The Tools We Use at Karbon
I’m frequently asked via Tumblr (and email) which applications and utilities we use at Karbon to get work done. Consider this an up-to-date, complete list of the applications, tools and utilities we use on a daily basis. This list is all OS X and web applications—we’ll post a list of iOS tools soon.
Here’s what we use these days:
Alfred is like Quicksilver is like LaunchBar is like X. It’s a fast launcher. It can launch applications, it can find files, it can do math, it can log you out, it can search Google. It’s all accessible from a system-wide shortcut. I used to be a Quicksilver person, then after that languished I switched to LaunchBar, but I never really liked it. Alfred feels like the best of all of them. Bonus feature: If you buy the Powerpack add-on, you can (among other things) create global hotkeys for OS X—I’ve got one for my Downloads folder (⌃⌘⌥D) and one for my Home directory (⌃⌘⌥H) that I use a hundred times a day.
Fast, simple, easy to use application for managing SQLite 3 databases.
Still the best tool we’ve found for managing multiple projects with multiple clients. While it’s bloated in many places, and takes a while to get used to, it feels like second nature to us these days, and most clients understand it enough for it to be helpful. We’re nervous and excited to see what happens with the new version coming in March.
We use Billings for all of our invoicing and monetary project tracking needs. People are often surprised when I tell them I use Billings, because they expect everyone should be paying for a bloated, slow, poorly designed web application from a massive company. But the truth is, Billings works perfectly for us. We can manage clients, projects, billing and invoicing in a native application with completely customized forms. And the reporting is exactly what we need.
We’re constantly taking screenshots throughout the day to discuss UI, and Cloud App allows us to quickly and seamlessly share those screenshots without having to do any additional work. Simply ⌘⇧4 something and a moment later you’ve got a link you can paste into chat, email or anything else. HipChat (listed below) will automatically pick up Cloud App links and display images inline, which makes discussing UI design that much easier. The free account will be plenty for most users, and pro accounts can use custom domains and upload unlimited data.
If you don’t know what Dropbox is, you’re insane. It’s that simple. We could not run a business without it these days.
Espresso itself isn’t as powerful as TextMate for development, but it includes CSSEdit 3, the newest version of the best CSS editor for OS X, so I’ve switched over to it. I’ve found that while the macro support is lacking in Espresso, I am able to accomplish nearly everything I need to do, and with CSSEdit 3, it’s worth the price of admission. In general, I find I still occasionally open TextMate on the side.
Makes adding events to your calendar insanely easy with awesome natural language detection. Also allow you to see your upcoming events without having to launch iCal (or, in Mountain Lion, Calendar) itself.
GitHub & GitHub for Mac
We use GitHub both for code management as well as code review. The pull request system isn’t as great for our purposes as it could be, but it mostly works and it allows for us to collaboratively work on projects with a system in place to review changes and give feedback. GitHub for Mac needs some bug fixing, but it mostly serves our purposes on top of Terminal.
Being able to collaboratively work on application specs, API documents, et cetera, is hugely beneficial for a small company. Google Docs makes it insanely easy to create a new document, share it with your team, and then work together (at the same time) on it.
Google Apps for Business (Gmail, Calendar, etc)
Why anyone on earth is managing their own IMAP mail server, calendar server, or anything else like it is beyond me. For free (or a fee, depending on the size of your business), Google will do this for you and you’ll get all the tools that go along with it, like Gmail and Docs. And since all of Google’s services use standard protocols, you can use your company email address in Sparrow (listed below), use your calendar in iCal (or, in Mountain Lion, Calendar), etc. If you want, you can also sync your contacts and other such data. But these days, we use iCloud for those things since they’re tightly bundled with iOS and OS X.
We do our weekly status meetings in a Google Hangout, which allows for group video and audio chat, screen sharing, messaging, and more. While Google keeps tweaking the design and feature set, the core functionality has worked very well for us over the past few months. And when we’re trying to debug code, we’ll frequently hop into a Hangout and screen share to look at problems together.
Think 37signal’s Campfire, only cheaper and with clients for OS X and iOS (unfortunately, the OS X client is an AIR app, which I can’t stand, so I use a Fluid instance on my machine). I’m still not a huge fan of any of the group chat services we’ve tried, but HipChat has been the best so far so we’re sticking with it.
The easiest way to debug HTTP requests. We use this when we’re verifying client APIs, when we’re building our own, or when something on the network stack just doesn’t seem to be working correctly. There are several points when this saved us from hours of nightmarish debugging by showing us a simple problem with an API response right away.
Color picker you can run on its own, which allows you to pick color at any time from any application. When combined with the Panic Developer Color Picker (listed below), it’s a great tool when you need to grab colors as UIColor during development.
Beautiful, simplistic text editor with iCloud support and iOS versions. iA Writer natively supports Markdown, has a great design aesthetic, and works really well. Made me enjoy writing again.
Adds a menu to your resize button on windows in OS X allowing you to quickly resize the current window to either a set frame or a custom one. Quickly make Safari the right half of your screen and Terminal the left half. Undo both frames easily with a single click. Moom makes it easy to manage lots of windows on the screen.
Panic Developer Color Picker
Allows you to copy UIColor values straight from the system-wide OS X color picker. Saves loads of time. Instead of trying to convert RGB values, you’ll simply pick a color and then hit copy and end up with
[UIColor colorWithRed:0.233 green:0.233 blue:0.233 alpha:1.000]. When combined with Hues (listed above), you can grab color from any app at any time.
Adobe Photoshop is still my tool of choice for creating user interfaces, but Pixelmator is great when you need to create a simple image or tweak something.
Imagine working on a design for an iPhone app, and while you’re working the design is visible on your iPhone the whole time, and it’s live updating. That’s what Skala Preview does. It’s magic. Configure Photoshop (or just choose a file) and when it changes, you’ll see the changes instantly on your iOS device. Skala Preview makes it so much easier to get hit target sizes right the first time, and to show you exactly what your design is going to look like in someone’s hands.
Skype (and Facetime)
Skype is still the best VOIP client in the world. Its audio is the cleanest, clearest and loudest. Skype sounds better than just about any phone call on a major US cellphone carrier. While its video features aren’t quite as flawless, video calls work well enough and screen sharing is helpful too. These days, however, we find ourselves using Facetime for video because it will hit every device of the person you’re calling, which means they don’t have to be at their desk to answer. And for screen sharing, Google Hangouts (listed above) also works pretty well. We also use Skype to IM with clients and often to make calls to landlines as well.
Absolutely changed the way I felt about email. It’s fast, well-designed and fun to use. Before Sparrow I would dread opening a mail client and now I don’t dread it nearly as much (although email in and of itself is still pretty terrible). Regularly updated and refined too.
The venerable text editor for OS X. It’s a bit outdated, sure, but it still provides powerful text editing, macros and syntax highlighting. TextMate is still our favorite way to wrangle small bits of code, writing, or any other plaintext.
Best FTP application available for the Mac.
Quickly create non-Retina 1x versions of your 2x iOS graphics by creating only the Retina versions and then dropping them all on Unretiner. This isn’t always the best idea for every image, but in most cases it does a great job of sizing things down in a hurry.
And, of course, we use the standard suite of applications most companies use to design and build apps: OS X, Xcode, Terminal and Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator.