Here you have it – our ultimate list of must-have Mac apps. From email clients to system utilities, time savers to productivity boons; on this page you’ll find the best Mac software used by MakeUseOf staff and readers alike.
This list is updated on a regular basis, so be sure to add your favourites in the comments and we’ll consider them the next time we update this page.
Last updated: November 30, 2014
Navigation: Audio | Browsers | Email | News | Virtualization | Photos & Images | Productivity | Code & Text Editors | Writing | Timesavers | Security & Privacy | System Tools | Video | Others
An open-source, cross-platform audio editor that can handle most common audio tasks without breaking the bank.
A completely free kernel extension for OS X that allows you to pass audio between applications, by acting as a virtual audio device. Essential for recording system audio when paired with Audacity (above).
Spotify changed the game when it first launched, bringing unlimited streaming music to desktops and mobiles for a fixed fee. Consider it if you enjoy the playlist-based approach to organisation.
Another compelling music streaming service, Rdio doesn’t quite have the catalogue boasted by Spotify, but if you prefer a virtual “collection” of music rather than playlists, it might be a better choice.
Safari is the default browser installed on your Mac. OS X Yosemite brings a bundle of new features including a slimmer appearance, better tab handling, Notification Centre support and performance improvements.
Google’s own browser, Chrome is a powerhouse for those who need developer tools, extensions or multiple profiles for separating work or play.
An excellent alternative to Chrome, Firefox has focused on slimming down over the past few years after complaints it had become bloated. If you haven’t tried it for a while, it might be time to give it another go.
Also consider: Opera
Basic and included as part of your operating system, Mac Mail is still a very popular client. While it’s a bit crusty and lacking in new features compared to some of the more adventurous clients; smart mailboxes, plentiful plugins and in-built stationery are just a few reasons many still prefer it.
AirMail 2.0 ($9.99)
We recently decided that AirMail is probably the best Gmail client on the Mac, with a beautifully simple aesthetic and full support for labels and starring, among other Google features.
Acquired by Dropbox after an incredibly popular closed-beta period, Mailbox turns your inbox into a task-list. This allows you to do things like snooze email and be reminded at the right time – which is exactly what Google is going for in its new approach, Inbox.
Also consider: Inky, Unibox & Postbox
Reeder 2 ($9.99)
The only desktop RSS reader you will ever need, Reeder disappeared for a short while before appearing again in public beta in early 2014. Now you can have its famously thorough and aesthetically pleasing approach back on your Mac for $10.
Justin raved about ReadKit and for good reason. This powerhouse reader works with all major RSS providers and “read later” services, features a new clutter-free reading mode and an interface reminiscent of the original Reeder.
If your budget looks something like $0, Vienna is as good as it’s going to get. Fortunately, you get much more than you pay for with this capable Open Reader compliant RSS app.
Related: Stay On Top Of RSS Feeds From Your Mac Menu Bar Instead
Run Windows on your Mac for free with Virtualbox, though you’ll still need a valid Windows license to get anywhere.
VMware Fusion ($79.99)
If Virtualbox doesn’t cut it, VMware Fusion is another great option with better support for demanding applications, like games – though it’ll cost you just shy of $80.
Parallels Desktop ($79.99)
Parallels is a virtualization environment that lets you run windowed Windows applications on your machine without having to switch to a virtual desktop first.
Wineskin / WineBottler
Just like Parallels, Wineskin and WineBottler are two (separate) free programs that let you create “wrappers” for Windows applications that run on Mac OS X.
Photos & Images
Photoshop CC ($20/month)
GIMP on OS X
Related: The Best Free RAW Processors for Mac OS X
Most of us rely on notes to manage our schedules, remember things and generally plan our lives. Evernote is probably the most popular, widely used and best-supported note-taking solution.
The number-one alternative to Apple’s own Calendar app, Fantastical allows you to schedule appointments by typing a description of your event. It enjoys excellent support, and has integration with Apple’s reminders system and a separate iOS app as well.
Yep – the one that comes with Mac OS X by default. Not only does it sync automatically with iOS devices and integrate nicely with Apple’s own calendar solutions, it even works with IFTTT these days.
If Apple’s own Reminders app doesn’t cut it, you can’t do much better than Wunderlist, a completely cross-platform system that’s easy to use and powerful to boot.
Appearing on iOS first, Clear is a slim and easy to use to-do list manager which places an emphasis on aesthetic value and mobile access.
If Evernote is overkill, Simplenote might just be what you’re looking for. Free, lightweight and cross-platform; it gives Evernote a run for its money.
Related: Mac Home Office? Boost Your Productivity With These Apps Too
Code & Text Editors
The best development tool for OS X and iOS is free, and now comes with support for Apple’s brand new object-oriented language, Swift.
Sublime Text ($70)
If you need a serious text editor (and if you have to ask that question then you probably don’t) you should consider dropping $70 on Sublime Text.
Just like Sublime Text, TextMate is a highly capable text editor for those who write code for a living. You should probably try them both before settling on a favourite.
TextWrangler is the completely free fork of BBEdit. Though it omits a few of the advanced features found in its bigger brother, it’s still the best free text editor on the platform.
A document browser and code snippet manager, Dash is designed to provide fast-access to reference materials for a huge number of programming languages.
If you need a simple distraction-free writing environment and a budget of zilch, FocusWriter is the app for you. For such a lightweight and minimal app there’s a surprisingly long list of features (but you don’t have to use them all).
iA Writer ($9.99)
Looking for something a little more capable? iA Writer is another distraction-free word processor, coming in both OS X and iOS variations. Among the key features is auto-markdown support, syncing over iCloud and support for importing Word documents.
A few staff members at MakeUseOf swear by Scrivener, the cross-platform and highly capable written project manager. It’s popular among screenwriters and novelists for its efficient workflow and rich feature set, and we’ve produced a guide to help you get started.
If you’re looking for a diary application then look no further than Day One. It syncs over iCloud or Dropbox with your iOS devices, allowing you to update your journal regardless of where you are.
If you’ve bought a Mac in the last few years, there’s a good chance you have a free copy of Pages, Apple’s equivalent to Microsoft Word.
Related: 5 Powerful Text Editors For Those Who Really Need Them
Bakari declared BetterTouchTool his App of the Year in 2011, and it’s only improved since. With it you can execute a huge number of commands using gestures on a touchpad, mouse and even Leap Motion. As an aside, it also adds Windows’ “Aero Snap” feature to your Mac – and its free!
Dropzone 3 ($4.99)
Just like the name suggests, Dropzone is a small icon that lives in your menu bar and when you grab and drag files it offers a variety of oft-used functions, locations, applications and even actions to perform.
Part Spotlight, part Quicksilver but with more functionality than both, Alfred is an advanced launcher for OS X that lets you do more with your files, applications and online service. Check out some of the more advanced ways you can put it to use.
Text expansion is a wonderful thing. It allows you to add shortcuts for often-used phrases or words, correct your most common typos and get more done with less effort. TextExpander is the gold standard for text expansion on OS X, complete with a companion iOS app to boot.
Remind Me Later
A must-have app for anyone still using Apple’s in-built OS X Calendar app, Remind Me Later provides a Fantastical-like interface for adding events by simply typing – for example, “meeting with Justin on Thursday at 10 @60m” would create a new entry that reminds you an hour beforehand.
iClip is a clipboard manager that keeps a copy of everything you copy to your Mac’s clipboard so you can quickly access it again. Discreet and highly customizable, iClip is perfect for casual and power users alike.
Security & Privacy
Despite it’s steep price tag, 1Password is a highly recommended password manager that stores and generates passwords and other sensitive information. It relies on open source encryption methods, which means you can tell how secure it is by trying to break it yourself.
Just like 1Password, except open source and built around the KeePass standard; this free password manager stores your sensitive information in an easy to use (if a little barebones) package.
The Mac version of Ccleaner doesn’t get anywhere near as much use as the Windows version, but it’s still handy if you want to rid your Mac of potential privacy concerns and temporary files in a click.
Browse securely, access region-locked video and other blocked material using Hotspot Shield. The basic package is slow but free, and the paid plans aren’t badly priced.
TunnelBear is another method of accessing region-locked content, with an emphasis on video. A highly user friendly Mac app lives on your desktop, allowing you to spoof your location simply by flipping a switch.
Prey is laptop and mobile tracking software that can be activated remotely once your device goes missing. The free plan allows for a limited number of reports to be generated at a set period, including capturing images using the webcam and uploading desktop screenshots, among others.
Unlike Windows users, Mac users don’t have the option of using 7zip. Luckily, The Unarchiver can open just about any compressed archive including .ZIP, .7Z and .RAR.
Related: Open .ZIP & Archive Files On Mac OS X Without Extracting Them First
Little Snitch ($35)
Block unwanted connections with Little Snitch, a dedicated firewall tool for Mac OS X. Not only does it show you exactly who your computer is talking to, it allows you to control what is said on a per-app basis.
Geektool / Nerdtool
Use Geektool or Nerdtool (separate projects) to display various information, terminal commands, images, text documents and more on your desktop. While Geektool probably has more potential, Nerdtool is arguably easier to use.
Find out exactly which files are eating your available hard drive space with DiskWave, a must-have for most Mac owners – but particularly those with limited solid state drives.
Mac menu bar looking a little messy? Use Bartender to tidy it up and hide the icons you don’t want to see, so you actually notice the rest.
Though many applications are jumping on-board with Yosemite’s new look, not every app you use will necessary receive an update. If you have a Retina MacBook Pro, or a new 5K iMac, this will result in unsightly and pixellated UI elements – but Retinizer makes it all better.
Stop your Mac from going to sleep with Caffeine, a small and purpose-built utility that lives in the menu bar.
If you need to get rid of it, you need AppCleaner. It completely removes all preferences and system files when uninstalling apps, to the point where it can reset many free trials found in shareware.
This free app takes any Dashboard widget and transforms it into a standalone app, freeing it of the shackles imposed by Apple’s neglected other desktop. Pin it to the dock, drag it around, minimise it – and then disable the Dashboard altogether.
Run Apache, MYSQL and an FTP server in all but a click with XAMPP. If you want to develop a website locally before putting it online, this is exactly what you’ve been looking for.
Open any media file or stream with VLC, the world’s best media player.
Turn your Mac into an AirPlay receiver and stream your iPhone or iPad’s screen to your laptop or desktop computer. If you’re looking for a way of mirroring the screen, you can also do so using your Thunderbolt cable and Yosemite.
PS3 Media Centre
A universal plug and play (UPnP) and DLNA-compliant media streamer with full transcoding ability, PS3 Media Centre allows you to stream pictures, music, video and web sources.
Convert videos with a click using Handbrake, the go-to free video transcoder for Mac, Windows and Linux.
Kodi (formerly XBMC)
The world’s best media centre has a new name but it still plays everything, and looks great doing so. Pair it with Reddit for an endless pool of video goodness.
Every Mac owner needs a BitTorrent client at some point, and Transmission is probably the best of the bunch. Not only does it support a web UI and magnet links natively, it’s regarded as a “trusted” client by many private trackers.
Tired of not being tired after a long day’s work? f.lux attempts to mimic the earth’s natural light cycle by dimming and tinting your screen depending on the time of day. Perfect for late night web addicts who have trouble sleeping afterwards.
Use one mouse and keyboard to control a whole army of Macs, perfect if you have a MacBook and iMac or Mac Pro to deal with.
What are your favourite Mac applications?