My Mac Essentials

Updated November 24, 2019

In 2008 I made the transition from being a life long Windows user to being an everyday Mac user and Apple fan.   I moved from a Think Pad to a Mac Book Pro and a Blackberry smartphone to an iPhone.  I became an early iPad adopter.  I take advantage of the integration of different products with iCloud, iTunes and the App Store.  This essay is about that transition and what I’ve learned along the way.

I found this great article in the Apple Support Communities about how to harden your Mac.  It is full of great recommendations.  If you ever forget your Mac’s login password be sure to look at this article. It is very important to Mavericks OS users that they set up the password hint feature,  Without the password hint, password recovery is much more difficult.

I suggest all Mac users regularly look at what used to be Thomas Reed’s site; Malwarebytes: The Safe Mac the Malwarebytes blog.

The following is a list of software and services that I use and recommend for other student and business Apple users.  I suggest buying software through the Apple App Store.  I have found that purchasing software through the App Store makes it much easier to keep up with product updates.  I also provide links to the vendor’s page when I use their support or documentation.

1Password – A great password and credential management is the best first line of security.  1Password has good browser integration and is available on all of the different compute platforms I use (Mac, iPhone, & iPad).  The integration with Dropbox is a huge bonus.

Caffeine – While the power settings on the Mac extend the battery life the screen saver is sometimes too good.  The Caffeine application hasn’t been maintained by it’s developer and stopped using it in 2016.  I have been using an application called Antisleep with good results so far.

Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac – Malware for Macs exists.  I have tried the other popular AV software available for the Mac but I found that Sophos offered great integration and the promise of good protection (keep reading their ‘Naked Security’ blog’).  If you are using Sophos I’d suggest setting up a regular, weekly scan of your personal directory (See Preferences, Scans, Custom Scans).

SuperDuper – In my mind this is the best back up software available for the Mac.  I think the only thing I don’t like about SuperDuper is that it isn’t available via the App Store.  That said the update capabilities are good (checks every time the app launches).

VMWare Fusion – When I started using the Mac I still needed to run Windows.  The first virtual machine software I used was Parallels.  I found it worked fine for standard Windows but I ran into some minor issues when I needed to customize the environment.  I moved to Fusion with Windows 7 and have not looked back.  I run Windows and several Linux distros in Fusion.

Dropbox – Ubiquitous cloud storage made real.  Dropbox features operating system integration across all Apple platforms and works flawlessly.  Perhaps the greatest thing about DropBox iOS that it’s there and it always works.  I’m years into using this now and I have never had a serious problem.

Serial is the most amazing terminal emulator for a Mac that I could ever wish for.  Yeah, the Mac is a Linux machine and I should be able to use Terminal from Utilities but I have Serial adapters from at least three different vendors and each one is a little different.  That is until I found Serial.  Serial is amazing because no matter what serial adaptor you have it finds it and works.

Evernote – I’m taking notes all the time and this application runs on all the Apple platforms and the web.

PDFPen – If you ever have to fill in a form that comes to you in PDF format then PDFpen is the way to go.  You can also edit PDFs.

Yahoo Mail -I have used many different web based electronic mail solutions.  I recommend that no matter what your school or employer provides everyone should have their own separate Email address.  I pay for Yahoo’s enhanced Email service; Yahoo Plus. [Update 2019: I am still paying (Oath) for Yahoo Mail.  I’ve also subscribed to Proton Mail Plus and recommend it highly.]

Filezilla – This free (open source) file transfer utility is an FTP / SFTP client.  In my experience it works well.  The interface is pretty busy and “un-Apple” like (definitely not slick or streamlined).   I’ve found the need to search around the interface in order to find various functions.  With that said it is amazing that this is an open source application available for Mac, Windows, and Linux platforms.

Prey – I started looking at and installed this anti-theft product on several devices.  Prey falls into the category of applications you hope you never actually have to use.  I’ve run and tested Prey on multiple Macs.  This is not the type of application were you can update the portal and expect to see your computer report back in a few minutes.  In my testing I received reports in 3 to 5 days.  If you travel regularly with a computer or smartphone I recommend installing and using Prey.

I’m still searching for a simple yet adequate graphics editing tool.  When I write an article and need to include a graphic I often want to obscure some of the info in the graphic.  Very similar to redacting text in a document.  I was looking at Acorn to do this but that tool has so much more graphic editing capability than I need.

There are some Mac products that I have to warn people about.  I’ve had huge issues with my storage solutions.  A couple of years ago I invested in a 2 TB Seagate GoFlex for Mac external drive.  I split the drive into two equal partitions and ran Time Machine to one and a weekly SuperDuper backup to the other.  That drive lasted less than two years.  I chose a Seagate GoFlex FreeAgent drive for my work laptop.  That drive lasted two years and two months.  In both cases the drive failed suddenly without warning.  In both cases the failure was reported by Time Machine and I used the Mac Disk Utility to try and diagnose the fault.  In both cases after running Disk Utility multiple times the drive reported back as being ‘repaired’.  In both cases ‘repaired’ translates to unreliable as in the drive failed again (and again) using both Time Machine and Super Duper just days later. [Update: 2019: Still using Seagate external drives and I should note that in my opinion the quality of their products has improved.  My current GoFlex has been running flawlessly for 2.5 years.]

There are some things I miss about my old smartphone and computer.  My Blackberry on AT&T often had great signal strength; was always clear; and I could put it down on the table and hold conference calls.  I never really missed my Think Pads and Windows.  The last two Think Pads I used often had issues running the software that I needed to use and had to be re-imaged more times than I want to remember.

I signed up for an normal sized iPhone 6.  I’ve managed to reign in my Apple fandom and only buy the even numbered iPhone versions 2, 4 and now 6.  By far the best iPhone I’ve owned to date. [Update: in 2019 I purchased an iPhone 10 and it is now my new favorite.]

Copyright 2023 Brian Ford

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