Recommended: Snapselect for OS X

This week I began writing software reviews for and as I was doing this one, I thought of you. While we’re writers, we do have to be so conscious of images and graphics now plus we can’t help but have a great camera in our pockets – because our phones all have them. I think one consequence from this is that we get eleventy-billion images.

I know I did.

Years ago I was enough into photography – I’ve had some published in US books – that I invested in Apple’s professional image application, Aperture. I’d have to check this, don’t make me swear to it, but when Aperture came out, it was so new and in such a new field that nobody quite knew what to make of it. They tried comparing it to Photoshop, where it failed because its image editing is much more basic. They tried comparing it to iPhoto and it failed because it isn’t as easy as iPhoto.

Yet I believe Adobe got it, they understood. Or maybe more likely they were eying up the same issues that Aperture was intended to solve. Adobe Lightroom became the other application in this new genre of serious photo management.

I was a bit fascinated by this because it reminded me of TV drama reviews where at first everyone is criticising a show and then later they’re adoring it. In this case they were poo-pooing an entire form of software and very quickly they were using it. But then I was also a lot fascinated by how they used it and how these two applications did the same thing in different ways.

Very broadly, very crudely, Aperture was a smash-and-grab do-anything kind of application where you bunged in your photos and then you worried about them later. Whereas Lightroom required you to add them in a certain way, process them in certain steps and really go through a particular workflow. I’m not that disciplined and Aperture just seemed to suit me better, so I bought Aperture.

Unfortunately maybe I needed a touch more discipline than I have. Or perhaps Aperture did. Because I added a lot of photos and then by mistake added them again. And again. Over time there are up to five duplicates of some shots and one thing Aperture is bad at is helping you spot those and delete them.

Flashforward a few years. I’ve pretty much stopped using Aperture because it was full brimwards with these duplicates and near-duplicates from when I would over-shoot events. Also, Apple abandoned Aperture. That was a big surprise to me and I think it was a big mistake. As ever with software, you can carry on using something. Nobody comes and switches off Aperture just because Apple doesn’t sell it any more. But there will come a time when they might as well have. There will be some moment in the future when you have to choose between getting some Apple OS X upgrade and sticking with an old one to keep Aperture alive.

I will upgrade. I say this not just because I know myself but because I know that I’ll upgrade before I notice that it kills Aperture.

So I have been mentally preparing to move my images out of it and I haven’t because I’m not mentally prepared to slog through all those bloody shots. Which is where Snapselect came in. Do you remember reading the word Snapselect about five miles up above this line? I reviewed Snapselect and it did – it is doing – the job I need. It’s taking me a time to work through everything because it is slow and I am busy but every few hours I take a minute to schlep through a few images and kill off the duplicates and the bad ones.

And my telling you that tells you the story behind this paragraph from my review:

We imported a fairly disastrous Aperture library that had over 30,000 images, and took up around 300Gb. It took Snapselect 11 minutes to load it, and then not far shy of 150 minutes to produce the thumbnails — which then took over two hours to analyze. Be smarter than us: bring in a few folders at a time. Snapselect makes that easy, but we just wanted to show off.

Hands On: Snapselect photo management app (OS X) – William Gallagher, MacNN (19 December 2014)

Read the full piece to get some screenshots – watch for my finger in frame in one – and details of how to get it. If you don’t need it, you may not even see the point. But if you do, go buy Snapselect because it solves the day.

Breathtaking future from Adobe – er, and Microsoft?

Is it bad that I look at this, want it and then when I see it’s Microsoft think twice? Microsoft tends to do feature lists really well, as in adding a lot of features to the list. It tends to demo well too. But then in real life the perfect demo crashes all the time. Or the features on the list don’t actually do what you thought they would (see the howls of WordPerfect users forced to switch to Word and learning that Microsoft literally – literally literally, not just very – could not do Reveal Codes). Or the features are just so hard to find that you wonder whether they’re really there or not.

So the Microsoft element of this makes me cautious. And I suppose it’s interesting that Adobe is getting into bed with Microsoft more: it makes you wonder if they’re really thinking of abandoning their power user base over on Apple gear.

But if you’ve ever used Photoshop, Illustrator or other main Adobe apps, this will impress you.



Weekend viewing: The Adobe Illustrator story

I have a love/like relationship with Adobe. Sometimes the firm is irritating – Adobe Flash just seemed to get more irksome every minute – but I think Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are miraculous.

Usually I forget that I ever worked in computers. Certainly it is a jolt to be reminded that I was ever a programmer – I used to yearn to include dramatic plot twists in my software, I was never going to be happy staying there – but I even forget that I wrote extensively for computing magazines. But sometimes, just sometimes I’m so really glad I did. Because while I don’t think I ever wrote about Adobe products much, I was in the trade as this company came along and made the most astonishing impact on all of us.

You might find a book or a magazine or a newspaper that wasn’t designed in Adobe InDesign, it is just about possible. But you cannot find anything that didn’t go through Adobe Photoshop. Cannot. This one company touches everything we read and through that it touches every one of us.

About twelve years ago I had a really good time reading Inside the Publishing Revolution: The Adobe Story Hardcover by Pamela Pfiffner (UK edition, US edition). All the news I knew from my years in the computing press plus the story behind it, I was riveted. Slightly narked at how 100% pro-Adobe it all is and if had been published later than 2002 it might have had to have more gristle in with the positive meat. But it was a deeply interesting story.

And now there’s a video. This is specifically about Adobe Illustrator which is actually the Adobe program I know the least well, but I was riveted. I’m assuming it was produced for the 25th anniversary of Illustrator back in 2012 but I only saw it today thanks to The Loop.

The video is 20 minutes long and I’d have watched an hour without noticing:

I should say, Adobe products are all available on the official site here.

It’s not all sunshine when you use the Cloud

We’re in that nebulous period where we keep hearing about the cloud and if we don’t understand what it is, we feel we should. Soon we won’t think about it at all and that ought to be a good thing. The less we have to piddle about making computers do what we want, the more we can spend time doing what we want and need to do.


Many years ago, I was in the office of a computer magazine when a power cut hit its network servers. Only the servers wherever they were, the magazine office and its PCs were unaffected. Or at least, they were unaffected by the power cut. They were supremely badly affected by the servers going down.

For this magazine ran all its applications from the server. Each PC had a tiny local hard disk and no applications at all. You started up your PC in the morning and it went on the network, got the applications, started working. It took forever. But during all this, you would go to the kitchen, get the tea and eventually start working. There were myriad advantages to the magazine in doing this but I suspect myriad really reduces to one: it made each individual PC cheaper.

Come the server powercut, then, everybody stopped working because everything stopped working. Except me. Yes, I was on a Mac, but I was reviewing some Apple notebook so I’d loaded the applications I needed. Even if the power had gone out in our office, I wouldn’t have noticed because I had battery power and I had all the software I needed to do my job.

On the plus side, I felt just a tiny bit smug and I also filed this away so that I could tell you about it twenty years later. This feels good.

On the minus side, everybody else got to go home.

We’re in a situation now where we are all relying on servers somewhere else. They’re now just servers somewhere else in the world and we call it all the cloud. The cloud is good. The cloud is very good.

Until it goes wrong and it does go wrong.

Adobe was in the spotlight recently when its Adobe CS cloud service, Creative Cloud, went offline for 48 hours, leaving users in the dark and preventing publication of the mobile edition of Britain’s Daily Mail. This was a disaster for the company and a much bigger disaster for thousands of Creative Cloud users trying to meet urgent deadlines — but in future failure in cloud services could damage the global economy.

Jonny Evans: Adobe CS and the dangerous cloud – Computer World via Macworld (5 June 2014)

Evans has some horror stories and a lot of statistic but he also has advice for us and for cloud service providers in his full piece. It boils down to this, though: rely on the cloud but don’t be dependent on it. There you go.

Countdown of 2013’s worst passwords

There's a new kid on the block with this year's countdown of the worst passwords you could possibly have but do. It's a first-time top ten appearance for “adobe123”.

Also breaking into the top ten with a rise of two places is “iloveyou” where it's amazing five-place jump for our number 8 password, “1234567”.

The unforgettable “111111” is up two to 7 while it's another new entry at 6 with “123456789”.

Then it's the chart's first fall with “abc123” down one to 5.

Replacing that at 4 is the classic “qwerty” which is up one spot.

Into the top three now and still steady at number 3 is “12345678”. Number 2 is a shock drop of one place for the all-time legend that is “password”.

That top ten again:

  1. adobe123
  2. iloveyou
  3. 1234567
  4. 111111
  5. 123456789
  6. abc123
  7. qwerty
  8. 12345678
  9. password

Which means that rising one place since last year, the worst password of 2013 is… “123456”.

There are a few qualifications to make about this chart countdown but the thing to take away is that all ten are equally stupid. And if you use any of them, or any like them, you must change them now if only because it is embarrassing that your best idea is the exact same one that millions of other people had too.

Fixing your passwords is more important than hearing me snark at the data so go, be gone, get yourself over to 1Password. I couldn't endorse that software any more if they paid me.

But now. Snarking.

The definition of worst is debatable, I think. This countdown comes from SplashData, and firm that of course works in password management, and it's really a ranking of the most commonly used passwords. That's not quite the same thing as the worst: “password” is surely still the one you would try first if you were going to break into something. Or “pencil” if you're hacking WOPR, obviously.

Morgan Slain, SplashData CEO:

“[An] interesting aspect of this year's list is that more short numerical passwords showed up even though websites are starting to enforce stronger password policies.”

The definition of most commonly used is also debatable: SplashData says that this year's list is heavily influenced by the troubles Adobe had when a security breach meant quite a few of its users passwords became known.

So many, in fact, that the list has to have been distorted by that group – and you can see it the top twenty which includes such gems as “photoshop” and “adobe123”.

But, seriously, 1Password. On your way.

‘Appy days 2013

I’m a bit disappointed with Apple’s Best of 2013 pick of apps. There’s no real reason I should be, it’s just a list of what’s sold best and what Apple staff seem to like, but I thought I’d find something great in there that I wasn’t already using. And I admit, I unthinkingly expected to see software that helps you be more productive. This year, more than any, I’ve leant on software to get my work done and it’s been a terribly rewarding, satisfying kind of time because I’ve done so much more in so many more areas.

So when I wrote to you about Apple’s pick yesterday, I started in the expectation that I could show you some great tools.

Since that didn’t really work out, since the Best of 2013 became more of a curiosity than a grab bag of productivity tools, let me do what I wanted it to do. Let me show you the best productivity apps of the year.

Two very, very big caveats. One, I’m on a Mac so if you’re on a PC today then this is of precisely zero use to you. Well, not quite: there are some things here that are cross-platform. Platform-agnostic. But I’ll never have the patience to read through a list of Windows applications to find the single thing that will also run on my Mac, so if you’re in that boat, have a mug of tea instead and we’ll chat later.

Two, I’m sure some of these apps came out in 2013 but I’m never going to check. These are the tools that have made me enormously and enjoyably productive in 2013 and that includes ancient apps I’ve only just discovered and it includes old stalwarts that I have used for years. I know. Crazy. Maybe that’s why Apple’s list is more entertainment and games: maybe not much came out this year.

Enough. Here’s the list. I tell you now, it’s not as long as I thought it would be.


(Mac: £54.99/US$79.99, iPhone £13.99/US$19.99, iPad £27.99/US$39.99)

Yes, I have all three and once you’ve bought any of them, you’ll go get the other two as well. So let me add that up for you: in the UK, the triptych costs you £96.97 and in the US it’s $139.97. Prices must vary a bit as I’m sure I spent nearer £80 when I bought them but if you’ve gulped, so have I: I’m going to be buying them again in 2014.

That amuses me a little: I keep saying that this price is incredibly cheap considering what OmniFocus has meant to me and that I would gladly pay it again – and now I’m going to. Because there are new versions coming and they are all paid upgrades. I expect there’ll be a discount for existing users of the Mac one but I know there won’t be for the iPad version because there wasn’t for the new iPhone one.

Nonetheless, the second that new iPhone version was out, I bought it. Actually, it requires iOS 7 so what I did was upgrade to iOS 7 and then immediately buy OmniFocus 2 for iPhone. I liked the previous version very much but I like this even more and use it even more. I’m not entirely sure that is possible, but I do.

All of which is a lot of detail to throw at you when you may have never even heard of OmniFocus. It’s a To Do task manager. But that is a bit like saying War and Peace is a stack of paper with some ink on it. 

OmniFocus may not be for you: it is very powerful and it tends to do your head in a bit at first before you get a whole series of Damascus moments and love it. I wrote in a Mac magazine once that “first it destroys your mind, then it owns your soul” and I meant it as a compliment.

But if it’s more than you need or it’s more than you can face, then £96.97 isn’t cheap, it’s suddenly a lot of cash. So tread carefully but do tread, okay? 

While The Omni Group has not announced its plans, the fairly smart money says that the new OmniFocus 2 for iPhone will be followed soon to soonish by version 2 for the iPad and then at some point for the Mac. This makes things a tiny bit tricky. I’d like to tell you to wait but I also want you to get the benefits of this right now. If the Mac version were easier to use, I’d say pull the trigger: the odds are that if you buy OmniFocus 1 for Mac now you will get version 2 for free when it comes. No guarantees, but it’s highly likely. And that dispenses with the money concern.

But it is a concern that this Mac one is hard to use. I’m happy that I put the work in and I enjoy that the Mac one is very powerful. But I got on the beta test for OmniFocus 2 for Mac early in 2013 and have found it hard to go back. That beta has closed and it looks like whenever OmniFocus 2 for Mac comes out for real, it will look and act substantially different to the beta because OS X Mavericks has brought some new possibilities. But still, even the unfinished beta was easier enough to use that I suddenly found version 1 to be a chore.

How’s this? Right now the very best version of OmniFocus is the one for iPad. It will be updated and it will be radically updated if the iPhone is a clue, but even if you buy it an hour before a new version comes out, it’s still a fantastically tremendous application that will transform you. Not your life, it will transform you.

Enough so that I really did pay the money again for the iPhone one and I really will immediately, no IMMEDIATELY, buy the new versions for iPad and Mac whenever they come. 

Take a look at the video about the iPhone version on this Omni Group page. Then this is a longer video about the iPad version – did I mention it’s great? – and a much, much longer but very good series of videos by independent writer David Sparks about the Mac version.

I promise to be more concise about everything else on the list. <Smiles nicely but has fingers crossed behind his back>


Free or US$35/year for premium (gets you extra features)

It’s an app you can make notes in. There must be eleventy-billion such apps. And okay, you can also pop PDFs in there. Images. You can make a clipping from a web site and drag that in to Evernote. Okay.

But I was in a meeting, right, and suddenly needed a contract that had nothing to do with that day’s work. “Oh, yeah, that one,” I said and then called it up on my iPad exactly as if I’d been a soothsayer and known to bring it with me.

That worked and made me look very good because whatever you put in Evernote, you can get out of Evernote – wherever you are. I enter a gigantic number of notes in Evernote for iPhone and Evernote for iPad but I also use the Mac one a lot and I’ve used the PC version on occasion. I’ve been waiting in someone’s office and I’ve used their computer to open the Evernote website. And in each case, wherever I am, whatever I’m using, every single note I’ve ever made is right there.


Now free

I was on a bus going to my mother when I had an idea for a book. Because I had my iPad and it had the Pages word processor on it, I started to make some notes – and by the time I’d got to her, I’d written the first thousand words of what became The Blank Screen book. That book became a workshop that I’ve now run for individuals, students, university staff, colleges and in online seminars. And it became this blog, which is how I got to meet you. I’d call that worth the price of admission.

Mind you, I would like to mention now that I paid for Pages. It only became free toward the end of 2013 and if you think I’m narked by that, no. Fine. I think it is very undervalued but if you can get it for free, terrific. I’ve got so much out of this software already that I am completely fine with having paid whatever it was. Something preposterously cheap, I remember that.

Incidentally, I do have Word on this Mac. I’ve had Microsoft Word on every machine since the 1980s and I’ve used it on every machine. But the other day someone emailed me a Word document when I was using my MacBook. I’d had a problem with the hard disk on that and had wiped it completely, installed OS X Mavericks and got back to work. And there I was with this Word attachment, suddenly realising that I didn’t have Word.

Not only did I not have Word on there, for the first time in all those years, but I also hadn’t noticed. I’d reformatted that drive a month before and used the machine endlessly. Hadn’t noticed Word was gone.

And I didn’t have to notice now, either. Because my Mac just opened the document for me in Pages. 

I had to send that document back in Word format and Pages just did that for me too.

Adobe InDesign

Part of Adobe Creative Cloud, monthly rental cost varies

I used to work a lot on Radio Times, the website, and a bit on the magazine. There was this job where the site regularly needed some text from the mag and by chance of the schedules, it was always a bit easier to get it straight out of the magazine pages before they went to press. I leapt at it. It was a tedious, trivial and surprisingly slow job and I sped it up with some Word macros that would take the heavily formatted magazine text and make it heavily unformatted for the website.

But it also meant using the page layout program, Adobe InDesign. It is ridiculous how little you needed to know in order to do the thing I needed to do, but I would take the time to just explore InDesign for a minute or two each week. And over the years, especially since I was taking text from some superbly designed Radio Times pages, I learnt a lot. Taught myself InDesign.

To the extent that earlier this year Radio Times hired me back to work on a book specifically because I knew Adobe InDesign. And I learnt even more from doing that book work, to the extent that when I got back to my own office, I could and did design my The Blank Screen book in Adobe InDesign.

Read more about it and the whole Adobe Creative Cloud.


Now free

Presentation software. This – and the Pages and Numbers spreadsheet that I use daily – is part of Apple’s iWorks suite of productivity applications and I’m really surprised they weren’t in the company’s pick of the year. They were great and cheap, now they’re pretty great and free. This year’s new versions shed some features (that are apparently coming back slowly) and gained some others. 

For the work I do, I have barely missed any of those features, whatever they are, and I have very much enjoyed using the latest versions. So far I’ve only used Keynote to present The Blank Screen workshop once but it was a pleasure. No one has ever said that about PowerPoint.

Read more about Keynote for Mac (and the iPhone/iPad ones are the same) on Apple’s page.

Reeder 2

Universal for iPad and iPhone: £2.99

In 2012, it was for iPhone, iPad and Mac. And I used them all. It’s a newsreader, an RSS newsreader, which means rather than my going to a couple of hundred websites to read news and articles, they come to me. I’ve already messed with your head and your patience by going in to immense detail, so lemme just say that the world has changed. Right now Reeder for Mac is no longer available while a lot of work is being done under the hood.

I miss it more than I can say. And I’ve used alternatives but still Reeder and most particularly the new Reeder 2 are so well designed and just, you know, right, that I simply don’t read RSS on my Mac any more. The second it’s back out for Mac, I’m having it and I’ll get back to using it on all my machines.

Read more about Reeder and a tiny bit more about what’s happening with the Mac version on the official site.


Angela showed me this on her iPhone one day and I wondered why anyone would want such a thing as a password manager. By the end of that one day, it was on my iPhone and on the front screen too. Later, I showed Angela the Mac version and that’s now on her machine.

This is why. I need to do some financial things in a minute so I’ll press the Apple and / keys here on my Mac and it will open 1Password. With one tap 1Password will open up my bank’s online banking website, enter my account numbers, passwords and all that. It doesn’t go all the way on that site: I have one last page to go through, one last piece of security, but it’s so fast getting to that point that I use it constantly.

And then later if I am booking train tickets – I’m always booking train tickets – 1Password will log me in to and it will enter all my credit card details when I tell it to. 

I appear to have a preposterous number of websites I use that require passwords and so I have a preposterous number of passwords – an increasing number of which are generated by 1Password to be extra hard to crack. No more using the word ‘pencil’ as a password here. 

There is one thing I don’t like and it is the agony when you upgrade from one version to the next on iOS. It isn’t an upgrade, it isn’t an installer, it is alchemy. I can’t fathom how it can be so hard to do but once it’s done or if when you’re buying it for the first time, everything is so well done and easy that I can’t resist it. I know for certain that I use 1Password every single day, without fail, and I suspect I usually use it many times.

We could stop now

Those are the tools I spend my life in at the moment. I do also lean on iTunes a lot because I like telling it to play me an hour’s worth of music and then I’ll write until it stops. Plus I’ve been addicted to the new iTunes Radio which this very day also went live in the UK.

Then I came to really relish using iBooks Author to do the iBooks version of The Blank Screen (here’s the UK iBooks one and here’s the US iBooks one). TextExpander is one of those utilities that is so useful you forget it isn’t part of the Mac generally, but I’ve forgotten that it isn’t part of the Mac generally. Same with Hazel and Keyboard Maestro, both of which I’m just coming to use.

I really did expect that this would be a vastly longer list. Can you imagine that? In any average day I must surely use above twenty different software applications and I use them hard, but it’s only this set that I can honestly point to do as being the key productivity tools for me this year.

Next year may be a little different. I expect to carry on with all of these but I did a couple of projects using OmniOutliner for Mac (an outlining program from the same firm that makes my beloved OmniFocus) and now I’ve just got that for iPad too so it’s featuring more in my usual workflow. Bugger. I’ve been trying to avoid the word workflow. Ah, what can you do?

Similarly, I’m actually writing this to you in MarsEdit, the blogging tool that I’ve heard so much about for so long. I’m only on the trial version but it’s pretty much as good as advertised so I may very well continue with it. We’ll see. It doesn’t exist on iOS and I write a huge amount there so it’s not a guaranteed mandatory purchase or if it were, it isn’t guaranteed that I’ll use it a lot.

Whereas I want to give an honorary mention to some hardware. The best thing I ever bought was my 27in iMac last December: Macs do last a long time so my previous office Mac was a good six or seven years old and this new one boomed, just boomed into my working life. But then maybe the best thing I ever bought was my iPad Air as right now it is the thing I use most. I use it more than my kettle. I know.

I had thought that I used my original iPad a lot and while I didn’t regret giving it to my mother, I missed it more than I expected. And then I bought the iPad Air and am using it perhaps ten times as much as I did that original one.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I never step away from one keyboard or another and I see why you say that, but I can prove you’re wrong. By going now.

I need tea. Can I make you one?