What's running on my Mac - redux

About two years ago I'd written about my most commonly used apps on my Mac. That post had come just before a major life event for me as I planned to pursue a two year MBA at Kenan-Flagler business school.

Some of my best life experiences have come over the past two years, but we shall talk about that some other time. Right now I just wanted to take a look at how my list of most used Mac apps changed as a student - before I get too lost in work again and things turn over their head once more.

One quik point before I move on to my list. I realized that back in 2012 I'd recommended sticking to the Mac App Store when possible - well that's changed. There's a numbers of reasons for that and people more atriculate than me have tried to gauge the reasons. For me, the primary reasons are apps from the store lagging in the update cycle and the store app itself being lethargic and unpleasant to use overall. I've since then moved my apps out of the store as much as possible and I am happy with that decision.

So here my goes the 2014 version of my list.

Caffeine - unchanged from 2012, simple and effective utility that prevents your Mac screen from sleeping. See more here

Evernote - unchanged from 2012. If anything, I use it even more. Their tagline used to be "Remember Everything", which by itself sounds pretty ambitious (and close to accurate as I realized once I started using it). That has been replaced by the slightly more ambitious "Your Life's Work" and I'm excited to see how close they come to living this new tagline. They did come close to stretching themselves too thin, as Jason Kincaid pointed out in his passionate outburst, but Phil Libin - the CEO of Evernote - did inspire some confidence in his response to that piece
Evernote on my Mac, tablet (Nexus 7 and iPad interchangeably), and phones (AT&T Windows phone as primary, unlocked Nexus when traveling); has been a great tool. It has helped me navigate class notes (except for PDF annotations where I relied on Notability), it has been a great catchall for collecting my thoughts when preparing for job interviews, it has been a great planning tool for a lot of traveling done over the past 2 years, and it has served a quick private journal of sorts as well. One thing about them that I really came to appreciate over the past 2 years is their commitment to making Evernote available on all platforms. I switched to Windows phone in 2012 and was very happy to see them supporting the platform with a first class app, and not just a half hearted port. I ended up being a premium customer for about 3 months to have access to offline notes, and I think that it was money well spent. 

OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) - I always had a SkyDrive account but I wasn't really using it much. With my switch to Windows phone, and the smooth integration it had with SkyDrive, made using this solution a no-brainer. I've become a paying customer over the years and I use OneDrive as my primary off-site backup for my pictures from all sources. It's always running on my Mac, always on on my phones and tablets, and always in sync. It's easy to set up, cheap, reliable, and their web-UI is easy on the eyes. I think it's a good deal. I would have used them for document sharing as well but the network effect works against them there.

Which brings me to Dropbox. Unchanged from 2012, and even more functional. I stopped using it as my photo backup solution because of OneDrive, which meant that my 11GB free space was more than enough for my document sharing needs. They provide APIs for apps to hook up which meant that I could let other apps be in sync via my own Dropbox (primarily Notability, which I used for annotating class slides). Also, everyone at my school used it so it would have been a pretty laborious process to move to something else, especially when Dropbox is so easy to use and functional. 

Alfred - replacement for the in-built spotlight functionality. Unchanged from 2012, getting better by the day. See more here but for the latest version, download from their site and not the App store.

Wunderlist - unchanged from 2012, but it has replaced Things as my To-Do app of choice, mainly because of the need to keep the list cross-platform (with one of the platforms being Windows Phone). They did piss me off a bit when they pulled their Windows Phone app from the store, with no plans shared about putting it back. But they have come back recently with a much better app, and so I'm not mad at them anymore :)

Stickies - unchanged from 2012, not much to add.

The last 2 pieces of the puzzle were not a matter of choice, however they did form a major part of every day of my student life so I feel they deserve a mention here. These 2  are VMWare Fusion and MS Office (Windows version via Fusion). Within my first few weeks of being in school I realized just how embedded MS Excel was going to be in my day to day life (I have come to appreciate and respect Excel, and feel that it is terribly underrated). I also realized how sucky the Mac version of Office is compared to their Windows version - to the point of Excel for Mac not being adequate for business school students at all. Also, Outlook kicks everyone's ass when it comes to email and calendaring, and so it wasn't a surprise that my school was on Exchange email. These factors meant that my trusty Mac wasn't going to be enough, I needed Windows. After looking at the possible choices I opted for VMWare Fusion, to allow me to run Windows alongside my other Mac apps. The decision turned out well for me (except for the part where keyboard shortcuts for Excel were screwed up), and helped me stick to my Mac while being in a Windows world. In fact I ended up trying out Windows 8 because of this setup and, contrary to public opinion, I quite liked this new iteration of Windows. 

So this was the primary setup that worked for me over the past 2 years, hopefully it will prove helpful to you as well.


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