Productivity App Suites For OS X/iOS Cross-Platform Users – The ‘Book Mystique

Greetings from the Grid blogger Seth Clifford recounts years of eschewing Apple’s default iOS apps in favor of third-party software, because, as he explains, after all, “Apple’s apps are for regular people, and I’m a PowerUser, maaaan. I’d configure all kinds of workarounds and extra steps because I wanted to wring every last bit of functionality out of my devices, and the basic starter apps just weren’t ever enough.”

For me running third-party apps on Apple hardware dates a lot farther back than the iOS, and has nothing to do with bolstering my cred as a PowerUser, although in some respects I guess I might qualify. My first Mac — a used Mac Plus compact desktop machine — came with a copy of Microsoft Word 4, an excellent word processor in its time and indeed one that would stand out today, especially if a complimentary version were ported to the iOS.

I subsequently upgraded to Word 5.1, which was a lot more powerful, although less sparing of resources, but still managed to acquit itself tolerably well on the old Plus with its 8 MHz 68000 processor and 2.5 megabytes of RAM. It was also the last version of MS Word that I really liked.

At the time, Apple had a word processor application called MacWrite Pro, and out of loyalty I bought a copy so I could give it an honest try. However, I found it clunky and feature-limited compared with the slickness and power of Word 5.1, which I soon went back to. I also had what turned out to be a brief dalliance with the 68k version of Nisus Writer in the late ’90s, and its out of the word processor mainstream feature set whetted my enthusiasm for text editors as my everyday word crunching platforms. I switched to Tom Bender’s delightful $15 shareware styled text editor Tex Edit Plus around the turn of the millennium, and used it for almost all of my wordsmithing until my first iPad came along in 2011.

I cut my Mac graphics teeth on HyperCard, one Apple application I did very much like, but I was never a huge fan of Apple’s ClarisWorks/AppleWorks productivity suites — antecedents of iWorks — for either word crunching or graphics, preferring to stick with third-party solutions that I found worked better and slicker, and most of which I’ve now been using for nearly two decades. More on graphics in a moment.

Working with the iPad and iOS has of course required assembling a new suite of productivity apps, since there isn’t a whole lot of apps crossover between Apple’s two operating system orbits, and what there is tends to be with Apple’s iWork apps, which I still don’t use much, although I will say that Pages is Apple’s best word processor effort yet. I have the free iOS version of Microsoft Word on my iPad, handy mainly for compatibility with attached Word files I’m sometimes sent or occasionally am obliged to create., but I don’t much like working in Word these days, and depend on Pages and Open Source Libre Office for opening Word files on the Mac.

Today, my OS X productivity suite includes the Opera, Chrome, Firefox, and occasionally Safari Web browsers. They all do something uniquely well enough to dissuade me from cutting back to just one or two browser apps. Tex Edit Plus abides as my mainstay jack-of-all-trades app on the Mac, but unfortunately most of the text apps I use on the iPad don’t recognize the TE+ file format, so I’ve added Bare Bones Software’s excellent free TextWrangler and the newcomer CotEditor (also free) as my default and go-to plain text apps.

Back in the day, I was a big Eudora fan for email, and when Eudora died I switched to Mozilla.org’s Open Source Thunderbird. However, T-Bird never really grabbed me, nor has OS X’s built-in Mail app, and I’ve pretty much been converted to using Webmail almost exclusively, since that’s also the most satisfactory cross-platform solution. I mostly use Gmail, but also Yahoo! and Microsoft Outlook.

For opening PDF files, either a Web browser or Apple’s Preview will usually suffice, and ToyViewer (see below) can also open PDFs for viewing.

For graphics on the Mac, my far-and-away most-used app has for years been ToyViewer by Mr. Takeshi Ogihara, an app originally developed for NeXT/OpenStep before they became OS X, and which despite the name, is a serious productivity tool. I can’t say enough good about ToyViewer. It boggles the mind that it’s free software. It’s not a powerhouse Photoshop challenger, but for basic graphics handling — quick viewing, resizing, sharpening, and optimizing existing images, it has no equal I’ve ever encountered. I also use Seashore
— a less ponderous spinoff from the Open Source behemoth GIMP — and on the machine I’m still running in OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, the venerable but still superb Color It! — whose direct antecedents date back to the early days of Mac computing. Color It!’s developers say they’re working on a native MacIntel version of Color It! that I’m eagerly looking forward to.

For heavier-duty graphics stuff, I turn to Photoshop Elements and Pixelmator, either of which is more than capable of handling even my most demanding needs. The full version of Photoshop is out because I refuse to use subscription software on principle, and in the unlikely event of my needing more graphics muscle than Elements or Pixelmator can deliver, there is always The GIMP.

Over on the iPad one big difference is that I of course use Safari as my default browser because Apple gives us no alternative. However, I probably would have made it the default anyway, since it’s the most dependable and stable iOS browser app. I also use the indie browser Diigo which deserves to be better-known than it is, Chrome, and Puffin – an innovative app with a bunch of unique features, including using Cloud based resources to accelerate web page loading and enable Flash content viewing on the iPad.

For creating, editing, and anchoring text documents, I use PlainText, iWriters, and Nebulous Notes. JustType works well for compiling research material in, but not so much for composing and editing. For word processing on the iPad< I lean to Pages and the free iPad version of Word, and for editing you can’t beat the deep text tools set of TextKraft.

I don’t do much image editing or other graphics work on the IPad, although the iOS version of Pixelmator looks good. However, I don’t like doing graphics work on a touchscreen, so until Apple decides to include mouse support in the iOS (maybe with a USB-C port in the rumored iPad Pro — dare we hope?), I’ll continue shipping out most graphics editing tasks to the Macs (and no, a stylus isn’t a satisfactory substitute for a mouse — I’ve tried).

To keep all this synchronized as much as possible across my fleet of computing devices, I’m a devotee off Dropbox, which is more slickly and conveniently transparent in its operation than any other Cloud solution I’ve tried. Apple’s iCloud just puts too many restrictions on the service, requiring at least OS X 10.7 Lion. One of my production Macs is still running 10.6 Snow Leopard because of the latter’s ability to support older Carbon apps ported from Power PC days, and 10.6 is still happily supported by DropBox.

By adopting Plain Text as my default file format, I can switch back and forth between OS X and iOS with Dropbox keeping the latest updates and document creations made with TextWrangler or CotEditor in OS X and Nebulous Notes or the app Plain Text in iOS synced automatically and unobtrusively in the background with no user intervention required.

I find that this eclectic combination of apps — most of them free, bundled with Apple hardware, or inexpensive — does a fine job for me as a production software suite. Other users may have other needs and tastes, and other combinations of apps will appeal. Basically, whatever works best for you is the right way to go.

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