As a seminary student, much of my time is spent reading and organizing information for later presentation. Establishing a system and choosing the right tools greatly enhances the process. In this post I want to highlight some of the free software that I have found to be of great utility. Here I am including only the real essential applications, those that I would sorely miss, rather than are simply a luxury:
Quicksilver – This program is first on the list for a reason. If for no other reason, I believe that people should consider a Mac as their next computer based entirely upon this nifty utility. It integrates directly into the Finder, so that you can access and even manipulate files on your computer with just a few keystrokes. You can control your entire computer and use this program to perform complex actions. For example, if I am putting together notes for Sunday School, I can bring up Quicksilver, enter a Scripture reference and the first letters of a translation, and in a moment it will be pasted from Accordance directly into my document. Check out some basic abilities here.
Firefox – This web-browser seems to make it onto every “top software” list since its inception. Though it was a staple for me on the PC, I tried to make do with the Safari browser until I just couldn’t stand the limitations to Gmail and other web 2.0- type applications. Use Safari – it’s the best. Perhaps a post of the most useful plugins will be a later post.
Journlr – I’ve only recently begun to use Journler to organize my life. Perhaps a more fuller-featured program such as iGTD will be preferred by some. These programs are notoriously only-as-useful-as-they-are-used and so the Journler program gets high marks for its simplicity. It makes keeping a journal a real joy and brings tagging and smart folders to personal data.
VLC – This program plays back nearly every media format you might encounter. Previous to free-fullscreen viewing in Quicktime and now after, it is my media player of choice. Download the Perian package of codecs here.
Thunderbird – I spent quite some time looking for a program that could access newgroups, primarily to download files for Libronix. This program does it with flying colors, handling attachments and html formatting like a champ.
Sidenote – On the PC I would litter my computer with text files because notepad was so quick and easy to use. On the Mac, it seems like every text editor takes considerably longer to open. For this reason I use Sidenote, which slides out from the right or left side of the screen to hold whatever notes or thoughts or clippings you want to store, and then slides unobtrusively away.
Freemind – Freemind is a mind mapping program. If you are unfamiliar with it, then you may not know what you’re missing. Rather than composing a linear outline, a mind map is composed of collapsible branches around a central node. It allows you to visualize all the information quickly as you get it down. Though it is not the most intuitive or fully-featured program, I’ve found the export-to-html function to be useful to create quick outlines of personal mind maps.
Books – Books is an open-source book cataloging application for the Mac. It searches Amazon, the Library of Congress, and more in order to find your books by Title, Author, ISBN, or many other fields. It is easy to use and exports web-ready folders. If you have a lot of books, use this to keep them organized and track who is borrowing which books.
iRed Lite – Although there are better programs that utilize the apple remote to control all aspects of your computer, this one is free. If you’ve ever wanted to control more than just Front Row, say for example Powerpoint or Keynote, then this program is a must-have.
Obviously there are many more programs that are useful as well, including those that come pre-installed as a standard. Some other utilities such as Skype are indispensable for friends keeping in contact with family and churches overseas, so this list is by no means exhaustive.
Though not full-fledged programs, I also want to highly recommend the free Mac Excel Expander which I use often. If you’ve ever wanted to split a cell into separate cells each containing a single word, or perhaps put them together with a single click, this is the tool set. Also, if you are doing any sort of original language work and interacting with PCs you will be interested in installing the Bibleworks Fonts for Mac.