One of my favorite posts every year is my “Tools of the trade” post which I’ve been writing annually since 2012. It’s a chance to take inventory of what I’m using as well as a chance to look back and see how my toolbox has evolved with my role, my experience and my career in general. I think it’s safe to say that this year my tools have changed more drastically than the previous six years combined. Let’s take a look:
The biggest change from last year’s post is the platform I work on. While I still have a work issued Mac, I do nearly all of my code these days on a System76 Oryx Pro that I bought last September. It runs Pop!_OS and I couldn’t be happier with the experience. Quite honestly, when I have to pick up the Mac I feel like I’m losing so much in speed, productivity and even aesthetics. While I think the detailed configuration of the OS is probably better suited for another post, I can say it has been an upgrade in nearly every way from the Macs I used to work on and has helped me significantly improve my overall workflow for both WordPress sites, this site and all the other tasks I perform on my computer daily.
For the most part, the applications I use daily have changed drastically as well. Although, rather than due to switching off of Mac (my work Mac has nearly every app I have on my personal machine), it is more due to both switching technology stacks for my day job and a desire to try to use more open source tools and avoid big tech where it isn’t necessary. While I’m still working on side projects in WordPress, the bulk of my day job is writing GoLang for WP Engine’s DevKit and, as you’ve probably noticed, this site is built with Hugo. Those changes alone would have changed some of my tooling but, combined with a desire for more open source software, there really aren’t many carry-over apps this year. Let’s break down what I’m using:
- 1Password: This is one of the few holdovers as I share a number of vaults with my family and have kept with it to make their lives easier. Frankly, in my opinion it is still the best password manager on the market, but it does have some worthy competition these days in apps such as Bitwarden and others. We’ll see if it still makes the list next year but, for now at least, I’m pretty happy with it.
- Gnome Apps (or native apps on Mac): For calendar, contacts and email I’ve reverted to the operating system’s default apps using Gnome apps on Linux and Mac’s native Mail, Calendar and Contacts on my work Mac. Not only are the notifications better than anything in a browser but I can easily incorporate my Yubikey with my mail host to ensure everything stored on the mail server is encrypted with my public key. All of this makes for a much safer system than using Gmail but has one major drawback, work doesn’t let me access mail or my calendar on anything other than native Google apps so I still have to log into the work Gmail account in my browser and hope I remember when my next meeting is so that I don’t miss any notifications. That’s not a limit to my software though which has been top-notch.
- DBeaver Community Edition: After using Navicat since my Windows days (pre 2008), I finally found something worth switching to. I still own a license that would work on both Mac or Linux but, that license is only for their MySQL GUI. As I’ve branched out my programming languages I’ve found myself needing to connect to database systems other than MySQL and DBeaver can connect to them all for free. It’s not the fastest or the prettiest app but it works well for my use.
- Filezilla: Forklift is one of the few Mac apps I would have kept if it had a Linux client but, I’m out of luck there. The file transfer options outside of Mac are actually quite limited these days so I’ve gone back to the trusty Filezilla which does just fine for my needs. Ironically, perhaps, this new site and many of my side projects these days are requiring this type of software more often than I had used it in years. Thankfully, while Filezilla might not be the fastest, it’s still perfectly reliable to get the job done.
- Firefox: I made the jump from Chrome to Firefox in April and I’m really enjoying it, both on desktop and mobile. It’s fast and does a better job with data than a Google project ever could.
- Gimp: This is another carry-over from last year. As I’ve learned to use Gimp better I’ve become impressed with its capabilities. For my use it is still mostly utilized to resize and optimize images for this site but it can do so much more when I need it to.
- LibreOffice: This replacement for, first iWork and, then, Google Docs has been great. I have very little need for a full office suite outside of presentation slides and LibreOffice serves that role quite well. Work is still on GSuite which requires me to use Google Docs but for everything else LibreOffice has been great.
- Moneydance: I had used this for years before switching to Quicken about 3 years ago. With Quicken’s annual upgrades and lack of Linux support I’ve come back to it and it’s been great.
- Nextcloud: This replaces Google Calendar, contacts and Google Drive for me. I’m self hosting a Nextcloud instance for my wife and I and it has been perfect for our needs. It can easily replace most Google services you would need these days with apps for just about everything under the son.
- NordVPN: I’ve been on NordVPN for a couple of years now and they’ve been great. For the price I’ve been able to use them throughout the US and a few other countries and I’ve never had an issue where I can’t connect. As most VPN services seem to degrade after a year or two of a marketing blitz, this has been a pleasant surprise for me and I plan to stick with them as long as I can.
- Oh My Zsh: My shell of choice. I have too many other things to worry about to deal with maintaining my own dotfiles so this keeps me efficient on the command line.
- Signal: I had been using Android messages for web for a while but, as with so many other services, I’ve tried to de-Google as much as possible. Signal has been great. It’s also the fist app I’ve used that can both handle my regular text messages as well as Signal messages in the same app and, when necessary, even in the same conversations.
- Slack: Can you really call yourself a tech worker if you’re not a member of at least one Slack team?
- Spotify: I switched to Spotify from Google Play Music in April and it’s been great. It’s the first music service I’ve used where I’ve found the recommended playlists to be good enough to get me through and afternoon or even a whole day. It’s also the first service that hasn’t tried to pigeonhole me into a single genre of music which has helped me find all kinds of new music to listen to. I can truthfully say that my listening tastes have expanded more in the last 4 months than they had in the previous 20 years thanks to Spotify.
- Standard Notes: I don’t take a lot of notes but, when I do, I need something reliable. Standard Notes bills itself as a replacement for Evernote and it does a great job at that. It’s free version is great, it works on everything and it handles markdown better than any note app I’ve tried. The only thing it is missing is sharing but, in practice, that has yet to actually be an issue for me.
- Sublime Merge: GitKraken was an OK Git GUI but it was missing so much. Sublime Merge is the first GUI I’ve found since Sourcetree that really has a complete feature set for working with Git. Unlike Sourcetree, however, it’s fast and reliable and works on any platform I need it to. It’s been one of the best finds of the last year and, as a result, has become indispensable in my daily workflow.
- tmux: My day job is building a command-line tool for WordPress and, as a result, I find myself in the command-line far more than I used to be. Tmux makes this so much easier. It’s become common for me to have 2-3 panes open at a given time thanks to this little app and it does so seamlessly on both Mac and Linux.
- Visual Studio Code: Previously this had been my backup editor. When I switched to GoLang, however, I found maintaining multiple Jetbrains IDEs to be too much of a pain and their GoLand IDE really wasn’t all that great. As a result, I’ve switched to VSCode full-time for all my code. It took some getting used to on the PHP side at first but these days I’m loving it. It’s light and fast and there is a plugin for pretty much anything I could even think of working with. With a little practice it has, for the most part, become my perfect editor.
Not much has changed on my phone from last year. I upgraded to a Pixel 3xl and, in every place where I replaced a Google app or service on my computer, I replced it on my phone as well. Now my phone is really only for listening to music or podcasts while travelling or looking up important information while I’m out of the house. The rest of the time I try to keep it put away so as not to waste as much time mindlessly browsing on it.