Why do you use the software you choose?

April 16, 2009

My last post led me to thinking about the software I use every day: “What am I using mostly? And why?” So I have tried to make a list. (Note - this is exclusive of any technical software, which these days doesn’t get used much anyway.)

  1. Terminal (on Mac) – I like iTerm too, but every Mac running OS-X has Terminal. I typically use it to connect to the server at work that I keep my running to-do list and diary files on (more on this later) but I often find myself editing files locally just ‘cause it’s fast and easy… or browsing the file tree, copying/moving/deleting. Maybe because I’m at least as comfortable with doing this from the command line as from a GUI? Or is it actually faster? Dunno.

  2. Favorite CLI apps:
    • vi
    • emacs – I keep trying to get more preficient with emacs, but I learned vi first and it’s just second nature.
    • find, grep, sed, perl and the rest of the *nix pantheon – some tasks and ideas just can not be accomplished in any other way. Regular Expressions rule! Who knows what one might find: http://www.cli-apps.org
  3. Bean – this is a recent find, and I like it for two key reasons besides it being free: it’s very lightweight, and it has an excellent full-screen mode. I’ve been using Bean for note-taking in meetings. I’m so sick of bloat-ware, that I really appreciate the speed with which Bean launches and runs, and the low load it places on a laptop. I wish it had outlining, though, so I may look again at Omni Outliner.

  4. TextMate if I’m working on code. I like BBEdit too, but have been preferring TextMate lately. (But, I must admit, I end up in vi most of the time…)

  5. Microsoft office apps – a necessary evil. I really, really hate using these, but they’re the de facto standard. I ocassionally use NeoOffice (Mac port of Open Office) and it’s good – for personal stuff, I wouldn’t think twice about choosing NeoOffice over the MS apps, but there are still occasional incompatibilities and I’m not willing to put up with them if I’m doing something for work. That said, I try to avoid group-editing conducted by trading Office docs, each with one editor’s revisions… I prefer to write comments in email, and let the original author integrate them. I’ve tried the Apple equivalents – Pages, Keynote, etc. – and they sure are pretty, and Keynote blows PowerPoint right out of the water… but MS compatibility dominates the requirements these days.

  6. Firefox – I practically live in my web browser, between all the hosted apps:
    • gmail
    • Google calendar
    • Google reader (although I use this almost exclusively on my iPhone)
    • Delicious
    • Remember the Milk – I started using this a lot but am finding I like the speed and directness of todo.sh more. RTM supports offline use (using Gears) so I may not be done with it just yet.

The plugins are key:

  1. OmniGraffle for banging out graphical ideas – usually these start out as a sketch on a whiteboard or napkin, then get captured as a picture by my phone, and then turned into a drawing. They almost invariably have a longer life than I ever think likely!

  2. DevonThink – I keep trying to integrate this great software into my workflow, and keep failing. I don’t yet understand why. Fodder for a future post.

On the server, I run several things; they all are run within screen, so I can detach from the terminal session and leave them running, and come back to them later:

  1. pine, for email
  2. todo.sh to manage my to-do list(s)
  3. remind
  4. vi and/or emacs, depending on the editing task at hand
  5. On my Desktop / behind the scenes:
  6. Geektool
    • Displays my todo list from the server
    • Displays current and 2-day weather forecast
    • Displays drive space
    • Displays calendar
    • Displays reminders (from remind, on the server)
    • Displays appointments, pulled from iCal using icalBuddy
    • Displays an occasional inspirational message or graphic
  7. Growl
  8. Quicksilver – this may be my #1 productivity/speed enhancer! I just love it – hit a key to pop up a window, start typing some text, and very intuitively you can launch an application, append text to a file, or damn near anything else. A close conceptual kin to Firefox’s Ubiquity.

  9. Unison – keeps a common set of files syncronized across multiple dissimilar machines.
  10. Adium – far and away the best IM client on the Mac – supports encryption, simultaneous accounts on different systems.
  11. Mail.app – my place of work has moved to centralized Exchange Server for mail and calendaring, and in theory, only supports Entourage/Outlook. A ridiculously low quota is imposed – thank God, they have IMAP turned on, so I have rules to move all mail off the Exchange server and onto a local server with no quota. I have a (complex) system set up to keep the Exchange calendar synced with iCal and my Google calendar, but in practice the only thing that seems to work consistently is to put everything on the Google calendar. I just finished writing a rule that, combined with some Applescript and shell-script trickery, picks up any e-mails with [todo] in the subject line, and automatically interacts with my todo list. This way, I can email myself to-dos.

  12. For technical writing:
    • emacs, Bean, vi, etc. (see above) to capture ideas, phrases, raw content. Once I’m ready to put the pieces of content into something resembling a document, I switch to:
    • LaTeX for typesetting - there are several apps that bring together all the pieces needed to work well, even on a Mac; I like Lyx quite a bit as a front end, but haven’t used it yet on any really large projects. Mostly I’ve been using iTexMac.
    • BibDesk - to archive reference documents and maintain a bibliographic database. This makes writing technical papers so much easier, because (a) you don’t have to worry about the format of the references and (b) all your references are ready and at hand.
  13. Concept Mapping:
    • I was using IHMC’s CMap software, but came across Freemind recently and I quite like it. It has a good keyboard-centric interface, so I can bang something out very quickly.
    • OmniGraffle can also fall into this category, I suppose.
  14. Graphics tools: every now and then I need to manipulate an image or movie in some odd way, and Graphic Converter, ImageMagick and QuickTime Pro can always be relied on to come to the rescue.
  15. Things I almost always forget about:
    • Sherlock and DevonAgent for running smart searches

Why do you use the software you choose? - April 16, 2009 - chad r. frost