Essential software for Mac OS X

I’ve been a Mac user for a little over a year now, coming from about 10 years with Windows, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to share the applications available for Mac OS X that I find absolutely essential.

Some of these are software I loved from day one, while others are fairly new finds that improve my Mac experience. The idea here is to only cover applications that aren’t bundled with Mac OS X (amongst those, Preview is fantastic, and iMovie and iDVD are a must for importing and creating nice DVDs).


Quicksilver (Freeware)

If I could only choose one software to install, it would be Quicksilver. It’s an amazingly powerful software, which to some are just an easy way to start applications, but for the power user, there’s no end to the possibilities. Install it. Now!

muCommander (Freeware)

Are you a fan of TotalCommander or NortonCommander on Windows? After many tries, I think I’ve found the equivalent for Mac OS X: muCommander. It is almost as good as the above mentioned, and a personal recommendation is to open the action_keymap.xml file (located under [your user name]/Library/Preferences/muCommander) and change the keyboard shortcuts to your liking (a hint: “meta” is the name for the Command key).

It also supports FTP, so no need for any separate program for that.

Transmission (Freeware)

Simply the best option for torrent files. Light-weight, simple and working like charm.

MacTheRipper (Freeware)

Outstanding software to completely rip a DVD. It works, every time!

Adium (Freeware)

Software for all kinds of IM services. A bit shaky when it comes to file transfers, but otherwise a good choice.

Skype (Freeware)

The application for Internet telephony.

The Unarchiver (Freeware)

Free software to easily unpack ZIP and RAR files.

Running other operating systems

Parallels Desktop (Price: $79.99)

An outstanding way to virtualize other operating systems on your Intel Mac. Also supports Boot Camp installations as well.

Boot Camp (Freeware)

Install Windows side-by-side with Mac OS X.


iSquint (Freeware)

A program that helps you transform your video files for playback on your video iPod.

Senuti (Freeware)

Helps you retrieving all your media files from your iPod, through an iTunes-like interface.


VLC (Freeware)

The most reliable video player. Supports a multitude of formats, subtitles and other options. Maybe not the best-looking software, but something you can trust (and that goes a far way in my book).

Apple Remote Helper (Freeware)

A great software to make your AppleRemote work with VLC.

Apparently the download link is now dead. Anyone who knows where to get this application, please let me know.

Movie Time (Freeware)

Based on QuickTime Player, but supports full-screen viewing and subtitles (something QuickTime Player should’ve done a long time ago…).

Flip4Mac (Freeware)

A plug-in to QuickTime Player for playback of WMV-files (a must for web sites who have chosen a crappy streaming video format). It is freeware if you follow the link above in the heading to the Microsoft web site.

Web browsers

Firefox (Freeware)

The best web browser on the market, and with all the add-ons available, it’s pretty hard to beat.

Flock (Freeware)

Actually, all I use Flock for is uploading pictures to Flickr, but when it comes to that, it’s superb.

SafariStand (Freeware)

If you’re a Safari user, all you need to do is install SafariStand to get a proper experience (as opposed to wasting money on Saft).


TextMate (Price: Γ’β€šΒ¬39)

Without a doubt, the most competent program for programming on the Mac. Extremely powerful and versatile adaptions available for an abundance of programming languages, the ability to customize it to your needs and bundled with superior functionality. A must, if you’re a developer

RSS readers

Vienna (Freeware)

Easy-to-use RSS reader that supports three-column layouts.

NetNewsWire Lite (Freeware)

Simple and good RSS reader. Suits most people (scroll down the page in the link above).

Anything I’ve missed?

Anything I missed? Please let me know!

Related reading


  • Jeff says:

    Great list, especially QuickSilver, The Unarchiver, and SafariStand.

    I came from using Windows for years and QuickSilver allows me to replicate the Run command by just invoking QuickSilver and typing all or part of the name. I’m sure that there are more advanced uses that I don’t take advantage of but even with my limited use it’s a phenomenal app.

    I use NetNewsWire Lite because it syncs with Newsgator so I can read feeds when away from the computer and not have already read items show up as new when I get home. I’ve used Vienna extensively and, in my opinion, syncing to an online service (the developer wrote in the support forum about syncing with Bloglines) is the only feature that keeps me from using it full time.

  • Aldrik says:

    A lot of the above is FLOSS not freeware, there is a big difference. πŸ˜‰

  • charles says:

    Nice Player has a far nicer UI than VLC or MPlayer, and I've never had troubles playing files (yet). It supports subtitles as well (and they type is huge, which I like).

  • You can also turn your Mac into a $2000 alarm clock with iRooster.

    Full disclosure: it's my app, which I first released about three and a half years ago when I was in college and unable to wake up in time for class. iRooster, coupled with powered speakers and a subwoofer (strategically placed under your bed) will keep you from ever snoozing through an alarm again πŸ˜‰

  • muCommander is interesting, but why do they persist on using the Control-key for keyboard shortcuts? Mac users want to use their thumbs (hitting Command) not their pinkies, like PC users. It's a good thing that you can change it yourself, though. πŸ™‚

    It is a shame that VLC is horribly unstable on the Intel platform, at least for me. It's really annoying to have VLC take a dive everytime I try to scrub through a clip. πŸ™

  • Anthony says:

    @Fredrik Frodlund , I have not problems whatsoever with VLC on a MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo. It has never crashed and performs very well…

    @Robert, that's a nice list. I've been using NetNewsWire Lite, but after reading your article, I just installed Vienna (I had already heard of it, but never tried it). And I must say that it is indeed a very nice app. I think it will replace NetNewsWire completely…

    Converning the Apple Remote Helper for VLC, the download link is long gone πŸ™

    Textmate is a winner, I agree, but I would also like to try Coda…

    Oh, and Cyberduck for my FTP needs…

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Glad you liked it!

    Interesting to hear about NetNewsWite Lite and NewsGator, that's' exactly the kind of functionality I've been looking for.


    Well, yes, but let's just say that they cost any money to download at the moment, then. πŸ™‚


    Thanks for the tip!


    Thanks for the suggestion. πŸ™‚


    Yeah, I have no idea why <kbd>Ctrl</kbd> would be default, but at least it's easy to change.

    VLC works fine for me, at least most of the time, on my Intel Mac.


    Ah, sorry about the download link; didn't try it. I'll update the post. It's a shame, really, since it's a great application!

    Never liked CyberDuck, it was crashing all the time.

  • Very nice list! I'm going to check those apps out tonight, thanks πŸ™‚

    Could you explain to me why you think Preview is great? 'Cause personally I don't really like it. For instance, when browsing a folder with images, how would I walk through the directory and view all images without having to close Preview and double-click the next image? Windows default Image Viewer does this, although I've always used the outstanding Irfanview for image browsing. Still looking for a Mac equivalent…

    I would like to add Transmit, a very nice FTP application ($ 29.95).

  • @ Anthony & Robert,
    Well, I guess I have unusally bad luck then. πŸ™‚

  • Mark Perkins says:

    I second the addition of Transmit to the list…

    Also, I just couldn’t live without MAMP and Headdress to run all my PHP powered websites locally – absolutely essential and super easy to get up and running.

  • Antonio says:

    Anyone seen ? Good site for seeing what Mac users are using most. Lately, my most often used software is Flip4Mac, for video or Drive In, from the same company.

    Here's my iusethis profile:

  • Kris says:

    This is some Mac software that I am happy about:

    Unison, Usenet client from Panic. Has perfect binary support as well.

    Menumeters, keep an eye on system and network performance, nicely tucked away in your menubar.

    Twitteriffic, if you’re into Twitter, than you’ll dig this desktop app. From the people at IconFactory.

    Sharepoints, a system preferences item that lets you set shared directories and privileges, without the need for superpowers.

  • Robert Nyman says:


    You're welcome!

    I think Preview is very easy to use, to have a fast look at an image (PSD files as well) or PDF documents. Also, you can open multiple files just by selecting the desired ones and choose <code>Open</code> (<kbd>Command</kbd> + <kbd>A</kbd>, <kbd>Command</kbd> + <kbd>O</kbd> to open all files in a folder).

    Transmit is ok, but nothing I'm that impressed with.


    Cool, thanks for the heads up!


    Maybe it will go away… πŸ™‚

    You know, the regular uninstall/reinstall routine, find all preferences folder etc…


    Ah, thanks for the tip!


    Interesting suggestions, thanks!

  • Audio Hijack Pro from Rogue Amoeba allows you to record, filter and enhance sound played by your Mac, on either a system-wide, or an application-specific or audio input device-specific basis. It's an easy way of recording audio that's in some inconvenient format, like a RealPlayer stream or a DRM-encumbered application – or a reel-to-reel tape πŸ™‚

    It's not free, but at $32 (which equates to about 17GBP or 229SEK, according to their website) it's a bargain. I've been using it for a couple of years, and I'm still only scratching the surface of what it can do.

  • Remy Sharp says:

    My tuppence worth:

    Cyberduck – very good, very simple SFTP and SCP client. It's freeware with the option to donate.

    Also an alternative to Mac the Ripper – HandBreak – does a great job and can convert to specific file sizes, formats and resolutions (plus – you can queue, so if you're 'backing up' a TV series, you can queue each episode).

  • Brenda says:

    I use Sage for RSS – it integrates with Firefox, is a brilliant tool.

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Thanks for the tip!


    Well, Hand>Brake is interesting for ripping certain parts, but I've found MacTheRipper to be the best solution to completely rip an entire DVD.


    I used Sage a while ago, but personally I've come to prefer stand-alone applications over it.

  • Robert, thanks for the heads-up on Preview, I should've known!

    You're right about Transmit by the way, it's not impressive. It's just that there are so little proper FTP applications around for OSX, that I really like this one.

    Before, I was goofing around with Cyberduck, and you and me both feel the same way about that app… πŸ™‚

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Actually, regarding Preview, what you can do if you use the Terminal is to open all images in a folder and its children folders with just one command. πŸ™‚

    Nowadays, I use muCommander for my FTP needs.

  • shonk says:

    For instance, when browsing a folder with images, how would I walk through the directory and view all images without having to close Preview and double-click the next image? Windows default Image Viewer does this, although I’ve always used the outstanding Irfanview for image browsing. Still looking for a Mac equivalent…

    Xee might be what you're looking for.

  • […] Essential software for Mac OS X […]

  • Shonk, simply go with the finder in the directory containing your pictures, select all the files (with apple-a or by selecting them with the mouse) and open them with Preview ( apple-o ).

    Hope that solve your problem πŸ˜‰

  • @Shonk: Xee was exactly what I was looking for!

    Thank you very much πŸ™‚

  • Anthony says:

    Concerning VLC and the Apple Remote, it seems that VLC supports it out of the box (and has since version 0.8.6-test1).
    While I was watching Futurama with VLC, I pressed a button on the remote and to my surprise, the playback paused!
    After looking for information about the Apple Remote support in VLC, I found this article in Wikipedia.
    So no more needs for Apple Remote Helper! πŸ˜‰

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Cool, that's great! πŸ™‚

  • Anthony says:

    I just discovered MacFuse and MacFusion (MacFuse GUI) which makes it possible to mount filesystems like SSH and FTP on the desktop as external drives.

    I just set it up to access my webserver via ssh, and I have it as an external drive on my desktop, with read and write privileges.

    So my need for a FTP client may just not have a reason anymore…

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Nice, thanks for the tip!

  • gzamba says:

    Found Apple Remote Helper for VLC (ARG)

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Great! Please note everyone that the above is a direct link to a ZIP file.

  • Frances says:

    I came across this blog looking for an alternative to VLC. For the past 2 years that I've used a mac, I've felt crippled in terms of my media watching experience. VLC is incredibly unstable, it's better than it was on my power PC which wouldn't even let me skip ahead without quitting unexpectedly, but on intel it stills crashes all the time and it also forces subtitles to do very very odd things like overlap lines and display subber's comments.

    I feel so frustrated because I can do everything else beautifully on my mac, I used to use cyberduck but it crashed, so instead I got fireFTP which is a beautifully stable and intuitive firefox plugin. Dreamweaver got hideous bloat and took up so much memory, easy peasy, switched to the lightweight and super stable smultron. But with VLC I feel completely stuck….

  • Robert Nyman says:


    I agree with your experience. One way, tht works most of the time, is using QuickTime and Perian for codec and subtitle support.

  • […] Essential Software or Mac OS X […]

  • Tom says:

    Default Folder X

    Not free, but a super timesaver. A system preferences thingy that alters the default save and open dialogues to give you easy access (via menu or shortcut keys) to the folders you've most recently used as well as to windows that are open in the Finder.

    Also a lot of other nice touches, like that when you're in an Open dialog it remembers not only what folder you last had open in that particular application but also what *file* in that folder.

    Let's say that you have to upload 10 pictures from a folder via an annoying web interface. With DF, every time you hit "Browse…" to bring up the file selection dialog it highlights the last file you selected, so you only have to hit arrow key down (once) and then Return for each file.

    I've been using it daily since like 1993 or something and always miss this when I'm on a machine where it's not installed.

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Cool, thanks for the tip!

  • chis farr says:

    This is a great list. To this list I would add the items below. These 4 are often missed because they are unseen and in the background, but I use them constantly.

    1. iClock – replaces apple’s basic menubar clock
    2. 1Password – allows you to quickly use sites that require logging in.
    3. CopyPaste – multiple clipboard utility.
    4. AppTrap – uninstaller for apps, automates everything and is free.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    chis farr,

    Thanks for the suggestions!

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