The minimalist mac

Over the last few months I’ve experimented with iPhoto, iTunes and email alternatives, and have found a bunch of minimalist applications for my mac which work well and are simple for my needs.

iTunes alternative

Read about why I want an iTunes alternative here.

I’ve settled on VLC as an alternative for iTunes. It’s a simple application which does several things really well:

  • Plays audio & video
  • Displays albums in their folders as-is (no mucking around with metadata)
  • Subscribes to Podcasts
  • Pushes audio & video to my iDevices

I can set-up playlists via drag and drop too, which is nice.

For transferring media from CD, I use XLD, which is an open-source application which will automagically label CD tracks and save them to whichever folder you set. At this time, format-shifting DVD content in Australia is illegal, but there are applications out there which will do this service for you.

Lifehacker has a good article on format-shifting in Australia, and The Sydney Morning Herald writer, Adam Turner writes on the subject here.

Setting the system to default to VLC & XLD

Out of the box, the Mac OS defaults to iTunes for audio and DVD player for DVDs.

To change this, I went to System Preferences > CDs and DVDs

I made the following changes:

  • When you insert a music CD — I chose XLD
  • When you insert a video DVD — I chose VLC

iPhoto alternative

Read about why I want an iPhoto alternative here.

I chose Photoscape X as my photo management application for the following reasons:

  • It’s a call-back to WYSIWIG – What You See is What You Get interfaces.
  • It displays images directly from existing file folders (and doesn’t import images to a proprietary folder which is hidden from view)
  • It has simple drag and drop capabilities, with a choice to copy or move images to alternate folders
  • It allows some editing of photos, including adjustments of white balance, levels, photo size (physical and DPI) among others. It’s not Photoshop (or the open-source Gimp), but it does the basics.
  • Bonus extra: I can create animated GIFs

You can read more about my experiments with Image Management on the mac here.

Setting the system to default to Photoscape X

The Mac OS defaults to iPhoto for image handling.

To change this, I went to System Preferences > CDs and DVDs

I made the following changes:

  • When you insert a picture CD — I chose Photoscape X

Importing photos to the mac

Normally you’d use iPhoto to import and manage images from cameras. I’m not using that system anymore as I want to see the original photos in folders I create myself.

Enter Image Capture which comes with every mac.

First, you have to plug-in your iDevice or camera.

Next, fire-up Image Capture. You may get a message telling you to unlock the device; just go to your iDevice and when prompted whether to trust the mac, click Trust.

Finally, back in Image Capture, at the bottom left of the window, there’s a downward-pointing arrow. Click this and make the following change:

Connecting this [iPhone/iPad/Camera] opens: — Image Capture App

I also tick Delete after import.

Finally, in the Import to field, I set this as a subdirectory of Photos which I’ve created called Recent Items.

Mac Mail alternative

I wasn’t that impressed with the Mail application in Apple’s Mavericks, so have experimented with a few alternatives.

I tried Mozilla Thunderbird for a while, which worked great, and had some good plug-ins, but it was still quite cluttered. I really wanted something as minimalist as possible.

Alternatives such as Inky, Mail Pilot and Sparrow looked good, but still weren’t what I was looking for. Inky had a major failing IMO as it doesn’t allow offline viewing of mail on your mac; you have to be online at all times which isn’t always feasible.

I finally settled on Airmail, which at time of writing is a mere $2 in the App Store.

Using the Airmail app was a simple case of finding my passwords and sticking them into the application. If you’ve got a self-hosted email account ( then you’ll need to know your mail servers, which may just be “”, but you should check with your domain hosting provider to make sure.

Perhaps I’m a bit OCD?

Maybe I’ve become obsessed with lightweight, simple applications for my shiny new Macbook Pro? The Apple applications, iTunes and iPhoto are perfectly serviceable and do a great deal of things that the aforementioned applications won’t. So if you’re into the additional things these applications will do, then please stick with them!

Author: gotheek

Sometime writer, full time human.