Your Windows system tray and Mac OS X menubar have become prime real estate for highly functional micro-applications that provide easy access to information, settings and tasks. Here are our top ten favourites for both Windows and Mac.
We’ve outlined ten options each for Windows and Mac. (So this is really a Top 20 if you use both operating systems—lucky you!)
One thing to note is that a micro-app doesn’t necessarily have to be confined to the system tray or menubar, as we’re defining it. Our definition of micro-app is one that’s lightweight, pretty much serves a single function, and only shows up when you need it. Where it lives isn’t entirely relevant—I’m just pretty fond of tiny little icons.
GoogleDocsNotifier has a pretty descriptive name, so it probably comes as no surprise that it notifies you of new and unread Google Docs that show up in your account. If you want to access any of those docs as they come in, you can just click them in the GoogleDocsNotifier panel and they’ll open up in your default web browser.
For those of you out there who have trouble watching your hard drive space and are surprised to find it filled to the brim, TrayDiskFree provides you with a tiny little indicator to let you know how much space you have remaining.
GMinder provides you with system tray-based access to your Google Calendars. If you have upcoming events, it can alert you so you don’t miss them. All you have to do is sign in with your Google account and it’ll start downloading your calendar info right into your system tray.
ClipCube is a system tray utility that records your clipboard history, making it easily accessible when you need it and out of your way when you don’t. As an added bonus, if you have a URL in your clipboard history, ClipCube will let you simply click on it to bring it up in your default web browser.
If you want easy access to all your open windows, Minime can help you out. Minime provides you with a simple list of all the windows so you can access them easily from a tiny little icon.
If you use multiple monitors, UltraMon is a must-have. Along with other great features, one of the most handy is UltraMon’s extension of the task bar. If you have a window on one monitor and minimise it to the task bar, it only shows up on the portion of the task bar that’s on that specific monitor. Along with unified wallpaper and other handy features, UltraMon is very, very useful for multi-monitor setups. The only real downside is that it’s pretty expensive ($US39), but they do give you a free trial so you can see if it’s worth it for you.
QuickSync lives in your system tray and is a super quick, super easy to set up folder synchronising utility. You just drag a folder on the QuickSync drop zone and set up any synchronisation rules you want. You can schedule a sync so it happens automatically, and you’re provided with several great options for dealing with sync conflicts.
Fences is a little Windows micro-app that organises your desktop icons into neat little sections that you can label and move around as you please. It’s incredibly handy for keeping your desktop neat and organised, and looks pretty great too.
2. Fluffy App
FluffyApp is basically a third-party port of the handy Mac micro-app CloudApp (which you can read more about in the Mac section of this post). FluffyApp sits in your system tray and uploads any file you drag onto it. It’ll provide you with a link as soon as it’s done so you can easily email that link (or do whatever you want with it).
AutoHotKey is an incredible little app that lets you write scripts to automate practically anything on your Windows system. You can even create applications with it, such as Texter, to handle all kinds of tasks for you. AutoHotKey is pretty amazing, and is something you need to check out right now if you’ve yet to do so.
MAC OS X
Captur makes it easy to take screenshots by sticking all your options up in the menubar. What’s really great about it, however, is the custom options you have. It’ll let you see the screenshot immediately after you take it and save the filename however you like.
Camouflage does one simple little thing: it hides everything on your desktop. Maybe you want to do this to make your screencasts look nice and clean, or maybe you just suck at keeping your desktop tidy. Whatever the case may be, Camouflage will let you pretend there’s nothing on the desktop by hiding it for you. You can even have it change your desktop picture in the process.
8. Clipboard History
Clipboard History is a handy little tool that, unsurprisingly, stores your Clipboard History in your OS X menubar. You can set it to remember few to several items copied to your clipboard and easily restore any of them with a click or a keyboard shortcut.
QuietRead quietly sits up in your OS X menubar and stores URLs you just don’t have time to visit right now. It makes for an excellent, minimalist storage area for your web backlog, and it can do a whole lot more if you pay for the full version. Like what? Searching, syncing to sites like Instapaper and Read It Later, and additional sharing features are just a few examples.
Apptivate is a neat micro-app that lets you assign keyboard shortcuts to applications so you can launch them easily with your keyboard. You can also assign these shortcuts to other things, such as AppleScripts, which can be seriously useful for quick script-based actions.
Mac OS X’s built-in screen sharing (read: VNC) functionality is wonderful, but quickly connecting to your shared screens is not always a pleasant task—especially if you’re connecting to your home computers from a remote network. ScreenSharingMenulet solves all these problems by putting your local shared screens in your menubar while also letting you add easy-to-select shortcuts for any remote screens you may want to connect to when away from home.
Snippets is as lightweight as you get for a text expansion app. It primarily resides in your menubar, but you can bring up a single window for editing. It’s very simple, keeps out of your way, and, at $US5, is significantly less expensive than every other text expansion app you can buy on the Mac. While it wasn’t the winner in our text expansion face-off, it’s pretty great. For simple and inexpensive text expansion, Snippets is the way to go.
It’s not terribly inconvenient to access your calendars by going to Google Calendar or iCal, but it’s especially convenient to have a rundown of your day in your menubar. Additionally, if you have events in multiple places (specifically Google Calendar, iCal, and Facebook), CalendarBar can summarize them all for you and even alert you via Growl.
Autograph is a micro-app that’ll run you $US3, but it’s pretty awesome. If you ever need to sign a document or get some handwritten text into your computer, Autograph can solve that problem by letting you use your multitouch trackpad as a writing surface. It basically turns your trackpad into a pen tablet. You can sign with your finger, but you can also purchase a compatible stylus for the full-on pen-on-trackpad experience.
CloudApp is incredibly simple: it sits in your menubar and when you drag a file onto it, that file gets uploaded to the cloud. You’re instantly provided with a link in your clipboard and can send it to whomever you like. CloudApp even provides the storage for you.
Got any awesome micro-apps that you love that weren’t on this list? Let’s hear ’em in the comments! (Also, Dropbox doesn’t count. We left it off on purpose because we talk about it all the time and it isn’t always the epitome of lightweight.)