Five Background Apps for Your MacBook

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

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.

AppTrap

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.

Keyseer

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 Apple.com, and so on. I can also add my own AppleScripts whenever the mood or need strikes.

Growl

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 Mail.app and Camino.

Undercover

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.

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