Must-Have Mac Business Apps 2016

Running a small law office isn’t a simple task. Unlike lawyers in the big firms, I need to deal with many management and administrative tasks myself.

When it comes to my computers, I share a knowledgeable, patient computer manager with some of the other lawyers in our office, but generally I’m a hands-on lawyer. I know Macintosh computers well and enjoy taking care of them, until my patience or knowledge runs dry. I can even manage to keep Windows 7 running properly.

My choice of operating system has never been in question: my head and heart are with Mac OS, which I've used at work for 25 years. Macs consist of meticulously designed, handsome hardware, together with a modern operating system, Mac OS X, that is reasonably secure, a pleasure to look at, logically set up and easy to learn to use. I also run Microsoft Windows 7 as an app like any other on the Mac, so that I can use Ontario's automated Teranet land registration system, PC Law (shudder) financial software and a few special web sites that require Windows.

And so, one rainy Sunday afternoon, I thought I would write this article to entertain my computer savvy clients with a list of the applications that I rely on for business on a regular (mostly daily) basis. Here they are. I'll begin with the ugly.

Microsoft (MS) Office for Mac 2016 software has a pretty user interface, but underneath it is more like the '58 Chevrolets you can still find hobbling about the roads of Cuba. I wish it weren't so, but even the new 2016 version crashes and burns regularly. The underlying computer code for MS Word and Excel was written in the 1990's and hasn't changed much since then. These programs make little use of the development tools that Apple includes for programmers. So, like a 55 year old car, Office is "occasionally" temperamental. But just as Cuban cabbies couldn't function without old Chevs, Studebakers and Edsels in 2017, I cannot function as a lawyer in 2017 without Office, especially Word. Word documents are the universal word processing standard in the legal profession and many other businesses. Word has a vast feature set. I hear some users complain that Word has too many features (they call it "bloatware"), but many of those features are indispensable to people who work with long technical documents (such as contracts). I put up with the frequent "application unexpectedly quit" messages, slowdowns, mysterious memory errors and other assorted bugs and behaviours most of which have been part of Word since I began using it at work in the late 1990's.

For bookkeeping, thousands of Canadian lawyers get to use one of the unfriendlest applications imaginable.
PC Law (Windows only) accounting was originally legal accounting software, but now includes endless "features" (far more than Microsoft has dreamed of for Word) many of which have little to do with accounting. They are crammed and buried so deeply beneath its interface that finding the bottom (and figuring out how to do anything without attending tutorial classes) is hopeless. However, I have been able to learn how to enter trust deposits and cheques, and produce trust ledger reports, so I do know where my clients' money is. PC Law's "features" also include random, unpredictable crashes and bugs, mysterious network issues, and a clumsy, homely 1995-style interface complete with tiny unidentifiable icons, multi-level menus and dialog boxes to get lost in. Want to correct an error in a newly entered file number? Good luck, it's impossible because the code was written in 1989 when a key was a key and databases were written by macho programmers who didn't give a hoot about users.
And when was the last time you saw an application respond to a command with an error number and a code line number so that you, the user, can presumably track down the code bug yourself??? Unbelievable, still in production in 2017! I suppose I'm expected to fix these errors myself? Or phone for help? None of this seems to affect the product's sales, because PCLaw practically has a monopoly on legal bookkeeping in Canada. I also get to pay a few hundred dollars per year for support people who always blame the problem on me and my computer (yes it's a Mac running Windows 7 under Parallels, and no, no other Windows application cares about this) and updates I don't need. (I've stopped paying them even though the invoices keep showing up in the mail.)

Devonthink Pro Office. This Mac-only information storage and search software receives the thousands of scans from my desktop scanner and converts them to readable PDF documents. It has imported, filed, categorized, sliced, diced and generally managed over 100,000 paper documents for me, with more added every day. Devonthink is able to locate single documents from this mass of information in a matter of seconds. It saves me time, and has allowed me to reduce significantly the quantity of paper that I have to store. (no, I'm not even close to paperless yet but I'm trying). But it has a major shortcoming: there seems to be no way to make an off-site backup, and I'm considering ending my use of it because of this.

Daylite is a Mac/iPhone/iPad-only customer relationship and project manager for small and medium sized businesses. Daylite supports from 1 to about 200 users, including teams of users, with individual data-level permissions settings ad infinitum. For me, my assistant and an associate lawyer, it integrates our contacts, calendars, task management, and Apple Mail in a friendly project-centric interface that includes notes, user forms, comprehensive information filtering, reports and templates. It's easy to learn the basics, and you'll want to develop more of the straightforward skills needed to make complete use of it. There are a number of training and customization resources available, including third party licensed consultants. Its databases are securely accessible by remote Macs, iPhones and iPads either on the local office network or remotely over the internet.

PDFPen Pro can efficiently create, edit and manage PDF documents. Years ago it was somewhat slow and clumsy to use, but the developers have worked hard to make it into a fast, usually intuitive, multi-faceted application which lets me deal with many imported documents and forms efficiently. PDFPen Pro does not have as full a feature set as Adobe Acrobat, so it may not be suitable for high level users, but it fits my needs as a lawyer.

Keyboard Maestro is the best Mac macro software available. Keyboard Maestro is a good example of why I have used Macintosh computers for 28 years. It's easy to understand, learn and use at all but its more advanced levels. It helps me get through my work faster by reducing the drudgery of repetitious computer tasks. It also talks to scripting and programming software, that non-programmers can use to some extent in place of the more technical and complex Applescript system-wide scripting language. The macros I've made and continue to make with it save me a lot of time, and are a bit of an intellectual puzzle-solving exercise, a challenge I really enjoy when I have time on my hands.

1Password securely stores and manages my user names and passwords, software licences, software passwords, various other kinds of personal information, and lots more, with aplomb.  I used to keep a folder filled with invoices and emails that contained hundreds of user names, passwords, software serial numbers and licences, but that became a mess that I dreaded dealing with. I learned to use 1Password quickly and easily, and it saves me time. I don't even have to remember passwords any longer.

SpamSieve is an easily trainable email utility which provides highly effective and accurate mail filters to deal with spam. Most Mac email clients, including Outlook, Postbox, Thunderbird etc., can use it. I would like to rely on the invisible shield provided by Canada's new anti-spam law to keep my email spam-free, but unfortunately the new law has mostly benefitted the thousands of computer programmers and lawyers that Canadian businesses need in order to keep themselves in compliance. As usual, the good guys pay and the bad guys win. Fortunately, SpamSieve almost always succeeds in filtering out the regular inflow of pleas from African bank officers, sellers of desirable medicaments to enhance my male specialities, cries for rescue from my unknown grandchildren adrift in Europe, banks that need me to confirm my details by clicking a button, and strange women who actually think I'm attractive (!!). 

Parallels Desktop for Mac provides what is called "hardware virtualization". In other words, it's a very fast software version of a Windows computer that runs on my Mac just like any other software application. It configures my licensed copy of Windows 7 to run under Mac OS X, then gets out of the way. So I don't need to buy a PC to clutter my desktop. My "PC in a Mac window" shares all of the Mac's files and peripheral hardware, networking and so on, and runs all Windows software. It runs seamlessly on my desktop alongside my Mac applications.
Now, if only PC Law accounting was a native Mac application that met Apple's human interface guidelines…