.

Beyond that whole panoply, the developer, Rogue Amoeba, also makes a series of free “receiver” apps available for Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android. The Mac and Windows versions turn computers into generic AirPlay destinations, while the Linux and mobile versions act as Airfoil-only speakers. The iOS

This can let you set up a really inexpensive multi-room system, streaming from a Mac or Windows system everywhere, by pairing powered speakers with standard audio jack inputs with some of the old iOS gear you know you have lying around. Even if the battery is shot on an iOS device, you can keep it plugged in as a permanent part of your audio setup.

Soulver

As old-school as it may seem, a calculator is a necessity. And you can calculate all over the danged place: Spotlight lets you type in simple calculations and conversions, although it can’t handle much deviation. Visit Google, and type a calculation in its search bar and get an answer and often an explication of the math and units involved. Even LaunchBar does math in its input field!

But I want something more for the routine number crunching I have to do that doesn’t rise to the needs of a spreadsheet. For that, I turn to Soulver ($12), a freeform calculating tool that allows you to specify and convert units as well as create basic formulas and perform currency conversion with updated values. Soulver creates calculation documents that can be saved, and can sync with an iOS version or send to other Soulver users.

best sierra utilities soulver

Soulver allows quasi-natural language entries of calculations including converting units and currency.

You can tap out calculation just fine, like (15 + 12 + 18) / 3, or access trigonometry and other functions. But I find Soulver best for unit math and conversion. It handles time, mass, volume, data storage terms, power, and others, and lets you specify both the input out and output units. So you can type in 1.5 cups + 3 tablespoons in deciliters to get a metric answer from different Imperial ones.

As a science and technology writer, it’s particularly convenient, because I can type in 1.9megabyte / 2.5 in kilobytes and get 760 kilobytes as the answer, or 125AU as km (AU are astronomical units, or the distance from the Earth to the Sun) and know it’s 1.8699733838×10^10 km.

My favorite, though, is calculating throughput, which is an annoying thing to sort out in most cases. Want to know how much a terabyte would take at 12 Mbps? Enter 1 TB / 12 Mbps in days and 7.7 days pops out as the result.

The interface for Soulver isn’t a traditional calculator approach, and if that’s what you prefer, or you need to perform calculations regularly that require entering a lot of numbers, PCalc ($10) remains the gold standard in that format. It also handles unit conversions, scientific functions, and RPN entry style, and can hand off in-progress calculations among iOS, macOS, and, yes, watchOS!

Transmit

I know I’m old school when I have to pull up an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) server, but they’re still abundant. And am I new-school when I need to access Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3) cloud-storage service? Fortunately, both very old, somewhat old, and spanking new remote file access can be handled via Panic’s Transmit ($34).

Transmit works with a variety of file server protocols, including FTP (which is insecure and you should really avoid!), SFTP (Secure FTP), WebDAV (a way of file sharing via a Web server in both secure and non-secure flavors), and Amazon S3. A straightforward interface makes it easy to set up connections, store favorites, and drop right to where you need to be. With a side-by-side file view approach, you can drag items from one side to the other for easy copying.

What pushes Transmit to the top, however, is that any remote service you can view in a window you can also turn into a Finder-mountable drive that Transmit manages behind the scenes like any other networked volume.

Using more advanced settings, you can create rules about how uploaded files are tagged when transferred to servers, something that’s often required when using Amazon S3 for hosted media.

best sierra utilities transmit

For transferring files to and from remote servers, Transmit offers friendly ease.

Transmit is my favorite file-transfer app, but it’s a little behind in supporting cloud services and advanced options, and doesn’t support cloud services’ encryption features. I turn to Cyberduck (free to use, donation requested; $24 via Mac App Store) for Google Cloud Storage access. Cyberduck also supports Amazon S3, Backblaze B2 (its cloud storage offering), Microsoft Azure, and others. It’s a harder program to master and has more rough edges.

One tier up, with concomitant difficult in using, is ChronoSync ($50), which is a sophisticated file-synchronization app that lets you set data-at-rest encryption options for Amazon S3 and Google Cloud Storage, and also works with SFTP. It’s harder to use for simple file transfers, but if you’re looking for manual and automated sync with remote servers with robust encryption control, it’s the only good choice at present for macOS.

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