Posted on September 17, 2007
Filed under Mac
I’ve long though about documenting the slew of applications I’ve accustomed myself to using on my Macbook, but I’ve never really gotten around to it until now. The main reason I have for writing this kind of a list is to document these things on a remote server (or preferably several – Google, I’m looking at you) in case my laptop decides it’s time to give up the ghost and I’m forced to start all over again with a new one. Writing this in my blog should accomplish this goal, and in addition it can serve as my official list of recommended applications for other Mac OS X users. So, here it is, in all its long glory.
I have been trying to update this page regularly. The last update was Apr 1, 2011.
All applications below are either open source or otherwise distributed free of charge, unless the price of the license has been mentioned.
Office / Productivity
I’ve been using Safari as my main browser. The reason for this is that it has all the features I need from a browser, it looks nicer than the other alternatives, and it performs quite well. Another important thing is that Safari integrates into the OS, meaning that it supports the Cmd-Ctrl-D dictionary panel feature that is enabled in all Cocoa text controls, and that it uses the OS network location settings (proxies etc.), while Firefox and Opera have their own sets of proxy settings and do not support the dictionary panel feature. There are other browsers that integrate into the OS just like Safari, but they lack some of the other features I require. I don’t need ad blocking in the browser since I use GlimmerBlocker.
Safari Plugins I use:
- XML View Plugin by Marc Liyanage
(Enables displaying of XML in the browser with color coding etc. just like Firefox does out of the box)
- ClickToFlash by Jonathan ‘Wolf’ Rentzsch et al.
(Disables loading of all Flash items until you explicitly click on them or whitelist the current site)
The Mac port of Google’s Chrome has been coming along very nicely, but even though it’s really fast and has a lot of the latest and greatest browser tech (well, Safari does, too), it still has many rough edges that prevent me from adopting it as my main browser (namely, lack of text-only resizing, page previews in the print dialog, support for the dictionary panel and a proper AppleScript dictionary (at the time of this writing)).
Firefox is definitely the most customizable browser out there, but it feels a bit more sluggish than Safari, Chrome and Opera.
Firefox Addons I use:
- System Proxy by Ilya Voronin
(makes Firefox use the OS proxy settings (normally it has its own settings for those, which you would have to manually keep changing whenever your location changes))
- GrApple themes by Aronnax
(nice Safari-like themes that I prefer to the default one)
- Look Up in Dictionary by Macaw
(Even though the dictionary panel feature doesn’t work in Firefox (due to it not using OS-native text layout APIs,) this extension allows you to open the stand-alone OS X Dictionary application from within the context menu of a selection)
I Only use Opera for online banking, since after every bank login and logout I want to clear the cache and history in the browser. I Can do that with Opera without losing any of my actual browsing history (which I’d like to retain) since I don’t use it for any other browsing.
Web Ad Blocking
GlimmerBlocker runs a local proxy server on your computer and handles all of your ad blocking needs through that regardless of which browser you use. You control it via a preference pane it installs into System Preferences.
$79 for one license or $99 for the family pack
Apple’s iWork package has earned a position as my number one office app suite because of the clean UI of the apps included (Pages for word processing and page layout, Numbers for spreadsheets and Keynote for presentations). Even the MS Office file format support is pretty good.
My second choice is the native Mac version of OpenOffice.org. It’s a lot slower and clunkier than iWork, but it does have more features. NeoOffice is an OpenOffice.org fork that I used before the official Aqua port of OO.org was released, since I didn’t want to run the X11 version.
I’ve been using Skim as my main PDF viewer because it has a nicer UI and more features than Preview, and it is quite fast, especially compared to Adobe’s viewer. Skim has been updated ridiculously often during the whole time I’ve used it (which is good!).
Xee is my favorite image viewer. It trumps Preview in that it’s allows you to easily browse through all the images in the same folder.
OmniGraffle Professional (v.4)
$99.95 for one license (v.5, standard), $199.95 (v.5, professional)
OmniGraffle is the best diagramming / vector graphics application I have ever used, hands down. I Liked MS Visio before, but OmniGraffle is way better. It’s not the cheapest application in the world but it’s well worth the price. I’ve used it to create all kinds of drawings from icons and CD/DVD covers to UML diagrams. I have version 4 but at the time of this writing, version 5 is the latest.
$19.95 for a single home user license and $29.95 for a family license
LaunchBar is an application not dissimilar to Quicksilver. It can provide quick access to “applications, documents, contacts and bookmarks, to your iTunes library, to search engines and more”. I Currently use it to launch applications, since I got it with the MacHeist 2008 bundle and it’s a bit faster for that than Spotlight.
Spark allows you to configure custom system-wide keyboard shortcuts for doing any number of different things (e.g. running scripts or applications, opening files or folders, controlling iTunes or performing system actions like logging out or starting the screen saver).
Quicksilver is the venerable productivity helper application that allows you to open files, launch applications, and god knows what else – people have found amazingly creative uses for this app. You use it by first pressing a keyboard shortcut to invoke it, then starting to type the name of something that you want to operate on (a file, a folder, an application…), and after that you can press enter to run the default action or tab to select some other action you want to perform on the found item.
$40 per computer (or $10 when upgrading from BusySync)
iCal was one of the reasons I wanted to start using OS X and buy a Mac. I liked the clutter-free interface, which is very important to me in a calendar app. In Aug ’09, though, I started using BusyCal instead. It’s very similar but includes a bunch of extra features (most notably more reliable synchronization with Google Calendar). I also trust the developers of BusyCal to be more focused on its development than Apple is in the development of iCal.
This free application makes it very easy to download profile pictures and other information for all of your contacts from Facebook and into your local Address Book database. It has worked quite well for me and has saved me lots of manual work.
$24.95 for a single license
I prefer to use the GMail user interface over the more traditional e-mail software interfaces, but I would also like to keep my emails in a separate window or application from my web browsing. Mailplane is an application that wraps up the GMail interface in a nice Cocoa app that adds all kinds of nice OS integration into the process of using GMail. It can also pop up the Google Talk UI in its own window, which I think is very nice. Very much recommended.
Thunderbird is my second choice if I cannot use Mailplane. It’s thus my preferred one from all the more traditional e-mail applications.
Adium is an excellent multi-protocol IM client that I use as my main IM application. In the past it had some trouble connecting to the MSN network (which, unfortunately, is the network many of the people I’d like to chat with happen to use) through proxies, but lately it seems to have been working just fine for me.
Video/Audio (Conference) Calls
Skype is the well known VOIP application that I trust the esteemed reader is familiar with.
I haven’t been able to hang around in IRC a lot after starting to use OS X, but I’ve tested all the IRC clients available and this one seems like the best one for me – I feel that the most important thing in an IRC client is to be able to display the discussions in a very readable (read: color-coded) way, and Colloquy can do this. What it lacks in features it makes up for in UI elegance.
Media & Entertainment
$25 for single license
I Usually prefer to organize my music “library” as simply a file/folder structure instead of a centralized database (like iTunes does it). Therefore I need a simple music player that has a nice and clear UI, good sound quality, and that doesn’t keep any sort of database about the files it’s used to play. Cog fits the bill perfectly.
This is an app for streaming audio over the network from one computer to another (or to an Airport Express). I tried using iTunes’ home sharing feature for streaming music from my (Mac) laptop into our living room (Windows) HTPC but for some inexplicable reason some particular files refused to be streamed. I then replaced this setup with AirFoil and have been happy as Larry ever since (however happy he is).
When Apple removed the ridiculous constraint of not being able to view videos in fullscreen with the basic version of Quicktime, I started to actually use it, although I usually do pick VLC, MPlayer or Movist over it:
MPlayer is an excellent video player that comes with built-in support for almost every codec imaginable. The standard OS X GUI is not nearly as good as this custom one, which I prefer to use instead.
VLC is another excellent video player that comes with built-in support for almost every codec imaginable.
Movist’s biggest differentiating feature is the fact that it can use both Quicktime and FFmpeg for decoding the video, and you can switch between these two options with the click of a button. It also has good support for subtitles and a pretty clean preferences panel and UI.
Perian, the self-proclaimed “swiss-army knife for Quicktime” adds support for a very large number of video and audio formats to Quicktime. Essential.
Flip4Mac, now distributed under the more generic name “Windows Media components for Quicktime”, adds support for – you guessed it – Windows Media formats to Quicktime. Essential.
This package adds support for the Xiph media formats (Ogg Theora, Vorbis, FLAC) to Quicktime. Especially interesting due to Firefox’s initial implementation of the HTML5 video tag supporting only Ogg video — after this is installed, Safari will support it as well.
This is basically a very easy-to-use GUI for ffmpeg, which is a well known and mature open source command-line application for converting video from one format to another. VisualHub works very well and its greatest asset seems to be that it has support for encoding from/to a huge number of formats, due to ffmpeg.
Handbrake is a converter application that is able to convert DVDs to MPEG-4 formats. It can’t handle other DVD copy protection mechanisms than CSS, though.
Audacity is a nice and very capable open source application that is able to record and edit audio.
$59 for one license
Pixelmator is a native Mac image editor with a flashy UI and tight OS integration. The application is very nice all around and has been updated quite often — almost all of the things I thought it was missing in the first versions have been fixed by now (version 1.2.2). Most of the features are implemented in a very Photoshop-like manner, which makes it easy to get started with it if you’ve used Photoshop before. Very much recommended. Some people prefer Acorn, which is another excellent image editor for the Mac.
I don’t really play any games anymore (I’d like to, though, but I don’t have that much time for it), but I do have ScummVM, a multi-platform interpreter for the SCUMM adventure game system, installed so that I’ll be able to play some of those classic adventure games on my Mac.
I’ve been using Google Reader as my main newsfeed reader due to the OK user interface and the fact that it’s a web app and thus lets me access my feed subscriptions from anywhere. Now that the venerable NetNewsWire has finally added support for synchronization with Google Reader (currently only in the latest beta versions), I’ve begun using it on the desktop, since the UI is obviously a lot nicer in this native desktop app.
jEdit was one of the few options I had for choosing a capable editor for writing ActionScript, and because of its extendability, configurability and excellent plugins on a nice plugin architecture I’ve been using it as my main editor for all coding tasks. It’s a bit slow and clunky at times (well, it’s made in Java, after all) but I’ve simply fallen in love with the Beanshell macro system it has so it’ll be difficult for me to migrate to anything else.
Fraise is a ‘continuation’ fork of Smultron by Peter Borg, on which development was halted a while ago. It is a nice and simple text/code editing app that I mainly use as a general-purpose text editor. It launches quickly so it’s also perfect for quick fixes to scripts, config files and such if I don’t have my main editor open.
Source Code Control
There are many good GUIs for Git on OS X but GitX is my favorite. It’s quite fast, straightforward and simple, and particularly its commit view matches my mental model of committing stuff in Git really well. The original GitX project has apparently stalled a bit but fortunately others have picked up the code. The fork linked above is GitX(L) (which I use), but Brotherbard’s fork is another option.
I’ve recently decided to start using Mercurial for some small personal projects instead of Git. I like both but I noticed how I didn’t really use Git’s branching at all for my personal projects, and even though Git’s documentation and ‘user friendliness’ in general has been improved a lot over time, it seems to still be easier to figure out (and remember) how to do some less-common things in Mercurial. I’ve grown accustomed to using GitX in my workflow a lot, though, so I was happy to see that Mercurial’s best OS X GUI, Murky, has improved a lot since I first heard about it.
The source code versioning system I’ve used at work is SVN. The SVN command-line client has been included in OS X since Leopard, so there’s no need to separately install it, but a GUI front-end for it does come in handy. I’ve been using SvnX, which seems to be the best free option. Even though I know nicer alternatives exist, SvnX has been good enough for me.
File Transfer ((S)FTP)
$29.95 for one license
A File manager application primarily meant for replacing the Finder. I simply use this as an SFTP client application, since it seems more robust than the free alternatives and sports an excellent ‘live editing’ feature that uploads any changes to an edited file in the background every time you save. It also works as an excellent application remover and a batch renamer.
The best free alternatives for FTP (which I rarely use anymore) and SFTP. Both have been a bit buggy when I’ve used them.
File Transfer (BitTorrent)
My BitTorrent application of choice. Transmission has a very nice and clean UI and it has always worked very well. It was also recently updated to allow for selective downloading (i.e. downloading only some specific files from a torrent), which a lot of people seemed to be asking for.
DropBox is a very nice cross-platform file synchronization application that automatically and transparently syncs all files and folders under a specific path in your local filesystem onto their servers and any other computers you have that are running DropBox clients. You can also share folders with other DropBox users and use URLs to specific files in your “public” folder to share individual files with anyone. As of this writing it’s still in closed beta.
An excellent open source app that changes my network location and a bunch of other settings automatically based on set criteria from different sources (e.g. WLAN SSID, IP range etc…). Unfortunately development on this appears to have been halted for a long time (jan 2011) but the app front page has links to a bunch of alternatives that do pretty much the same thing.
Lingon is a GUI frontend to the launchd system daemon configuration and its controller launchctl. It’s basically a very nice, easy, fast and clean way to schedule applications or scripts to run at defined times (e.g. at specific intervals or whenever a specific file changes). The newer versions of Lingon have a completely overhauled interface, which is much simpler, but I quite liked the old one. The biggest problem for me is the fact that you have to log out or restart for some changes to get applied. The developer says this is because of the changes Apple made to launchd in Leopard, but as far as I understand, it’s still quite possible to load and unload jobs with launchctl without logging out. Note: Lingon is not developed anymore but as far as I know, the latest version can still be useful so I’ll keep it listed here.
ScriptSaver is a screensaver that allows you to set it to run applescripts whenever it starts and stops. You specify the script to run at screensaver startup, the actual screensaver to use, and the script to run when the screensaver stops.
SleepWatcher is a system daemon that executes shell scripts whenever your Mac goes to sleep and whenever it wakes up.
$27.95 for one license
The two most recommended backup applications (besides Time Machine, of course) are SuperDuper! and Carbon Copy Cloner. I’d been using Carbon Copy Cloner for a while, but since I ran into some problem that prevented it from finishing a full backup of my laptop’s HDD a couple of times, I decided to try SuperDuper! instead in hopes that it’d be more reliable (so far, it has been.) Using either one of these, it’s super easy to create bit-by-bit clones of your HDD onto another one and have it ready to step in as a replacement drive in case your main one fails.
Carbon Copy Cloner is the free alternative to SuperDuper!. Feature- and usability-wise, both are very similar, but I’ve found SuperDuper! to be a bit more reliable. Your mileage may vary.
Configuration / Personalization
$16 for single user, $26 for family pack
iStat menus is a system monitoring application that sits in the system menu bar. It is very similar to MenuMeters, but better (it has more features and it looks nicer).
DoubleCommand is a kernel extension with a preference pane that allows for changing some of the key mappings on your keyboard. I’m using it to remap my enter key (the one in the Macbook between the right apple key and the left arrow key (note: I have a Finnish keyboard)) to act as an option (alt) key. On newer Macs with Finnish keyboards this would not be needed, as there is a right-side Alt key present.
FinderPop allows you to extend context menus for Finder (and other apps as well) with its own custom items as well as arbitrary user-defined items, defined by the contents of a folder (that is, just add something to this folder and it will be included as an item into Finder context menus.) Very cool.
GeekTool allows you to display any command line output in text boxes over the desktop background. The output is most commonly from a shell script or CLI app.
I started using the system default Terminal app instead of iTerm around the time Snow Leopard came out due to iTerm having some issues with non-ASCII characters (I might switch back at some point though). I had to install SIMBL and an inputmanager hack to be able to change the ANSI colors, though (iTerm has this built in).
The slogan on DTerm’s website says “A command line anywhere and everywhere”, which pretty much describes what the application does — it lets you open up a quick terminal whenever and wherever with a global keyboard shortcut, setting the working directory in this terminal instance to the path of the file that is currently open in whichever application you have in focus (if the front window of this application is a Cocoa document window). This is a really nice way to run some quick commands without first opening a full Terminal app and cd’ing to the correct directory.
iTerm has improves upon the Terminal app that ships with the OS with some simple details like the fact that it only maximizes the vertical size of the window when using ‘Zoom’ (invoked, for example, from the plus button on the window corner) and that it allows you to change the ANSI colors without an external inputmanager hack. Essential.
System Tools / Helper Apps
Growl is a global notification system that a lot of applications use to notify the user of something that they’re doing. It’s an excellent idea and what is more excellent is the number of applications that have actually added support for it. It’s a shame most of the display styles look like ass, though (I use “smoke”, which looks nice and clean). The growlnotify command-line app that can be used to send messages to Growl is broken in Leopard as of this writing (version 1.1.4), but there’s a workaround.
Hex Color Picker plugs into the standard system color panel and adds features for working with hexadecimal colors. Very useful for anyone who has to work with websites.
Just like the Hex Color Picker above, Developer Color Picker is able to copy HTML and CSS representations of colors into the clipboard, in addition to Cocoa/Cocoa Touch/Core Graphics -related representations (or declarations) (NSColor, UIColor, CGColorRef).
Caffeine is a nice little menubar application that lets you temporarily make sure your computer won’t go to sleep. Very handy especially when doing presentations or watching web videos on battery power.
SoundSource sits in your menu bar and allows you to quickly switch audio input and output sources as well as adjust their volumes. Very handy especially if you often switch between USB speakers and headphones on the same computer.
The Unarchiver is .. well, an unarchiver application, and one that supports more formats than the unarchiver that comes with OS X.
If you ever come across some multi-part RAR archives that other unarchiving tools won’t open, the next step would be to try this one.
Burn is a simple and clean application for burning CDs and DVDs in various formats.
29.90€ +VAT for one license
I’ve been using this as my number one VNC client instead of Chicken of the VNC because this seems to be a bit faster. Leopard has a VNC client installed by default (called Screen Sharing), but I’ve noticed that it’s also really slow compared to this one.
My number two VNC client. This is an older application than JollysFastVNC, and may thus be more solid and stable, but as it seems a bit slower to update the screen and I haven’t had any problems with JollysFastVNC, I’ll keep using it instead of this.
$79.99 for one license
This, I think, is the best virtualization software currently available for the Mac and my preferred choice. I Suspect this situation will not change for a while, given the fact that VMWare has always had the best virtualization software on the market and they seem to be interested in continuing to upgrade their Mac product (probably due to continuous competition from Parallels, though.) I Use this to run virtualized instances of Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux on my mac.
The best free virtualization solution for the Mac is this one. Not quite as polished as Fusion, but, you know, free.
37€ (Standard) or 64€ (Pro)
Fluid is an application that generates site-specific browsers — that is, applications that embed a WebKit view within them, displaying by default a specific web site. This is a nice way of running web applications in their own windows and processes instead of in a tab or a window within one of your web browsers. I’ve used Fluid to make Google Reader into a site-specific browser for myself. Very handy.
Platypus is a nifty little application that allows you to take any script (e.g. shell script, applescript…) you’ve created and make it into an application bundle. It also has a command-line client, which allows for making simple build scripts for automation.
This application displays a useful graphical representation of disk space taken by files contained by a specified hard drive or folder. It allows you to easily find where all your disk space went.
Quick Look Generators (Plugins)
Update: I’ve removed the two items I previously had here, since the pages behind the following two links provide much better (and probably more frequently updated) lists of Quick Look plugins:
Command-Line Interface Programs
MacPorts is the closest thing on Mac OS to what the Linux distributions call “package managers”. It automatically downloads, compiles and installs software for you (mainly ports of software originally written for other Unix-like operating systems, hence the name,) along with all of the required dependencies. Some people prefer Fink, which is pretty much the same thing.
Returns you the FTP, HTTP and HTTPS system proxy settings. My ~/.bashrc runs this in order to set the ftp_proxy, http_proxy, https_proxy and RSYNC_PROXY environment variables to the same values I’ve set in System Preferences for whichever location I happen to be in.
Returns you a list of the connected bluetooth device names.
Allows you to check the current state of bluetooth (i.e. is it on or off), and set it to go on or off.
Allows for making several different kinds of read-only queries to the Time Machine system, like status, log, diff, delta etc. I much prefer to use this for browsing my backups instead of the standard animated 3D space-time continuum thingamajiggie. Note: tms doesn’t seem to be developed anymore, and the latest version doesn’t work in Snow Leopard. I’m still hoping development on this will continue so I’ll refrain from removing it from this list.
A Bunch of different useful command-line utilities.
Captures images using the iSight webcam and writes them to files.