This is the second half of the “My favorite stuff from 2014” that I started in January. It took me a while to get back to it, but here it is!
This half covers utilities and developer tools. Even if you’re not a developer, there’s plenty of great stuff for both power users and aspiring power users.
I’ll kick it off with an oddball physical product that ended up being one of my favorite small investments from 2015: The AcousticSheep SleepPhones, a pair of headphones that look like a sweatband and are exquisitely comfortable to sleep in. I’ve mentioned them in years past, but this year they redesigned and made them sound better, feel better, and added a woven cable that won’t dry out and crack over a year or two like previous versions. If you like binaural beats or sleeping to music (or pzizz), check them out.
Now, on with the utilities and tools show…
I use a lot of utilities on my Macs. From having my office lights turn on and off automatically as I come and go to keeping my machines speedy, the array of software available for accomplishing just about any task has continued to improve in the last year.
Bartender is probably my number one pick, and the utility I’m most likely to take for granted on any given day because it “just works.” If you have more than a few utilities running in your menu bar, this is sanity.
Visits continues to be the most convenient way to monitor Google Analytics stats for multiple sites right from the OS X menu bar. With graphs and referral information for day, previous day, week, and month, it’s a perfect overview in a compact and easily-accessible interface.
unDock is a great utility for people with laptops. Quickly unmount external and/or network drives with a keyboard shortcut (I use Hyper-escape). It has an awesome “undo” feature for re-mounting those drives as well.
Speaking of keyboard shortcuts…
BetterTouchTool is one of those utilities that I’m lost without. I have extensive gestures set up for my trackpad, as well as keyboard shortcuts. It’s not as powerful as Keyboard Maestro for keyboard tasks, but it’s all I need for just about every shortcut I want to assign. It even powers my Leap Motion Minority Report setup, and there’s an iOS companion (BTT remote) for even more fun.
I’ll include FastScripts in this mix as well because it lets me easily add keyboard shortcuts to any AppleScripts available, with the same app-contextual capabilities as the default script menu.
Karabiner (formerly known as KeyRemap4MacBook) is essential to my setup. I use it along with Seil (formerly PCKeyboardHack) for everything from my Hyper key (Capslock cum shortcut modifier) to setting up clever shortcuts to expand the usefulness of my ShuttleXpress.
Moom continues to be my window manager of choice. You can make it as simple or as powerful as you like. It allows me to use keyboard shortcuts for tasks such as moving and resizing windows, restoring common layouts with multiple applications, and flipping windows between multiple displays.
Who needs keyboard shortcuts and trackpad gestures when you can just have things happen automatically?
ControlPlane and EventScripts (also with an iOS companion) make a potent combination with BetterTouchTool for automation based on external events such as my laptop docking with my 27” display or changes in the wifi network. EventScripts even does a pretty solid job with Bluetooth proximity detection.
I use Indigo 6 with my home automation setup. Along with Insteon and X10 devices run from a Powerlinc USB modem, it allows me to create advanced logic using motion detectors, door sensors, and of course lighting automation.
OS X has a built-in system for running tasks at intervals (a la cron) or based on conditions. It’s called launchd, and there have been a few good utilities over the years for working with it through a GUI. This last year saw the release of LaunchControl, which is hands down the most powerful and flexible utility for
launchd yet. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to automate or schedule tasks, whether you’re brand new to
launchd or a seasoned pro.
I use a home-brew system for most of my tagging and file organization. It makes extensive use of Spotlight. There’s only one utility right now that makes my system more powerful: HoudahSpot. Version 4 came out in 2015 and improved many aspects, but even previous versions have been an indispensable tool for file search.
A major part of my file organization system also relies on automation via Hazel, which also saw some great improvements in 2014. If you’re not using Hazel, well, you’re missing out.
Disk space and maintenance
AppDelete is a really smart tool for removing all remnants of an app when deleting it; caches, preferences, receipts and more. Hazel has a tool that watches your trash bin for apps and performs a similar task, but AppDelete is more thorough and interactive. It also includes an “Archive” feature that lets you back up before deleting and restore all the elements if needed.
For a long time I mistakenly associated CleanMyMac with MacKeeper. The latter should be avoided, but CleanMyMac 2 is an excellent tool for recovering hard drive storage space and even doing some powerful maintenance.
DaisyDisk is also a great tool for recovering space with a beautiful display of what’s taking up space on your drive.
Cocktail is my favorite system “tweaks” and maintenance tool. Enough said.
Network and file sharing
Droplr continues to be my favorite tool for quickly sharing files and images. They’ve also improved their note sharing (with support for Markdown and code with syntax highlighting) and even added video screen capture and “reaction gif” capabilities.
ExpanDrive is perfect for seamlessly mounting just about every kind of network drive you can imagine. Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, SFTP servers, S3 buckets, and much more.
Dropbox has long been a standard for file sharing and syncing, but the release of BitTorrent Sync and improvements to Drobo’s Transporter have opened up new, more secure options than the Dropbox cloud. I use both, and they trump Dropbox in many areas.
Life without iTerm would be painful for me. 2014 saw continued development, including a special mode that allows seamless tmux integration. Visor mode, split panes, tabs, multiple profile settings and more all make it a much more powerful experience than just using Terminal.
Dash probably turned out to be the most useful tool in my toolbox. With instant, keyboard-based access to docs for every programming language I work in, it’s invaluable.
Bee is the best project tracking tool I’ve seen. It integrates with GitHub issues and JIRA, among other issue-tracking tools, offering a consolidated view of all your issues, with full capabilities for responding and checking them off.
CodeRunner is one of my favorite tools for projects ranging from simple scripts to complex applications. It can run code snippets and return output for just about any language, with a powerful built-in editor and configuration options. Version 2 came out in December, and it continues to be my choice over similar applications like Peppermint.
2014 also saw the release of Tower 2, an app that makes using Git easy and beautiful. I do most of my git work from the command line, but Tower is especially handy when things go awry. In combination with the new, merge-capable version of Kaleidoscope, it makes complex git operations simple. It even sports git-flow integration now.
Pattern Digger is an interesting tool that gathers FIXME and TODO comments (or any patterns you want) in a project’s source code into a todo list for any project. There are plenty of ways to do this from the command line, but the GUI is a great touch.
There’s also a bevy of new tools for creating and testing regular expressions. I think I’ve tried them all, and RegExRX is my top pick. It’s not gorgeous, but it’s powerful and accurate, and it does the best job of copying a regex search or search and replace pattern in a variety of languages. Oyster was also a great release, and Patterns provides a bit simpler but still powerful interface for figuring out the trickier aspects of regex patterns. All of them make great learning tools for beginners as well.
For Xcode users, there were a ton of great plugins released over the last year. Do yourself a favor and set up Alcatraz. Then, first thing, install FuzzyAutocomplete. I wrote up more of my favorites in April as well.
If your Xcode projects are long in the tooth, you probably have some legacy elements you’re not using anymore. Slender is an awesome tool for scanning and cleaning up those projects.
Most of my web coding happens in Sublime Text 3 these days. I won’t go into all the packages I use in Sublime in this post, but the powerful tools available make web development so much easier than it used to be.
Live reloading of web pages as you make changes is the most valuable tool a front-end designer can have. While much of this can be accomplished with Grunt and Gulp tasks using the LiveReload protocol, there are a few awesome GUI tools available. The simplest would be the LiveReload app itself, which watches folders and refreshes browsers with either browser plugins or a simple line of code in the HTML source. It can also compile languages such as Sass, LESS, Stylus, and CoffeeScript (among others) automatically whenever an associated file changes.
CodeKit is a more flexible tool, and its JSON configuration files make it easy to add config settings to a repository and have everyone on the team in sync. For even more power, the amazing Ghostlab does much the same, but with a built in server that can perform automatic refreshes on multiple machines and devices, including synced form input and scroll positions.
All right, that’s a wrap on my favorites from 2014. Be sure to check out the first half of this post for more gems. Now it’s time to go start exploring all the amazing new apps for 2015!
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