Apple provides a complete suite of core OS X apps for the newbie and the casual Mac user. Apps like Mail, iCal, Contacts, TextEdit, Time Machine and Safari have a specific, simplistic design philosophy. However, if you're a more experienced Mac user, it may be time to ask yourself why you're still using these beginner apps.
Experienced Mac users have long realized that Apple designs its core OS X utilities to be simple, intuitive and approachable. That's because, out of the box, the Mac must always present itself as fun and easy to use. That almost ensures that, except for bug fixes, essential technical advances and minor refinements, the OS X utility apps remain almost frozen in time.
This is in contrast to paid apps which must continue to evolve and remain competitive or else the developer's cash flow dries up. It's a tradition in the software industry that solid, advancing apps continue to evolve and add value so that major, paid updates make sense to the customer.
For example, I long ago gave up on the idea that Apple wanted to develop its Mail app into a serious, capable and highly customizable professional application. With each new release of OS X, from Leopard to Snow Leopard to Lion, Mountain Lion and now Mavericks, it's clear that Mail will never really grow up. It must, by necessity, remain the lowest common denominator, the easy-to-use email app for the Macintosh newbie and casual user.
And so, if you are still using these apps, and vaguely feel that they are wanting, it may be time to move on. Years ago, I went through the same process. Here are my own thoughts -- which are fundamentally opinions, but the opinion of a user who has been using Macs since day one in 1984. As such, this article isn't about a detailed critique of each Apple app; rather, it's more of a personal travelogue.
1. Cal. Years ago, I gave up on iCal. And so I was happy to become a beta tester for BusyMac's BusyCal, and grew to appreciate its power and flexibility. I won't go into detail because I said it all in my review a few years ago. "BusyCal 1.0: It’s About Time." Since then, BusyCal has kept up with the times and technology and gotten better and better.
BusyCal (Image credit: BusyMac)
BusyCal reads and writes to the same database as iCal, so you can seamlessly switch back and forth -- if you need to. This is not just an OS utility given away. BusyCal is a great app.
2. Contacts. I've signed up to be a beta tester for a new product from BusyMac, called BusyContacts. I expect that this new app will provide the same power, sharing and flexibility as its BusyCal brother. I am looking forward to dropping Apple's Contacts dead in its tracks.
BusyContacts, beta. (Image credit: BusyMac)
Again, Apple's Contacts app is great if one has modest number of entries, and they aren't very complex. In my case, with 1,025 cards in the database, the lack of flexibility and minor irritants, such as the restricted size of the photo, limited fields in the address template, and the removal of local sync (since returned) have annoyed me. Time to move on.
3. TextEdit. This app has been virtually frozen in time for many years. The only time I use it is when I need to inspect a Microsoft Word document on a Mac that doesn't have the Office suite. The awkwardness of how it handles the option for either .rtf or .txt has never been addressed. This app is just there as a place holder, sort of like the "vi" editor in UNIX.
While there are many fine text editor replacements for OS X, detailing them all is beyond the scope of this article. My long time favorite is BBEdit by Bare Bones Software, the finest text editor on the planet, and that includes Windows. If you don't have BBEdit on your Mac as your standard text editor, you should consider investing in it. I have never looked back.
4. Safari. Apple's default browser is a fine app, but it does tend to simplify things in a world that's a dangerous place to roam. I've said it before: Apple's philosophy appears (to me) to be that confronting the user with the possible perils of the Internet and providing options, complicated and scary as they may be, has never been in line with Apple's desire to 1) Create a happy experience and 2) Attend to security in the background for the user's own good. Corporate agenda is always lurking.
I, on the other hand, have always appreciated the explicit commitment Mozilla has made to the user's privacy and security. Mozilla doesn't sell computers like Apple and the organization has no agenda other than to make the best possible, most secure browser with rapid, automatic updates. As such, years ago, I made Firefox my primary browser, and I've never regretted it. I especially appreciate keeping the URL and search bar separate.
I avoid Chrome for similar philosophical reasons.
5. iPhoto. This is a very subjective area for me. iPhoto is a fine app, suitable for all things related to a person's or family's photo life. However, I have heard far too many horror stories about disasters with complex iPhoto libraries to commit to it. Very large databases don't seem to be its forte, from what I've heard, and so I've steered away over the years. I'm happy with that decision.
iPhoto (Image credit: Apple)
I trust the Finder, more or less, to keep track of my photos, and so I have a folder/directory for each event and I leave it at that. If I need to create a print album or a slide show, I can extract the photos I need and do something special. iPhoto is supposed to make things easier and cool, but my philosophy has always been that life is too short to attend to thousands of photos with endless housekeeping, annotations and the risk that an app bug could cast me into a nightmare experience.
This app, iPhoto, is designed to sell Macs, but I'm not sold on it.