Updated April 13th, 2020.
— Season’s Greetings, and a Present for You —
It’s been a super year for me and my blog. I published my 400th article, doubled the blog’s readership, and connected with readers from around the world. With your help– comments, suggestions, and encouragement– I turned this blog into a forum for helping a whole lot of Mac, iPhone, and iPad users in a really big way. I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you for your support.
With Christmas just barely behind us I’d like to offer Season’s Greetings, and a late gift: a consolidated list of my favorite tips and recommended apps for Macs, iPhones and iPads, plus some money-saving websites and a couple of Google tips. The tips are free, as are some of the apps; the apps that cost something are worth their prices or they wouldn’t be on this list.
|Best shortcut (Macs): Command-Tab. Use it to switch from app to app. Press the Command key by itself and nothing happens, but if you hold it down and then tap the Tab key (upper left on your keyboard) you’ll see an overlay on the screen with all of the apps that are running.|
Keep the Command key down and tap the Tab key until you’ve highlighted the app you want to bring to the front. That app will pop to the front when you let go of the Command key. Don’t hold the Tab key down– just tap it. (Command key stays down, but the Tab key gets tapped.)
This technique lets you quickly and easily switch between apps, even if they are completely covering the screen. No more dragging windows around to make some other app visible. Just do Command-Tab until the app you want is highlighted. Then let go.
Bonus: if Command-Tab goes forward, would you expect Command-Shift-Tab to go backward? Of course you would. Turns out that Command-` (near upper left on your keyboard) will also go backward. Finally, with an app highlighted, keep the Command key down, and type a Q to quit it. There’s no quicker way.
|Best shortcut (iPhone and iPad): Dictation. Use it instead of typing. Look for the microphone to the left of the spacebar and tap it any time you’re typing. Incredible time-saver. “Any time you’re typing” includes in an email, a text message, when doing a Google search, and more. If you see the microphone the app knows how to listen. So try it.|
|Best free text editor (Mac): TextWrangler. TextWrangler makes short work of text-processing jobs that Word and Pages can’t do at all. For example, suppose you’re given a list of names, like this:|
Now suppose you want the list to look like this:
And now suppose the list is a lot longer, and copying/pasting and selecting/formatting each name isn’t practical. This is a job for TextWrangler, as it can do the job for you, in an instant, no matter how long the list is.
Another example: TextWrangler can take phone numbers formatted like “xxxxxxxxxx” and change them to “(xxx) xxx-xxxx” with ease. One more example: TextWrangler can find all of the URLs in a document and convert them to clickable links.
If part of your job involves cleaning up text files (perhaps to get them ready for a mail merge, or for importing into a database, or for publishing to the web) TextWrangler will be a lot of help. A LOT.
|Best inexpensive Photoshop replacement (Mac): Pixelmator. $29.99 gets you Pixelmator, a very powerful image editing app, much like Photoshop. Adobe wants $9.99 per month for Photoshop so Pixelmator soon becomes the better deal. Yes, there are things that Photoshop does that Pixelmator can’t, but you might not need them. Get the 30-day free trial and decide for yourself.|
|Best password management app (Mac, iPhone, iPad): 1Password. Keeps track of all your passwords in a secure software vault. Supplies passwords when you need them. Syncs with 1Password on your iPhone and iPad. Uses TouchID on your iPhone and iPad to unlock the vault. Indispensable.|
|Best free time-saving app (Mac): Alfred. Sort of a special-purpose Spotlight. Made for speed, and driven by the keyboard. Great for launching apps, looking up phone numbers and addresses, and doing a quick Google search. Gets smarter over time by remembering how you use it.|
|Best text-expansion utility (Mac): Typinator. “Text-expansion” means you type a little, and it magically turns into a lot, saving you time and typos. For example:|
It works just about everywhere– in emails, in forms on web pages, in word processing documents, in instant messages. Easy to set up, but super-powerful. You just type, using shortcuts and abbreviations, and Typinator expands what you type, as if you typed it yourself– only faster, and without mistakes. Free trial available here. Introductory movie available here.
|Best free app for watching college football games (iPhone and iPad): Watch ESPN. Actually, it’s more than the best free app for watching college football games, as it includes (in addition to college football games) live streaming access to ESPN, ESPNU, ESPN2, ESPN3, the SEC Network, the Longhorn Network, the NBA, golf, World Cup Soccer, and a ton of other stuff. Also available on your Apple TV (you lucky duck) and as a website, at http://espn.go.com/watchespn/.|
|Best weather website: Forecast.io. Forget about trying to figure out what “40% chance of rain” means. Instead, use Forecast.io and see when it will rain.|
|Best money-saving website (tie): DealNews.com and RetailMeNot.com |
DealNews searches the web for the best deals in electronics, clothing, airfare, home & garden, computers, office supplies, health & beauty– and a lot more. They’ll alert you when things you’re looking for go on sale. Clean and fast website, updated continually.
RetailMeNot is the place to find discount codes and coupons. Make it a habit to visit RetailMeNot before making an online purchase to see if they have a discount code you can use.
|Best Apple rumors website: MacRumors.com. Whether it’s a Mac rumor, an iPhone rumor, an iPad rumor, or some other kind of Apple-related rumor, MacRumors.com is likely to report it. I read it daily.|
|Best Google tip (tie): the minus sign, and “site:domain.”|
The minus sign tells Google to hide what you don’t want to see. For example, a Google search for “Mac stores los angeles” returns a mix of Apple stores and MAC Cosmetics stores. Add “-cosmetics” to the end of the search string (that is, search for “Mac stores los angeles -cosmetics” and you don’t get any results about cosmetics.
Now suppose you’re searching for something that you remember reading online. You remember the website so you go to that site and use its search facility (for example, let’s say you’re looking for an article about cheeseburgers that you remember reading on www.latimes.com). If you use the “Search” box on the LA Times website and search for “cheeseburger” you will get 278 articles that match– but maybe not the article you’re looking for. If you go to Google and search for “cheeseburger” you’ll find 16.5 million articles and only some of them will be from the latimes.com website, so that’s not a lot of help. But if you go to Google and search for “cheeseburger site:latimes.com” you will get 1,960 results, all from the latimes.com site— 7 times as many articles as the LA Times search engine provided. I don’t know how Google can index the LA Times’ website better than the LA Times can itself, but it does.
Notice the syntax for restricting a search to a particular website: after you type what you’re looking for, you type a space, and then the word “site” and then a colon and then the name of the site. No spaces before or after the colon. Really handy.
And there you have it: a collection of tips and suggested software, each item being something I use all the time. Speaking of time, the time you spend checking these things out will be paid back 100-fold once you give them a try. Also speaking of time, this blog post was years in the making– it’s based on my own experience with Apple products, which started in 1985. The way I see it, reading this article saves you almost 30 years.