Cool Mac OS X applications

When I first tried a Mac, I didn't know what the best applications were for the platform and it took me a while to compile a significant list. Below are some of my favourite applications for Mac OS X, in order of preference. Many are commercial applications I've purchased, yet others are free. My friends know how much I love technology, systems and virtualization so I sometimes refer them to this list.

VMware Fusion

VMware pioneered virtualization on x86 hardware and VMware Fusion is their excellent desktop client for the Mac. The software is extremely stable and reliable, allowing a user to run many different operating systems and applications on the same computer, at the same time. The software loads and virtualizes operating systems and it shares hardware resources eloquently to allow people to run just about everything, from Microsoft Windows 7, XP, Vista, 2000, and old copies of Windows 95/98/ME or even DOS/Windows 3.1 to the latest Solaris on Intel and FreeBSD. Even the average person who needs to do something unique can use this software and "carry forward" their old computer, and all its data, along as a file on their latest PC... for future reference.

Disclaimer: While I wrote the above way back in 2008, I now work for VMware.

Adium instant messenger

Without a doubt, Adium is the coolest instant messaging client ever made. It is highly Mac-centric in design, with a great user interface and an active community of developers. It supports just about every network, from Yahoo and MSN to AOL, ICQ, Jabber, and many more. It's open-source, so it's free to use. And yes, the eyes do open when it's running, and close otherwise.

Firefox web browser

I still use Safari as my main browser, but I install Firefox for its customization and plugin capabilities. It's also always good to have a second browser for a wide variety of uses, from privacy issues to Tor, Flash manipulation, web development, and much more. It's a free, highly customizable browser that many people like more than Internet Explorer. And it has more features than Safari, particularly for anonymous browsing. This is the Netscape browser, reloaded, pluggable and very powerful.

Microsoft Word

It doesn't need any introduction. Word is the best word processor ever designed, and Word 2008 and the rest of the Microsoft Office 2008 suite is native to Mac OS X. It's a little bulky and slow to load, but once it's running there's no turning back. Many folks wouldn't have bought a Mac if Microsoft Office wasn't available, but fortunately Apple and Microsoft have a good working relationship. Excel, PowerPoint and Entourage (their Outlook clone) work just fine too. Microsoft Office for Mac OS X is a must-have application.

Tomato - BitTorrent client

Tomato is a small, lightweight, and free BitTorrent client with many features. If you like simple and fast, this is the BitTorrent client for you.

Google Earth - mapping software

This is amazing 3D mapping software of the Earth and the Solar System. Google Earth runs on other platforms like Windows too, but it's fully supported and customized for the Mac. Zoom into where you live and see an arial view of your city. Also works great with the Google Sketchup 3D drawing software... which is fun and easy to use.

TextMate - text editor

TextMate is a good text editor with syntax highlighting for OS X. It is a programmer's editor. It is usually pretty good at the syntax highlighting, except where three languages are involved and one language is embedded in another. TextMate is simple, powerful editor for programmers and hackers. It comes without the baggage (or price) of comparable programs like BBedit for the Mac, which seems to be for people who used Macs like 20 years ago (I'm not one of those people). The program looks simple but under the hood it is extremely powerful, with macros, in-line spelling, tons of of plugins, customizable color/font schemes, and more. I like that it's fast and simple.

Transmit - ftp/sftp client

Actually I used the free Cyberduck ftp/sftp program for years and really liked it. But it crashed all the time, so I found Transmit. Transmit is perhaps the most popular of applications in this genre, and supports the Growl plugin, has its own Widget, and settings can be synced with .Mac as well.

SuperDuper! - backup program

Despite the gay-sounding name, SuperDuper is the best backup program for the Mac. More than just backups, it creates perfect clones of your drive, and supports "smart updating" that only has to transfer the changes since the last time you backed up. This program has saved my butt numerous times, and is perfect for a failing hard drive, transferring your system from one Mac to another, or just backing up to prevent data loss. The free version supports basic backups and works in a pinch, but buy the license to get the full functionality like smart updating.

Business Card Composer - design software

There is no simpler, easier-to-use program like this on the planet. My friend who owns a small consulting business uses it and it's pretty slick. The developers of Business Card Composer pioneered simple yet amazing features like alignment marks that pop up when you are moving/resizing/changing any piece of text or graphics. That means everything lines up on the business card, so it's perfect for everyone, even for idiots like me. Anyone can make a professional business card in just a few minutes.

Perian - a set of Quicktime plugins

Perian is a collection of codecs you will need to see video content made on Windows machines. The developer calls it "the swiss army knife for Quicktime" or something like that. If you watch video files, downloading Perian (free) saves a lot of time installing all these codecs manually.

Flip4Mac - Quicktime plugin

Flip4Mac is codec software and you absolutely need it if you want to view Windows Media Files (videos) with the .wmf and .wmv format. The plugin itself is free, but if you try to use it in applications like iMovie you have to buy the software... ugh. Apple should be providing this functionality for free, without the need for a 3rd party plugin.

Lux - Risk-like game

I don't play many games on my Mac, but Lux is one of them. It's like the board game Risk, but much more automated. It supports multi-player over the Internet, and runs on just about anything (Mac, Windows, Linux) so all your friends can play.

Unison - Usenet binary grabber

Unison is the closet things to Newsbin Pro on Windows. It allows you to very quickly download binaries from the Usenet, a network on the Internet that predates the Web. Everything from music, pictures, videos and files can be found on the Usenet... along with the most dedicated group of discussion forums ever created. Unison has a Mac interface and works well, though I find the navigation slightly confusing.

NeoOffice - word processor

NeoOffice is a free word processor based on the Open Office software. It fully supports Microsoft Word 2004 compatibility, and works well with Office 2007 too. It's great for people who are too cheap to buy Apple's Pages application (part of iWork), or Microsoft Office for the Mac, or for people who just believe a good word processor should be free. It runs well and the interface is customized for the Mac, but it's a large program that is resource-heavy... just to load the word processor, you are also loading the spreadsheet and presentation programs at the same time.

Last updated: March 12, 2010

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