Essential Mac Apps

A new Mac user can easily become overwhelmed be the sheer number of applications that they need to sift through while looking for the best Mac apps for each task that they wish to achieve. To make this task easier, I've put together a categorized list of the best apps that I've found in.

These are general productivity and utility apps that should be useful for most of our readers.

Backups, Security, and Privacy


  • AirParrot: Airplay from your Mac to TV.
  • Beamer: Stream videos from your Mac to your Apple TV or Chromecast.
  • Downie: Video downloader.
  • Handbrake: Convert videos.
  • MakeMkv: Powerful DVD/Blu-ray ripper to create video files from physical media.
  • PhotoSweeper: Powerful duplicate photo cleaner that works with Photos, iPhoto, Lightroom, and Aperture. Also check out [PowerPhotos].( which has similar functionality, but includes support for things like managing and merging multiple libraries (though it's only for
  • Pixelmator: Well-designed photo editor. Also has iOS app.
  • STAMP: Move playlists between music and video services.
  • Spotify: Music streaming. Use Spotifree to mute ads on the free tier.
  • Squidoo: Mini menu bar music player with additional features.
  • Transmission: Lightweight BitTorrent client with a both a command line interface and a Web console.
  • Youtube-dl: Scriptable utility to download videos from youtube and other sites. Homebrew installable.
  • VLC and MPlayerX: Video playback.

News and Weather

  • Instapaper: Save web pages to read later.
  • Living Earth: Beautiful weather app. Temps is another option.
  • Pocket: Another read it later service, but unlike Instapaper has a native Mac app.
  • Reeder: Good-looking RSS reeder. Check out Feedly as a good RSS syncing service.
  • Tweetbot: A good-looking Twitter client that also tracks statistics so you can see who follows you and interacts with your tweets.


  • Day One: Popular journaling app.
  • Journey: Similar to Day One but no subscription.

List Manager

  • Anylist: A subscription-based recipe and grocery list manager. It also has an iOS app. Integrates with Reminders Siri, and Alexa.
  • Paprika: Recipe and grocery list manager. Integrates with Siri.


  • AirMail: Alternative to Apple's with a beautiful interface and additional features.
  • Dropbox: Cross-platform file syncing/cloud storage. If you're concerned about privacy, check out SpiderOak.
  • Evernote: Popular note-taking app for organizing thoughts, bookmarks, pictures, etc. If you don't like the Mac version's interface, try Alternote that puts a slick interface onto Evernote's.
  • Fantastical: Calendar app with support for native language entries. Also try BusyCal.
  • iA Writer: Distraction-free writing
  • Mindnode: Mindmapping app. Free but has IAP's.
  • Omnifocus: Full-featured task management built around GTD principles.
  • OneNote: A popular alternative to Evernote from Microsoft.
  • PCalc: Feature-rich calculator
  • PDF Expert: Elegant PDF reader with more features than Preview.
  • Scrivener: Writing app targeted at writers.
  • Soulver: Natural language calculator.
  • Todoist: A Web based task management app. It also has an iOS app.
  • Visual Studio Code: My favorite text editor. It has tons of extensions, supports markdown, and integrates with git. It's free and practically an IDE. I wrote most of this Web site using VS Code.

System Management

  • Homebrew: Install tons of applications that have been ported to the Mac.
  • Z Shell: Highly customizable shell that replaces bash. Install with Homebrew.
  • XScreensaver Open source collection of classic screensaverss such as Flying Toasters and Pipes. Also available for iOS and Android.


  • Alfred: App launcher, web searcher, and general digital swiss army knife. Also check out Launchbar.
  • Amphetamine: Keep your screen awake.
  • Automounter: Automatically mounts network shares and keeps them mounted. It supports complex rules and setting to automate mount management.
  • Bartender: Organize your menu bar icons. Hide the ones that you don't use, and position the icons where you want them.
  • Bearded Spice: Lets you control web media players using the media keys on your keyboard.
  • Better Snap Tool: Window manager (similar to what's baked into Windows)
  • BlackMagic Disk Benchmark Tool: Test your drives and reports back read/write/iops statistics.
  • coconutBattery: Free app that display battery health and charger for Macbooks and iDevices.
  • Deliveries: Beautiful delivery tracker.
  • Dropzone: Handy app with a variety of functions for accomplishing quick actions. Another "swiss army knife" app.
  • Duet Display: Use your iPad as a second screen to your Mac.
  • DaisyDisk:  App for figuring out what's taking up space on your hard drive.
  • Gemini: Duplicate file finder
  • Hazel: Automated file organization
  • Keyboard Maestro: Assign keyboard macros to common actions or bits of text
  • Interact Scratchpad: Utility for converting text snippets into a contact. Just paste the contact information into the app to parse and create contact. (20180623 Not available for download ).
  • MacUpdater: Scans installed apps and makes it easy to update outdated ones.
  • Spectacle - A hotkey-based windows position and size manager. Similar to BetterSnapTool but it's free and controlled entirely by keyboard commands.
  • TextExpander: Expand text shortcuts into static or dynamic strings. Very powerful.
  • Unarchiver: Unzip compressed files.
  • Unclutter: Place to manage clipboard, files you want fast access to, and a place to take notes.