Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, the founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, one half of Viewport Industries, and an electronic musician.

5 apps for a new MacBook Pro

Posted on 13 July 2007 15 comments

Article illustration for 5 apps for a new MacBook Pro

As I fired up my new Carson Systems MacBook Pro for the first time on Monday and began to fill it with loads of wonderful apps, I noticed a pattern emerging with regards to which apps I installed first. Besides the regular heavyweights (i.e: the Adobe Creative Suite), there are a number of the ‘little guys’ – lesser known, cheaper, and produced by very small software houses – that I give preference to, and it got me thinking: what do web professionals consider to be the essential apps for a new Macbook Pro?

Over the next couple of days, my list evolved: no longer an essential apps list, it’s more of a hey, check these out list. It’d be great to hear about other people’s lists in the comments section!

1. Parallels (parallels.com)

Article illustration for Essential apps for a new MacBook Pro

I’ve been aching to install Parallels for ages but couldn’t bare to cough up the cash to pay for the necessary Windows license(s). Luckily, as we’re all Mac-based at Carson Systems, it was essential that we got Windows on our Macs. Now, although Parallels can’t compare to Boot Camp in terms of performance (general performance isn’t great, audio support is poor, and a complete lack of Direct X support means no gaming and no Google Earth), you just can’t beat Parallels for its immediacy: having as many virtual machines as you like, all running simultaneously with OSX. For browser-testing (which is the sole reason Parallels, XP and Vista were necessary), you just can’t beat this set-up.

In my geek-tastic excitement (hey, Sam was out for the night!), I uploaded a few screengrabs to this Flickr set and you can see some of Parallels’ latest features. Coherence in particular is pretty special: you can now have your Windows apps appear totally OS-less, floating alongside your OSX apps like they were Mac natives. And the tighter integration between operating systems doesn’t stop there: Windows app icons now appear in the OSX dock and the app switcher (complete with live previews if you so wish). And again, that applies to all virtual machines running. Wow.

2. TextMate (macromates.com)

I still can’t rave enough about this wonderful little app; a €39 text editor that renders Dreamweaver obsolete for any web designer who cares about their code. I recently attended an Adobe conference on AIR (formerly Apollo) and the even the speaker (Daniel Dura, an Adobe developer, at an Adobe conference, demo-ing Adobe apps) was using TextMate to edit his files. Nuff said.

3. Versions [unreleased] (versionsapp.com)

Now, how can I recommend an app that hasn’t even seen a public beta yet? In truth, I can’t, but I will say that this is going to be one to watch, and for two reasons:

1) Versions comes from the same software house that brought us Disco, one of the most beautiful and forward-thinking Mac apps out there today. Its attention to detail and outright sexiness (in spite of its total disregard for the Aqua GUI) never cease to amaze me.

2) The existing SVN clients for Mac are crap. At Carson Systems we use RapidSVN but its lack of support for standard OSX keyboard shortcuts make it rather cumbersome to use. Aral Balkan recommends Syncro SVN, but I think it’s ugly and looks like a Windows app.

I’ve got a lot of faith in this one.

4. Flock 0.9 beta (flock.com)

Hold your horses: I’m not recommending this app. Flock 0.9 beta is in the list purely because I want to draw attention to it and open up a discussion about it, because I’m just not sure where I sit with this one. I’ve always liked Flock because of its tight Flickr integration, but my gripe was with the slightly cartoony, over friendly interface. Well, version 0.9 beta has a whole new layer of unnecessary interface icing, and is dripping with being over designed… in my opinion. But there are some bits I really like: the new media bar, with its black sleekness, is just lovely, even if it is a little reminiscent of ‘the Vista look’. The tabs, too, have got some lovely shadow effects going on. Check out my annotated screengrab on Flickr.

The thing that worries me about Flock’s new look is that it reminds me of the way Netscape went: there’s just too much in there, there’s no breathing space, and it’s totally missed the point of beautifully minimalist interfaces such as that of Safari (pre version 3). The worst travesty, however, is the new Flock website: they’ve scrapped the wonderful work Brian Veloso did and created something just plain ugly.

5. Three Dashboard widgets

Number 5 is a bit of a cop-out, because I’m using it to recommend my three favourite Dashboard widgets. Although the term ‘widget’ has now become as overused and meaningless as “Web 2.0”, there are a small amount of widgets that are still relatively useful, even in our professional lives.

The widget I use every day without fail is Screenshot Plus, which gives you far greater control over screengrabbing than the default tools built into OSX. A variety of output formats, a timed shutter, and the ability to take grabs of selected application windows or widgets – all complete with full alpha transparency – makes it an indispensable tool.

My next most commonly used Dashboard widget is Amazon Album Art, which fixes the gaping hole left by iTunes when it can’t find artwork. Amazon Album Art searches – as you may have guessed – the Amazon databases (a variety of countries are available) for matching artwork, and then sets the images in iTunes without you ever having to leave the widget.

I’ll never stop praising Shaun Inman’s Mint stats app, and his Junior Mint widget allows you to see your major stats at a glance. Simple. Beautiful. Perfect.

“David, it’s over to you”

I want to hear about your favourite apps and / or widgets! Leave your lists in the comments and let me know your thoughts on the ones I selected. Come on, don’t be shy – everyone loves a good list…


  1. Jonathan E

    Jonathan E

    13 July 2007 @ 07:12PM #

    Hey Elliot,

    Pretty good list you’ve got here. I must say that some of these are new to me, so I’ll definitely have to check them out.

    On my site I also made a list of software that I’m using on my MacBook Pro as part of a series chronicling my switch from Windows to a Mac that I’ve been calling “The Switch Journal.” Coming from a windows environment to the Mac has been refreshing, and one thing that really strikes me is the difference in quality between Windows & Mac applications.

    One of the nicest things that the Mac platform has going for it is the high quality of developers that are creating software for Macs. I’m definitely not saying that there aren’t great developers making awesome apps for Windows, because there are… there’s just a lot more developers making less than impressive software as well.

    I’ve also noticed that the attitudes seem to be a little different as well… In Windows, if it’s not free, a lot of people won’t use it. On the Mac however, I’ve found that most people really don’t mind paying for great applications as much.

    On another note, looking at your flock screenshot… how’d you get those separators in your dock?

  2. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    13 July 2007 @ 08:07PM #

    Hey Jonathan – good to have you back! :)

    I agree on all points. There are a load of small software houses out there making beautiful Mac applications, and so many of them seem to share this philosophy of “let’s making something that looks absolutely gorgeous, is an absolute joy to use, and is completely practical and useful.” What’s amazing is how many of them are teams of two or three guys, or maybe even just one guy working out of a bedroom studio. Hats off to these companies. I’ll gladly pay for their products! There are more of that ilk in the ‘Software Love’ section on my ‘about’ page.

    In answer to your question (nicely spotted, by the way!), the dock dividers are courtesy of the great Adam Betts.

  3. Geof Harries

    Geof Harries

    13 July 2007 @ 08:08PM #

    I regularly switch back and forth between skEdit, Textmate and Coda. Even though skEdit is starting to show its age, the simple interface, project management features and responsiveness just feel so right to me. While I want to love Coda – the smooth, subtle effects are awesome – it is pokey and rough around the edges.

  4. Francis Booth

    Francis Booth

    13 July 2007 @ 09:49PM #

    Aha! I knew I smelt a blog post a-cookin’ when I saw those Flickr grabs go up. :) An interesting selection of apps though.

    1. ## Parallels ##

    Parallels is an absolutely fantastic piece of software now – and by Jobs’ comments from the last WWDC it looks as though Apple aren’t about to bring virtualisation into Boot Camp with Leopard either.

    It’s worth mentioning the bit you left out though (other than in the screengrabs) that you can install multiple versions of IE on one Windows installation, thereby making the Mac the ultimate browser testing suite!! (well, okay, excluding Linux)

    2. ## Textmate ##

    Amazing app… though it must be said I do still occasionally use SubEthaEdit for a quick and dirty (tho colour coded) edit, it’s snappy initial start time saves me… ooo… a good 2 seconds every month! :)

    3. ## Versions ##

    It sounds great from what you say, and in an astute move by Sofa, unlike Disco (which has done well enough for itself it would seem), Versions seems to be based on a true gap in the Mac market.

    4. ## Flock ##

    Just a quick question on this one (as I’ve never really felt drawn to Flock/iCab/OmniWeb/Shiira beyond passing curiosity)… how did Apple lose the minimalism of Safari in version 3? So far to me the browser chrome seems identical to V2.

  5. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    14 July 2007 @ 03:52AM #

    @ Geof: I must admit I’ve never given SKedit much of a decent look; I really should try it out, given how so many designers swear by it. I’m like you when it comes to Coda: I want to love it! I just can’t help but feel that Panic have put too much stress on the need for a ‘simple’ app; personally I edit directly from the server, so updating (text-based) files never gets any harder than hitting command-s in TextMate!

    @ Francis: Nice one for sharing that link – I was looking for that the other day. That method would certainly save having to install two versions of Windows, although I do like having both. With regards to the Safari interface: sorry, I didn’t explain myself very well. It’s still just as minimal, but I think the new grey (yes, the same grey adopted OS-wide in the Leopard GUI and site-wide on apple.com) has taken the app down a notch on the beauty stakes.

  6. Matt Munsey

    Matt Munsey

    14 July 2007 @ 08:39PM #

    I am still running Power PC, so I haven’t gotten to play with parallels yet. Still, when the time comes, I am looking forward to not having to jump onto a PC just to test sites in Internet Explorer. What are your thoughts on Vista now that you are running it?

    When I need to get down and dirty in code, Text Mate is my best friend. Love that sub version support. Best coding app I have used to date for sure. But, if I am just doing light weight stuff like modifying a bit on a client’s site or uploading and testing a new site, then I go for Coda. Having Transmit and the ability to edit directly on the server makes everything go quickly.

    Screenshot Plus is a great little widget. I don’t use it often, but when I need to create some documentation for a client on how to use their CMS admin, it is nice being able to show them, and not just tell them. Screenshot Plus helps immensely with this.

    I am going to have to check out that Amazon Album Art widget. Thanks for the heads up. All in all some really good apps.

  7. Kyle Meyer

    Kyle Meyer

    26 July 2007 @ 12:26AM #


    An app that I’ve found hard to live without ever since working with for the first week is Quicksilver.

    The app increases productivity in subtle ways and once you start using it you’re constantly learning the app due to the depth of abilities it has, youtube has a few good videos on getting started with it as well as extending it. Not having to touch the mouse when using the OS is just as big of a boost as shortcut-keys within programs such as Photoshop.

  8. Adam Hopkinson

    Adam Hopkinson

    26 July 2007 @ 04:15PM #

    As of about a month ago, Parallels does support DirectX (although i’ve not used it for any gaming – yet).

    Great suggestions though

  9. Christopher


    26 July 2007 @ 07:53PM #

    I only have experience with 2 of the items in your list: Flock and TextMate. I wholeheartedly agree with you on both counts. Flock looked so promising for a long time, particularly for us macheads who could not stand the Firefox UI. But now, the 0.9 version is a complete nightmare, both in terms of form and function. It simply tries to do too much, and have all its functionality available on the outer layer. A browser like OmniWeb, for example, is extremely feature-rich, yet it retains a very clean interface. Flock must be under new management, or something, because overnight it has turned into a complete mess.

    Textmate is invaluable. I use it extensively for Python, writing (via LaTeX) and blogging. Cant function without it.

  10. Patrick Haney

    Patrick Haney

    31 July 2007 @ 02:32AM #

    I’m with you on the Parallels and TextMate additions. I use TextMate as my primary HTML/CSS/JavaScript editor despite many other tools out there, as it’s a joy to use. And Parallels is just a must for any Intel Mac using web designer.

    As far as Flock goes, I used to be a fan. Then things seemed to go downhill, and I’ve not used it for more than a day in a long time. And now they have that awful website redesign…

    Lastly, I need to reiterate Kyle’s suggestion above about Quicksilver. It’s a fantastic (free) add-on for any Mac and I find it to be a huge productivity boost, not to mention essential to finding anything on my MacBook Pro. It’s more than just an application launcher…

  11. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    06 August 2007 @ 01:10PM #

    Thanks for your comments, everyone! I’m glad a lot of you feel the same way and it’s great to hear your own suggestions as well.

    @ Kyle & Patrick: From everything everyone’s told me about Quicksilver, it sounds like an amazing app. I downloaded it a couple of months ago and had – shamefully – forgotten about it ever since. I’m going to fire it up today and I have no doubt that it should’ve been on the list.

    @ Adam: Wow, that’s good to know. Annoyingly, I got Parallels just before the release of version 3.0, so I’ve missed out on that one. I’ll try and get Ryan to buy me an upgrade! :)

  12. Adam Hopkinson

    Adam Hopkinson

    06 August 2007 @ 03:19PM #

    I think that Parallels offered a free upgrade 2.x-3.x for people who had purchased in the months leading up to the 3 release. Worth checking out to save £50

  13. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    07 August 2007 @ 01:14PM #

    @ Adam: Thank you so much – you were right! Anyone who purchased after 1st May is entitled to a free upgrade by going here. The new version is downloading as we speak! :)

  14. Stephen Deutsch

    Stephen Deutsch

    10 August 2007 @ 06:04AM #

    Textmate, no doubt, could be one of the best apps for developing out there. Because of it’s simplicity it is fast, slick, and the best part is that it has built-in SVN support. Why would you want to use a separate SVN client? I use this app every day and given the keyboard shortcuts, I cannot say enough about it. If you haven’t picked this one up, I am sorry to say that you haven’t lived yet : ) Don’t fret though, there is still time!

  15. Mike


    27 September 2007 @ 12:24AM #

    Developing without Xyle scope and CSSEdit is going the hard way.

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