Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Useful Mac OS X tools for scientists/astronomers

Here are some of my preferred tools when doing science using Mac OS X. I previously had a PC laptop with Linux (Ubuntu) and Windows (Vista) and made a very smooth transition to Mac OS X. I found replacements for all the tools that I used before. Disclaimer: I am an astrophysicist, so the software listed here is biased in that respect.

You can find more resources in my delicious list of mac+astronomy links, including where to get IRAF for example.

TeX Live
LaTeX distribution

LaTeX editor (comes with TeX Live)

Equation editor (comes with TeX Live)
Uses LaTeX for creating equations that can be exported as PDF, PNG. Equations can be dragged and dropped in other applications. Unfortunately the drag and drop does not work with OpenOffice.

Useful for editing source code in different programming languages and codifications.

Package of command-line open source software (like Fink), which is an updated version of DarwinPorts. Need Python, gawk, wget, aspell? Use Macports. The functionality is quite similar to Debian's apt-get for installing software. port search [software] searches for available software. sudo port install [software] downloads, compiles and install new software and its dependencies for your architecture.

Quick way of launching applications. Press Ctrl+Spacebar and type the first few letters of the application you want to launch.

The builtin Spotlight (Cmd+Spacebar) is very handy when searching for papers/documents scattered through your HD. Functionality similar to Google Desktop.

Quite handy way to sync files between home and work. It creates a dropbox folder in your home. Each file you drop there is automatically synced over the internet in all the computers where you installed dropbox. Join it via this link and you will get more space than usual (and I will get a little bonus).

iWork's Keynote: For talks
I had been using OpenOffice Impress for a long time to prepare talks, but gave up on it. Reasons:
  • Unstable when editing large presentations containing lots of slides/plots. Crashes commonly in linux/mac.
  • Talks do not maintain their structure when you open them in different platforms (e.g., creates the talk in linux, then opens in mac).
  • Gets slower as the size of the presentation increases. Especially slow in Mac.
For these reasons, I switched to Keynote. Note: the last version of OpenOffice Impress that I used to prepare my talks was 3.0.

Sync files between folders locally.

Cross-platform password databases. Work with a master password.

Work with illustrations, edit PDF files. It's a "free version" of Adobe Illustrator. Allows you to edit the figures in a PDF paper, for example, and export them to a talk.

To run windows programs. You can install it using MacPorts.

Other suggestions

I personally prefer Picasa over iPhoto, but that's of course a matter of taste.

IM client which supports tons of networks, including MSN, Google Talk, AIM etc. Mac's version of Pidgin.

Virtualization software, i.e. you can use this to run Windows XP or Ubuntu in a separate windows.

  • Apr 21 2010: Added textwrangler to the list.

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