From time to time students ask me about the various software application icons I have in my dock, Mac OS X’s excellent application launcher. Below are some of my favorite OS X applications that I regularly use. In reviewing the list I was surprised that the majority of these applications are open source.
SSHKeychain is a great open source tool that integrates SSH keys into Apple’s Keychain password management application. SSH private keys are used in lieu of passwords to eliminate weaknesses surrounding password authentication and the inconvenience of typing a password to login to a server. However, SSH keys are usualy protected with a passphrase so that if stolen, a thief would not have automatic access to servers that accept the SSH key.
Unfortunately, a good passphrase is even more cumbersome than a password. Using SSHKeychain, all I have to remember is Keychain’s single-sign-on password and all of my SSH keys are unlocked as needed. And SSHKeychain has just been released as a Universal binary.
Skim is a great open source PDF viewer that amoung other things allows one to highlight and anotate PDF’s in a variety of ways. As a researcher, I’m constantly reading and reviewing scientific papers. Skim can mark up documents much more ably than Apple’s Preview or Adobe Reader, and has a nice range of other features to boot.
Burn is a an open source CD/DVD burning and authoring program. Besides being a versatile disk burner, it can easily convert quicktime, DivX, Xvid, and other media formats into a DVD-compatible MPEG file and then burn the file to DVD.
Cyberduck is a useful open source GUI FTP/SFTP client which allows one to open any remote file using a local application. It also supports SSH keys for password-less sign-on to remote servers.
Another great Firefox feature is the ability to search using keywords in the address bar. For example, if I want to look up an article in Google Scholar, I simple type “SC” and then the keywords I am searching for in the address bar, and then Firefox takes me directly to Google Scholar’s search results.. Very fast.
Gimp is an open source image editor comparable to PhotoShop. Although not as feature-rich as PhotoShop, I find that it has far more features than I need and is quite powerful.
Google Earth is a great application/service that gets better all the time as Google continues to improve its satelite imaging and more plug-ins are created. A fantastic application.
Handbrake is an open source DVD ripping application that makes converting entire DVD movies into 300 MB files a snap.
iCal is Apple’s great calendaring program. Much nicer than MS Outlook.
Kismet (KisMac for OS X) is a passive wireless sniffer that can also detect wireless networks that do not broadcast their SSID. Open source.
Apple Mail is my favorite email client for any platform. It offers very fast searching and nice integration with OS X. Additionally, Hawkwings.net is a neat site with a lot of tips to increase Mail’s functionality.
Nessus is a very powerful vulnerability scanner. Very useful for assessing the security of servers I manage.
Parallels is a great virtualization product that allows me to run Windows XP, Vista, and Linux at near-native speeds. It would be hard to go back to a system that can’t run another operating system on top of it. With Parallels, I have easy access to programs on every major platform.
Quicksilver is an open source application launcher that makes programs, documents, and folders accessible with a quick keystroke.
Textwrangler is a full-featured, free text editor. It is not as feature-rich as BBEdit or TextMate, but it does have a surprising range of capabilities for a free product.
VirtureDesktops is a great open source tool that gives me quick access to virtual desktops, allowing me to virtually increase my screen real estate. I use it in combination with Parallels to dedicate one desktop to Windows or Linux and another to OS X.
Transmission is my favorite BitTorrent client for OS X. It’s not as powerful as Azureus, but does 95% of what I need very simply. Open source.
VLC is an open source media player. It can play almost any media files.
Cisco VPN is a pretty generic VPN client, but it is an indispensable security tool for a mobile user. With a VPN I can securely access the Internet from whatever public Wi-Fi network I may be connected to.
Terminal is a Unix shell that is closely integrated with OS X. UNIX is my favorite aspect of OS X and I use the command line all the time. I use DarwinPorts (and to a lesser extent Fink) to install a lot of great GNU/Linux, BSD, and otherwise open source command-line tools.
X11 allows graphical UNIX programs to run within OS X.