Must-Have Apps (Fall 2018)

There are a bunch of apps that I use and didn’t make, which I absolutely love. Without these, my digital life just wouldn’t be the same. I figured I’d let y’all know about them!

These aren’t in any particular order. I love them all! Of course, these picks are my opinions and they don’t mean any competing app is bad, just that I prefer these. Of course, none of these are promotions. No compensation changed hands; these are truly my opinions.

Cross-Platform

Let’s start with what most of y’all can use, regardless of what platform you’re using.

Atom

Creator
GitHub
Website
Atom.IO
Price
Free
Platforms
Windows
Linux (deb, rpm, tar.gz)
macOS
Source Model
Free and Open-Source

Why not start with the app I’m using to write this post right now? Atom is the open-source text editor made by GitHub, and the reason for the controversial Electron app platform.

I love Atom because of its extraordinary extensibility. The plugin system seems unparalleled, and the theming system sets the bar for all other text editors.

Before I found Atom, I was using Notepad++ (honorable mention) for all my text editing.

Google Chrome

Creator
Google LLC
Website
Chrome.com
Price
Free
Platforms
All
Source Model
Based on Chromium, which is Free and Open-Source

I don’t… need to explain this one, do I? It’s a common choice. I usually have a bunch of browsers installed (currently the main and dev versions of: Chrome, Opera, Brave, Firefox, & Vivaldi), but Chrome keeps coming back to me as my default for one reason or another.

GitKraken

Creator
Axosoft
Website
GitKraken.com
Price
Free
Pro: $49/yr
Enterprise: $99/user/yr
Platforms
Windows
Linux (deb, tar.gz)
macOS
Source Model
Closed-Source

Another one I’m using to make this blog, GitKraken is the easiest and most intuitive way I’ve ever used Git. Then consider its built-in conflict resolution, code editor, pull-request-creator, and profile-switcher and this is a no-brainer to me.

Telegram

Website
Telegram.org
Price
Free
Platforms
All
Source Model
Free and Open-Source

Telegram is Yet Another Chat App™. That obviously isn’t why I love it; no, I love it for the well-chosen and well-made features it boasts:

  • Available on all platforms
  • Message Editing & Deletion
  • Reply & Forward Messages
  • Voice & Video Messages
  • Voice Calling
  • Custom, Sharable Sticker Packs
  • Custom, Sharable Themes
  • Pinned Chats
  • Pinned Group Messages
  • One-Way Channel Feeds
  • End-To-End Encrypted
  • Optional Super Secure Device-to-Device Chats
  • Self-Destructing Messages
  • Highly Customizable Notifications
  • Easily Searchable & Browsable History for Messages/‌Images/‌Links/‌Gifs/‌Files/‌Voice-Messages
  • Share Contact/Chat With Link
  • Public (Searchable) & Private (Invite-Only) Groups
  • Emoji Search
  • Powerful Group Admin Tools

f.lux

Website
JustGetFlux.com
Price
Free
Platforms
Windows
macOS
Linux (PPA, X-Window)
Android
iOS (Jailbroken)
Source Model
Closed Source

This one is an interesting recommendation in 2018; its functionality is mostly replicated in all modern operating systems. In case you haven’t heard of it, this is a blue light filter, like Apple’s Night Shift or Microsoft’s Night Light, so lots of people have dropped it in favor of the built-in ones. However, f.lux is the only one which lets me run it at different temperatures during the day and night.

I do this to warm up the tone of the display during normal use, to match the white-point of the room. Apple calls this True Tone, but that’s not available on any of my computers and doesn’t work on external monitors, so this is my current solution. We’ll see if that changes someday. 😉

1Password

Creator
AgileBits, Inc
Website
1Password.com
Price
Standard: $3/mo
Families: $5/mo
Teams: $4/user/mo
Business: $8/user/mo
Enterprise: Quoted
Platforms
Windows
macOS
Android
iOS
CLI
Browsers
Source Model
Closed Source

This is an impressive one. I only started using it recently, so for it to have made it to my shortlist of Must-Have Apps is no small feat. Before getting such a dedicated password manager, I was keeping track of them manually via an offline encrypted spreadsheet. This was tedious, to say the least. A couple months ago I finally broke and started trying password managers, including LastPass and KeePass.

Obviously, eventually, I settled on 1Password, and it’s been hard to look back. The triple-factor security gives me peace-of-mind, the ubiquity gives me the convenience I craved, and the password generator added extra speed and security on top of what I’d previously had with diceware and word-association. Add on top of that the multiple vaults, local-only vaults, built-in RSA key generator, secure document storage, and several other features I’ve yet to even try, 1Password seems to have a solid place in this list.

Windows

GreenShot

Creator
GreenShot
Price
Free
macOS: $2
Platforms
Windows
macOS
Source Model
Free and Open-Source

As many Windows users have, I started taking screenshots by pressing Prnt
Scrn
, then pasting into MS Paint, then saving that. When Windows Vista included the Snipping Tool, I rejoiced and pinned it to my taskbar, using it by default for cropped screenshots. When Windows 8 included a shortcut for fullscreen shots, I gladly used Prnt
Scrn
to save it to Pictures/Screenshots. And since then Windows hasn’t improved on the system at all.

Well, when I started using macOS, I found that 4 * , while unintuitive, provided a quick, easy, and fully-featured screenshotting tool. I became so accustomed to this that when I moved back to Windows, I found it barbaric to launch Snipping Tool, select Snip mode, click New, select what I wanted, and press CtrlS to do what in macOS would just be 4 and select. And on top of that, after Windows 8 changed its window border thicknesses, the snipping tool was no longer accurate (it’s consistently off by 1px to the right and 1px down).

So, I went searching and found GreenShot! This let me replicate this behavior and tweak it to my liking. Now in Windows I just slap CtrlShift4 and select, then it saves it. It also copies it to the clipboard, and while you’re selecting on the screen it shows a zoom of the pixels surrounding the cursor. This is even an improvement over the macOS screenshot tool * ** !

Fences

Creator
Stardock
Price
$10
Object Desktop bundle: $30
Source Model
Closed-Source

I flip flop between preferring no icons on my desktop, vs preferring important ones there. While I decide, Fences lets me at least keep things clean. The idea is that you can use this to automatically (or manually) fence things off into different parts of your desktop, and then double-click to hide them all. This is especially necessary on Windows where programs put their icons on the desktop by default.

7Zip

Creator
Igor Pavlov
Price
Free
Source Model
Free and Open-Source

.7z is my preferred file compression format for a lot of reasons so I gotta have something that supports it. Might as well use the official client! Not much more to it than that.

I highly recommend the format since it’s free and open source (unlike rar), and compresses better than the others almost every time, in my use (unlike zip).

Android

Sleep as Android

Talk about life-changing apps! Sleep as Android has actually changed my life for the better. I’ve been using this since around 2012 and within months of starting, my sleep had become deeper, more restful, and more satisfying. I’ve never looked back and I actually couldn’t live without this.

Meteor Swipe

Price
Free
Source Model
Closed-Source

Meteor Swipe is a side-dock app for Android, much like Samsung’s Edge Panels. At the time of writing, I’m trying out Samsung’s solution, but missing Meteor Swipe’s support for icon packs, quicker folder-open gestures, nested folders, skins, and full-size widgets. Maybe this won’t be here next time I make one of these lists, but it’s certainly here now.

Swype Gboard Swype

Website
Nuance / Swype
Price
Free
Platforms
Android
iOS
Source Model
Closed-Source

I used to love Swype… but it died. While still on my search for a suitable replacement, I’m currently using Gboard. It’s good enough at predicting me, has a nice set of themes, and supports bilingual mode. I’m also a swipe-typer, only doing tip-a-tap-a typing when it doesn’t already know a word, and Gboard is good at both.

Between starting to write this and now, it’s come back (-ish; the app store link 404s on desktop but works fine on my phone)! I love Swype; it’s the best at interpreting my gestures and, in my opinion, has the best placement of special characters behind the primary keys for fast tap-and-hold access. Not to mention the choices for keyboard position and extra layouts.

The best part, though? Its top-tier word prediction. This thing really knows me better than any other keyboard I’ve ever used.

All that said, my friends are having mixed results actually installing this now, so Nuance might nuke it at any time. Gboard might end up replacing it…

Snapseed

Creator
Google LLC
Price
Free
Platforms
Android
iOS
Source Model
Closed-Source

For me, no other photo editor has been as consistently good at everything it does as Snapseed. This is one of those ones that’s for making a photo look its best, not for drawing on it or adding text or anything. I absolutely recommend this for any photographer.

It even supports raw photos! I honestly can’t believe this thing is free.

macOS

Keka

Creator
aONe
Website
Keka.IO
Price
Free
Source Model
Free and Open-Source

.7z is my preferred file compression format for the simple reason that it’s almost always the smallest. You already know that for Windows, I use the official 7zip program, but for macOS we have Keka, a 3rd-party compressor/decompressor which has full 7zip support. It doesn’t have the file browser that 7zip’s official client has, but I find I rarely, if ever, need that. All I want to do 99.95% of the time is compress or decompress something, and Keka does that beautifully.

Oh yeah, and Keka lets you exclude macOS resource forks. That’s very nice.

iStat Menus

Creator
bjango
Price
Single: $15
Family: $20
Source Model
Closed-Source

I’ve seen this on so many Macs, not only those of my peers but of professionals in videos. iStat Menus lets me have a bunch of rather customizable miniature widgets in my menu bar telling me stats about my computer. I can only wish that Windows could have something that so elegantly does what this does. This is among those apps which I forget I even have installed, which I come to think of as an essential part of the experience of using a computer.

Also it lets me make a custom fan driver (ish; close enough TBH), which is very nice for not burning my legs and fingertips off while I use my MacBook.

Bartender

Creator
surtees studios
Price
$15
4-week Free Trial
Source Model
Closed-Source

I think that the Menu Bar’s days are numbered. However, until then, I must use it. To make that easier for me, and for devs who demand a Menu Bar app, and for devs who demand a lot of menus in their foreground app, I need something that’ll keep the right side clean so it can fit with the left side. And that thing is Bartender.

Bartender really changes how the Mac is used in a subtle, but essential way. Without this, I wouldn’t ever see most of my menu bar apps. Also, thanks to this, I can add a bunch of iStat Menus widgets to my menu bar, never worrying about those disappearing!

I honestly often forget that this is a 3rd-party app. When I set up a new Mac, I think it’s broken because the Menu Bar is misbehaving, when in reality I just hadn’t installed Bartender.

Browser Extensions

Ghostery

Website
Ghostery.com
Price
Free
Source Model
Free and Open-Source

I’m very privacy- and security-conscious. That’s why there’s no Facebook link down below. That’s also why I run no fewer than three ad blockers on any given browser window. Exactly which ones changes over time, but one thing doesn’t: Ghostery. This thing is so good at blocking precisely what I dislike, or absolutely everything, all while really caring about its UI being easy to use.

Ghostery makes me feel safer online, and that’s very valuable to me.

CLEAN crxMouse Gestures

Creator
Jeffery
Price
Free
Platforms
Chromium
Source Model
Closed-Source

Way back in the olden days of, like, 2009, I found Opera. Its immense customizability (both overall skins and UI widget positions) drew me in like a moth to a lämp. Then its built-in eMail client, RSS reader, and fileserver kept me there, very happy.

But one feature of this old Opera web browser stuck to me more than any other: mouse gestures. Just hold right-click and drag in certain patterns, and it would perform common actions, like closing a tab, refreshing the page, or navigating back and forth.

Eventually, sadly, Opera lost me with its version 12/15, which started from scratch on a Chromium platform. In doing this, they removed almost all the features I loved about Opera, so I switched to Chrome. However, I could not comfortably use it without those mouse gestures. In my search, I found some developers had the same thought, and I tried a few. I eventually landed on crxMouse Gestures, which, as its name implies, tried to recreate the old Opera mouse gestures in a CRX (file format for ChRrome eXtension; in Opera 11 they added similar-style extensions as OEX files, so this name was to disambiguate that these are for Chrome). I tried that out, delighted in its customizability and reliability.

Eventually, though, it came out that crxMouse Gestures was malicious. As I cried, I looked for yet another alternative. Happily, yet another dev was just as devastated, so they forked the code and made their own version available, which is exactly the same minus the malware. Thanks, Jeffery!

Hover Zoom+

Creator
Oleg Anashkin
Price
Free
Source Model
Free and Open-Source

Here’s yet another one of those things where my computer feels broken if it’s missing. Also way back when I was into Opera, I found a plugin that let me view full-size previews of deviantART images when I hover over them (and other sites, but I mainly used dA at the time). I rapidly found myself enjoying that flow and even taking it for granted.

Much like crxMouse Gestures, sadly, Hover Zoom was also found to be malicous. Once again in despair, I went searching for a suitable replacement. Joyously, yet again, an awesome dev comes to the rescue and releases a clean fork of the extension, and that’s this Hover Zoom+. Thanks, Oleg!

tl;dr

  1. Opinion
  2. Recommendations