Updated: 30 best Mac apps for just about everything

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Updated: 30 best Mac apps for just about everything

30 best Mac apps for just about everything: 1-15

The selection of great free or inexpensive Mac programs on offer has never been better. You can now get amazing software designed by small or independent developers to cover practically anything you could ever want to do on your Mac.

With the rise of the App Store, it’s easier than ever to pick up software that you know is safe to use, and is recommended by other Mac users. You can find everything from video compression apps to music makers, invoice creators, photo editors, presentation tools and much more.

Not all of the apps here are from the App Store, but all are guaranteed to be awesome and essential in the day-to-day running of your Mac.

Here’s our list of 30 Mac apps you shouldn’t be without – ever:

1. AirDisplay – £6.99

I’m a firm believer that multiple medium-sized monitors make you more productive than one big one – we humans seem to work well with compartmentalised tasks – and if you have an iPad or even iPhone, you can add AirDisplay to turn it into an extra screen for your Mac.

It works over Wi-Fi, and I’ve found myself using it often at home when I just want a separate space to look at grabs, say, while I’m writing. It’s not a permanent solution, but it’s a handy thing to have. That iPads/iPhones are battery-powered and wire-free is a bonus.

2. Anime Studio Debut – £20.99

With even mid-range Macs now carrying plenty of processing power, it’s possible to do even more with them for a thoroughly reasonable price. Take Anime Studio Debut – it’s a way to creating animations really quickly and easily, but without sacrificing more advanced features.

Its Character Wizard makes it easy to create characters, and using its skeletal animating makes it simple to get things going. There’s a Beginner’s mode for those just starting out, and you can build into using the more complex tools.

3. ArtRage studio – £29

For all but the most dedicated – or especially solvent – graphic artists, the natural media application Corel Painter is an expensive luxury when the ArtRage range exists. Its watercolour is a bit disappointing, but the acrylic paints look good, and there’s enough flexibility here to work with.

I love that the interface can easily be shoved to the perimeter so that I can concentrate on my drawing or painting – my background’s in design – and the way I can have source images pinned to the screen. The tracing feature is a really great way to get a head start on a piece if you’re in a hurry.

4. Bento – £20.99

Bento is a flexible personal database app, enabling you to keep track of projects and tasks, plan events, create a more powerful contacts directory, and much more besides. It comes with plenty of templates to get you started, and you can share your databases across your local network with any other Macs you have.

Something like a database app can seem like overkill, but when its made this easy to use, you’ll find there’s plenty you can do with – what you might have kept as text notes or a spreadsheet looks much better and is easier to search through if you take the time to use Bento.

5. BetterTouchTool – £FREE

With OS X Lion now on the loose, Multi-Touch is the big thing on Macs, and this handy utility let you make the most of it. It enables you to assign just about any Multi-Touch gesture supported by your Magic Mouse or Trackpad to a set preset action, or to a key combination of your choosing.

Want to be able to create a new folder in Finder with a pinch? You can! Want to split clips in iMovie with a swipe? As long as you know the keyboard shortcut, you can do just about anything. Use it wisely and you’ll by flying along using only your Trackpad!


In the old days, if scientists wanted to crunch a bunch of numbers, they’d have to build or rent space on a supercomputer, one single, monolithic, terrifyingly expensive cluster of processors. The advent of the internet, however, has given rise to a new kind of computing: distributed computing.


The basic idea may be simple – an organisation parcels up little bundles of work, and sends them out to millions of computers all over the world to do then report back on – but the results can be extraordinary.

Though there are a few different distributed computing frameworks around, BOINC is particularly worthwhile as it enables lots of different research institutes to run their projects on a common system; install BOINC, and you can choose to participate in projects looking for cures for cancer and AIDS, looking for models that will help predict climate change, or even just looking for extraterrestrial life with the venerable SETI@home project.

Install BOINC, sign up for one or more projects, and decide how you want it to run. You could run it constantly in the background or just as a screensaver. Either way, this app offers a great way to put your Mac’s spare processor cycles to good use.

7. Byword – £6.99

This is an app I use all the time for writing. It’s a great exercise in simplicity and a focus on a few features making an appindispensable. Byword is designed for distraction-free writing, and does it with your choice of fonts, so there’s as little to get in your way as possible.

It’s being updated all the time, and new features added include a typewriter scrolling mode (for keeping the line you’re working on in the centre of the screen) and smart substitution of some punctuation. On top of that, it’s got full OS X Lion support, including a fullscreen mode, autosaving, Version compatibility and Resume.

8. Carbonite – £36/year

I’m paranoid about backup – as everyone ought to be! – so as well as using Time Machine, SugarSync and SuperDuper!, all for different reasons, I also bought a subscription to Carbonite as it enables me to back up everything on my MacBook Pro to a secure, offsite, properly managed server system. Even if my flat was razed to the ground, my data – irreplaceable photos, never mind work stuff – is safe.

9. DaisyDisk– £6.99

This is a beautifully designed way to view the space taken up on your hard drive, and gives you a way to very simply analyse what’s there. Got some suspiciously big folders lying around? DaisyDisk will highlight them clearly, so you can delete them, if you want. Notebook users in particular will find this hugely useful when disk space gets a bit tight.

10. Delivery Status – £FREE

This lovingly crafted little widget for Mac OS X’s Dashboard layer tracks deliveries though all the big courier companies, including City Link, FedEx, Parcelforce, the Royal Mail, TNT, UPS and USPS. Delivery Status also ties directly into some stores’ order and delivery systems, most notably Amazon and, of course, Apple.

Delivery status

Entering delivery details is easy, and the fact that it’s a Dashboard widget means you only have to tap a single key to take a quick glance at how your delivery is coming along. And with Dashboard becoming more prominent in OS X Lion, it’s more useful now than ever.

Of course it’s only as good as the data the courier provides, but it’s undeniably more convenient, especially if you’re tracking multiple deliveries. I love, too, that it syncs with a service in the cloud that can also push delivery notifications to a £2.99 iPhone/iPad app.

11. djay – £34.99

Wannabe DJs with a huge selection of music to mix in their iTunes libraries won’t be able to keep their hands off the djay app for Mac. It’s recently been improved with OS X Lion features such as a fullscreen mode and better Multi-Touch control, but it’s always been an excellent choice.

Mix songs, beat match, fade, apply effects and generally rock whatever room you happen to be in at the time. It’s a brilliantly visual app too, and uses your iTunes artwork on the ‘decks’ to give your actions more personality.

12. EyeTV – From £45 with tuner

The current incarnation of this app is nicely evolved, but it’s functionally very similar to how it’s always been – EyeTV is still the nicest way to watch, record and edit TV on your Mac. I use it on my Mac mini media centre all the time; I particularly like setting up a Smart Guide to list all upcoming films that I can just scroll through and record, later trimming and exporting to iTunes. It has broadened my taste in movies, and boosted my iTunes collection.

13. Evernote – £FREE

I make a lot of notes. Ideas for features, apps to check out, things I might want to do at the weekend – I want to jot it all down somewhere before I forget. The brilliance of Evernote is that it syncs it all to the cloud, so whatever I make a note of on my iPhone or iPad is there on my Mac when I get to it.

I can arrange things how I want, tag them for future searches, share notebooks with others, and even search text that’s in images. It’s had an interface overhaul for OS X Lion, with a new fullscreen mode, so new Mac users should pick it up straight away.

14. HandBrake – £FREE

Handbrake is basically a transcoder; it converts digital video files into a different format. Sounds dull, but one of its best uses is to convert almost any movie into a file that can play on an iPod, iPhone or iPad.

It comes with a slew of different presets, but it’s hugely configurable as well, so that with sufficient experimentation, you can balance quality and compression to suit you. It hooks up with VLC for codec help and some other naughtiness that lets it convert commercial DVDs.

15. iPlayer Desktop -£FREE

Yes, it’s an AIR app, and yes, its use of Flash for the video player means iPlayer Desktop is really demanding on your CPU, but the ability to download BBC programmes for later watching is terrific.

30 best Mac apps for just about everything: 16-30

16. iStat Menus -$ 16

As you’d expect, I’m forever working on fresh Macs, or setting up new systems. Literally, the first thing I do – before I even open Software Update to patch the system – is go to bjango.com and download iStat Menus.

iStat menus

Without it installed on a Mac, I feel blind; is that site loading slowly because the server is having problems, or is it my internet connection? Why are my MacBook Pro’s fans suddenly spinning up; what app’s gobbling up CPU cycles? Hey, that Time Machine backup seems to have stalled; is there actually any data flowing on the FireWire 800 bus? Do I have enough space on my internal SSD to download that HD programme on iPlayer?

iStat Menus puts a series of highly configurable status icons in my Mac’s menubar that I glance frequently to check what my Mac’s up to; if I want more detail, I can click on the various icons to drill down into richer info. And even though the Mac can display the date beside the clock in the menubar, I much prefer the smart black icon that iStat Menus can use.

17. iStudio Publisher-£12.99

Apple’s Pages has always been good for laying out pages with images quickly and easily, but it’s not very powerful for more advanced page design. Home publishers won’t exactly want to pay what Adobe demands for its InDesign software, so enter iStudio Publisher.

It’s not far from being a pro-level DTP program, and it costs less than a good pub dinner. It’s got a simple interface that won’t scare of beginners, but advanced users will find plenty of features to get their teeth into. It even exports to ePub, so is great for ebook publishing.

18. Kindle – £FREE

Speaking of ebooks, here’s Amazon’s Kindle. Though your Mac may not be the ideal place to do some long-form reading, there are plenty of books on the Kindle service that you might want to reference while working, or you might just want to pick up on what you were reading while you’re at your desk for ten minutes.

Amazon’s servers will sync your place in your ebooks across all your devices, from the Kindle app on your iPad to your actual Kindle device, to the Mac app. You’ll never forget where you are, and it’s easy to search books and save notes. It could be ideal for students, especially.

19. LogMeIn – From £FREE

There are lots of VNC apps around now – more so than ever before, mainly thanks to the iPad and the great ideal of accessing your desktop Mac from anywhere. Many of them are excellent, but can be unreliable. LogMeIn works every time, so you’ll find yourself worrying about it.

20. Plex – £FREE

Those who like to use a Mac as a media centre, like me, will have been disappointed with the sudden demise of Front Row in OS X Lion. The silver lining is that it leaves an opportunity for other developers to fill the gap, and Plex is a superb choice. It’s got wide codec support, an appealing interface, and works across many different platforms, including iPad and iPhone.

21. Reeder – £6.99

This tool for reading the feeds from your Google Reeder account is simply the best way to browse news on your Mac. I use it all the time to keep on top of what’s going on, simply because it presents everything in such an easy-to-read way.

It makes articles eminently readable, has a fullscreen mode for OS X Lion (so you can read without distraction), and integrates with Evernote, Instapaper and ReadItLater.

22. Scrivener -£31.99

Scrivener is a word processor, but one focussed on the task of writing complex, structured documents such as novels or, in my case, features and group tests for MacFormat. (It also has a range of presets for writing screenplays, and so is a legitimate competitor to the heavyweight Final Draft app.)


Rather than creating one hugely long, linear document in Byword or (shudder) Word, Scrivener lets me create a raft of discrete, re-orderable documents that I can focus on one at a time. Each document can have a word or character count associated with it, as well as a notes field that is invaluable when writing group tests.

The Research folder can hold webarchive files from Safari – a terrific way for me to refer to products’ spec sheets or Wikipedia references, for example – as well as PDFs.

And because you can split the writing view horizontally or vertically, it’s easy to write while keeping an eye on your notes and reference. Documents can be exported in a range of formats, and Scrivener documents themselves are just a special kind of folder; right-click on one to Show Package Contents and you’ll see that they just consist of a series of nested RTFs.

Your writing isn’t locked away in a dangerously proprietary format. The developer himself is actually a writer who, when he realised there was no software that did what he actually wanted it to, took time out, taught himself how to code, and created Scrivener.

It shines through; this really is a writer’s tool, and I’m delighted not only by Scrivener’s fantastic abilities, but also by the fact that whenever I discover a new ability, it works in exactly the way that I’d want it to. It’s also now got support for OS X Lion, including a new fullscreen mode.

23. Spotify – From £FREE

We’re banned from usingSpotifyat work, and you can understand why; if hundreds of people were using this free music streaming service, our bandwidth would plummet! At home, though, it’s a fantastic way of checking out bands; though the free service is now very limited.

The paid-for premium service offers unlimited listening to an absolutely huge range of artists and albums, however. And the ability to collaborate on playlists is great for parties (or annoying friends!).

24. SugarSync– From £FREE

I bought a subscription to SugarSync because it acts not just as an offsite backup – copying essential work files to its servers – but because it syncs files across multiple computers, even those running Mac OS X 10.5 or Windows XP and later.

Unlike Dropbox, which currently mandates that you put the files you want to sync into a specific folder, SugarSync just asks you what folders from your existing folder hierarchy you want to sync.

I especially love that if I have to put my MacBook Pro in for repair, I can just use another of my computers; all the files will be there, and any changes I make will be synced back when I open up the laptop again.

25. SuperDuper!– £19.85

If the SSD in my MacBook Pro failed, I have to give all the other backup systems I use time before I could actually start working again. With Time Machine, I’d have to reinstall and start to copy everything back to a new disk, and Carbonite and SugarSync would take an age to download.


SuperDuper!, though, creates a bootable backup. I just have to restart and hold down Alt, pick the SuperDuper backup volume, and I’m working again. The paid version does incremental backups, so the clone is updated at 16:45 every work day.

26. Things – £34.99

Thirty-five quid? For a to-do manager? Yeah, I know, it seems like – and, frankly, is – a lot, but, although I’m late to the party, I’m a total Things convert. The beauty of the system, for me, is that once I’ve taken a little time to set up areas of responsibility, projects, tags and deadlines, I can throw stuff I need to do into the app, and each day check it to see what I need to do.


It syncs with the iPhone and iPad – though each edition is a separate app – over Wi-Fi, and though the system isn’t perfect, it’s a great de-stresser; I don’t have to worry about remembering stuff any more.

27. Transmission– £FREE

There are lots of clients for the Mac that hook into the world of BitTorrent, but Transmission is the one I use; it’s clean, simple-yet-configurable, and Mac-like. BitTorrent is a system for downloading files that are held not on a central server, but on the hard disks of many thousands of ordinary users like you and me all over the world.

Though it has a murky reputation, BitTorrent can be used for good; Linux distros, for example, many of which work on Intel or even PowerPC Mac hardware, are often distributed using it. I like the web interface, too, which lets me add torrents to my Mac mini at home from my iPhone when I’m away.

28. Transmit – £23.99

It will come as no surprise to learn that I’m forever shuttling huge files – podcast recordings, high-resolution graphics, InDesign files and more – around the world. And I also, because of the way our networks are set up at Future, use FTP to transfer stuff to and from our corporate servers from the personal MacBook Pro on which I do all my work.

Transmit is a lovely client for FTP, SFTP, WebDAV and other standards, and the new version even lets you mount remote servers as disks in your Finder sidebar, making it easy to open files live from remote servers. Its developers are gratifyingly passionate about the Mac, too; the attention to detail is staggering.

30. VMware Fusion -£53.95

I always have to keep the occasional Windows machine around to check stuff, and Fusion is my favourite way to do it. I keep virtual machines for every major version of Windows since 3.1 as virtual machines on a big external disk. Ironically, perhaps, our sister PC magazines often come to me for grabs.

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