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Five Background Apps for Your MacBook

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Throughout the course of the workday, I open and close dozens of apps on my MacBook. There are five tools, however, that I keep running continuously in the background on my laptop. They’ve got small enough footprints that I don’t have to worry about using up precious CPU and they’re so handy that they’ve found a place on my must-have list of MacBook apps.


jiggler-1Sometimes I use my MacBook as a secondary computer while working on larger projects on my iMac. When I’m using the laptop to play DVDs, stream music through iTunes, or monitor emails and IMs, it drives me crazy when it suddenly goes to sleep. I used to reset the energy saver options, but I would always forget to change them back. Now I use Jiggler, a tiny freeware app that keeps your screen saver from activating or your computer from going to sleep.


apptrapRidding yourself of an application you no longer use is as easy as dragging it from Finder into the Trash. Unfortunately, sometimes associated files and other cruft linger and take up space. It’s usually not a big deal with smaller apps but if you’ve ever tried deleting Firefox or a similarly large set of files, you know it takes forever to flush out all those leftover bits in hiding. When you activate the free program AppTrap, it runs quietly in the background until it’s needed (or until you turn it off). Now when you drag an app to the Trash, it will ask if you want to also delete the associated files. It’s quick, easy, painless, and I love it. This is a particularly useful tool to have on hand if you like to try out lots of different software and find yourself installing — and uninstalling — all kinds of apps to tweak your system.


keyseerI love keyboard shortcuts, AppleScripts, and anything else that makes routine computing chores easier. Keyseer is a freeware app that activates AppleScripts through assigned key combinations. It comes preloaded with commands that open the Documents folder, connect to, and so on. I can also add my own AppleScripts whenever the mood or need strikes.


Welcome to Growl!Like most people who spend their day online, I receive a constant stream of information throughout the day via instant messenger, email, and RSS. Each app comes with its own notification system which, frankly, gets unwieldy after a while. Since I can never remember if the foghorn sound means I have new mail or an incoming Skype call, I use Growl to manage notifications across all apps. It works natively with services like Adium, Twitterific, and NetNewsWire, and there are plugins available for other popular tools like and Camino.


undercoverThe thought of losing my MacBook fills me with dread. I’m smart enough to not keep sensitive information on it, yet I’d hate to lose it anyway. Undercover won’t keep my MacBook from getting stolen, but it does give me a fighting chance to get it back. This $49 app has a two-step process to theft recovery. First, the software will send screenshots of my laptop back to me, along with external IP addresses and router information. It even takes pictures of the user via the internal iSight camera. Essentially, it captures everything going on with my computer so I can piece the data together and figure out where it is. Next, it will mimic hardware failure by darkening the screen to the point that it eventually becomes unusable, prompting the thief to (hopefully) take it to a Mac shop for service or try to resell it. At that point, a screen saver activates to let everyone know the Mac is stolen. If your Mac never surfaces, Undercover will refund your money in full.

14 Responses to “Five Background Apps for Your MacBook”

  1. I use Jiggler rather than Caffeine, because Jiggler is an ordinary application which I can open or quit using a script (AppleScript or shell script). I have not yet found a way to do this with Caffeine, and there are situations where I wnat to be able to script turning the functions on and off.

  2. Bruce A- I use a laptop. My energy settings are generally pretty low. Around 15 minutes. However if I’m doing something that I want me screen to stay on indefinitely, such as watching videos on the internet or other processes that don’t override your energy settings.

    Sure, I could change the energy settings every time- but that’s a bunch of steps- and I have to remember to set them back or my laptop winds up with a dead battery. Caffeine uses I think 3mb of memory (smaller than the system clock!) and I’ve not even seen it take 0.1% of CPU time when I sit there clicking on it!

    And it’s freeware- I’m not paying for this feature. (Though I own a different software product from the same developer, so I like to think I’ve supported it.)

  3. You know what keeps your Mac from going to sleep? Telling it not to. System Preferences> Energy Saver> Put the computer to sleep when it is inactive for… Drag that slider to Never. Problem solved. Don’t like that option? Well, give it a longer time before sleep. You can go up to three hours. I’ll never understand the appeal of apps to keep a computer awake when the tools to do so are in the system already.

  4. I love Apptrap! Whenever you delete an app, it simply pops up a window asking if you’d like to delete it’s associated resources.

    AFAIK, it should be built into OS X. It’s brilliant!

    Thing is, you don’t need to think about ‘uninstalling’ apps with this software. You simply drag it to the trash – the Mac way!

  5. Caffeine is far better than Jiggler.
    I’m going to go and say that AppCleaner is probably a better fit for my uninstalling needs also.
    And as a final note, I find Growl to be more of a distraction from getting things done than useful, but I don’t think growl is about being productive in the first place.

  6. two other usefull background apps: Camouflage ( to constantly hide the desktop-icons and UnPlugged ( to notify when the powerplug unpluggs, or if running on battery it notifies every couple percent of how much power is left.