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.

Last chance for a year’s free subscription to Setapp

Year Free Setapp

In case you missed it

The Appademic has a free subscription for a year of Setapp to give away. If you don’t know what Setapp is, it’s like a curated App Store. You pay a small subscription fee, and you get access to everything. No in-app purchases, no advertisements, and every upgrade that ever ships. The apps they have are awesome, there are over a hundred now. The collection includes Ulysses, 2Do, iThoughtsX, Marked, RapidWeaver, Studies, Manuscripts. It goes on, and on.

If you want to know more about the service, here is the original post for the give-away: Appademic Giveaway: Win a Year's Setapp Subscription

How to Enter

If you want a chance to go in the draw:

  • Sign up for to the mailing list and you’re in.
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I won’t spam you. I couldn’t if I wanted to, and trust me I don’t want to. The Appademic mailer will be monthly at best — for the time being. The first one is late. Opting out is easy, do it at any time. And I would rather ride a rather ride a unicycle up a pyramid with one leg than sell anybody’s data for any reason. I’m also appallingly bad at twitter — not bad in the way that could get me elected, I mean I simply don’t spend any time there.

The big idea behind this is to get the word out that this place exists. Sharing is the easiest thing you can do to support this site and help keep it around.

This will run until the 8th of December, no matter where in the world you are. Hey look, it’s the 8th of December, maybe this will help: The World Clock

The winner will be notified next Monday, the 11th of December.

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..
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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.

 

More than 60 Tips from Brett Terpstra, and David Sparks

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I had the privilege of reviewing both volumes of the recently released 60 Mac tips, from David Sparks and Brett Terpstra. I have done my fair share of reviews. They are not always this enjoyable. To be fair, this is the first time I have ever reviewed something like this.

This a project that has been picked up again after the first volume was produced back in 2012. I can only imagine how many ‘we should’ conversations happened between then and now to cross this promise off. With the shiny new collection in Volume two, the first volume has been upgraded. This is great news for owners of that book. Much of the digital kung-fu uncovered for Mountain Lion remains relevant in the heady days of High Sierra. But like all good updates, any obsolescence has been cleaned out. The remaining good stuff is applied to its new context. Welcome to digital publishing. Nobody is going to sneak into your house at night to replace your old paper books with new dust-jackets, and bonus material. At least I hope not.

60 Mac Tips Review

Three Kinds of People

In a subset of macOS enthusiasts, I can think of three kinds of people this will interest. First, the new Mac user who is still peeling the onion, not yet aware of how much more they can do with it. Second, the honest Mac user who knows they can get more from their robot, and would like to cut to the chase. Without sifting through user forums, dated blog posts, and amateur youtube footage. And third, the self-appointed power user with an itch that can’t be scratched. You know who you are. One who must know everything, who can’t stand the idea there might something they have missed. The hoarder of tricks.

What I’m trying to say is this. Whether you consider yourself a bit of a Mac gun, or you’re still in therapy as a former Windows user. I guarantee there is still something in these guides for you. I think of erstwhile Apple Automation Yogi, Sal Soghoian, who is quoted saying something like ‘The power of the computer should reside in the hands of the one using it.’ I couldn’t agree more. And yet, it is also true that it can take a long time to gain control of that power, and even more time to know how to use it. That’s where your favourite nerds come in.

At the risk of repeating myself — again. 1 Even if the tip is something you already know, don't be so sure you won't learn something. Different ways to do the same thing? That might sound like a variation on the old insanity idiom. But, ultimately we all have our preferences for how we manage process. Nerds are often very particular about how they do things. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way. I’m not ashamed to admit I have banged my head against the wall in an effort to deal with the revelation I have been doing something the long way.

An Unlisted Bonus

When I was making terrible music with awful bands as a teenager in the nineties, it was a thing to add a secret track at the end of a demo. After a long period of silence. It was a thing that hipsters picked up 70s Bands who would stash songs in the pregap. For those bands it was a way of adding something extra that you wouldn’t know was there if you weren’t paying attention. I’m not suggesting David and Brett have added a secret soundtrack, not that I have found yet anyway. 2 No, I’m employing a tenuous analogy to suggest sometimes you get more than what is listed in the contents.

In this case, observing the idiosyncratic way that somebody uses their Mac can be enlightening in itself. For example, getting a peek at a complex tagging system in action is a tip in itself. But here’s the twist. These guys have done something with these two volumes that I know, from experience, is not easy. They have made potentially dry material fun 3. They have paced the tips nicely, presented them neatly, and provided a valuable, interactive resource. Ok, so there exists a subset of people who would get a kick out of geeking it up regardless, but nobody who wants in is being left behind here.

The screencast method makes its utility obvious. If I were too offer one criticism of the books however, is they really don’t have much bookness at all. 4 I’m kidding really, using iBooks to distribute what is essentially a collection videos demonstrating neat tricks, is clever in my book 5. If you want to set it up like I did, put the book on your iPad. Set your iPad next to your Mac, and start your learning. Take on a new trick. Come back tomorrow, and repeat. Introducing things to your workflow slowly helps them stick.

Value Proposition

60 Mac Tips ReviewAcross the two volumes, all but a small handful of tips are native to macOS. In fact, the second volume is native all the way down. Volume One introduces a small collection of third-party utilities. A thoughtful collection , they are great recommendations. The point is you get some ideas for how to get started with the chosen apps. Trust me, getting started is always the biggest obstacle to knowing how to integrate utilities into your workflow. So far so good, but stay with me.

Working my way through the second volume I realised there are a lot of tips throughout both books that mitigate the need for enlisting more third-party apps. For example, in the past couple of iterations of macOS, Apple have implemented a lot of features for keeping things running smoothly. Let’s call them maintenance utilities. These features can take on tasks that once could only have been handled easily with the help of specialist apps. Such tasks are no longer as difficult, or obscure as they once were. These books provide evidence of that. In some cases Apple have developed there own versions of popular ideas. In other cases, the influence of iOS on macOS has given users granular control they understand. With 120 tips up for grabs, that leads to a couple of value propositions.

The first concerns the books themselves, and the second concerns the third-party apps I mentioned from volume one. What I’m trying to say is, I feel there is more to be gained from these two volumes 6 than there is from loading up on third-party apps. Learning how to better use the tools your already have, like Automator and Terminal, means you can make better decisions about the apps you strictly need. This is where the second proposition comes in. Which is to say, I’m also suggesting that what you save on some apps might allow you to throw down on the suggestions from volume one. Capisce?

A Final Disclaimer

If you’re wondering why I’m not naming the apps alluded to above, or being more specific about the material. Consider it my effort to avoid spoilers. I don’t want to blow it for you. Of course, you can check out the contents and synopsis of both books in the iBooks Store. If you made it too the bottom of this post, I suspect you’re in the target audience.

Pick up a copy of one, or both volumes through iBooks.

60 Mac Tips, Volume 1

60 Mac Tips, Volume 2

  1. Ok, forgive me if you’re keeping track of these dad jokes. But if you run through these books you will see I’m just getting with the program.
  2. Fun fact. David Sparks is a big jazz fan, so he probably knows that Coltrane added some hidden outtakes to the pregap of Mars, in the reissue of Interstellar Space
  3. Right down to the corny jokes
  4. Speaking of idiosyncrasies, this is a typical philosophical objection. Apparently I haven’t quite purged my own cache of Plato is still rattling around in there.
  5. Again, sorry. Once you get started, it’s hard to stop.
  6. Or even just one of them

macOS High Sierra: Safari’s iOS Style Permissions

New Reasons To Use Safari

There was a time that Safari was a clunky, annoying browser that you could install on Windows.  To be fair, pretty much all browsers met that criteria at one time. Things change. In this week’s show and tell I included a link from The Verge, who are shipping Safari as the best reason to upgrade your Mac to High Sierra. So far it’s hard to argue with that. With features added to both iOS 11 and macOS, there is a lot to like about the development of Safari. Of particular interest is the new ability to control some of the internet's more annoying tendencies with Safari's iOS style permissions

This is one of the areas that I have tried to balance security concerns with usability. I haven't always felt comfortable with the results. For a time I used a tricked out install of Firefox, in accordance with one of my favourite privacy resources. The industry around tracking and data collection is so cunning that extensions can become a data point for tracking in themselves. This is one of many reasons the evolution of Safari has become so interesting, moving protection to within the webkit framework brings that balance a little closer.

Safari's iOS Style Permissions on macOS

It is the new granular approach to permissions that I am most impressed with. Particularly on macOS. Safari itself now contains the kind of detailed permissions that we are used to applying on a per app basis for iOS. Something I find incredibly annoying — and invasive — is having websites try to send me push notifications. Who in their right mind would want their browser to badger them all day long? It's more than just an annoyance, though. While some of the older security issues of Push have been incrementally addressed, by design they provide another means for tracking. Look closely and you will notice there is an irony in the way Apple is implicated in the origins of this. Thankfully, they are getting better at addressing these — perhaps unintended — consequences. Notifications are among the many things addressed in the new ability to control permissions for Safari. The upside of Push, it is a permission based protocol. So ultimately, it is one of the web’s annoyances that we can actually opt out of, and now without much trouble. It is not the only one.

 

Safari's iOS style permissions
If you allow sites to request permission to send notifications, you will have the option to allow or deny on a site by site basis. Permission can be revoked via the Safari preferences

 

The influence of the mobile platform on macOS is becoming more and more obvious. The rollout of Continuity has no doubt made this inevitable, but we have seen more and more features make the crossover. From small, but important additions like Night Shift, to the way iOS devices have been the testing ground for significant new technologies. From a user standpoint, I feel the most significant, visible influence right now is the approach to permissions. The improved preference allow a user to block an entire category. Or you can manage them on a case by cade basis. Like iOS, you can manage access to the microphone and camera, access to location, and notifications. Then there are usability features, like the ability to turn on Reader mode by default for particular sites.  And, you can now put an end to those pesky auto-pay videos — you know who you are… Macworld.

Safari's iOS style permissions
This particular feature has been a hit, and with good reason. Autoplay is one of the most obnoxious features that internet advertisers have invented.

 

 

You can access all of these permissions in Safari’s preferences. Or, if you want to change settings on the fly, you can right-click — or ctrl + click — on a website’s name in the omnibar, and select Settings for this Website…

Improvements to Safari macOS
Settings for individual sites can be adjusted, or controlled from the address bar

Gaining Control

The reality of the modern internet is it is a cesspit of shady behaviour by supposedly legitimate actors. Without even getting into the relevant arguments, the performance of websites is a case in itself for having control over the excess. I won’t lean into the rest of the story here, I can make my case another time. Suffice to say, there are good reasons to have some control over this. I will say that Apple’s interventions are doubly interesting, considering the industry built up around its fandom. Apple related sites are some of the worstoffenders too. My sense is there is much more nuance to this than you can glean from the exploding heads who are worried about their wallets. The argument that Apple is doing more to save advertising than harm it in these moves, should carry water with anyone thinking clearly.

But Webkit more generally has ushered in significant, positive changes. Especially when it comes to performance. Webkit also provides significant advantages for the implementation of content Blockers. One of many reasons Safari is starting to back up some of it’s claims.

Reasons to use Safari Browser on iOS

iOS users have had good reason to keep an alternative browser around. I still keep iCab Mobile on hand, for all the little things it can do. It has always been like a browsing pocketknife. It really is the only genuinely extensible, standalone browser on iOS. 1 The built-in download manager retains its utility, even as we move into the brave new world of the iOS Files App. For as long as I have been an iOS user, anytime I hit a road block while browsing, I knocked it over with iCab. However, Safari is extensible insofar as iOS itself is extensible. As the operating system has improved, so too have the default apps. Like other native apps, it is the system wide hooks that make it so useful. 2 From handoff, to iCloud synced history, bookmarks and reading list. All of these features are available system wide. Where third-party developers have cottoned on to the beauty of app extensions, iOS has improved out of sight. With Apple taking possession of Workflow, this is only going to get better.

From the more incremental improvements in iOS 10, it is hard to argue that Safari is Apple’s most mature, even its best iOS app. In iOS 11, Safari comes loaded with all kinds of new tricks. Like macOS, there is further control granted to user permissions. Although, it is more clear the influence iOS has had on the Mac. There is also the addition of WebRTC and media capture, and even access to experimental features. Nobody could argue that iOS — the iPhone in particular —hasn’t significantly influenced web technology. One of its most significant achievements is surely that hand it played in burying Flash. I would argue that this trend is going to continue through the extension of new features in Safari.

Look Again

If, for whatever reason, you have held on to the impression that Safari is a clunky waste of time, trust me it is worth another look. You don’t have to go far to find lingering impressions of the browser are outdated. 3 I know, I was a subscriber to that view. Even for established users, there are new reasons to to use Safari. The changes in macOS High Sierra and iOS 11 are impressive. Apple has found a way to make privacy its point of difference. While I would urge people to see that for what it is, I'm not churlish enough to overlook the way it benefits users. These a big improvements.

  1. Despite what other browsers may claim
  2. The Notes App is a particularly good example of this.
  3. The icon in that link was replaced more than 3 years ago. The browser is unrecognisable from that time.

App Store Still Available in special Version of iTunes

In case you haven’t seen this yet. There is still a version of iTunes that includes the App Store. Apple recently removed the App Store from iTunes on the desktop. Given it had been such an integral part of the way so many people manage their devices, it is understandable that it was received as a wind up in some quarters. If a backdoor is going to turn up anywhere, it is bound to be on Reddit. And so it goes.

There is a process involved. But if you need access to your library of apps on the desktop for any reason. Or you are bloody minded enough to want to take this all work again while you can. This is what you need.

Perhaps the biggest problem with how this change was handled is that it came out of the blue. Users updated iTunes as they normally would. Upon opening it the message was delivered. No more iOS App Store on the Mac — or Windows for that matter. This workaround is not ideal, but it does exist.

Managing the Mac Menu Bar

If you're the kind of person who has gone all in with OS X utilities — now macOS — , then you may have met with the problem of menu bar overload. Menu bar apps are one of the many ingenious aspects of macOS, so much so that it’s far too easy to go overboard with them. If you get too crazy, the menu bar can become so overloaded that icons start disappearing behind the actual menus of other apps. It end up looking something like this:
macOS Menu Bar Apps

Enter Bartender, a long time favourite of the mac geek community. Bartender 2 was already a neat solution for app addicts, offering the option of shifting less used apps to a secondary bar that acted as a dropdown shelf bellow the main menu bar. On top of which, apps whose presence in the menu bar was merely cosmetic could be hidden altogether, and apps that only require visibility while active could be configure to be so. Do a simple search for must have mac utilities and you will find Bartender on practically every list. With good reason.

In recent times, Bartender developer Surtees Studio has been busy getting ready to release version 3. The update takes an already tidy solution and builds in a touch of subtlety. Instead of adding a secondary menu bar — the Bartender Bar — Bartender 3 simply acts as a toggle, allowing the user to switch between frequently and lesser used apps. This is an an elegant, and supremely effective change to the user interface, making the new version seem much more integrated with macOS. For current users at first, it can seem a little strange not having that familiar Bartender bar appear on command, but it doesn’t take long to see this is an improvement. In the developer’s own words,

Initially we missed the below menu Bartender Bar too, but once your muscle memory gets used to the new setup and you have organised your items to suit your workflow in Bartender Preferences, and by ⌘+dragging items to a good position. We think you, like us, will start to feel Bartender now feels even more part of macOS.

If you are already a user of Bartender 2, the update is free. If it hasn’t happened already, simply activate it within the app preferences. If you are yet to become a user, you can download a 4-week trial from the website.

Zapier’s integration with Alfred App Launcher

I'm a little behind on this, simply because I planned to do it nore justice than a quick link post like this one. Best laid plans and all that. This is great news for Alfred users, Zapier opens up an already powerful automation utility into an unparalleled beast of an app. The article on the Zapier blog has a good run down of how you might use this. Givcen time, I will try for a deep dive, and post some workflows

Setapp Continues to Impress with Further Updates

Setapp has a growing collection of apps for education users, with few gaps in the collection the service is becoming a compelling option for students and academics alike

Setapp has a growing collection of apps for education users, with few gaps in the collection the service is becoming a compelling option for students and academics alike

Setapp shows no sign of slowing down, as it adds more quality apps and essentail services. Not that long ago, powerful FTP client and Finder alternative Forklift was added to the stable. For science students and researchers, they have added the wonderfully designed digital lab book Findings, and I recently mentioned the addition of 2Do. In the past couple of days Setapp have announced the addition of third-party Gmail client Boxy.

These are all excellent additions to an already compelling service, but the development that I find most pleasing is the service being translated into Spanish. Not only is this a boon for the Mac users among the more than 400 million Spanish speakers worldwide, but it is a sure sign that Setapp is here for the long haul. If you haven't already checked it out, you have nothing to lose, there is a 30-day trial — no credit card required. If you decide to roll with it from there, you can either pay US$10 per month, or grab the educational discount by paying US$60 annually. With the growing trend toward subscriptions, this is starting to look like a serious bargain.

It is getting harder to see where the gaps are in the collection for education users, unless you are wedded to mainstream giants for your work, like MS Office. The one obvious omission at this point is citation management. Otherwise, from mind mapping to timeline generation, your choice of world class text editors, and the dedicated Studies App, it is safe to say they have you pretty well covered.

To be clear, I'm not affiliated with Setapp in any way, this is genuine enthusiasm for an approach to the app market that I feel is promising for everyone.

If you are interested, you can Download the trial here: Setapp