Working for the Marketing team here at Axosoft means I’m involved in a variety of different tasks, from web development to content editing.
I use lots of tools on a daily basis. There are the obvious apps: Adobe’s Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat; and Google’s Chrome and web apps. There are also a bunch of lesser known apps that make my life easier and are either free or very inexpensive.
So, I thought I’d write up a summary of the most essential apps I use to keep my day functioning as pain-free as possible and share it with you! Here are 10 free or low-cost apps, in no particular order of importance.
1. Atom (by GitHub)
Why I like it: Custom packages can be made within app, and there are already tons of extensions out there to improve Atom’s core functionality. Easy creation of code snippets saves time on adding repeated chunks of code, and there are also app and syntax themes you can download (or you can create your own) to get your environment exactly how you like it.
OS: Mac, Windows, Linux
Cost: Free; Open Source
Get it: atom.io
2. Skitch (by Evernote)
Description: Skitch is a simple and straightforward image editor and screenshot tool. It streamlines the process of taking a screenshot and then immediately annotating and sketching onto that image. You can take full or partial screenshots (using a timer if necessary), pixelate sensitive information in the image with a simple click and drag across the area, add simple shapes and arrows, and add text.
Why I like it: Most of Skitch’s features are intuitive enough to use without much instruction. When you’re done, you can just drag the new file from the bottom of Skitch’s window into a folder to save it there, or you can share the image to a selection of other apps including Facebook, Messages or Notes.
It’s worth mentioning that you can open existing images in Skitch and export to various image formats, meaning it can double up as a quick image format converter. Sktich also optionally syncs your images across devices using Evernote.
Get it: evernote.com/skitch
3. GitKraken (by Axosoft)
Ok, full disclosure: I work for Axosoft, who makes GitKraken, so of course I’m going to endorse it, right? Trust me, it’s on this roundup voluntarily.
Description: GitKraken is a Git GUI client aimed at providing functionality, speed and visual logic to your Git operations. Drag and drop and one-click operations make user interactions with the UI as efficient as possible, but the kicker is the UI itself, which not only looks great but makes operations visually understandable for those who find Git concepts complicated to understand from the command line.
Why I Like it: At work, when working on web projects, I use GitKraken in conjunction with GitHub so I can collaborate with the other developers and content editors on the same projects. At home, I use the app for my personal projects and have found it to be extremely useful. Even though my home use is much more simplistic, the GUI allows me to see at a glance any changes I’ve made throughout the history of each project in a sensical manner.
Also—that magical undo button has saved my trigger-happy self on more than a few occasions.
Find out more about GitKraken by perusing any of these articles:
- Axosoft GitKraken: Unleash Your Repo! (October 2015)
- GitKraken Tips (June 2016)
- Introducing GitKraken Pro (July 2016)
OS: Mac, Windows, Linux
GitKraken Pro—$6/month (paid monthly); $5/month (paid annually)
Get it: gitkraken.com
4. Paste (by Dmitry Obukhov)
Note: Of all the apps in this roundup (apart from GitKraken, of course!), Paste is my favorite and most frequently used. It’s one of those, “why isn’t this part of the OS?” apps.
Description: Standard OS clipboards are pretty terrible, and, in 2016, it’s surprising that more has not been done to make cut-copy-paste processes more feature-rich. For a small fee, Paste gives you the clipboard you always wanted for your Mac! It saves an unlimited (depending on your preferences) history of clipboard snippets and remembers their app contexts.
So, for example, you could copy a file in Finder, then copy plain text in TextEdit, and then copy an Illustrator object. Choosing the Finder copied item and then pasting in Finder will copy that file over, just as if it were the last copy made.
Why I Like it: This app is indispensable, and truly one of those apps that you don’t realize you need until you started using it. For me, it is especially useful when I have a series of discrete items that I need to copy and paste elsewhere repeatedly (if I’m testing a web form, for example). I’m always using the app to revisit snippets made hours ago—a far quicker process than finding, reopening and searching the file to recopy.
Paste is designed with the keyboard in mind; you can assign a keyboard shortcut to call up Paste, navigate to the desired pastable object, and then hit enter to make that entry the pastable item.
Other useful functions include the ability to add pinboards and switch between them (basically group your Paste favorites) and the ability to paste as plain text.
Get it: pasteapp.me
Note: I’m grouping these two apps together as they are related in my workflow and are produced by the same circle of contributors.
Description: ImageAlpha is a simple yet powerful GUI for reducing PNG file sizes. PNGs—lossless raster images—look great and support alpha transparency, but often with a caveat: large file sizes. With ImageAlpha, you can get lossy with your compression, using the slider to reduce the file size until you reach your desired balance between file size reduction and image quality.
There’s a button right next to the slider that lets you switch between your current optimized image and the original, so you can click between the two to easily assess if there’s unacceptable quality degradation at any stage in the process. The app is intelligent enough to minimize quality impact as it removes colors, although eventually, you’ll hit that point where you’ll start to notice a marked difference with the original.
Why I Like it: There’s a status bar at the bottom of the window to let you know how well your image will be optimized. The percentage value is particularly interesting, and the results are impressive. For regular (not icon) files, I can typically reduce the file size of my PNGs by a minimum of around 20%, but I often find I can shave off a whopping 60-70% of the file size with very little, if any, noticeable quality degradation.
If you’ve set it up to do so, ImageOptim will kick in once you’ve saved the file, and will further strip the image of any further extraneous data it finds. As you might expect, the savings here are a bit more modest—often around 2-5%, but it’s still better than nothing.
These two apps together comprise an essential part of my graphics preparations to keep web page load times much, much smaller.
6. Licecap (by Cockos Incorporated)
Description: Animated GIFs have been a fun part of the Internet since the 90s, but they go beyond dancing babies and ‘under construction’ icons, and are still a relevant—even functional—format today.
As an easily-shareable, mobile-friendly animated format, GIFs are often used as video snippets to relay short pieces of info without having to mess with video recording, settings and codecs.
Axosoft shares quick pro tips as GIFs, and Licecap makes producing such short animations really easy, with a lightweight app and simple UI. There are some fine-tuning preferences available, but at its simplest, you can start the app, resize the capture window and hit record. Choose the save name and location, and do your thing.
Why I Like it: I find Licecap useful when I need to showcase a short sequence of actions, such as demoing a bug that I need to demonstrate through a message, or quickly showcasing some specifics on how something works from a UI standpoint.
OS: Mac, Windows
Cost: Free, Open Source
Get it: cockos.com/licecap
7. MAMP (by appsolute)
Description: MAMP is a configuration GUI that allows users to run a webserver complete with database support (and interfaces such as PHPMyAdmin) without having to get his/her hands dirty with any server scripting.
Why I Like it: The Pro version is expensive given the theme of this article, but it’s worth mentioning, as it allows for unlimited simultaneous servers. Pro also allows you to run multiple versions of PHP concurrently, as well as running one-click installs of popular web applications such as WordPress, Drupal and Joomla.
However, the free version is genuinely free, and is definitely an adequate solution if you’re ok with swapping out one dedicated server configuration at a time.
OS: Mac, Windows
Get it: mamp.info/en
8. SizeUp (by Irradiated Software)
Description: If you’re on a Mac, you’ll probably have run into OS X’s shortcomings when it comes to window management. Full-screen modes can be confusing when using spaces, and in the same space, can make switching between windows a pain. Split screen view is extremely limited in its capabilities.
Why I Like it: SizeUp is a simple app that gives you keyboard shortcuts for definable window sizing and placement. Out of the box, its defaults will satisfy the needs of most: boxing windows into discrete corners of the screen or pushing to one size, either horizontally or vertically.
Get it: irradiatedsoftware.com/sizeup
Note: Slack’s app is free, but requires signing up to the Slack service. Slack’s service has several tiers including a free option.
Description: If you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you might be that one person who hasn’t heard of Slack. With Slack, you and your team can create custom public and private channels for specific topics, send large files, and direct message each other.
Why I Like it: It’s become an essential mode of communication for our teams and company as a whole.
OS: App—Mac, Windows, Linux (currently in beta)
Service—has several tiers including a free option
Get it: slack.com
Description: Pocket is a handy tool for saving web articles and resources for later access. You can tag your saved items to keep things categorized.
Pocket is available for a variety of desktop and mobile platforms and syncs with your account so that you can pick up saved links across all your devices. The desktop app supports downloading articles for offline viewing.
Why I Like it: There’s a premium version for those who need more features, but the free version is good enough for me.
OS: Mac, Windows, Linux
Get it: getpocket.com
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