Top 10 Apps for Laptop-Toting Mac Users

Top 10 lists have been blogged practically to death. But they’re not dead yet. No sir! Perhaps, however, in an effort to push their foot an inch or two closer to the proverbial grave, I’d like to offer a top 10 list of my own. This one is for the laptop-toting Mac user who, because of their choice to wield a portable Mac, is forced to make certain sacrifices in usability, power, and efficiency.

First up, I’d like to talk about Sidetrack. Sidetrack is a trackpad replacement driver for your Mac laptop. It adds scrolling functionality to the borders of the trackpad. I have mine set to scroll vertically on the right edge and horizontally on the top. Additionally, you can set a tap in each corner to trigger a specific function, like simulating a mouse button click or a key combination. Mine is set so that a tap in the upper right corner is considered a right-click. Sidetrack costs $15 (or free, if you can put up with the constant nag screen) and is well worth the price.

I rock a 12″ PowerBook, and she’s the best Mac that I’ve ever owned (yes, “she”). But, she’s only a 12″ PowerBook. Which means that her display has a maximum of 1024 by 768 pixels to work with. So, in an effort to utilize every last viewable pixel, I use Menufela. Menufela only does one thing, but it does it really well. It autohides the menu bar (just like the Dock). When you position your mouse at the top of your display, the menu bar pops into view. Menufela costs $5.

As Mac users enthusiasts we’ve all taken part in the Mac vs. Windows war in one way or another (trust me friends, it’s not worth the fight. And besides, in war, no one wins). I know that I’ve had to answer/defend the “Why doesn’t the Mac window go full screen when I click the green zoom button?” question/complaint many times before. The answer is a bit cryptic, and one that I won’t attempt to explain here. However, continuing with the theme of efficient-use-of-pixel-space-on-a-small-display, I have come to realize that sometimes, I just want certain apps and windows to grow to full screen when I on click of the zoom button. Thankfully, there is Stoplight. Stoplight is a free system preference pane that allows you to tweak the behavior of those little candy-like buttons in the upper-left corner of every window. Give it a shot… and it just might help to quell the fears of a brand new switcher too.

Yes yes yes… efficient use of screen real estate. We get it. This is the last one, I promise. Letterbox is user interface tweak for Mail. It switches the default view to a 3-column view. Letterbox was built for widescreen displays, but it works really well on my 12″ PowerBook too. It might be a matter of preference on a standard ratio display (non-widescreen), but it really helped me out with my 12 incher. Oh… and Letterbox is free.

Here’s a quickie: Virtue Desktops. Multiple desktops are a godsend for users of tiny displays… like us laptop users. Until Spaces comes out (with the Leopard release), Virtue is a great alternative multiple desktop manager. It’s rock solid, it does tons, and it’s free!

Quickie numero dos: Quicksilver (free). Yep, Quicksilver is one of those apps that you install and then have no idea what to do with. Well, in short, Quicksilver is an app launcher… but it is so much more (more than I have time to go over here). Anyway, Quicksilver is not exclusively an enhancement for a laptop user, but it really helped to speed up my workflow… especially considering the fact that I can do so much with it, that often, I can a go a really long time without touching that (arguably) difficult track pad.

Yeah, that track pad sure is troublesome. Good thing we’ve learned that we can tweak it with Sidetrack. But still, my track pad accuracy is pretty messy. There are, however, four places that I can hit using my track pad with my eyes closed. Of course, they are the four corners of my display. CornerClick is another system preference pane that adds functionality to clicks at all four corners. You can set CornerClick to switch apps, launch files, run applescripts, and more! Mighty useful for those of us bound to our track pads. And yep, its free too!

I found a super-duper useful and free application recently. It’s called Sidenote. Sidenote is essentially a mini notepad and a general data dump that hides quietly on either side of your display. Moving your mouse all the way to that side activates Sidenote, which pops out (like the Dock) allowing you to store an array of textual information, images, links… it’s a perfect receptacle for ideas or notes. Especially when you’re using a full screen app (with the help of Stoplight) and you can’t easily get to your desktop.

fKeys is a free, one function, one time tweak, built exclusively for Mac laptop users. All it does is remap the enter key (not the return key. The enter key. It’s the one that’s in between the command key and the arrow keys on the right-hand side of your laptop keyboard) to an option key, just like on a full-size keyboard. Yep. That’s all it does. But it becomes obviously advantageous when attempting to use a keyboard shortcut with your right hand. And really, when was the last time that you used the enter key anyway? If you do need to get at the enter key, you can always press fn+return to get the same thing accomplished.

Laptop users tend to work everywhere. I know that I work best in coffee shops (quick access to caffeine and all that). Every once in a while, however, I’ll find myself sitting next to other coffee shop-goers whose conversation is either too interesting or too annoying to ignore. Enter Noise: a free, tiny app that makes… well, noise. White noise or pink noise, your choice. The idea is that when you need to drown out background noise, just pop on some headphones, launch this app and let ‘er rip! Out comes soothing white noise. It takes some getting used to, but it should help to make work possible in all kinds of distracting environments.

And there you have it. A top ten list for us laptop-toting Mac users. Personally, I’m always looking for new ways to streamline my laptop lifestyle. So, if you’ve got any other tips, I’d love to hear them! In the mean time, however, enjoy these.