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Makes You Productive

Volume Number: 15 (1999)
Issue Number: 12
Column Tag: Toys and Tools

What Makes You Productive?

By John C. Daub, Austin, Texas USA

Tools and toys to enhance your productivity

A few months ago, the MacTech Editors asked the subscribers of the MacDev-1 mailing list to share with their fellow developers what makes them productive. Cool tools, favorite INIT, Contextual Menu plugin, whatever wonderful things that we create to help make our lives more productive and easier. Response was overwhelming, and here I'll share some of the more popular items that we use - just in time for holiday shopping!

Goes Without Saying

Without a doubt, there are certain things that most developers use and cannot live without. Topping that list is none other than our Macs! From iMac's to G4's, none of us get very far in a day without our Macs. But as nice as those desktop Macs are, I have to agree with Brian Pink that PowerBook's are even better because you can code on the couch.

When it comes to tools, hardly a Mac developer can get by without their trusty copy of Metrowerks CodeWarrior. From the core tools like the IDE and PowerPlant, to fringe tools like ZoneRanger and the Profiler, software for the Macintosh just wouldn't be the same if not for CodeWarrior (would it even exist if not for CodeWarrior?). Coming in a close second to CodeWarrior for "must have" tool is Resorcerer from Mathemæsthetics Inc. Resource editing is fundamental part of Mac software development, and although ResEdit is free and can get the job done, it's difficult to go without Resorcerer for your hardcore development work. Finally, what development setup would be complete without a low-level debugger like the ubiquitous MacsBug from Apple or "The Debugger" from Jasik Designs? Of course, those of you that are able to write bug-free code can skip these last tools.

More For the Tool Chest

We certainly cannot live without our core tools, but they alone are not enough to get our jobs done. Beyond the core, response tallies put AppleScript as the #1 productivity enhancer. Says Antoine Beyeler, "its expandable". AppleScript allows Kenneth Woodruff to "refine, optimize, and organize the entire planet." If you don't know what AppleScript is and/or what it can do for you, then visiting Apple's AppleScript Web site is required reading for you (after you finish reading this article, of course).

Various editors also made the list. HexEdit is a general-purpose editor that allows you to edit the raw hexadecimal of files; simple and straightforward (and free). For a more powerful editor, consider General Edit from Quadrivio Corporation. J.J. Larrea had this to say about General Edit: "Nothing else comes close for decoding data files. After a one-time investment of several hours learning the syntax and designing display templates for my various file formats, I've saved many many times that. Now, months later, whenever I drag a file on General Edit and it automatically matches the template and comes up with the file beautifully decoded, I think 'wow, I'm so glad I spent the time to do that!'" And what discussion of editors would be complete without Bare Bones Software's BBEdit and its freeware sibling BBEdit Lite. BBEdit is a high performance text editor. Arne Kuilman and Ryan Walker use it to author their web pages. I use it for my web pages and just about any text editing that I need to do.

Another set of tools that garnered a good response were "RAD" tools. Good old HyperCard from Apple is a favorite of Rob Cozens, but Michael Gibbs prefers SuperCard. "Hard to beat for mocking up control panels, keypads, and other simulated hardware," says Michael. "In one case we built an entry keypad from scratch and had it up and running and talking to another simulation application via Apple Events in 30 minutes flat." REALbasic is another popular tool, and with a new book now available from O'Reilly, learning to use REALbasic has never been easier.

Last, but certainly not least, QC and Spotlight from Onyx Technology. QC is a great stress-testing tool, always having an important part of my testing and quality assurance plans. As for Spotlight, here's what your fellow developers have to say about it: "Tracks down the bugs you didn't know existed.", "Makes finding bugs a breeze.", "Very useful for tracking down those hard to find memory leaks and memory corruption.", "Amazing finder of pernicious bugs. Probably the best investment of money in development tools I've ever made. I can't imagine releasing code without Spotlighting it first. If you're not using it, you're crazy." Again, those of you that are able to write bug-free code can skip these last tools.

Cool Stuff

Not all productivity enhancers are "traditional" development tools. One of my favorite applications is James Thomson's DragThing. Ken Luke likes DragThing as well: "the tabbed palettes really help me get the most out of the desktop area." FileBuddy, a high-level file utility, and Snitch, the Get Info window enhancement, are both indispensable tools. FinderPop, turly's uber-enhancement for contextual menus, is also high on the list: "My dispatch center when I want to do something.", "Pop all those contextual menus in one menu.", "It rocks.".

In the previous section I listed some editors, but left one out of the list as I felt it more appropriate for this section. That editor is Tex-Edit Plus from Trans-Tex Software. I think Rick Roy sums it up best. "A very inexpensive, fast, lightweight text editor with aggressive support for AppleScript (yippee), and a developer who is really committed to customer satisfaction and quick responses. It can open SimpleText read-only files in addition to any text file. Even helps me with my HTML ,which is nice because Tex-Edit Plus is what I use to edit 100% of the HTML I create. An excellent product!"

Rounding out the responses was CDFinder (a little tool that helps a lot if you have more than 5 CDs), Default Folder (make your Open and Save dialogs smarter), the ACTION family of products (Files, GoMac, Menus, WYSIWYG), and TypeIt4Me (because we're all lazy, check that, efficient typists).

Other Stuff

One other item listed as a major time saver and life organizer is the PalmPilot and the Palm Desktop software. The Palm ranks #1 on Alex Thomas' list. "Without question my Palm IIIx has had the most effect on my personal productivity. I keep sysadmin and code hints as memos on it, along with a bunch of things like an HTML manual, and use the address book for product keys and web site passwords." The PalmPilot is one of those things that once you start using, you wonder how you ever managed to get along without it.

One response that I did not expect to receive was from Kelsey Schwind. "What makes me productive? When I can really concentrate and focus. The herbs Ginkgo and Gotu Kola aid in mental clarity and I have noticed the difference." Others find Jolt, Mt. Dew, and coffee to do the same for them as well.

And one response that I expected to see but did not was the Internet. The boom of the 'Net has put a wealth of information just a few keystrokes away. Inside Macintosh no longer takes up rows of shelf space since you can find it on the Web. The 'Net allows us to communicate and discuss, seek help for problems, ask advice, rant and rave, and all the while paying no mind to the vast distances that might separate us; in fact, the 'Net brings us closer and allows us, Mac developers, to foster an even greater community. Discussion forums like and comp.sys.mac.oop.powerplant help newbies find answers and old timers discuss philosophical issues about the latest Mac OS technology. The more we put online, the more empowered we will become. And of course, Tango 2000 is a great tool to help you share information online.

Happy Shopping!

If you're looking for that perfect gift to get for yourself or some other geek in your life, hopefully you've found a few new items to check out. I appreciate tools and toys that make my life a little simpler, a little easier. I hope you find something here that does the same for your life. Enjoy!


John C. Daub is a member of Pervasive Software's Tango Development Team working on the Tango Editor. John enjoys spending his free time with his family: wife Michele, son Wade, and now daughter Fiona. You can contact John at


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