Tom MacWright

Software - what I use

Software: I’m very picky about it, and on a daily basis, try to use as little as possible.

As I’ve written before, software doesn’t do anything on its own, and there are no silver bullets. In fact, I’ve observed incredibly productive people using singularly weird setups, using all system defaults, or compiling everything from scratch.

But regardless, if you have a problem that might be solved by one of these things, take advantage of my pickiness. These are the things I install on every new computer, and that I can’t really do without.

Gestimer $4

I lose track of time constantly: minutes and hours slip by if my mind focuses on a thing. Gestimer is a timer that pulls me out of focus to make sure that I can do more than one thing in a day.

Annotate $4

Working on stuff like Mapbox Studio had me constantly needing to point out small visual bugs and add screenshots to pull requests to show what they did. Annotate is the tool for that: it’s fast, lets you copy & paste an image into an issue.

Fantastical $49

The default macOS calendar is getting better and better, but Fantastical, with a global shortcut, lets me add events to my calendar as I discuss stuff with people. I’m terrible at remembering dates, so absolutely everything lands in my calendar.

Alfred 3 Free, £19 power user license

Spotlight, too, is getting better, but not as good as Alfred. The main feature is, simply, speed: it usually sits on my screen for only a few seconds.

iTerm2 Free, open source

It’s a good terminal, and it critically supports full-screen mode with keybindings. I gave up on window management a long time ago: unless I’m doing web design, I only have one window viewable on screen, and iTerm2 makes that really easy.

Momentum Free

There are lots of habit trackers out there, and I’ve used 5 of them before settling on Momentum, because it consistently and cleanly syncs with an iPhone app, and the interface is simple and fast.

neovim Free, open source

An acquired taste, but neovim is worth the time investment to learn. The lack of chords, in particular, makes it fit my brain better and seems to ward off RSI for my wrists.

Homebrew and Homebrew Cask Free, open source

How I install almost all software that isn’t on npm or the Mac App Store. Homebrew Cask is a great layer on top of OS X app downloads, with an added layer of security in that it checks sha1sums of downloaded files, so some of the risk of exploits like the recent one that affected Handbrake is mitigated.

1Password $3 per month

The only password management software that I’ve really enjoyed using. They have a great blog, and excellent customer support.


  • Why not all open source software? Though I love open source, I don’t exclusively use it. What really matters to me is whether software is good and whether it’ll stay good: whether it’ll stick around for the long term. For instance, neovim, an open source program I use daily, has been around since 1991, and will likely stick around, so I’m willing to invest time in learning it. In contrast, many more recent projects burn out rather quickly, even if they’re great, like Kod or LightTable. Closed-source software, for all its flaws, has a believable story for sustainability: the creators want new users to pay them.
  • Why not hyper or atom? I’m having a hard time adopting electron in my daily-driver software: Hyper is 124MB, and in contrast iTerm2 is 14MB. Native software has its flaws, but programs like iTerm2 and neovim are tiny and incredibly fast, and that’s what matters to me.