App Highlights: Best of the Mac in 2017

Best Macos Apps 2017 Setapp

Welcome back productivity nerds. This is part two of a gripping trilogy on software highlights from 2017. In part one, I catalogued some of my favourite iPad apps from last year. The meat between the iOS device sandwich, is of course the Mac. So here we go again.

Before we begin, if you’re interested a number of the apps on this list come with Setapp. That is something I’ve written enough about recently, so if you'd like to read more about Setapp,  you can  do so here. The apps in question are clearly marked with the appropriate links. Remember, these are just the highlights.

Back to the Mac

Things 3

Best Mac Apps 2017 Things 3
Things 3 has everything I need in a task manager.

 

The barometer I use for organisational tools is how much time it takes to manage them. That I spend very little time in the app itself, is a good indication Things is doing what it’s supposed to. The way Things handles the inbox is better than any other task manager I have used. I don't feel like I am double handling tasks. I thought I might miss the automation of Todoist, but so far I haven't really, the email to Things feature is enough.

Scrivener 3

Best Mac Apps 2017 Scrivener 3
Scrivener's facelift, and feature upgrade improved an already excellent application

I still haven’t found the time to write this up properly, but I did give it a cursory post. While you can get lightweight versions of some features, there still nothing like Scrivener. This new version is a long way from the early skeuomorphic days. Now that the interface is so crisp, and clean, it looks every bit the modern Mac app. Further to the visual touches, a long list of new features have improved an already powerful piece of software. If you do any kind of serious long-form writing, and you’re still using a traditional word processor, I’m sorry but you’re mad. 1

Ulysses

Best Mac Apps 2017 Ulysses
Most of my day to day writing takes place in Ulysses

Ulysses also makes the charts across both platforms. I use Scrivener a little more on macOS. But as I mentioned in the iPad post, all other project based, long-form writing, and content for this blog is created in Ulysses. I now also use it for posting directly to WordPress, and I couldn’t be happier with how well that works. Setapp takes care of my Ulysses subscription on macOS, and iOS.

Highlights

Most of my reading, annotating, and editing of PDFs happens on the iPad now. I’m so used to doing that work with an Apple Pencil that marking up PDFs on a Mac can be frustrating. Despite that, there are occasions that demand more screen space, and sometime I need to extract a lot of text from a PDF. Highlights can extract highlighted text, and annotations in Markdown, which is something I cannot do on iOS — defintely not in markdown. 2 Now that DEVONthink handles all of my OCR needs, this is the only other PDF app I need on the Mac.

DEVONthink Pro Office

While coverage has focused on the iOS version, 2017 was also the year I went all in with DEVONthink on macOS. I once shared the superficial concerns of some prospective users, but even if i’d like to see the interface overhauled, I’m glad I got over myself. 3 DEVONthink is a heavyweight application, so getting the most from it takes time. The depth of functionality is perfectly suited to the archive, search, and retrieve workflows required of serious research, so that time is worth investing. I no longer have any trouble finding important documents. My records are organised with some sanity, and I know how, and where to find research I have spent considerable time gathering.

TaskPaper

Best Mac Apps 2017 Taskpaper
Taskpaper is part nerdy task manger, part super-powered outliner

I have known about TaskPaper for a long time, but never really used it properly. That changed last year. With TaskPaper’s plain text super powers, I have cobbled together something resembling a system for planning and tracking my reading, among other things. It might seem like overkill to be employing a form of task management on top of a dedicated task manager, but it helps my scattered mind no end to seperate the finer details. Setapp

Marked 2

Anyone working with text should have this in their kit. No matter what that work entails. Marked is a kind of Swiss army knife for writers. If you are relentlessly obsessive about what you do with words, you will recognise a fellow traveller in this app. It even includes features to improve your writing. Anything I write about Marked risks underselling it. It’s worth a hell of a lot more than what it will cost you. Setapp

Spillo

Best Mac Apps 2017 Spillo
Spillo is the best macOS client for my favourite bookmarking service, Pinboard.in

I archive a lot of data in DEVONthink, but I don’t use it for bookmarks. Instead I use the perennial wonder machine, Pinboard.in for archiving web pages. Spillo is easily my favourite macOS client for pinboard. Minimal, and opinionated with just the right amount of nerdiness. It’s fully scriptable, and even has its own plugin SDK. Since setting up an Alfred workflow with Spillo, I get more use out of Pinboard than ever.

Being and Nerdiness

Tower

Until last year, I hadn’t done any programming for a long time. I still don’t, but I can at least lay claim to vandalising code in my attempts to learn how to. For my humble use of git as it is, Tower is more than I need. Then again, using such a wonderfully designed piece of software can only be helpful if I’m to learn things the right way. Working Copy on iOS is currently my favourite Git client on any platform, but this is a pretty close second. Things could change any day now.

Sublime Text with SFTP

Best Macos Apps 2017 Sublime
There is a reason Sublime is preferred by so many developers

I agonised over choosing a text editor for learning development skills. With growing support out there for Visual Studio, I gave it a test run. If easier to configure, ultimately I didn’t like working in it. I tried Atom, and liked the general feel, but I can’t yet benefit from its configurability — honestly it felt kind of slow. In the end, true to form, I landed where I started. Now that I have it set up properly, Sublime text has become one of my favourite applications. As for extensibility, the Sublime SFTP package is the best thirty bucks I have spent in some time.

Forklift

Another of the technical tools I require, this one has a lot of tricks. To call Forklift the best FTP client I know of would undersell it4. With a slick designed dual pane file browser, file syncing, drive mounting, keyboard kung fu, and all round excellence, these days it is always open on my Mac. Setapp

Super Duper!

The most deceptively simple looking app I own. Super Duper overcame a momentary rough patch to deliver an unbelievable improvement to an already excellent utility. With the advent of APFS, it now creates bootable snapshots. The scheduler works so efficiently, I hardly even notice. I can’t begin to express the peace of mind.

The Digital Cage

Timing

There was an intense time-tracking trend among a sub-section of nerds last year. Trust me, that’s not happening here. I find the idea of tracking every aspect of your life disturbing. I use this app in a much less pervasive way, for tracking writing projects. I gather data on how long it takes me to write certain things, so I can better understand deadlines. Whether self-imposed, or not. Timing makes this easy, as it can automatically capture time spent in particular applications. Setapp

Cardhop

A contacts app is not something that would ordinarily interest me, I have only humble contact management needs. Since contact syncing started to work properly, I have been happy to use the native contacts app and forget about it. I felt much the same way about calendars until I tried Fantastical. The Flexibits natural language engine is like magic, and sure enough they have put it to good use in Cardhop.

Utilities

Alfred

Spotlight can only take you so far. For keyboard warriors, an application launcher is mandatory. Beyond a long list of built in features, Alfred is an endlessly extensible, powerful automation tool. An active, and generous user community means there are workflows for just about anything, and help at hand if you want to hack together your own.

iMazing

This is one of those utilities I never knew I needed. It’s common knowledge iTunes is a mess. Apple’s answer is to remove things without replacing them. Whenever it seems I can no longer do something with an iOS device, the answer is iMazing. Setapp

1Blocker

I could have put this on the iOS list too. I published a post recently on how I use 1Blocker to keep me sane while using the internet. Whether you want to block ads or not, the web is often a shady place. Stopping yourself from being tracked might be a hopeless pursuit, but you can at least make it difficult. I’m happy knowing my computing resources aren’t being filched for crypto-mining. I’m also a control freak, so I’ll let through what I please thank you very much.

Radio Silence

For much the same reason as above. I prefer to know what’s dialling home. While incredibly powerful, Little Snitch is too noisy for my liking. Radio Silence is much more simple, and yet it still gives me the control I want. In short, this little firewall rules.

Bartender 3

Without this little utility, my menu bar would look insane. Version 3 was released a few months back. Instead of dropping beneath, the menu bar now toggles between your main utilities and whatever you choose to hide. A subtle, but worthwhile change. It works so well it will probably be sherlocked.

Making and Breaking

Pixelmator Pro

Best Mac Apps 2017 Pixelmator Pro
Pixelmator Pro is a powerful image editor that even a novice can understand

This is an aspirational app at the moment,  it’s probably overkill. My image editing needs a fairly simple, and most of it is done on the iPad. Especially now, with Affinity Photo on iPad Pro. However, Pixelmator has always been an app that I could grok easier than other image editors, so I picked this up in the hope that I could develop some chops. What little I have done with it so far, has been a pleasure.

Audio Hijack

Best Mac Apps 2017 Audio Hijack
If you need to capture audio on your Mac, Audio Hijack is as good as it gets

Another project yet to see the light of day led me to this audio marvel. If you have any cause for routing, or capturing audio on your Mac, this is how you do it. The modular, drag and drop, visual workflow, makes sense out of confusing audio chains. Along with all the built in audio processing, it even supports Audio Unit plugins.

  1. The idea of long-form writing seems to have taken on new meaning recently. To be clear, I’m referring to books, theses, and so on. For long blog posts, it might be overkill.
  2. Unless somebody knows an app that can do this?
  3. It could probably lose a few features
  4. Yes, yes SFTP. Of course.

App Highlights: Best of the iPad in 2017

Best Of The Ipad In 2017

Here come the lists, finally. I held off a little, given the ubiquity of listicles in the first few weeks of the year. That’s my excuse anyway. I considered revisiting the essentials list in its entirety, but decided to deliver something more concise with a take on the best iPad apps in 2017. Expect a more comprehensive resource when school’s back in below the equator. In the meantime, these are a few of the highlights from 2017, broken down by device. Starting with the iPad.

Breaking the Mac Habit

DEVONthink To Go

It might have started life as a companion, but DEVONthink to Go has helped break some of my Mac dependence over the past year. Even without some of the automated sorting the macOS app is known for, it houses a lot of neat tricks. Encrypted storage, intelligent search queries, url x-callback automation are some of the highlights. If you want to learn more about what it can do, I posted a detailed introduction here. The Appademic also happens to have five licenses up for grabs at the moment.

Working Copy

Only recently have I started to need tools like this. Now that I do, I can fully appreciate what an excellent piece of software this is. If learning the basics of Git is straightforward enough, it can just as easily be complicated by a messy client. Working Copy is easy to pickup, and a pleasure to use. It is now fully integrated with the Files app, supports drag and drop, and Markdown syntax highlighting . The excellent documentation means I fumble around in the dark a lot less. I have gone from thinking I had to be on a Mac to work with Git, to preferring my iPad so I can use this app.

Best Ipad Apps 2017 Working Copy
Working Copy is my favourite Git client on any platform

Ferrite

While music is well served, iOS is still under developed as a professional audio platform. It borders on silly that the very platform to popularise podcasts, still lags when it coms to creating them. Much of the technology required for the necessary audio routing already exists, but hasn’t yet been applied. Ferrite is both uniquely focused on voice, and wonderfully tuned for touch interaction. If you’re doing any kind of interview work, podcasting, or voice capture on iOS, this is where to do it.

Ferrite Best Ipad Apps 2017
Ferrite is the best audio editor for voice work on iOS

 

Peace of Mind

Things 3

This is cheating a little. I’ve really only been using Things for a couple of months. I tried to avoid the bandwagon, but trialing it on macOS convinced me it was a better solution for me than Todoist. Although there are features of Todoist I miss, in the end it was overkill for my needs. Things doesn’t require as much tuning, and gets out of my way more. I have a more detailed account on the differences between Todoist and Things on the way soon. It made the list, because despite not using it long, it has been a positive change. The less time I use in an app like this the better.

1Password

Sometimes software can take care of annoying details in a way that makes you forget how the most trivial things can become annoying. Agile Bits introduced an ingenious innovation into their apps last year that auto-copies information. It makes logging into apps easier, when they haven’t bothered adding generic password extension. Even better, it auto-copies one-time passwords to automatically populate two-factor logins.

Writing

Writers are spoilt for choice on iOS now. I have pointed out a number of times what a good writing tool the iPad is. The user experience encourages the kind of focus that writing depends on, in a way a Mac does not.

Ulysses

I’d like to be more of a purist with plain text, but I finally succumbed to the charms of this app. While I’m pleased to have Scrivener on iOS, I don’t like that it only syncs with Dropbox, and the development is a little asymmetric with macOS. The same is not true of Ulysses. Admittedly, I use the apps quite differently, and my thesis ultimately resides in Scrivener. All other project based writing, long-form, or anything for this site, it’s all in Ulysses now. It’s also worth adding I find the Ulysses WordPress integration works so well now that I no longer need Workflow to fill that roll. I get access to Ulysses on both macOS, and iOS as a Setapp subscriber.

 

Best Ipad Apps 2017 Ulysses
Ulysses has become my default writing app on iOS

iA Writer

For composing anything that I consider singular, or outside of any ongoing project. For short work, or external editing of files from DEVONthink, and even for writing email at times. I use iA Writer. Writing in a different app can be a little like a change of scenery, sometimes it works at breaking the valve. There are a lot of good text editors on iOS, but none of them can match iA Writer for minimalism and typographic design. If you’ve never written in a plain text editor before, this is your gateway drug.

Despite the Trolls

Apollo

Until this turned up, I had all but stopped using Reddit on iOS. Apollo has quickly gained popularity, and with good reason. It is the first app of its kind to have a truly native user experience. Built by a former Apple insider with meticulous attention to detail, it is now the only way use Reddit. In the developer’s own words, ’the goal was to envision what a Reddit app would look like if Apple themselves built it.’ He nailed it.

Best Ipad Apps 2017 Apollo
Apollo has become the only way I use Reddit

 

 

Mind Maps and Scribbles

MindNode 5

The recently released version 5 added a number of nice touches to an already excellent app. I tend to gravitate more towards outlining than mind mapping, but digital mind mapping is now better than it’s ever been. With the faster refresh rate on the iPad Pro, the experience is much more tactile and enjoyable. After flipping between different apps for structured mind mapping, I have happily settled on this for now.

Best Ipad Apps 2017 Mindnode 5
Subtle details in MindNode 5 have improved an already excellent app

 

Linea

I’m no artist, but sometimes a truly blank page is the best place for scribbling ideas. In fact, a purist take on mind mapping would reject a purpose built app. A blank page, and something to mark it with, are all you need. I used to use the free Paper app, by Fifty Three for this, which is still more than up to the job. Linea is a delightfully restrained app. Minimal, responsive, and easy to use. If I have something to scribble, this is where it happens.

Note-taking

MyScript Nebo

If you have an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, Nebo ‘s  handwriting recognition and ink engine is as good as it gets. The rate of development is a little disappointing, no doubt because this app is something of a showcase for the technology that underpins it. The way I use it, the handwriting recognition matters more than having features you find in apps like GoodNotes and Notability. Most, if not all of the digital handwriting I do at the moment happens in Nebo.

Best Ipad Apps 2017 Nebo
Nebo's handwriting recognition is still the best available, it borders on magic that it understand my chicken scribble

Notebooks

I mention this app often, and every time I try to categorise I feel I'm doing it an injustice. I’m including it again for under research, because that is ultimately how I use it. In reality, it’s a note-taking app first and foremost. Notebooks has a unique function that allows users to set anything it stores as  a task. That means if I have a project that requires a specific reading list, I can add the documents to Notebooks and setup a reminder schedule. I then mark material off as I make my way through the list, and it remains in Notebooks. This feature alone makes Notebooks  ideal for research and study.

Best Ipad Apps 2017 Notebooks
Notebooks is a powerful, and unique note-taking app with a touch of GTD

Filling the Gaps

Workflow

By now this is getting boring, but it honestly was one of the most important apps I used last year. Perhaps because I finally feel I have started to get the hang of it. There is a way to go before I can start making paginated workflows, but I’m getting more out of this app than ever. By now it is so essential that I’m starting to understand the obsession about its future. One can only hope Apple’s acquisition of Workflow — and it’s clearly brilliant developers — means the future of iOS automation is bright.

Copied

Again, this is not a revelation. However, I’m putting Copied on the list because of how much it holds things together. Drag and drop has replaced some of its functionality, but I still rely on it a lot. Apple’s continuity can be flaky at times, and the iCloud clipboard just stops working for no apparent reason. Copied’s merge templates, and other automation features are excellent.

Gladys

Yes, me too. I have tried a bunch of these shelf apps, it turns out this one is popular for a reason. At first I thought I wanted an app that supported multiple shelves, until I realised it would become another place gather unnecessary digital junk. It will no doubt be sherlocked eventually, but for now it does exactly what I need it to.

Scratching the Surface

The iPad has always been well covered for creative apps. Thinking of the best iPad apps 2017 produced,  a couple come to mind that could be considered milestones for iOS.

Affinity Photo

I haven’t yet scratched the surface of this app, what little I have done with it has blown my tiny mind. Every now and then we get pitched an app that will supposedly push the iPad from recreational device to serious professional machine. Notwithstanding that fact that such developments are generally incremental, Affinity Photo taps much further into the potential of the hardware. In ambition at least, it is a genuinely professional app to rival desktop software.

Best Ipad Apps 2017 Affinity Photo
Affinity Photo breaks new ground for professional software on iOS

 

BeatMaker 3

The iPad has always been a brilliant music device, even if it remains underrated. I’ve gathered a silly number of music apps for iPad Pro. That you can still pick up digital instruments for a fraction of the price they cost on desktop computers is too hard to ignore. While I could highlight any number of impressive debuts from last year, if the goal is to name just one that stood out, for me it was Beatmaker 3. Intua have built the kind of hybrid digital audio workstation that feels uniquely suited to iOS. It has its quirks, but this app is epic fun.

Best Ipad Apps 2017 Beatmaker
BeatMaker 3 was a highlight among the many wonderful music apps released on iOS in 2017

 

 

MacStories: iPad Diaries, Transmit Replacements and FTP Clients

iPad Diaries: Transmit Replacements and FTP Clients | MacStories —  I tend not to post many links to Macstories. Not least, because most people reading this have probably already seen anything I might link to. But, I do often find these iPad Diaries posts quite useful.

There is a lot of conjecture around Panic’s move to step away from developing Transmit for iOS. It seems obvious by now that Apple has left a lot to be desired in their support of pro developers. Something is clearly askew when the App Store is a bandit enterprise, making more cash than a small Island nation. And yet, nobody is really surprised by this decision.

To state the bleeding obvious, developing for iOS is clearly a different game. Without crossing further into the politics, it’s a shame where developers were clearly ahead of the curve with pro features while the platform was still at odds with their apps. The irony being that only now are we starting to see genuine commitment to professional use on iOS from Apple, and once again we have developers moving in the opposite direction.

If you need the kind of file transfer features in Transmit. Viticci has some good alternative suggestions here. As ever, there are compromises, but then the same was true of the app in question.

From Macstories,

None of the apps I covered above are “perfect”: each prioritizes different aspects of FTP connections and file transfers, whether it's design, support for dozens of services, or superior integration with iOS 11. Ideally, Transmit for iOS could have been all of this: a file transfer app based on Coda's beautiful design, with support for a plethora of services and iOS 11's latest APIs.

For now, I'm keeping Coda, iFiles, and FileBrowser on my iPad Pro because they all serve different purposes. If you absolutely need to pick just one, however, I suggest you ask yourself what aspect is most important for your iPad workflow – there is a lot of overlap between these three apps, but also clear differences in terms of design and functionality. If you know what you're looking for, choosing a Transmit replacement shouldn't be impossible these days.

Permalink

iOS Giveaway: Five Licenses for DEVONthink to Go

Devonthink Ios Only.png

Closing out last year I took a good look at the merits of using DEVONthink to Go as an iOS only user. I am a fairly recent convert to DEVONthink more generally, but the more I use them, the more I understand their immense value.

As I prepare my own version of the indulgent listicles you see everywhere, I am reminded of the myriad ways I have integrated DEVONthink into my workflow. The thing that has surprised me most is the way DEVONthink has affected how I work on iOS. It has even solved a problem I suspect might resonate with a lot of other nerds, which is how to centralise your data if you’re an incessant app swapper. DEVONthink is so easy to get data in and out of, I simply keep everything there. 1  I recently had a brief twitter exchange that got me thinking about DEVONthink as an app silo. Seeing as I have this iOS giveaway for DEVONthink to Go, I thought I might also share a couple of quick thoughts on that

On the Question of App Silos

The way DEVONthink works on the Mac, makes this an easier question to answer on macOS. If putting everything into a database is a problem, you can use the indexing feature instead, and still take advantage of the search super powers. You data remains at large in the native file system. I intend to cover DEVONthink on macOS in the not too distant future, I will look at the pros and cons of taking this route then.

In the meantime, as that option is not available on iOS it might seem more cut and dry. I’m not so sure. This is a crude analogy, but in a sense the architecture of iOS makes it something of a modern day terminal client. Ordinarily, your data is always somewhere else. Even if you maxed out the storage option, keeping all of your data locally on an iPad is not only atypical, but seriously risky. Operating on those terms also tends to raise other considerations, especially concerning security.

Functionally, the question becomes how you access and interact with that data. The key for me is that DEVONthink doesn’t change the structure of your data, which is precisely why it’s not difficult to get it back out again should you ever want to. Although not the only problem, to my mind the most significant concern with app silos is storing your data in a proprietary format. Evernote is the most obvious example in this context.

Perhaps as cloud storage evolves, and Apple improves iOS through their APIs, we might eventually have the option on iOS to index files outside the database. Even then, I’m not sure I would bother when I get the considerable advantage of strong client side encryption with DEVONthink, but it would be a good problem to have. It is also with reiterating that DEVONthink's excellent integration with iOS Files, means entire folders can simply be dragged in and out of the app. In functional terms this makes DEVONthink completely different to what we normally consider an app silo. It's really not something you need to worry about.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think this is an important part of the equation for data storage. But, if like me, the data you manage is largely future proofed as plain text, or kept in universal file formats like PDF, then I feel you're safe. The more important question for me is how I can access that data, and what I can do with it. Especially if you are the kind of person who will secure that data either way. If there is a compromise with DEVONthink, I feel it is in your favour with search, security, and automation worth much more. No doubt it helps that I have a lot of faith in DEVON technologies as developers.

Get Yourself a Free Copy Of DEVONthink to Go for iOS

There is further good news on the DEVONthink front. Not only where the good people of DEVON Technologies kind enough to share my review on the Devonian Times blog, but they have also donated 5 licenses to The Appademic for DEVONthink to Go.

I want to keep this simple. If you want a chance to pick up a copy, signup for the mailing list. If you’re already on the list, you’re a chance. Incidentally, being on the mailing list means I will always include you if I have something to give away. If you want to signup and then unsubscribe, I have no problem with that, but don’t be concerned about spam — I have neither the desire, nor the resources to do anything of the sort.

 

Thank you to everybody who entered, this draw is now closed. However, from time to time developers of software I recommend will offer promotional licences, joining the mailing list will put you in the draw permanently.

 


  1. At least, I keep a copy of everything 

Personal info of 31 million people leaked by popular virtual keyboard Ai.type

By now you have probably heard this happened. This is a shocking leak, and exactly the kind of thing that proves the point I was making about facial recognition data. There were objections to the headline of the Washington post article about ‘Apple sharing face data with apps’. Objections along the lines that it’s actually you who shares the data. As ever, the truth is in the middle. Decisions are made at the source to make such things possible, but yes, you can opt to not use third-party apps that need private data to operate. There are indeed warnings on the box, as there was in this case.

It made me think of Smile software’s borderline flippant help article about the scary keyboard warning for allowing full access to keyboards. Ultimately, that article explains the need for the warning, although I’m not sure they do themselves any favours with the headline. This keyboard app is case study that makes the point with an exclamation mark. It is a fuck-up of the highest order,

the app’s database server was left online without any form of authentication. This meant anyone could access the company’s treasure-trove of personal information, which totals more than 577 gigabytes of data, without needing a password.

Yes, you read that right. It gets worse,

Some information is worryingly personal. It contains the precise location of the user, their phone number and cell provider, and according to Whittaker, the user’s IP address and ISP, if they use the keyboard while connected to Wi-Fi.

For reasons unclear, it also uploaded a list of each app installed on the phone, allowing the makers to, in theory, determine what banking and dating apps were being used.

Ai.type effectively enumerated the device it was being used on. It also uploaded hundreds of millions of phone numbers and e-mail addresses, suggesting that the keyboard was accessing the users’ contact information.

Apparently this affected mostly free users, which should 1 serve as a good illustration of the adage that if you’re not paying for a product, you are the product.

Here is some more detail. Please — for the love of god — read those permission messages and think about the access an app has to what, and why. Stay safe.

Permalink
  1. But won’t

Scrivener 3 for macOS: Long-Form Writing, Research and Composition

Ms Word Alternative For Thesis.png

One of my favourite apps — one of the most important apps I own — just had a significant update for macOS. Scrivener is such a rich, and well thought out writing tool that I have held back on covering it until I could provide adequate detail. Now that version 3 has been released, I will have a chance to review it properly. In the meantime, call this a prelude. If you are already a user now is good time to upgrade. If you are looking for an alternative to Word for writing a thesis — for any kind of long form writing —  now is the perfect time to check out Scrivener.

Existing users can upgrade for $25. New users will only pay $45, and there is an educational discount license for students and academics at $38. Trust me, this is a steal. Microsoft Office will set you back $120, if you have to purchase it yourself. Or, put the one-off purchase of Scrivener against a subscription the most directly comparable app, Ulysses. The value is immediately obvious. The comparison with Ulysses is not unwarranted, the two apps get compared a lot for their ability to organising text. However, Scrivener is a much more comprehensive app for writers requiring research tools, and working on much large projects. Scrivener can do things that Ulysses is not made for. Writing a dissertation, or a thesis with Ulysses is more than possible. It may even suit some disciplines. In my experience, Scrivener is one of the more ideal tools for the job.

Looking for an Alternative to Word for Writing a thesis?

With outlining, context mapping, indexing, and more Scrivener can save you from the anxiety inducing mess of multiple, bloated Microsoft Word files. Why anyone would want to write anything legitimately long-form; a thesis, a dissertation, or a book of any kind in Microsoft Word is beyond me. Although, my working theory is that most writers stuck in the word processing paradigm simply don’t know any better. 1 It might seem extreme, but I’m not kidding when I say that writing with Scrivener saved me from all but giving up on long form writing. If you have anything like the chaotic, organisational ticks that I carry around, Scrivener can provide unique respite. Not only is it an alternative to Word for writing a thesis, it is a better experience in every conceivable way.

Alternative to Word for writing a thesis

Aesthetics Matter

I know there was a time when Scrivener turned away prospective users with it’s interface. I was one of those users once. The skeuomorphism of the early versions went a little too far for my liking. A virtual cork board with cork texture. It didn’t work for me. Say what you like about that kind of superficial reaction, but aesthetics matter in interface design. If you don’t like looking at something, you don’t want to work in it. If you have followed the history of this app, you might know that Keith Blount taught himself to code specifically to make Scrivener. The alternatives available for long-form writing were that discouraging. I would argue, if he hadn’t done that we would still be in a similar place. That the original version wasn’t all that easy on the eye is not surprising, the functionality of the app is a remarkable achievement.

Version Two gave users more control over those elements. In turn, fussy users like myself were better able to understand the powerful utility of a genuinely purpose built writing tool. Fast forward to this version, Scrivener 3, and the interface is thoroughly modernised. Frankly, it looks amazing.

Alternative to Word for writing a thesis

Best Laid Plans…

I have every intention of covering the release in more detail as I start to uncover its finer points. In the meantime, if you are looking to ditch MS Word — or even Pages — and the more straight up text editors are too sparse for you. Scrivener is worth your attention. Especially if you are writing any kind of long-form work, but even the humble research essay can benefit immensely from a bit of fine control.

For more details of the update, see Literature and Latte You can download a trial for Scrivener directly. Scrivener is also available on theMac App Store. And, there is also an excellent version available for iOS

 

  1. Yes, I know for some people familiarity is everything.

Get 40% off Marked | BrettTerpstra.com

I have tried to stay away from Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals as much as possible. However, I want to mention the discount on Brett Terpstra’s wonderful Marked 2 app. Given the only other deal I mentioned was DEVONthink — for its relevance to the overarching concerns of this site — that should give you some idea of the esteem I hold Marked in. I'm confident Marked will be relevant to a number of readers of this site. It is one of those apps that you don’t necessarily know you need until you have it, then you wonder how you ever worked without it.

If you don’t know about Marked, it is an essential tool for writers working with Markdown, but it is so much more than that. Marked comes loaded with a stack of advanced tools for formatting, proofing, checking, and analysing your work. Highlighting keywords, checking for repetition, and analysing readability; Marked will give you a Fog Index and Flesch-Kincaid scores. It is essentially a powerful Swiss army knife for text, I honestly don’t know what I used to do without it. That’s not true, actually, I either didn’t have access to tools for improving my writing, or I had to go here, there and everywhere to use a fragmented and forgettable system that gave me a headache.

If you want to see the full list of features, check out the documentation . The details on the deal are these:

For today and tomorrow only, you can get 40% off the direct version of Marked 2. That’s the non-sandboxed version that allows more full-fledged running of your own custom scripts and processors, but is otherwise the same as the Mac App Store version. Use the coupon MARKEDMONDAY at checkout and get Marked for $8.39, 40% off the usual price of $13.99.

The easiest way to grab the deal is to follow the link through Brettterpstra.com. That way the discount will be applied auto-magically. Otherwise, you can head there directly and apply the coupon yourself.

You can also get Marked as part of the Setapp suite.

The Appademic has a year's Subscription for Setapp to Give-away, you can find the details here..
Permalink

In Search of The Perfect Writing Font – iA Writer

To the uninitiated — you can include me there — fonts are just fonts, right? Some look nicer than others, some have been mercilessly ridiculed. However, if you are obsessive designers making one of the best minimalist writing experiences you will find anywhere, the story is much more complex.

iA Writer has made me reconsider the relevance of font design to the writing process. Here there are adding more texture with a painfully deliberate font choice. I see their point, it looks amazing. linked to the recent update of iA Writer a couple of weeks ago, it seems the developers have clicked into a new gear. The app is looking better all the time.

Regarding their new duo spaced font, they write:

This year, again, we set out exploring our own writing font. We started from scratch, moved from proportional to monospace to three spaces (50% for i and j) and ended up with duospace for MWmw. Progressively, we came to realize that the right question is how to make a proportional font look like a monospace, but how many exceptions you allow until you lose the benefits of a sturdy monospace.

With Latin characters you need to free the m’s from their obsolete mechanical straight jacket. What about the w’s then? And if you give room to lower case letters, what about their parents? The M and the w look alright in mono, no? They almost look better, even… Well, not next to a free m. In Cyrillic, there are a couple of characters more that need breathing room. If you give 150% to the letters w, W, m, and M, you get a text image that has almost all benefits of a monospace font, but the text flows nicely. And born was the duospace concept.

Like I said, obsessive.

Setapp: Mac App Subscription Service

Setapp Subscription Giveaway

Quality Control and Value

I have been bleating on about Setapp on this site for a while. Whether it is for accessing a suite of apps for all of your academic work, keeping it together with time-management, or just taking care of your Mac. The service recently passed the 100 mark for their collection of apps. The chances of not finding what you need in their library are becoming slimmer all the time.  If you’re a developer, a writer, a tinkerer, or a so-called productivity enthusiast. Setapp has you covered. And, they’re adding quality apps all the time. One of my early concerns was how unruly it might get if they didn’t exercise decent quality control. MacPaw appears to be acutely aware of that possibility. The software that winds up on their books is not only throughly vetted, but somehow they are attracting numerous best-in-class developers. It looks a good deal regardless, and yet there are ways to get more from subscription that you might realise.

Among the many balancing acts for a developer is how to handle trial versions. Do you hold back features, limit the access time, or make it impossible to save project? With Setapp everything is standardised in that regard. The first month is free for all users, and there are no conditions on the apps. After a month you can add your payment details if you want keep using the suite.  You won't find in-app purchases for unlocking premium features, at any time. The Setapp versions come fully loaded, primed for every update and added feature. That is the deal. You can test apps without the caveats.

One of the many advantages to this model isn't immediately obvious. If you're anything like me, there might be a few apps you would like to have available just in case; but buying them outright is difficult to justify when you hardly ever open them up. For example, Setapp includes things like Disk Drill for data recovery, WiFi explorer, and many more maintenance utilities and digital life savers. These are the kind of utilities that make me cringe at checkout, which are invaluable when you need them.

For writers, there is another more salient example. Ulysses  has been part of the suit from the beginning. When they recently switched to a subscription model, I didn’t immediately realise they had worked out a way to include their iOS apps with the Setapp subscription. But they have. In fact it kind of irked me that I would somehow be paying for the app twice, but I wasn't paying attention. If you have a Setapp subscription, you can use it to activate Ulysses on iOS.

Subscriptions: Sadly, You Can't Beat em

I have no trouble understanding the disdain for subscriptions that some users have, especially at the individual app level. Using the example of Ulysses again, while I had started to use the app more and more, I was not compelled to upgrade to their new subscription. The value was not immediately obvious for my personal use case. It is a legitimate bug bear for users that across the board subscriptions have been a way to smuggle in price increases. I’m not somebody who thinks developers should make all of their labour gratis and live on crumbs, but I do understand where users have felt stitched up by the two-punch combination. The price increases have no doubt been the hardest part to swallow. Having the universal version of Ulysses included in Setapp has meant I don't need to weigh up it's importance to my workflow on its own. This is part of the problem, having to access every single app on it's individual merits is not always going have a favourable outcome.

One would imagine the teething with this subscription situation will go on for some time. Macpaw have been smart in trying to address this brave new world with something different. Setapp makes a lot of sense where certain apps are concerned. In introducing subscriptions, at times the price points can appear almost arbitrary. Some apps have been wildly overpriced, and whether that is a legitimate mistake or not, it can easily look like an effort to find the breaking point of a user base. Smile is a good example of a company who tested the water and got burnt. To their credit, they were smart enough to realise what they had done, and so addressed it quickly.

There are countless examples where developers have misjudged the situation. I just noticed Focus, a relatively simple pomodoro timer has just introduced a subscription. I can’t see it going well for the developers of that app. Pricing a glorified stopwatch at $4 per month is madness. This is just one way that something like Setapp becomes useful. Not having to make value judgements across every app and service a user might need makes a lot more sense for edge-case apps. Or indeed for software with marginal value. Being included in a suite with premium apps like Ulysses, 2do, RapidWeaver, Forklift, or Marked increases the value of useful, but lightweight utilities like Unclutter. When you can get all of that, and the dozens of other apps bundled with it for $5 a month, 1 who is going to pay $4 for an app made of a stopwatch and a list?

The Value of Setapp for University Users

University Setapp Subscription Giveaway
Setapp includes a number of education focused apps

There are many different user groups this service will suit, but I feel it could be particularly relevant to college students and academic users . My enthusiasm on behalf of students is due in part to the ephemeral nature of university life. Picking up a large software bill was once part of getting setup for university. Some colleges make that more palatable with group licensing. But that will cover an Office 365 subscription if you are lucky. A more custom, or unique workflow will have you reaching for the credit card. You may be investing in software that you will only use for a few years. Setapp could be a workaround for that situation.

I have said it before, but it bears repeating. Whether we like it or not, subscriptions are here to stay. It is now a matter of trying to make the right calls that will minimise the damage to your pockets, while giving you access to the tools you require to get your work done.

 

 

    1. Education users get the service for half price.