Software applications so transparent they disappear

Some applications have become so integrated in my thinking that I no longer even notice using them. In fact, this is so much so that when I use someone else’s computer I often look like an idiot, furiously typing to no avail.

I think it’s a great objective to develop software so transparent that it disappears.

Invisible app

To illustrate what I’m talking about, here are some apps I cannot live without but usually don’t even realize I am using:

LaunchBar: This is an application and file launcher that you run completely from the keyboard. All I have to do is type Command-Space, a small window pops up, and I start typing what I want. It will start drilling down through applications, folders, and files in real-time based on what I’m typing. I can usually have any application or file open in five keystrokes, from start to finish. Here is what I see when I invoke LaunchBar and type “text”:

Invis app launchbar

TextExpander: The idea here is that you store snippets of text, code, etc. that you might regularly use. I have snippets for everything from my email signatures (see below), dates, directions to my house, common email responses for my students, code (LaTeX, html, Python), etc. You just type your abbreviated snippet, and TextExpander replaces it with the target text. To insert the following in an email, I just type “gtsig” in any text box and the following appears:

Invis app textexpander

1Password: People laugh when I tell them I don’t know my Gmail password, but it’s no joke. 1Password generates and stores all my passwords, and automatically fills them on my Mac or iPhone. It’s very secure (all my passwords are stored behind multiple authentication prompts) and convenient (it auto-submits the right login credentials). Every one of my passwords are different, and any one of them might be something like this:

Invis app 1pass

Hazel: This one is probably the strangest to explain, but it’s a file mover and organizer. You create simple rules, tell it to watch certain folders, and perform rules on certain files when things happen. The canonical example is that you can have it automatically move files that haven’t been touched in, say, two weeks, off your desktop and into some archive folder, or delete them. Here is a sample rule that automatically watches your Downloads folder and auto-files and renames movie files:

Invis app hazel

These are just a few that initially came to mind. I should note that there are Windows-equivalents of all of these if you are into that sort of thing. Corresponding to each above, these would include Launchy, Texter, 1Password (Windows version), and DropIt.

Okay readers, your turn: What applications do you use that have become subconscious?

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