State of the Apps – 2020

December. A great time to take stock of what one’s been doing during the past year. And as I’ve come to do here for a while now, also a good time to reflect on the software one’s been using, to see what worked, what changed, and what should be changed. Here we go.

The 2018 IssueThe 2019 Issue


Miscellaneous – iA Writer

I’ve talked about this piece of software so much on this blog that I might as well rename the blog itself, so I won’t bore you. It’s lean, it’s simple, it works.

Academic – TextMate

A change from last year, when I was using (the still very valid) TeXShop. TextMate is incredibly lightweight and virtually (for my needs at least) bug-free. Its integration with LaTeX (a small introduction to which can be found here,) is nothing short of amazing. One tap and you save, another and you typeset. It’s got command autocompletion, and best of all, citation autocompletion. TextMate reads what you have in your bibliography file and autocompletes the cite-key on its own. This is the future.

Outlines – OmniOutliner

I think in headings. Before committing anything to paper that’s semi-long form, I just have to have a bunch of headings under which I organise the information I’m going to type up. OmniOutliner does a fantastic job at that, and I’ve been a happy user for about three years now. Plus, its keyboard shortcuts are insanely far-reaching, and fully customizable (as with other Omni software.) Its main downside? The Omni-style price (especially if you’re a student like me.) For a free, web-based alternative, try Dynalist.

Reading & Research

PDFs – PDF Expert and

Honestly, is more than enough for anyone. It’s minimal and does its job. However when I have multiple large PDFs open, I have occasionally found its search buggy, and slow at saving files after editing or annotating them. This is where, for me, PDF Expert comes into play. The main draw of PDF Expert is that it’s blazingly fast. It’s what I use when doing research, keeping tens of PDFs open at once, switching between them and performing searches on a single document or on all of the open documents. It’s speed.

Managing References – BibDesk

BibDesk is the academic reference managing software, for me at least. I tried the usuals like Zotero and Mendeley, but none hold a candle to the simplicity and effectiveness of BibDesk. What this software does, down to its core, is to manage your bibliography (.bib) files with a nice GUI. In my case I only have one such file, that I use for all of my writing, with hundreds of entries, and BibDesk never had any issues with that. Additionally, it helps keep your PDF article collection tidy, automatically. I should do a write-up of this software one day.

RSS – Reeder 4

The one and only RSS reader for Mac and iOS. I don’t have a single complaint. I even talk about it in my small guide to RSS.


Time Tracking – toggl

Is there even anything else that comes close to toggl when it comes to time tracking? I don’t know. Thing is, it satisfies my needs pretty well. It’s simple enough that it’s not distracting, but complex enough that it’s useful to keep track of what you’re doing. Its killer feature for me, compared with other time trackers, is its implementation in the desktop app of the Pomodoro technique, where you work for 25 minutes then stop for 5. That’s the way I work, and I am glad toggl supports it natively. Much productivity was had with toggl this year.

To-Dos – Things 3

Not much changed in this regard from last year. Things is still the best to-do manager for everyone. It’s not as versatile or expansive as OmniFocus, but it has more than enough functions than the average person might need. It’s been a staple of my productivity now for years, and I don’t see myself changing that in the near future.

Mixed Bag

Some stuff that’s new, interesting, or that just doesn’t fit in with any particular category.

Genealogy – MacFamilyTree 9

If you’re looking to create your own family tree, honestly, this is the only true option on macOS, and what a great option it is. I mean it. The devs behind it have been updating it for more than ten years, and it just works. Genealogy is fun and nobody can convince me otherwise.

Shipping Tracking – Deliveries

If you buy a lot of stuff online, and are obsessed with checking where your packages are, this is the best Mac app for that. It’s simple, very Mac-like, clean, and minimalist. Unfortunately it does not track shipments from China, so there’s that.

Memorizing – Anki

A realiable measure of how good a piece of software is how much you use and rely on it. I absolutely rely on Anki for school and language learning. Flashcards and spaced repetition are a criminally underrated way to learn stuff.

VPN – AzireVPN and TunnelBlick

Achtung! TunnelBlick is not a VPN provider — it’s a Mac app that allows you to connect to a VPN through the OpenVPN protocol. It’s open source and virtually bug- and problem- free. My VPN provider of choice is AzireVPN. Affordable prices, stable connection, 5 devices at the same time. It does not have the same selection of servers as some of the biggest VPN providers, but that’s fine by me. The price is a steal.

Thank you for following this blog’s infrequent updates. See you in 2020.