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5 Useful Mac Utilities

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Notational Velocity (Free)

Notational Velocity is a minimalist note-taking app with an emphasis on keyboard navigation. One of the interesting UI elements is that the search bar, besides being a search bar, also serves as the mechanism for creating new notes: You just enter a new title and hit enter. Also, it can sync with SimpleNote for iPhone and iPad.

Cinch ($7)

Usually, Windows users are trying to copy OS X features, but Cinch does the opposite by porting Windows 7’s Aero Snap feature over to OS X. It runs in the menubar and resizes windows based on where you drag them. Dragging to the side makes a window take up half the screen, and dragging to the top makes it take up the entire screen.

F.lux (Free)

F.lux bills itself as “better lighting for your computer.” It accomplishes this by gradually dimming your screen’s brightness and making your screen “warmer” by tinting it. You feed it your time-zone and what kind of lighting you have (i.e. fluorescent, incandescent) and it adjusts your monitor’s tint and brightness based on what time it is. I’ve been using it for a few weeks, and it’s hard to go back. The change was a bit jarring at first, but I’ve grown to like it.

BetterTouchTool (Free)

BetterTouchTool extends the functionality of Apple’s multitouch trackpads and Magic Mouse by letting you customize and add new gestures, such as five-finger swipe on the trackpad, or pinch-to-zoom on the Magic Mouse. You can assign these gestures to either a keyboard shortcut or an application.


A small and simple utility that just flashes a bezel notification when you hit the caps lock key, preventing you from accidentally hitting it. (Though this probably isn’t as effective as just looking at your keyboard when you type).

Know of any Mac utilities you couldn’t live without? Tell us about them in the comments.

23 Responses to “5 Useful Mac Utilities”

  1. Three small apps I find really useful are:

    ‘jumpcut’ which stores a history of text sent to your clipboard. Really good when cut and pasting a lot.

    ‘caffine’ stops your computer going to sleep.

    ‘soundsource’ when needing to switch audio sources in and out.

  2. David Ferguson

    I’ve got to throw out Zooom as a window manager as well. Makes resizing/moving windows quick and easy.

    I’ve also got to mention XGestures as well. It took me a while to get used to using mouse based gestures. I started out with FireGestures in Firefox and then wished I could do the same thing in OSX. XGestures allows you to create global or app specific mouse gestures that can launch an app or script, close a window, select menu items, launch expose, etc.

    These two are must-have’s for me. Also, following some of the other comments, I never could really find THAT much extra in Quicksilver to make me wanna keep it. I always go back to Spotlight. Spotlight does all that I need.

    • I just replied to Alex above about several things Quicksilver can make easier to do. Just remind you that Quicksilver lets you easily create custom keyboard shortcuts and mouse gestures (with the Abracadabra plugin installed) for almost anything you want, so with Quicksilver you don’t need XGestures.

  3. Definitely digging F.LUX. Previously I’d used another app to dim the screen on my iMac because it’s so friggin’ bright all the time, but after using F.LUX for a few hours now I can say that it’s definitely a neat little utility!

  4. B. Elixson

    Threshold — — is one of my new favorites. It’s billed as a sort of universal quick entry HUD. You hit a hot-key combo and up pops a HUD text entry box that you can use to enter a finder path, search the web, enter events/todos into iCal or Toodledo, enter Tasks into Things, Taskpaper, etc, send SMS via Google Voice, write an email or text file, and more.

    Lots of auto-completion abilities make doing all of the above remarkable quick.

  5. Student

    I don’t know if this really counts as a utility exactly, but XMind (free version) is a mind-mapping application, which is invaluable for when I’m revising. Lots of useful features.

  6. Quicksilver is a favourite utility of mine for sure. Being an IT consultant, many things come up in one day that I need to work on, whether it’s in Terminal, or RDC, or Chicken of the VNC, or Apple Remote Desktop, or TextEdit. Quicksilver is really nice to quickly launch those apps. :)

      • Same here. I gave it a few chances, but never really got used to it. Spotlight is easier to use for me and doesn’t require an additional process running in the background.

      • Oh come on! I think you didn’t get the point at all Quicksilver is NOT an app launcher (although it can do that too). Quicksilver indexes the folders you select and you can instantly search any file in those documents (or browse with your keyboard through the entire file directory) and perform lots of actions directly from Quicksilver’s interface: send it by e-mail, move/copy/rename, add tags (spotlight comments), upload a picture to Flickr… You can also browse your Safari and Firefox history and favorites, use any search engine you want (there are lots included in the “Web Search Module” plugin and you can add manually anyone you want). You can add events and to-do’s to iCal. You can browse your Address Book and have quick access to phone numbers (displayed in LargeType), e-mails, addresses. You can also directly create text files and append or prepend new text to existing ones (so you don’t need notational velocity). You can create custom keyboard shortcuts and mouse gestures (with the Abracadabra plugin installed) for almost anything you want (so you don’t need XGestures), and there are many more things you can do with just one app, one interface, all keyboard input.

        Quicksilver is definitely my nº1 must have app