My Favorite Software in 2023
This article was inspired by Luke Hsiao’s similarly titled article from his blog. My friends and colleagues frequently ask me for software recommendations. I view this article as an instantly shareable resource for anyone who seeks my software recommendations. I also hope that it will serve as a nostalgic reflection of my favorite tools as the years go by. I plan to publish an updated list every year. While Luke’s list is developer-heavy, mine contains a good mix of general productivity/consumer tools and developer-focused software. Here they are in alphabetical order:Image generated using Bing Create
Bear has been my preferred note-taking application for a few years. I’ve tried other note-taking heavyweights like Evernote, OneNote and Obsidian. However, I keep coming back to Bear and find it hard to switch for a few reasons. Bear offers the simplest Markdown note-taking experience, uses tags instead of folders, offers syntax highlighting for code snippets, it’s a native Mac/iOS app, it’s lightweight and distraction-free, doesn’t require a login (synchronises all notes to iCloud) and it’s private. Additionally, I heavily rely on Bear’s deep iOS Shortcuts integration to generate daily journal notes, meeting notes, etc. This workflow has become central to my daily productivity. Bear Pro is relatively inexpensive compared to its competitors.
Until I moved to the US, I received >10 spam SMS messages a day in India. Android’s SMS spam handler is a lot more sophisticated and functional when compared to iOS. Bouncer is a free app that gives you fine grained control over your incoming messages. It lets you set up rules to send messages that match specific patterns to different folders, each with their own notification settings. I use it to send transaction updates from my bank to a specific folder quietly and turn off notifications for all marketing messages that go to its own folder. It was recently updated with more functionality that I am yet to explore.
A significantly more powerful alternative to the default Mac OS screenshot tool. For a one-time fee of $29 (no subscriptions), you get a lot for your buck. As the manager of the front-end team at Nightfall, I frequently share screenshots with my colleagues across various teams. CleanShot lets me tidy my screenshots, offers powerful markup tools, can stitch multiple screenshots and record my screen. If you’re on the hunt for a free screen recording tool, I highly recommend you try Kap.
There are a half dozen popular password managers out there that all do a perfectly good job. However, Dashlane has the best user experience in my opinion. It is relatively inexpensive and cross-platform. It comes with a browser extension, keeps a tab on password leaks in the dark web, lets you change passwords with the click of a button and offers a full-fledged VPN via its partnership with Hotspot Shield. Worth the annual subscription.
DataJar lets you persist and read data in your iOS Shortcuts. All data is synchronised to your devices via iCloud. I use it to read events from my calendar and generate a neat Markdown table for my daily notes in Bear. I also use it to keep track of my sleep metrics before they are inserted into Apple Health. When combined with Scriptable, you can unlock the full potential of iOS Shortcuts.
I am currently building my first React Native application for iOS. As a web developer, I don’t have any experience building iOS applications. I took an introductory Swift course on YouTube and built an experimental application but, that is the extent of my knowledge. Throughout that process, I found building and testing native mobile applications to be a lot more complicated than what I am used to on the web. To my surprise, Expo Go gave me that familiar web development experience but for mobile app development. If you’re building a React Native application, I can’t recommend this enough.
GitHub CLI & GitHub Mobile
The CLI is a lightweight alternative to the native GitHub web UI. If you spend a lot of time in the terminal, you can get so much done with the CLI without ever having to visit github.com. Easily create pull requests, observe GitHub Actions, create repos and more. The mobile app is a great way to keep tabs on your notifications, runs and PRs.
Copilot is an indispensable part of my current development workflow. While it has made writing code somewhat boring (since most of your code is generated for you), it is immensely valuable. In addition to giving me a huge productivity boost, I love that Copilot can automate mundane tasks such as writing unit tests. I often learn new algorithms and ways to write code by observing Copilot’s output, and use it to explain and fix errors. While Copilot is useful for my day job, I find it to be even more useful when building hobby projects that I normally don’t have time for. At $10 / month, it pays for itself in less than an hour.
Mela is my current favorite Indie app, tied with NetNewsWire (see below). I recently moved to New York and started cooking for myself. There are countless recipe management and meal planning apps out there but none are as simple and elegant as Mela. Like Bear and NetNewsWire, Mela doesn’t require an account and syncs all your data directly to iCloud. Its in-built browser parses recipes on websites and extracts ingredients, portion sizes, time to cook, images and cooking directions. You can also manually input recipes, plan your meals and generate grocery shopping lists. When it’s time to cook, Mela presents cooking instructions via an always-on display.
I follow the 3-2-1 Backup Rule:
- Keep three copies of your data
- Use two different types of storage media
- Keep one copy of your data off-site
I use Mountain Duck to satisfy #3. I keep a copy of all my data in an external hard drive and upload it to an Amazon S3 Bucket for redundancy. Mountain Duck mounts the S3 Bucket in Mac OS Finder and makes it easy to drag, drop and upload files into the cloud. It’s inexpensive and reliable.
NNW is a minimalistic, native Mac OS / iOS RSS reader. It lets me keep up with ~75 blogs daily. Although you can use it independently and sync your feeds with iCloud, I have it connected to my Feedly account so I can take my feeds with me if I ever switch back to Android. I also find the NNW iPad user experience to be sub-optimal. I use NNW on my laptop and my iPhone and prefer the native Feedly app on my iPad. NNW is open source and free.
Raycast is Mac OS Spotlight on steroids. If you’ve used Alfred as a replacement to Spotlight in the past, Raycast should feel familiar and more modern. Raycast is infinitely customisable and extensible, offers thousands of ready-to-use extensions via the in-built store and lets you build your own extensions for personal use. I use a half dozen community extensions including one to search my Bear notes, one to view my GitHub PRs, generate fake data for web development, etc. I also have a custom extension that triggers a Shell script to view articles that are behind a paywall. Raycast can replace a dozen small, single-purpose applications on your computer.
The default window management experience in Mac OS is notoriously bad. Rectangle improves window management with nifty shortcuts to maximise a window to fill up your screen, split windows, etc. It’s open source and free!
Todoist is my go-to todo application. I pay for Todoist Premium to take advantage of the reminders feature. Todoist is remarkably good at parsing natural language. Type
q (keyboard shortcut) and start typing in natural language to create tasks with reminders, labels and priority. For example, I can type “Read for 30 mins every Monday evening for 4 weeks” to create a task that repeats every Monday for 4 weeks. Unlike Things, Todoist is cross-platform. It just works.
A new age terminal written in Rust. Warp is feature packed - it is packaged with an in-built command bar similar to other modern applications like Notion and Linear, has an AI assistant to generate commands and explain errors, lets you jump to and highlight text like a code editor, separates output into blocks for easier navigation and sharing, and a whole lot more. While these are great features, I enjoy Warp mostly because of its performance and robust autosuggest functionality. Warp feels a lot snappier than iTerm for most day to day usage.
zsh and Oh My Zsh
zsh (pronounced Z Shell) replaces your default Bash shell with greater customisability, autocompletion (this is a lifesaver), better history management, theming and plugins. Oh My Zsh further enhances zsh with robust themes, plugins and configurability. Aliases in Oh My Zsh saves me time every day. I regularly use aliases like
ggpull (expands to
git pull origin "$(git_current_branch)") and
glog (expands to
git log --oneline --decorate --graph). You can view a list of aliases with the
alias command and add your own aliases as well.