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Apps We Use: James’ Essentials [OSX & iOS]

James Bruce 31-03-2013

As the lead developer and head of everything tech here at MakeUseOf, most of my time is spent coding things and emailing people. My requirements aren’t hugely complicated, and I don’t use any “getting things done” systems, nor am I am productivity hound. I find simple works best and don’t enjoy life in the fast lane.


Read on to find out the tools and apps I consider essential – on both OSX, and iOS.

Evernote (Free)

For a long time, I ignored the legions of Evernote fans, confident that I didn’t need something that collates random notes – I had folders already, for God’s sake! But after just a week of having a central place to store all my writing and actually committing to use it, I am now proud to say I’m an Evernote convert. Being able to access my notes from anywhere – mobile, desktop or even web client – regardless of the OS, is just fantastic.

I’ve created notebooks for article drafts (I’m writing this directly into Evernote), topics to discuss on Technophila, a visual To-Do list of things around the home, garden or allotment, a shopping list, and finally a collection of clipped tutorials from the web in a “read me later” notebook; and even af home inventory with pictures and receipts.

In short, Evernote is an incredibly versatile app that can easily replace many smaller, specialized apps or services. If you’re new to Evernote, our free Evernote guide How to Use Evernote: The Unofficial Manual Learning how to use Evernote on your own takes a long time. This is why we've put together this guide to show you how to take full advantage of the most important Evernote features. Read More is one click away. That said, I haven’t yet converted to Evernote Premium – so if you can think of a good reason why I should, tell me in the comments.

essential os x apps


Reeder ($4.99)

Reeder is a simple RSS client for both iOS and OSX that’s fast to navigate – and it integrates nicely into Evernote so I can fling articles around like a ninja. Despite Google killing off their Reader API and web client, RSS is very much not dead and Twitter will never be a suitable replacement.

Reeder does currently use Google Reader API to sync, but the developer has hinted that there’ll be a suitable replacement in time for the shutdown, so I’m not really worried – unlike some people who are scrabbling about for Google Reader replacements Google Reader's End Is Nigh: Prepare With These Alternative RSS Readers Google Reader is dead. By July the Internet's premier RSS service is shutting down forever, leaving users to find a replacement on their own. If you're looking for an equivalent to Google these are just... Read More .

essential os x software


The standard OSX desktop mail client. Boring? Perhaps – most of my fellow writers swear by Gmail (here’s our free Gmail guide The Beginner's Guide to Gmail You may already have a Gmail account. Or, you're thinking about signing up for one. This guide has everything you need to make the most of that shiny new Gmail account. Read More if you’re that way inclined) – but I prefer to have my email on the desktop rather than sitting in a web browser – with over 50 browser tabs constantly open, locating the email one would be a nightmare.


I don’t fiddle around with labels, I don’t file things efficiently, I have 850 messages in my inbox that really ought to be either responded to or actioned, and I even email myself occasionally as a reminder to do something important. I’m pretty much the worst kind of email user ever – I don’t even use a signature.

That said, I’m still awaiting the native version of Mail Pilot, which should allow me to treat my inbox like a to-do list, which is basically how I use it anyway. So I’ll use that as a more exciting screenshot instead!

essential os x software


For winding down, my Network Attached Storage Need Network Storage? Here’s How To Build Your Own NAS Box NAS stands for Network Attached Storage. As Windows became easier to use with network attached devices, and hardware prices fell, this term started to be used in the consumer market. Today there’s a wide variety... Read More device is full of movies and runs a native Plex server; a Plex client on both Mac and PC ensures I can watch them anywhere. If you have no idea what Plex is – we have a free guide for that too (yes, we have a lot of free guides – you should probably go check them all out actually, before you forget).


Plex is a fork of XBMC that I’ve written about before Setup A Perfect Media Center With Plex [Mac & Windows] Plex is widely regarded by many as being the best media player, manager and streaming application around - available for both Windows, Mac and even mobiles (though the mobile apps are not free). If you're... Read More  – it’s simply a beautiful media centre designed to be used with a 10-foot interface. Plex’ meta handling is perhaps the strongest of all media centres, with movies automatically categorized, DVD covers and features shots all downloaded for you.

essential os x software

Alien Blue ($3.99)

Finally, I couldn’t finish without mentioning my ultimate in-bed time waster app – Alien Blue for the iPad. It is, quite simply, the only way I will consider browsing Reddit – though I have dabbled with OSX Reddit clients For Redditors With Style: 3 Great Reddit Tools for Mac OS X I think it's not unreasonable to say that Reddit fulfills the true purpose of the Internet - as an addictive time suck that can fill your mind with anything from obscure and probably illegal NSFW... Read More in the past.

essential os x apps


As you can see, I like to keep it fairly simple – there’s aren’t many apps that make it onto my real daily essentials. I do use Chrome, but I also use Safari, so I felt favoring one over the other here might make them jealous. Most of these apps are of course featured on the Best Mac Apps The Best Mac Apps to Install on Your MacBook or iMac Looking for the best apps for your MacBook or iMac? Here's our comprehensive list of the best apps for macOS. Read More , Best iPad Apps, and Best iPhone Apps The Best New iOS Apps of 2015 (And Our Favorite Updates) We've sorted through the stream of new apps that arrived in 2015 and devised a list of our favourites just for you. Read More pages too, so be sure to check those out if you haven’t already got a million tabs open.

Do you think there’s another essential OS X apps that I could really MakeUseOf?

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  1. Craig
    April 3, 2013 at 10:27 am

    Hi Mate

    Helpful article was wondering, does plex support the av cable for connecting on a tv (via iphone4)? Have tried airplay and have had some issues.

    Also are you aware of any decent apps that allow you to operate media players on your device from osx? Eg while iPhone is docked


    • MakeUseOf TechGuy
      April 3, 2013 at 10:32 am

      Apparently it does support AV cable but I can't confirm that by testing as I don't have one.

      I doubt there is anything to control iphone from OSX though - the presumption being that if you have your osx machine there, you ought to be using that to watch the media instead.

  2. macwitty
    April 1, 2013 at 11:07 am

    I think you could really MakeUseOf
    a password manager - I put my penny on 1Password

    a clone maker - to have a clone to start up from if your harddisk crasch With a clone you are up in a minute. Important at least for me as harddisk problem always comes when I have not time to deal with it.

    Dropbox - to share, sync and "back up light!

    • MakeUseOf TechGuy
      April 1, 2013 at 11:20 am

      You're completely right - I actually use 1password all the time and it's so transparent that I competely forgot to include it! Oh dear...

  3. Azri J
    April 1, 2013 at 8:50 am

    If you have a tablet or even a smartphone, theres this plugin by Evernote called 'Skitch' which is basically a free-hand drawing tool, particularly useful when drawing charts and etc. Used it for my stats class as it very convenient because it integrates with your evernote notes!

  4. DT
    April 1, 2013 at 3:54 am

    I use Firefox and I keep important tabs "pinned" to the tab bar, which automatically makes them small and places them first on the tab bar. Thus my gmail and yahoo mail are always in same spot for my mouse, no fuss to look for them in my 60-70 open tabs, I always know where to move my eyes and mouse and quickly.

  5. Lon Phillips
    March 31, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    I use Google Chrome browser in Windows and I can't find any of the items, like To-Do, etc. on my right click menu in Evernote. The only thing close is Web Clipper. What am I doing wrong?

    • James Bruce
      March 31, 2013 at 9:04 pm

      There's no menu item for to-do; it's just that I have a notebook named "todo" in which I place to-do items. I believe when you web clip things they automatically go into the default folder. If you wanted to use that to set to-dos, you would have to define a temporary folder for sorting things and have clipping default to there.

      • Lon Phillips
        March 31, 2013 at 9:20 pm

        According to every Evernote article I've read, there IS supposed to be a right click menu item To-Do. Your workaround seems good, but having that menu item available would be much better.

        I 'think' Web Clipper defaults to the last used note, because when I add a new note and want to add items to it, mine goes to that last used note.