When I first got my Mac back in 2009, I spent a decent amount of time reading and learning about configuring, securing, and maintaining the operating system. OS X is based on the FreeBSD operating system which is just another variant of Unix. I have a fairly solid Unix background which I figured would help. With OS X, though, it is all about the graphical Darwin environment that runs on top of the underlying OS. So, I was really starting from scratch.
One of the things I found, as I was reading, were articles covering the Top 100 Best Mac Apps etc. A hundred apps is a lot of software. I found some redundancy in those lists and some of the apps were generally irrelevant to the majority of the Mac user population. So, I thought I would compile my own list of apps (not 100) that I find useful and can’t live without and post them here for your reference. Enjoy!
iStat Menus by Bjango software – $16 plus a 30 day trial
This was the first useful utility that I found after getting my Mac. Basically you get all of the benefits and more of the OS X Activity Monitor embedded right in the menu bar at the top of your desktop. It is highly customizable and worth every penny. I use it to monitor CPU activity, memory utilization, CPU core temperature and network interface bandwidth. You can also monitor other things like Disk I/O activity, fan speeds, power voltage etc. This app is at the top of my must-have list.
Coconut Battery by coconut-flavour.com – Freeware with a PayPal donate option
This little utility gives you great visibility into the health and status of your Macbook battery. You can see both live info as well as a history. You can see the current charge, maximum charge, current capacity, design capacity, the model and age of your Mac, battery load cycles, battery temperature and power usage.
f.lux by Michael and Lorna Herf – Freeware
The tag line is “Better lighting for your Mac.” I love this little ingenious tool. Have you ever noticed that your eyes strain when staring at a monitor after dark? Well, your monitor is typically tuned based on daytime lighting. At night when it is dark out, the only light is either ambient room lighting or the monitor itself. This little tool allows you to automatically adjust the color temperature of your display as night falls or day breaks. This will noticeably reduce the strain on your eyes after dark. I have noticed a huge difference, since I started using this. You don’t notice how much your eyes are straining until you see it adjust in front of your eyes.
f.lux makes your computer screen look like the room you’re in, all the time. When the sun sets, it makes your computer look like your indoor lights. In the morning, it makes things look like sunlight again.
Tell f.lux what kind of lighting you have, and where you live. Then forget about it. F.lux will do the rest, automatically.
WaterRoof by hanynet.com – Free, Open Source
This is a great frontend utility to manage the built-in IPFW firewall software on OS X. Sometimes you need to be able to tune or customize the firewall policy better than what Apple includes in the default managment interface under System Preferences. This is a pretty nice GUI interface to do just that. It is very easy to build rules, import or export policy, manage bandwidth, manage active connections on the fly, or even other advanced features like NAT and port redirection. If you need to customize the on-board OS X firewall, this is the tool to do it.
LittleSnitch by Objective Development – $29.95 plus a 3 hour trial
Think of this as the firewall for all the traffic and requests that want to leave your Mac. This is protection for your private data being sent out. Many times applications want to call home and do things you weren’t previously aware of. This “little” app will uncover all those little tricks and let you decide what you want to allow and whether it is one-time or forever and whether it applies to just your user or globally.
Little Snitch informs you whenever a program attempts to establish an outgoing Internet connection. You can then choose to allow or deny this connection, or define a rule how to handle similar, future connection attempts. This reliably prevents private data from being sent out without your knowledge. Little Snitch runs inconspicuously in the background and it can also detect network related activity of viruses, trojans and other malware. You can proactively configure rules, as well. There is also a customizable popup network monitor you can use to watch realtime activity.
K9 Web Protection by BlueCoat Systems – Free license for home use
I can’t say enough good things about this application. Everyone should have this application installed whether you have kids or not. On the surface it looks like another Net Nanny application to keep your kids safe online and stop them from getting to websites they shouldn’t be viewing. While this part is true, the part most people are missing (not helped by the targeted marketing) is the fact that this software also provides content filtering for Malware, Spyware, Phishing, and Suspicious content among many categories. This is a huge benefit to anyone who uses it, as it can help prevent you from accidentally getting pwned by drive-by downloads or other nefarious content injected into otherwise legitimate websites.
All of this is driven by a dynamic categorization service that BlueCoat uses to support all of their very large Fortune 500 Enterprise customers. I happen to be professionally involved with this product at a very large corporation supporting over 220,000 clients. I personally performed 3 months of exhaustive analysis and testing comparing the Enterprise implementation of this product against one of the industry leaders in this space at the time. The quality and consistency of the content categorization was unparalleled. You would be hard pressed to find a better solution than this, not only to protect your kids, but to ensure your system isn’t getting quietly compromised because of accidental browsing. The best part is that the application (Mac and Windows) is free to download and use. This is a must-have!
ClamXav by Mark Allan – Freeware with a PayPal donate option
Many Mac users will seem mystified by this one. After all, there are no viruses on Macs… right? Why would I recommend an Antivirus client on a platform that doesn’t get viruses? Well, although Mac OS X isn’t easy to compromise, unlike our friends’ platform out of Redmond, it still can be compromised. I think most Mac users have been lulled into a false sense of security because there hasn’t been a big worm or virus that has hit all Macs. This is most likely just a factor of economics and not reality. The fact is that OS X can absolutely be compromised. It is not bullet-proof. However, it will probably take some creative trick of social engineering to see any kind of widespread outbreak. Do you think twice before entering your admin password when an application prompts for it on your desktop? That is simply a speed bump that could be easily overcome. From another perspective, it is always nice to be a good Internet citizen and look out for your neighbors. It is possible that you could acquire “infected” content on your machine via email or file download and unknowningly pass it along to your other operating system challenged friends who might not be so lucky to avoid it. By running this app, you do the rest of the Internet a favor by not acting as one more repeater for the garbage that is flowing around out there.
Growl by Growl Team – Freeware Open Source
Growl is an invaluable Mac OS X notification utility that keeps you informed with transparent popups. Many applications can make use of this interface. Think of this like the disappearing popups that Microsoft uses in Outlook to notify you of new emails, except that any application can make use of it to provide alerts or useful information without having to switch focus to that window. You have complete control over what notifications you see and what ones you don’t. It is extremely easy to install and use. It just works.
Hardware Growler by Growl Team – Freeware Open Source
I find this extra add-on for Growl very useful so I know when various removable devices are are connected or disconnected from my machine.
AppFresh by Metaquark – Freeware
This app kicks butt. Not only does it integrate with Apple’s updates, it helps keep track of all my other installed applications and notifies me when there are updates available. This is kind of like the Microsoft Update utility but it covers all software and is not vendor specific. Being non-vendor specific has its downside, though, as not all updates are seamless and require user interaction to find the download link and run a manual install. Aside from that, it is very easy to use and a one stop interface for all your update needs.
AppZapper by Austin Sarner and Brian Ball – $12.95 plus a limited trial
As the app tag line states, this is “the uninstaller that Apple forgot”. Generally most people drag apps to the trash bin to “uninstall”. However, this is not the cleanest method to ridding your machine of unwanted programs. Many times uninstalling in this manner leaves other buried files in other parts of the system. Sure, many apps come with an uninstaller script but most of us are too lazy to find them and run them. Additionally, some of those scripts may not remove all of the app breadcumbs. AppZapper gives you a nice easy location to drag your apps, similar to the Trash bin, yet it is more effective at doing the full job ensuring that when you uninstall that everything related to the app is removed.
VMWare Fusion by VMWare – $49.99 with a rebate plus a 30 day trial
If you have the need to run software that you had on a Windows PC before you bought your Mac, this application lets you virtually run another entire operating system like an application on your desktop. That way you can still run previously purchased software and not have to completely start over from scratch. For the most part, you should be able to find apps that can easily replace anything you had on your old Windows system. But, some applications on Mac just don’t have all the features the Windows versions do or there is no equivalent version available. There are several virtual machine products on the market for Mac. I chose this one, specifically because they are the market leader in the Enterprise class space for server virtualization. I feel more confident knowing this software has proven itself in the most demanding of environments. They obviously must be doing something right.
Vuze by Vuze, Inc. – Freeware
I tried out a number of BitTorrent clients before I found Vuze (formerly known as Azureus). I like the interface and all of the built-in features and capabilities. It is fairly straightforward to setup and use. I recommend Vuze for P2P transfers for anyone who owns a Mac.
MD5 by Eternal Storms Software – Freeware with a donate option
When you are downloading software, you never can be too certain that it has not been tampered with. Mac OS X includes command line utilities to verify file integrity. This nice little utility is a graphical frontend for those same built-in utilities. It lets you easily compare two files, a file with a checksum or calculate the checksum of a file. You can also read and create .md5 – files with this handy little utility.
1Password by Agile Web Solutions, Inc. – $39.95 plus a 30 day trial
Up until recently, I have made heavy use of an application called KeePassX to store the wide variety of userIDs and passwords I have for various applications, systems, and online applications. I recently found this application which is a step above KeePassX. Not only does it provide all of the same security measures of KeePassX with respect to the data store and interface, it also includes a nice utility to autofill your credentials into web applications, it helps organize and store your software licenses and serial numbers, vault accounts work with non-browser applications, and you can easily assign icons/thumbnails for each account for easy identification. A new mobile version has also been released which allows you to sync and take your data with you anywhere. Importing all of my KeePassX data was a snap also.
Toast Titanium by Roxio a division of Sonic Solutions – $79.99 after $20 rebate
This is the gold standard for burning media on a Mac. Simple to use and easy to setup. I like the HD BluRay plugin that lets me burn my H.264 format home videos to dual layer DVDs. I can watch all of our home video in its native HD format on our BluRay player without having to go buy a BluRay burner and expensive BluRay media. You can’t go wrong with this one.
RipIt by The Little App Factory – $24.95
Backing up your DVD collection is important, especially if you have kids who treat them like frisbees or drink coasters etc. I burn any original we get to a blank DVD and let the kids handle them without worrying about scratches etc. If a disc is ruined, I am only out 20 cents and a small amount of time to re-duplicate the copy. This app can unlock pretty much any disc you throw at it. I haven’t found one yet that did not work. The old standby was Mac the Ripper. Support and development for it stopped quite some time ago. I highly recommend this as a replacement.
MarsEdit by Red Sweater Software – $39.95
Last but certainly not least, this was a last minute addition. This is my new favorite find I discovered when I was searching around on stuff related to this post. If you have a blog, this app is the icing on the cake. Editing blog posts in the browser based visual editor can be painful at times. This app takes all of that frustration away and now I can edit to my heart’s content offline and just post the content when I am ready. Special thanks to Jason Burk of 230.am for this tip.
Well, I hope this list provides some useful info on some great Mac apps and helps you to enhance your own Mac environment.