Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Power user replacements for OS X default apps (subelsky.com)
155 points by subelsky on Jan 27, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 170 comments

I love my Macbook Pro -- best laptop I've ever owned. I even love OS X in that, for the most part, everything works without issue. But articles like this make me wonder why I shouldn't switch back to Ubuntu.

TFA mentions the following software that runs just fine on Linux:

  * Chrome
  * Dropbox
  * Google Services
  * Crashplan
  * LastPass
  * Google Calendar 
  * VLC
Some software doesn't run under Linux but has perfectly capable replacements:

  * Adium: Pidgin
  * TextWrangler/BBEdit: GEdit, Emacs, Vim
  * Mail.app replacements: GMail's web interface 
  replaced these long ago.
  * Evernote: Can be used via the limited web 
Some of them are even commercial replacements for features that most Linux desktops have had forever:

  * iStat Menus (which I bought)
  * Witch window switcher
  * HyperSpaces

That's because the memories of the random, intense aggravation associated with owning a Linux laptop are starting to fade.

External hardware generally works when plugging it into my mac, unlike the incredibly irritating experience of trying to get a webcam to work with my Linux laptop.

My mac never updates its kernel without updating its nvidia drivers, forcing me to reboot and select an older kernel in grub.

My mac never suddenly disables my ability to log into GNOME, forcing me to log an as root if I want a GUI.

If I want to output from my mac to a TV, I can do this without editing Xorg.conf (or whatever the fuck it was called), occasionally fucking up and having to reboot in text mode and restore it.

Sound works. Always.

My macbook pro also seems better at power management than my old laptop, which was itself better at power management when it ran windows.

This. My 3 year-old MacBook is starting to show its age, so I took a look at what's out there. I was intrigued by the HP Envy 14--at long last, it seems somebody besides Apple figured out how to build a nice laptop. And you seem get a lot more for your money.

Of course, going back to Windows after 3+ years on OSX is no option, so I looked into Ubuntu. I use Ubuntu on a machine at work and have been very impressed--we've certainly come a long ways since the dark days of Slackware `96! I am enough of a "power user" that I could weather the switch just fine; really the only thing I would miss is iTunes since I have two iPods.

Anyways, I started Googling around on the topic of "hp envy 14 +ubuntu". And that's when I was instantly transported back fifteen years to the days, weeks, months I spent tinkering with past laptops in order to get everything working on them under Linux. I had all but forgotten about 30-page hardware HOWTOs on getting Linux to work with your specific laptop; the 20% battery penalty you pay because pm never quite works; the inability of some things, usually network and sound cards, to wake from sleep; the lack of hibernate; buggy graphics drivers; etc. etc. etc.

I am aware that the situation has improved considerably since then, but problems still remain. I just don't have the time like I did in my teens and early 20s. Or rather, my time is worth considerably more now--I'm happy to pay the Apple tax if it means I don't have to deal with this shit.

That said, if some major HW manufacturer ever came out with a completely supported laptop with Ubuntu preloaded, working power management, graphics drivers that do what they are supposed to, etc., I would totally bite. (I am aware the some, e.g. Dell, have done so, but when I see warnings like http://en.community.dell.com/support-forums/laptop/f/3518/p/... it's evident that they half-assed it. What I'm after is a full-assing.)

My experience installing Ubuntu involved running commands and editing settings 'blind' because the graphics card driver messed up and although the machine was running, you couldn't see anything on the monitor. After counting my keystrokes for hours, the whole thing ('your grandma could install Ubuntu!') seemed like a sick joke.

Sounds like you haven't tried Ubuntu in a few years. I switched permanently a year or so ago after trying several times to make the switch over the last decade or so. It works almost completely without issue on three different systems of mine with very different hardware.

It was Fedora and, yeah, it's been 2 years. I don't think I'll own a laptop made by anyone other than Apple for some time. Desktops, I'll probably use Linux.

Yesterday evening I installed Ububtu (32bit because recommended grml) on my Macbook Pro 5,5. Booted it up, spent 2 hours getting everything set up (sound, keyboard backlight, power management, the touchpad - o m g the touchpad was the most frustrating, xmodmap tweaking for the keyboard).

Then I realized ubuntu would only recognize 3GB of my 8GB of RAM. (Yeah, it's a 32bit kernel but wtf? My 32bit OS X kernel recognizes all the RAM and 8gb isn't that uncommon nowadays.)

So I googled and found there was the option to install the PAE kernel (alternative would be to reinstall the 64bit ubuntu). So I fired up the packet manager, installed the PAE meta package, rebooted and nothing worked. My NVidia and Broadcom wireless drivers were not updated. X wouldn't start up.

So after fiddling with the X config files I got X to run again (by removing the nvidia stuff). Only to discover that my wifi card wouldn't work. I tried to reinstall the drivers but the jockey driver tool quitted with some obscure error message like "error, there was an error. see error logs." ... the error logs had something like "couldn't install wifi driver". (NVidia drivers wouldn't install because I wasn't connected to the internet but the error message stated that clearly.)

I went to bed and haven't tried again to get it running. I guess I will install the 64bit version when I got time to play around. (But I have a strange feeling that there will be problems with flash.)

Maybe a little rant to defuse my inflammatory comment:

I was really impressed by Ubuntu. I remember the times when I couldn't get copy and paste working between Netscape Navigator and a text editor. I remember when it was almost certain that I wouldn't get sound with my exotic non-soundblaster card. I remember when I had to fiddle hours with X-Setup to get a graphical environment.

Linux has come a long way. I certainly didn't expect Ubuntu to support something like keyboard backlight or the extended function keys of my Apple Notebook. But it did. The Desktop environment is really thought through and usable. I love that chat integration with the Desktop. I love that the 32bit version had installed binary blob drivers so I could just enter my wifi password and was online.

Nevertheless I chose the "dumb user easy linux" and went the recommended road. And that's why there's a bitter taste to it that something like updating the graphics drivers to a new kernel was not done for me, the dumb user, automatically.

But it's nice to see that there's an alternative to OS X for my Macbook if Apple should ever decide to completely fuck up OS X or to deprecate my hardware too soon.

You could always run Ubuntu in a fullscreen VM on top of a barebones OSX. That would probably work correctly.

I find that it generally works better to have your X server running outside the VM. You'll still want to install X on the VM to satisfy dependencies, but as for actually using it it's easiest to just install xquartz and use xdmcp.

I thought 32-bit operating systems had a hardm limit of 4GB of RAM, no? (Something to do with 2^32 being roughly 10^9, but I frankly don't know the details.)

32-bit operating systems do have a hard limit of 4GB of RAM but that's per process. See PAE: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physical_Address_Extension

And the 32-bit address space generally has some space reserved for the kernel, so more like 3GB per process, depending on the OS.

Sounds like you haven't used Ubuntu in a few years. As long as you do a little reading before you buy, everything works seamlessly; it's been three years years since I've run into a hardware conflict or had to edit xorg.conf. Things like using my Nexus One as a modem actually works a lot better under Ubuntu than Mac OS X.

Right, why does a Power User replace as much Apple software as possible? Why use a Mac if you're just going to use third party software that's often crossplatform?

I use a Linux desktop every day, and if I had to pick just one OS, it would be Linux hands down. However I too have a MacBook Pro which I love. It's true that MacOS has polish that is lacking in Linux - it's hard to match the fruits of Apple's unique position of being able to match their hardware and software so closely.

I'm pretty satisfied with my current set up, a Linux desktop paired with a Mac notebook.

> Why use a Mac if you're just going to use third party software that's often crossplatform?

They're not the only reasons, but the industrial design and battery life of Apple notebooks are quite compelling.

A handful of friends who dev in C# use MBPs with Windows 7 on them.

This... can cause issues with pro-mac network admins, one had a minor freak-out when the first thing my buddy did with his 2.5k laptop was to use a 3rd-party bootloader to remove all traces of OS X.

I guess the point of this article is to show that you can uses these alternatives in addition to the system default, but you don't have to. I don't see any item of these better than what it is replacing (CrashPlan vs Time Machine, any one? And Preview is the fastest PDF viewer I have ever used). You cannot say this for many other platforms. Hell, there is not even any built-in KeyChain or Time Machine counterpart in many systems.

I took a quick look at the list, and found myself only using a TextEdit replacement (MacVim) and a QuickTime replacement (VLC). Even these two are not really replacements but more like complements.

A Mac is the only machine that I can start hacking after installing one application - MacVim. Even easy_install is built in.

That is precisely what I was trying to say. Over time I found myself wanting and liking these replacements, but out of the box these machines work very well. CrashPlan is better because it integrates off-site and local backup and lets you manage backup for a bunch of machines (I'm responsible for backing up family computers).

Time Machine: replaced with CrashPlan

Why not use both (as I do)? Local backup is faster; remote backup is ostensibly safer from disaster. Oh, and Time Machine is invaluable if you're upgrading your boot drive or are surrendering your Mac to AppleCare.

Or you can time machine to a linux machine that does remote backups. That's my strategy.

I have challenged myself with the same question. After giving Ubuntu another chance, I realized how frustrating its inconsistencies are. For example: "cmd+,".

Maybe I haven't been with Ubuntu long enough to see through these slight details, but they make all the difference for me.

Another solid advantage is that when you hit a wall on Ubuntu and start googling around for a solution, you typically need to sort through several pages of "What's your configuration". On OS X, there is no such issue.

Disclaimer: I'm probably not a power user by HN's definition.

I very much agree here! Ubuntu's 90% of the way there, but when you're used to things like Cmd+, for preferences, not having it is frustrating.

That said, more and more I'm moving to the cloud for doing things that aren't Emacs or a shell, and I'm thinking that Ubuntu and a tiling wm are all I'd really need to be productive. I've tried in the past but it just never seems to gel for me in terms of usability.

More like 90% of the way to being half as good as Windows.

If you actually use expose and drag and drop on a Mac (e.g. try dragging a file to a choose file button in a web browser) you'll quickly realize just how far behind every other OS is. It's not just that the Mac has deep UI advantages over Windows/Linux/etc., but that it's had them for ten years and it's ingrained into the DNA of third party apps.

> More like 90% of the way to being half as good as Windows.

That's pretty harsh and rings of fanboy-speak. Have you tried Ubuntu recently? Compiz (which has been around for 5 years) replaces and dare I say improves on expose, and you can drag/drop files into choose file buttons.

Yes, I know you said it's the long-lasting/deep integration that makes those features compelling, but I fail to see any examples of that integration that warrants such a negative blanket statement.

What a lot of people don't know is that you can drag and drop a file/folder icon onto any OS X file open dialog. The dialog will then browse to that folder or select that file.

And what's more, you can drag the icons from application titlebars and it has the same effect! Try it with icons in file browser trees inside 3rd party OS X apps, AND IT STILL WORKS! Try dropping the icons directly onto textfields that are meant to contain file paths (ones bound to browse buttons) AND IT STILL WORKS!

This is what having a consistently applied collection of user interface controls, and the first party devs dogfooding them, does for an OS.

> I'm thinking that Ubuntu and a tiling wm are all I'd really need to be productive

For me that's where the road in the long term is going. At the moment Ububtu is still a little to rough for everyday use (for me at least). But I give it another one or two years and the quirks will be gone.

And then it will be: tiling WM + terminal + vim (and a browser). Tiling WMs are just too productivity friendly to pass up on. :]

I've tried to switch from Gnome to OS X several times over the years (we use mostly OS X in my office). I have always ended back up on Ubuntu (or Arch). Gnome just feels more intuitive, everything pretty much does what I would expect it to do. Also integrated package managers are a pretty killer feature that all Linux distros come with these days. Recently on my work machine I switched to XMonad and my productivity has seriously gone up thanks to it.

Could you elaborate more on your choice of XMonad? Was it just the first best tiling WM you chose or have you done some research?

I'm currently looking for "my" tiling WM and am overwhelmed by the amount of available tiling WMs. Awesome-WM vs XMonad?

For me, Ubuntu has no good equivalent for several of the Apple apps:

  * iTunes (and its iPod sync'ing)
  * iPhoto
  * Keynote
  * GarageBand

What about amarok? ( http://amarok.kde.org/ )I find iTunes to be terribly annoying and slow. I also don't have an iPod so... Do you run rockbox on it? ( http://www.rockbox.org/ )

I've found digikam ( http://www.digikam.org/ ) to work pretty well. Never really cared for iPhoto though.

Keynote, again never really used it. I hear it's much nicer than the MS equivalent.

The wife likes GarageBand and it does seem to be a pretty sweet app. Not really sorta thing so I don't really know of any replacement for it. Audacity is the only thing that comes to mind and it's not exactly the same kinna thing.

I hate iTunes, but I've tried and failed to find a usable replacement on Linux. The best I found was Banshee, but the UI's not great and it's quite unstable :(.

I've been on that long journey. I used quod libet for a while, but never much liked it. Now, I use clementine http://www.clementine-player.org/ Best on Linux, imo.

I really liked quodlibet (http://code.google.com/p/quodlibet/) back in the days I only used linux. Don't know if you like the UI though.

My iTunes replacement is a jailbroken iPhone, SSH and dTunes.

there's Ardour (www.ardour.org) to replace GarageBand...

Keynote: This is one of the biggest things i miss in Linux. Hopefully, the Ease project will mature soon. http://www.ease-project.org/

I'm not really familiar with iPhoto, so I'm not sure if it fills quite the same niche or not, but I find Picasa works well for photo management.

GEdit is hardly a replacement for BBEdit. UltraEdit just released for Linux though, and should more than accommodate anyone who wants to switch to Linux and keep a solid GUI text editor.

I think Ubuntu is great, and making iPhone apps under OS X isn't changing my mind.

Renaming a file on OS X requires you to single-click the file name, wait a second, and then change the file name. If you have to rename a bunch of files, that's a ton slower than Ubuntu or Windows. (If anyone is going to suggest dropping to the command line, I'd answer that's not a very OS X solution)

OS X uses THREE keyboard modifiers? REALLY? And they aren't even named? I have to actually look at my keyboard and think about what it what. Nevermind if I'm using a Windows keyboard on a Mac Mini or something...

Right clicking is inconsistent, and the context menus rarely have what I want (like, oh, renaming a file?). This is probably why they have 3 keyboard modifier buttons.

Safari is not nearly as good as Chrome is.

Multiple desktops is trivial on Ubuntu. In fact, it's preinstalled that way.

(There's lots more stuff that irritates me, but I'm actually on Ubuntu right now, and it has allowed me to forget such nonsense)

I'm not saying Ubuntu doesn't have issues, but given that Ubuntu is free (in both senses) and runs on hardware I can select piece by piece and get a much better machine for a fraction of the cost... I seriously doubt I will ever have more than a single development Mac.

> Renaming a file on OS X requires you to single-click the file name, wait a second, and then change the file name. If you have to rename a bunch of files, that's a ton slower than Ubuntu or Windows. (If anyone is going to suggest dropping to the command line, I'd answer that's not a very OS X solution)

Select file, hit return, rename, hit return. Go to next file. Are you going to say Windows's F2 dance is faster?

> OS X uses THREE keyboard modifiers? REALLY?

No, 4. Is that supposed to be news? Windows also uses 4 keyboard modifiers, and Gnome uses at least 3.

> And they aren't even named?

Shift, control, option (alt), command.

> and the context menus rarely have what I want (like, oh, renaming a file?).

Ever considered opening the Get Info dialog? No? Thought not.

> Multiple desktops is trivial on Ubuntu. In fact, it's preinstalled that way.

So is it on OSX. I'd even say it's more trivial, as you can switch to an application living on a different desktop, it will just switch to the right desktop. Not so in Ubuntu.

Indeed, the Mac has shift, control, option, command (and fn on laptops). Way back when the Mac had command but not control, and Windows had control but not "windows". IIRC Apple added control long before Windows added "windows" so there's never been a deficit on the Mac side.

> I'd even say it's more trivial, as you can switch to an application living on a different desktop, it will just switch to the right desktop

Is that true? I'm an Ubuntu user and that always works for me, but I suppose I perhaps checked that setting in Compiz and forgot about it, so it wasn't like that by default.

1) I didn't know you can rename a file like that. I assumed that pressing Return would, you know, open the file. How do you open the file from the keyboard, then?

I also don't know what the Windows F2 dance is. I can right click and choose Rename from the context menu, or right click and press M, or press the stupid context key on the keyboard and then press M.

2) I didn't count Shift. Oh well. Windows doesn't use that Windows key in the same way. There are no context menus with that key as it's listed shortcut, and I've never seen an application that uses it.

3) Control and command are WAY too similar, especially since historically the F keys are also called "command keys". Option/Alt has two names? And what is what that weird symbol that represents it in the context menus?

4) Get Info? Sure. It's a Properties window. Wow.

5) I use AWN on Ubuntu, so I didn't realize Gnome doesn't take you to the right desktop when you click on a window in their task manager. In fact, I still only have your word for it.

Besides, I didn't say OS X was bad, I just said it wasn't good enough to justify me switching to it for triple the cost.

> 1) I didn't know you can rename a file like that.

Yet you had no problem whining about how it's impossible to rename files on OSX. Great.

> I assumed that pressing Return would, you know, open the file.

You assumed wrong. You should stop assuming stuff like that.

> How do you open the file from the keyboard, then?

Command-O or Command-down.

> I also don't know what the Windows F2 dance is. I can right click and choose Rename from the context menu, or right click and press M, or press the stupid context key on the keyboard and then press M.

So... you like making your life harder than it should be?

> Control and command are WAY too similar,


> Option/Alt has two names?

Its name is "Option Key", but in non-OSX software it maps to Alt. As a result, the key is stenciled with both "alt" and the option key symbol.

> And what is what that weird symbol that represents it in the context menus?

The unicode character U+2325 called "OPTION KEY". Seems fitting isn't it?

> I didn't count Shift.

You didn't count AltGr either.

> Oh well. Windows doesn't use that Windows key in the same way.

True, Windows generally does not provide many ways to reach variants of existing actions. Which is the point of the Option key (that and AltGr's: provide supplementary character mappings on the keyboard).

> Get Info? Sure. It's a Properties window.

And one of the properties of a file is its name.

> Besides, I didn't say OS X was bad

Oh come on, your whole comment screamed it.

CMD+down-arrow will also open a file; it makes the most sense when one thinks about it as navigating in Finder using only the keyboard. CMD+up-arrow goes higher, CMD+down goes into the folders, until it gets to a file, in which case it goes "into" the file.

command+O will open a file

The Finder sucks, but it is fully keyboard-navigable, and you can rename files and do other things quickly via the keyboard. Just select the file that you want to rename and hit the Return key.

Regarding "not a very OS X solution", I would just note that a "power user" is going to be on the command line all day long in Mac OS X, like any UNIX. Terminal.app is very capable, iTerm is there if you prefer, and many more technical users on the Mac will be using more powerful Finder replacements like PathFinder (that have built-in slide-out terminal panes), or using the excellent D-Term, which pops up a HUD-style one-shot command line in the context of wherever you happen to be in the GUI.

The three keyboard modifier keys are awesome. Significantly improves my emacs usage experience.

You can edit a file name by tapping return.

> Renaming a file on OS X requires you to single-click the file name, wait a second, and then change the file name

There's at least one other way to do it - single-click on the file, press enter, then type the new name.

and that's great because, unlike windows, it just changes the file name. Not the extension unless you actually move to the extension yourself.

Not really an answer to your points, but FWIW to rename a file in Finder all you have to do is press enter.

" * TextWrangler/BBEdit: GEdit, Emacs, Vim"

Yes, but you're ignoring a pretty steep learning curve for the last two.

Sure, but I figure there are two classes of folks that need a text editor (not a WYSIWYG editor):

1) People who occasionally want to open/save plain text files: Gedit works just fine.

2) Programmers, who should know one of Emacs or Vim out of hand. I totally get that some folks like using TextMate all day, and that GEdit has some great programmers' features now, but if you know emacs/vim, you'll never be on a machine where you can't get an editor you know.

The 2nd point is why I really want to start learning one of the two. I just can't figure out which one I want. I figure that vim is available on more machines than emacs is, but with emacs I get the bonus of learning a dialect of LISP, too - at least, if I want to customize anything - instead of some arbitrary vim scripting language.

Evernote can be installed natively on Mac now.

You must go through this list - http://apple.stackexchange.com/questions/82/os-x-application...

Infact, most of the questions on http://apple.stackexchange.com/questions?sort=votes are worth checking out. It'll make life a lot easier (at least it made mine).

The whole eco system of applications on the Mac makes me think that switching over from an ArchLinux box to a Macbook Pro was one of the best decisions I ever made.

this is an awesome list, thanks for sharing it! I'm poring through it now.

Is a power user now someone who needs all their documents synced using some cloud service?

Aside from using Chrome, Quicksilver and Emacs, I find most of the other listed OS X defaults to be perfectly adequate for my needs. I'll handle my own replication and backups, thanks.

Furthermore, what’s with the recent hate on application-level switching? Just about ever “power user” I see nowadays wants Windows 98-esque window switching, despite the fact that the mac window manager is built around an application > window hierarchy.

Personally, it’s one of the most aggravating features I have to deal with on XP, so I can’t understand why anyone would want it on their mac.

I find the "application > window" hierarchy breaks horribly Spaces: if you have two windows of the same application in two different spaces (for example, two terminals or two finders) and you focus one window in one space, you go to the other space where the other window was in background and you find it in foreground.

Because of this nuisance I never managed to get used to Spaces.

There are at least three applications where different windows are "morally" different applications: Terminal, Finder and web browser. I should be able to focus individual windows without bringing to foreground the whole application.

In fact, I'd like to be able "attach" a terminal to another app for switching purposes. It's probably the same with finder and browser, (I'd add text editor).

A "one task, one app" type of app should have it's functionally-related windows grouped for switching, but a highly multipurpose app where different windows do not serve different functions should be separate.

This is what I use Multiple Desktops for on Ubuntu - I group applications by task, so that each task has one desktop. Then I just switch between desktops, and very rarely between individual applications (as they don't normally overlap).

Trying to work on Windows without good multiple desktop support is horrid now.

Exactly, that was my point. Applications and "CMD+TAB window groups" should be separate concepts.

Not answering for everyone, of course, but I find the mac model breaks down when I only want to pull a single window of an app to the foreground.

Envisage, if you will, this scenario. I have multiple terminal windows open in the background connected to various services and my current focus is on my fullscreen IDE of choice. Now my IDE has various pieces of information on it and, given that my short term memory isn't what it once was, I would like to always be able refer to it. So I switch to Terminal and ALL the Terminal windows are pulled above the IDE window, often obscuring the piece of information I wanted to reference.

It's not that the 98-esque model is necessarily superior, it's rather that it's surprising when windows you haven't requested to see are pulled into the foreground. Now this may be due to me having used `window-centric` switching for many years but after 3 years of owning a mac I still find this behaviour frustrating.

If you don't mind using the mouse, you can bring a single window to the foreground by right-clicking the corresponding application's Dock icon and selecting it from the list.

Another more visual option (that you can manage with keyboard only) is to use Exposé. In Snow Leopard, press the Exposé key on the keyboard (or set your own shortcut), start typing the name of the window you want, and press return to bring only that window to the foreground.

I've found these to be pretty good built-in solutions to the single-window problem.

You might want to check out Visor - http://visor.binaryage.com/ makes your terminal a roll-down fps-like console, and can handle all the tabs as well. I've found it very useful to solve the exact problem you're having.

I can't live without Visor. Its one of my favorite OS X utilities.

I just realized the other day that you can drag a tab off of visor and use it as a regular terminal window in case you need to look at two terminals at once.

CMD-` switches between application windows. That might help a bit, I use it constantly; so constantly in fact, that I remapped buffer switching in emacs to that command.

I'm a hater of the App -> Windows paradigm. I just brought up two finder windows, minimized one, CMD-TAB'd to Chrome, then back to Finder, and finally no amount of CMD-` would make the minimised Finder visible. Plus, just how many mouse actions does it take to tile two windows? Two in Win7, a whole lot more in OSX.

CMD-` doesn't solve the problem, if you are in an application and you want to bring up a window from another application you still have to use CMD-TAB. But this brings up all the windows from the other application.

Yeah, the best solution here is definitely exposé. Invoke, select just the window you want via arrow keys or beginning to type the window's title, hit return, and only that window comes forward.

You're totally right, I just skimmed the comment before I posted, my bad.

Thanks for posting that. Never knew!

Unfortunately, the traditional way to solve this problem on a mac is to arrange the windows, and remove what wasn't needed. Full-screen apps weren't supposed to be used.

Exactly. And now Lion is going to apparently emphasize full-screening apps. This is a complete 180 by Steve Jobs who has hated full-screen apps as long as I can remember.

Application level switching makes sense to me when you are working using "one app, one task." Switching from my IDE to chat...? sure bring up my both contacts list and chat window.

But a power user is probably using more than one app per task, and is multitasking (or whose task requires many separate subtasks), and of course some of the apps are used in multiple tasks.

It would increase productivity if I could easily bring up the windows I'm using for task a, and switch easily to the windows I'm using for task b, even if textmate and a terminal are in use in both tasks. Yeah yeah, we have spaces... the point is that, for me, while purely window-level switching is a poor solution, app level switching is both a poor and often actually anti-productive solution.

(I, also, am a longtime windows user now using os x. That's definitely a factor, here)

I used to do all my backups locally to a NAS and various USB drives. Dropbox allowed me to sync between multiple computers running different OSes which is not an easy thing to do normally. I've found myself syncing .emacs, .ssh/config and other customizations across systems and it's so much easier.

Another bonus for Dropbox is the ability to share folders with other users. It makes sharing docs so easy because everyone sees the same version.

+1 for Quicksilver (adding key bindings to all of your applications and some of there core functionalities definitely supports the 'power user' tag) - and I agree that most of these are just preferred apps, not necessarily power user-specific. Text edit is the other app that gets replaced, BBEdit or UltraEdit for any efforts that just aren't comfortable in vim. I would hesitate to call adding a GUI text editor a 'power user' update, though. The rest of this reads like an ad for the various services (many of which are good, but not indicative of a 'power user'). How can people live without making use of spaces?

Yes, Quicksilver is a great replacement for Spotlight Search. It indexes very fast, and it is very powerful for mundane and time consuming tasks such as moving files from one folder to another, or quickly compressing and email files. All can be achieved at lightning fast speeds with just a few keystrokes. I almost always launch apps with Quicksilver.

I'm curious, how do you handle this? Do you have multiple machines? Do you use something like rsync?

I use scp to backup the folders I'm interested in. I use git to manage sharing data between machines. (Again, just the stuff I'm interested in.)

I don't keep 100% synchronisation between machines. I don't back everything up. I'm happy working at this level of granularity because it allows me to stay selective and not accumulate cruft due to relying on an automated backup of my entire drive. (In my case, backing everything up would result in a lot of useless noise.)

I'm not saying it's for everyone, but it works for me.

You might want to look into rsync as a replacement for scp.

Version 2 is built in, but if you follow the directions at:


you can build a newer rsync that syncs all metadata.

Rather than replace Quicktime with VLC, you're much better off, in my opinion, installing the Perian plugin. It runs almost everything: http://www.perian.org

I suppose I've also technically "replaced" my dock and Spotlight search with Launchbar, which gives you, essentially, an Apple-fied version of a command line. Hitting a shortcut (cmd-space for me) opens the app, and it auto-completes application names and common OS tasks for you. Quicksilver is an FOSS alternative that does much of the same.

Launchbar: http://www.obdev.at/products/launchbar/

Quicksilver: https://github.com/tiennou/blacktree-alchemy

Finally, not a replacement, but anyone who runs Boot Camp or anything similar owes it to themselves to install NTFS-3G, to read and write to NTFS partitions: http://macntfs-3g.blogspot.com/

edit: Fixed a bit of formatting. Also, saw a few of these were already mentioned (at least in passing) while I was putting my reply together. Sorry about the repeats.


Snow leopard has native NTFS write now, you just have to enable it.


A Power User that doesn't replace "Archive Utility.app" with The Unarchiver?


I keep a copy of The Unarchiver around for those odd formats and password-protected archives, but I still leave most things to Archive Utility. I find The Unarchiver is still too buggy for me (things like http://code.google.com/p/theunarchiver/issues/detail?id=215 ).

Hmm why? I've never downloaded a zip it couldn't handle. And for creating, tar from the command line.

Then you've never downloaded a password-protected Zip file, a RAR file, a 7-Zip file, or an LZMA / XZ file. Nor have you needed to unpack a CAB, RPM, or XAR archive.

I've used 7zX for those rare cases, which is ugly but works. ...In case people don't want to replace the default Archive Utility.

that looks really cool; half the reason I wrote this was to find out what gems I am missing.

Wow, thanks for this. I've been using a Mac since 2000, and never came across this gem.

what about TotalFinder? (warning: I'm the author, but I would still vote for it :-) http://totalfinder.binaryage.com

For anyone who doesn't want to use Terminal for file system navigation, a Finder replacement is a must. I'm constantly amazed at how terrible Finder is at its (relatively simple) job. Windows Explorer set the bar pretty low though. There are a number of good Finder alternatives, each with their own perks. I won't steal your thunder here with a list, cause totalfinder is one of my favorites.

I downloaded the TotalFinder trial a few months ago and used it for about 20 minutes before throwing a wad of cash at you.

It's a really great Finder replacement. Especially if you're rocking a 13" or smaller screen. TotalFinder is the first app I install on a new machine.

Going to trial it now and from the looks of it, I'll also probably be throwing cash at you very shortly. One pain point I find with Finder is that by default when you search, it doesn't search the local folder. Kills usability for me on multiple levels when I have to resort to Terminal.app + find(1).

Are you using Snow Leopard? That option was added in 10.6.

Go to Finder>Preferences>Advanced and you'll find it at the bottom of the window.

TotalFinder is awesome; but I want my rounded corners back. :(

I bought TotalFinder last week, nice app, I usually uninstall these types of replacement apps after about 5 minutes but i'm very happy - keep up the good work!

The only issue I have with TotalFinder--and I paid for it a while back--is that I would love to have the freeform visor mode, but have it correctly pop above the dock as it does for full-width instead of overlapping it. I know it's in your buglist but thought I'd mention it since you're here...

When I tried it, I was annoyed that new tabs didn't open instantly; it seemed there was a significant delay before it opened. Also, when I had minimized windows and switched between Spaces, sometimes the finder window without the tabs would reappear unminimized, which was really annoying.

That looks like a great utility. I'm already planning a follow-up post based on what I've learned here!

+1 TotalFinder. Couldn't live without it. Great stuff. Way faster than PathFinder.

I like it. I tried to pay you but I'm guessing your card processing is broken...

Excellent app.

Is there a way to make this works with SizeUp? I'm heavily depended on SizeUp :(

I'm SizeUp user myself and it works fine for me.

That looks really nice. I will try it out when I get back to my Mac.

I use: Emacs for editing/coding, mail, chat, task management, and calendar; Terminal for file system manipulation; Safari for browsing, though Chrome is nice too; Preview seems fine for PDFs.

Not much else on a daily basis.

Sounds like you don't really need OS X then. Unless you're particularly attached to Safari. I'm roughly the same myself. Only with urxvt and conkeror instead of Terminal and Safari.

You never "really need OSX", unless you're developing for it or for iOS.

The point of OSX, to me, is that it's a Unix which generally just works and has an interface worth using.

Oh, and it has a thriving and high-quality indie community.

80% of the time I don't. Now that Chrome is here I don't really even feel strongly about Safari. But I just love the MacBook. And the other stock apps and utilities, plus what's available either free or commercially, just rounds out the package for times when I need functionality outside my normal needs.

Anyone looking for a simple, (open!) osx music player that just has a playlist you can drop folders onto and nothing else, check out Cog.


Also, Path Finder, a finder replacement in the vain of Directory Opus on windows. It has tabs, split windows, everything you would expect. It also has command line integration and a built in hex viewer/edtior. The only thing I've ever wanted for is regex-based filtering of listings, but I can cope without that.


I would go mad without this. Finder sucks.

EDIT: And how could I forget springy, an archiver that lets me double click on archives and actually lets me browse them in their own windows and selectively extract from them, rather than instantaneously spurting files everywhere like every other OS X archiver seems to do.


It took me over a year just to find an OS X archiver that behaves like ones on other platforms. It seems mac devs are a little obsessed by mimicking the default apple workflow.

> Anyone looking for a simple, (open!) osx music player that just has a playlist you can drop folders onto and nothing else, check out Cog.

Cog is nice but unfortunately it doesn't support ReplayGain. (Ditto Vox.) I actually use VLC as an MP3 player for this reason.

If you require replaygain try Play.


It's website is bizarrely similar to Cog's one, they must have been a template. The apps are also very similar, but Play has a few extra features and consequently a busier interface. It does support replaygain however.

Also for anyone checking out cog, go to the preferences and set the auto-updater to get nightly builds, the stable builds dont really get updated. The nighties are just as stable, but the interface controls are more cleanly laid out.

> Anyone looking for a simple, (open!) osx music player that just has a playlist you can drop folders onto and nothing else, check out Cog.

I'll check this out. I have gigs of MP3s I never listen to on my Mac anymore because iTunes sucks so much.

Vox is another great, simple, MP3/FLAC music player http://www.voxapp.uni.cc/

check out smug.py https://github.com/colorfulgrayscale/smug.py for a light weight music player for your osx console (note: i wrote it)

Gmail only (for the time being), but Sparrow has become my new mail app of choice.


In a similar vein, I truly love the way Postbox handles my multiple email accounts. http://www.postbox-inc.com/

The best "power replacement" for anything on OS X is not an app, it's a piece of hardware: an SSD. If you still have a hard drive, go get an SSD replacement--it makes a world of difference for OS X performance. I couldn't imagine going back. I see some people in this thread talking about how this or that is slow and I can bet that for most of them, a $200 SSD would change everything.

I don't find that VLC is a good replacement for Quicktime Player. I often have problems with VLC playing audio streams (frequent rebuffering, often freezing up completely), whereas Quicktime will play the same stream faultlessly.

Edit: I do use VLC though, it's great for other things, just doesn't replace Quicktime for me.

If you think that VLC is a good Quicktime alternative you should try out mplayer. There's an awesome Mac gui for it called MPlayer OSX Extended (http://www.mplayerosx.ch/). It's a lot more streamlined and will play at least everything that VLC does.

I think it comes down to personal preferences.

I've tried several times to switch to Chrome, but for me Safari is better. For example I like how I can access bookmarks from hotkeys.

Same for textedit and terminal, I can't think of any reason to switch, and I've tried several alternatives.

I maintain a list of the apps I use (and a list of must not use apps) at


Perhaps I'm not enough of a power user since I'm quite happy with most OS X apps, but there are two replacements I can recommend:

- Spell catcher to replace the built in spell checking

- Divvy for window management

+1 for divvy: http://www.mizage.com/divvy/

Watch the video, but basically, you can define predetermined window positions and sizes, bind those to keys, and use hot keys to snap windows to the predetermined sizes. Or a size selector available on the fly.

This is particularly nice if you travel with your laptop and don't like the resizing behavior for windows that are on an external monitor when you unplug it.

For a text editor on OS X, look at SubEthaEdit. It looks and behaves a lot like XCode, probably because it uses the same Cocoa libraries as XCode. It has code folding that works well, even in Python, and you can even have selections processed by by external commands.

If you need to open a ridiculously large log file, there's also gedit. On OS X, it looks ugly and awkward, but it gets the job done on 500 megabyte files where even AquaMacs and TextMate fall down.

TextMate falls down on all sorts of things - it's remarkably slow. The go-to editor for very large files is BBEdit.

Some additions:

  Xee                  - A fast image viewer
  The Unarchiver       - Extracts everything, with some nice options
  MPlayer OSX Extended - Another great media player
  KeePassX             - Open source password manager
  Burn                 - Alternative image/file burning utility
  Disk Inventory X     - Disk space visualization
  muCommander          - An advanced file manager

Every few month i get the feeling of trying out linux again on some machine. Had a MSI Wind U100 netbook lying around and got the latest Ubuntu 10.10 netbook edition because i thought the netbook is pretty old now and stuff should work with the latest ubuntu. It didnt.

While ubuntu was running fine i had problems with the wifi waking up after hibernate/sleep which always forced me to reboot to use wifi again. Googling revealed some people having similar issues, stating that it worked fine under 10.04 but now unter 10.10 it doesnt. I thought minor releases were ment to fix bugs, not create new ones. People on the ubuntu forums suggested trying the windows wifi drivers through ndiswra...nope, i wont start fiddling with stuff like that for hours on end again to get basic functionality working. Power management also was worse than on windows... i didnt even try to get bluetooth to work and installed win xp sp3 on it... Sorry Linux, it didnt work out this year, again :/

One really useful program that replaces various things in MacOS X is Keyboard Maestro (http://www.keyboardmaestro.com/). It's a way of getting your keyboard to control more things on your system - from triggering abbreviations that expand into words or phrases, to starting or controlling other applications. These abbreviations can run shell scripts too. It's considerably better than Automator, I think.

I particularly like and use the web triggers (which let you access the KM engine using the built-in web server) and the iPhone app (free) which you can use to control your Mac from other locations. It makes a killer remote control too...

Some other keyboard shortcuts:

In Safari, alt-tab switches focus to the next control; tab normally just switches to the next input element.

In Expose (F3), cmd-tab cycles apps; limits the Expose view to that app's windows. Arrows select a window, <return> then brings that window in focus.

In Expose, cmd-` cycles apps, limits Expose view to that app. Similar to above but you don't see the App icons overlay on the screen; they are instead highlighted on the Dock and the switching happens immediately.

To activate Spaces view, F8 by default but that launches iTunes on my MacBook. I remapped mine to F6 in the System Preferences. Then arrow keys select a space.

I'm surprised that the author replaced iTunes with Pandora when Grooveshark is so much more versatile. Plus, it can be made into a damn good Fluid app. Additionally, some of his "replacements" are just extensions to normal processes; Hyperspaces runs within spaces, and Witch runs within Expose. On that note, though, there's a QuickTime add-on called Perian that makes the program much more versatile, and can in many cases re-replace VLC.

Speaking of Fluid - which should rightly have been in the list as a decent and free Mailplane substitute when combined with a few extensions/userscripts - why oh why is it so slow when compared to the same website running in Chrome. I was under the impression they used the same JS engine under the hood...

Pandora's recommendation engine is far better than Grooveshark's.

But Grooveshark is available in countries where Pandora (sadly) isn't.

Two small additions:

    * cdto: "Fast mini application that opens a Terminal.app window cd'd to the front most finder window." 
    * fastscripts: "Powerful script management utility." You can assign shortcuts to your scripts. 
http://code.google.com/p/cdto/ http://www.red-sweater.com/fastscripts/

Just wait for the network connection to go down.

Funny to see this today, since I just had my first app accepted to the Mac App store. It's called Twitch, and it's a launcher designed for power users and keyboard junkies: http://twitchapp.com

No one here uses SizeUp and JumpCut? They're pretty awesome.



Not really a replacement, but if you're on OSX and are not using Fake (http://fakeapp.com) for your in-browser testing, you're missing out.

I prefer KeepassX for password management. It's a little more hands off than its more browser-oriented counterparts. It's also free, open source, and cross-platform.

ShiftIt is great for positioning windows, a la Compiz Grid. (http://code.google.com/p/shiftit/)

Launchbar over Alfred as a replacement for Spotlight. I just prefer the 30 day trial model over limited free usage and then pay for 'power user' features.

A nice replacement for the Mail program is Thunderbird, if you use this you can move your emails on any modern OS by just copying a folder.

VLC for movies and dvd's.

iTunes overall is the worst experience on a MAC. For any user who used Windows for a few years and jumps onto a MAC I would bet most find it frustrating! It takes so long to load up and then to transfer music to then listen ... uggh! Thus like the author of this article I use YouTube, Vevo and Pandora to listen to my music collection; either on my desktop or thru my iPhone.

iTunes is pretty snappy for me. (Except for the Store which for whatever reasons takes forever to load.)

Connecting your iphone or ipod touch is snappy? I have two mac Minis an ipod touch and iphone, when I connect either of them to either Mac Mini(one of 2007 and one from 2010) it takes forever for it to sync, which then I can finally transfer digital files onto said device.

Now when I do the same thing on windows (transfer digital files), it's plug in device and drag and drop and your done.

Overall Im a MAC person now, but far as I know there is no easy way to drag and drop digital files onto any Apple device where it's as easy as Windows.

Obligatory: Mac is not an acronym. MACs are the Media Access Control address on network cards, Macs are computers.

I honestly don’t know how long it takes to sync my iPod touch. I just plug it in to charge and leave it plugged in.

Umm that is my point. When you want to quickly drag and drop files onto an iphone or ipod it has to sync first which for me and sounds as you takes awhile! You cant plug in play and immediately drag and drop.

I guess everyone is use to waiting and waiting for it to sync then transfer their media files as my initial post is getting downvoted?

If you don't want to sync, why not choose Manually Manage Music?

I didnt have to make any settings change when I plugged in any non apple device into various PCs. By default it was simple and what I was used to when transferring music.

Just realized I'm not a power user if I use Safari. Damn Apple.

Me too for: Safari, Dashboard Widgets, Spaces, iTunes, Terminal, Preview, iChat and Keychain.

Everything is very standard here in my world.

Safari has some good extensions, like this one (forget its name) that quickly scans a page and tells you what frameworks/servers/technologies were used in its making. Good way to keep track of whats hot in web development.

The most power user replacement would be to replace the OS X window manager with a custom tiling manager.

I don't think you can do that; please correct me if I'm wrong.

I _think_ you might be able to run a tilling wm in X but that wouldn't exactly replace the wm. I sorta hate the OS X wm which is a major impetus for me to run debian where I can actually chose what wm to use instead of having to obey the almighty menu bar.

You can run stuff like XMonad, but it only works with things run inside X11, yeah. So there's pretty much no point to it -- might as well install Debian.

Chrome keep tabs in separate processes (not threads).

With Safari I can right click and copy a image and paste it into another app...every time I try that with Chrome the paste is broken. Fixed maybe?

I just tried it on linux and it works :/

Oh cool, I didn't know that - thanks for clarifying. I'll update the post.

Now you'll become powerer.

Btw, how would you assume that using threads instead of processes leads to less crashing?

Just lazy thinking when I drafted the post.

Good post nonetheless.

"Power user" replacements for OS X default apps more like, very questionable list that is...

I am sorry but this was a pointless article. You can down vote me now.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact