Best of 2017: Nerding out on macOS

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See all the 2017 roundups!

Welcome to my favorite part of the roundups: nerd stuff. Don’t worry, there’s cool stuff for everyone here, and I saved the real hardcore nerd stuff for the bottom for the truly adventurous.

Standard disclaimer: this is not a complete list of every cool app I use. It’s the highlights from the ones I use the most often. Don’t be offended if your favorite app (or the app you develop) isn’t here, but feel free to add recommendations in the comments!

Apps in this list that are also available on Setapp are marked with the Setapp logo:


My menu bar (well, some of it)

Karabiner Elements
How I remap keys on my keyboard to do awesome things like the Hyper Key and Vim navigation.
Every time I sit down at someone else’s computer, it only takes about 2 minutes to realize how much I miss my TextExpander setup.
Disclosure: PDFpen developer Smile is a long-time supporter of this blog. This in no way affects the fact that I think their products are top notch.
My tool for mapping dozens of gestures to my trackpad, from standard swipes to sequenced finger taps. If I have to move a hand to the trackpad, it should be worth it. Also, makes it nearly impossible to use someone else’s computer without constantly explaining “oh yeah, well that works on my computer.”
Keyboard Maestro
Only really got into Keyboard Maestro in 2017 after a long time thinking I didn’t need it. It can do a lot, and the regex typing triggers alone make it a very cool tool.
Bartender 3
In order to work with High Sierra, Bartender (which helps tame the number of icons in your menu bar for nerds that run a LOT of stuff) had to switch from using the “Bartender Bar” (which drops down below the menu bar) to actually replacing the contents of the menu bar when switching bars. This slowed it down a bit, but it’s still an essential tool and every update (one just came out today) improves performance.
I’ve used Droplr for years. It’s my primary way of sharing files and screenshots. They’ve added markup tools, gif reaction capture, and time-limited links in recent updates. I never attach a file over 40k to an email anymore, just drag it to the menu bar and then hit paste (the link is copied immediately, even if the file takes a while to upload).
Dropzone 3
The other place I drag things to in my menu bar. My image editors and optimizers, as well as standalone audio tools and any app I regularly want to drop a file on are in there, as well as a bunch of custom scripts, such as the one that I can drop a @2x image on and it will create formats for various social platforms, the 1x version, optimize all of them, and then copy the Jekyll (Liquid) format tag for it into my clipboard.
If you use Dropbox, get Revisions. Full version history and batch or cherry picked restores for every file in your Dropbox. I wrote about it a while back on MacStories.
Moom is still the best window manager. I can hover over the green fullscreen button in the stoplights at the top of any window and choose from preset window sizes or draw my own dimensions in a little grid that pops up, or I can (and do) assign a bunch of keyboard shortcuts (which I also map to trackpad gestures with BetterTouchTool).
PopClip gives you an iOS-ish toolbar popup every time you select text with the mouse/trackpad. You can customize what options show up, and it can show different options based on context and content of the selection. It took me a while to get into PopClip after it came out, but that was years ago. Since then I’ve been creating my own extensions and happily using it everywhere. I even made PopMaker so folks could make their own simple extensions easily.

Pocket Protector

Never too many backups, I say. In addition to Time Machine running on a local Mac mini server and a Drobo, I also use:

Arq is my cloud backup tool of choice. I switched from using a remote SFTP server to Backblaze’s B2 storage, which has been excellent thus far.
SuperDuper! continues to reign as my drive cloning software. It runs on a schedule every night. With the release of High Sierra (and after a short period of growing pains) it now supports APFS snapshots, meaning you can restore your entire drive from different times. Time Machine for cloned drives!
Backup for your passwords. I have not written a password down on a piece of paper since at least 2003. When 1Passwd (as it used to be known) came along, everything changed. Unique and complex passwords for every site, and these days entering these 20-character passwords is even easier than typing a simpler password. On Mac and iOS (and a handy watch app) with full, secure sync.

Thick Glasses

Ok, a weird lumping of utility types under a vague header, but you might see how I put them together. Or not. My brain is weird.

Capto Setapp
I’m loving Capto as an all-purpose screen capture app. Great screenshot management and full markup tools, and I love the capture options (repeat captures, delayed captures, etc.). It can export to just about anywhere.
I’ll also point out Annotate, which is the app formerly known as Glui and the one that Capto replaced for me. If Capto seems like overkill, check it out.
If you’re taking screenshots that serve as sticky notes, ScreenFloat is the handiest utility you’ll ever find. Instead of switching between two apps to grab info you can’t just copy and paste, snap a picture and float it above other windows. It’s amazingly useful.
Wallpaper Wizard Setapp
I like wallpapers. Mine change frequently. Wallpaper Wizard is an excellent source of quality backgrounds and plenty of tools to make using them as simple as I could imagine.
Unsplash Wallpaper is also a great tool overall, and I love the desktops that Unsplash collects.
If you have a bunch of files you want to browse quickly and even compare to each other, Fileloupe is a simple tool that works kind of like using Finder with Previews and the Info palette open, only better.
I’ll also point to Videoloupe from the same developer, a complete set of tools for analyzing and even editing videos.
Spotlight is how I organize my system. I’m a follower of the Metadata Way1, thus tools like HoudahSpot that boost the power of Spotlight are essential parts of my system.
Screens Setapp
For a long time I preferred using Apple’s Remote Desktop app, especially with its shared clipboard and cross-system file drag and drop, but Screens has caught up with all of that and generally provides me with sharper, more responsive remote desktop views.
I’ve been using Monity for system monitoring in my Today view (Notification Center). It’s been solid.

Overfull Pockets and Potentially a Fanny Pack

All the stuff that makes using a Mac really fun and keeps it Just Working. And a few for people who get bored when everything Just Works.

The best tool for seeing what’s taking up space on your drive (and cleaning it up).
Gemini 2 Setapp
The best tool for finding duplicate files. It’s like, really smart.
The best tool for managing launchd jobs (the tools that run in the background of your system).
Still the best tool for making single site browsers. I keep one around for MindMeister, one for Facebook Messenger, and I use it for tools like Cheaters.
CleanMyMac 3 Setapp
My top pick for system cleanup. Clear your caches, remove unused language files, clear out iTunes, Photos, and Mail junk, and keep your system lean and mean. These days it also includes a full suite of tools for disk repair and maintenance. It’s the one 3rd-party app that earned a spot in Volume 2 of 60 Mac Tips.
Ok, a lot of people ask me “LaunchBar or Alfred?” I use LaunchBar. I need to make it clear, though, that my primary reason is that I used LaunchBar before Alfred existed, and I’ve never seen a need to switch. The triggering is slightly different between the two, and every time I try Alfred, I wish for my already-ingrained LaunchBar habits. The newish action editor and API isn’t as pretty as Alfred’s node-based workflow editor, but it’s just as powerful for my needs.
ForkLift Setapp
Forklift surpassed Path Finder for me this year. Top shelf folder syncing, a full array of remote drive mounting capabilities, tons of keyboard shortcuts and customizability. Its FTP capabilities even surpass those of many standalone FTP apps. It even has Git support, showing you the changed/staged state of files you’re viewing.
If you transfer videos to iOS devices, just get WALTR 2. I wrote about it in late 2016.
There aren’t a ton of good tools around these days for performing all the hidden tweaks in macOS that usually require a trip to Terminal. TinkerTool is free and has the most complete set of tools I know of.
If you publish an RSS feed, whether for a Sparkle appcast, a podcast, or a blog of any kind, Feeder is the best tool for managing it.

Keyboard With Home Row Letters Rubbed Off

If you don’t know who this section is for, you probably go to a lot of social functions.

iTerm 2
I can’t remember the last time this wasn’t my terminal of choice. And it keeps getting better. The tmux functionality and session restore are delightful, and capabilities like inline image viewing in Terminal are frivolous but fun.
Sublime Text
Yeah, I’ve tried to like Atom. I do like BBEdit and still love TextMate, but despite having to write all my plugins in Python, I can’t quit Sublime.
Ignoring any impropriety that may or may not have happened, Dash is the ultimate reference tool for developers in any language. Plus cheat sheets.
You might like running every git command from the command line. You might get a kick out of doing complex merges and cherry picks by typing out hashes. I do not, I love Tower.
Also, I know I mentioned Tower in the Working on macOS section. I should not have. It should have been here. I made a mistake, but I know that’s no excuse. I have fired my editor and will work to earn back your trust.
It didn’t get any major upgrades this year, but it did get a maintenance release for High Sierra that restored my faith and renewed my love of this diff app. Please don’t make me switch to FileMerge.
A client for JIRA, JIRA Agile, GitHub Issues, and FogBugz. See and respond to all your tickets in one place. Plus a Markdown editor, nvALT-style notes, and built in time tracking features.
CodeRunner 2 Setapp
If you want a REPL for any major programming language with a solid editor and code highlighting, you should probably get CodeRunner.
I work with a lot of APIs, creating and consuming2. If you ever need to debug REST calls, this is the tool.
Daniel Jalkut made you a thingy that simulates the MacBook Pro touch bar on your screen. Given that I don’t have a Touch Bar MacBook, I greatly appreciate being able to easily develop for one.
There are a ton of good RegEx testers out there. I’ll mention Patterns, Oyster, and Expressions (Setapp) right off the bat. That said, RegExRx is the only one that covers all of the bases for me.

I once again have that sinking feeling that I’ve been looking at this page too long and am missing some obvious apps that I’ll regret not mentioning later. There will probably (almost definitely) be a catchall post at the end of this. But next up is hardware and physical tools, and I’m excited about all the cool ones I found this last year.

See all the 2017 roundups!

  1. A file-based religion that does not exist.

  2. Don’t get me started on how that’s a stupid way to develop products. But it is. I will eventually learn from the mistake of creating things that rely on other things.