Buying a MacBook is like getting a ticket to a land of fantastic new software. In addition to all of the free apps that Apple gives to every Mac owner, both the Mac App Store and independent developers provide tools that make using your computer easier — and a little more fun. Our must-have list includes apps that remember your passwords, organize your notes and to-dos, and follow your package deliveries.
1Password to rule them all: Given how many accounts we have, it’s getting harder to keep these username and password combos straight, let alone differentiated. (You’re using a different password for every account, right?) AgileBits’ secure app lets you keep all of your passwords in one place, so you can create a single master login password with the maximum security. The app lets you store credit card information to auto-fill forms, and it keeps track of your security questions for different sites. You get Dropbox and iCloud syncing support, and for a few extra bucks, you can get mobile apps to take your passwords on the go. 1Password offers a $5-per-month family plan that includes up to five installations on multiple devices.
This Retina display-optimized app provides a front face for accessing Evernote’s popular note-taking and storage service. While the app’s design lacks some finesse, it does simplify note-taking, by capturing quick tasks and saving documents as web pages. The process of searching through notes is now simplified, so all you need to do is tell it what you want in plain language. For instance, you can tell the app you want to search for “notes with PDF.” All of this info is then synced to the cloud, so all of your devices have access to the same data. Step up to Evernote Plus to add offline notes and password protection ($25 per year), or Evernote Premium to add annotations and markup ($45 per year). If you’re stuck in the Microsoft camp, the company’s OneNote software offers similar functionality, also for free.
Task management apps are a dime a dozen these days, but few match the sheer simplicity of Realmac’s Clear. There aren’t a million options to get lost in; you start it, type in your tasks and swipe them away as you complete them. The app lets you rearrange them in order of importance — indicated by that handy red-yellow gradient — and set due dates for time-specific tasks. iCloud syncing, as well as iPhone and iPad apps, give you the same easy access on the go.
Flexibits, the developer of Fantastical 2, calls the app “the calendar app you won’t be able to live without,” and it may be right. In a lot of ways, this calendar replacement reminds us of Siri. For instance, you don’t click specific days and times to set appointments. Instead, you just type your sentence in plain English, and the program figures out what you’re trying to schedule. Fantastical can work with Calendar, iCal, BusyCal, Entourage or Outlook. While Fantastical 2’s functionality somewhat overlaps with that of Clear, we preferred Clear for simple daily tasks, and Fantastical as a robust appointment system. We love the full window view and how easy it is to view your home and work appointments separately.
If you need your Mac to stay on for an extended period of time but you’re sick of the Energy Saver section of System Preferences, this is the utility you’ve been looking for. Amphetamine sits in the menu bar, and its default setting will keep your Mac and its display turned on indefinitely. Amphetamine also offers other options, including one to set your Mac’s display to follow a schedule and stay on when certain applications are open.
Chrome Remote Desktop
Google’s Chrome Remote Desktop is the best and easiest tool for accessing your computer from afar. If you’re sitting at work and need to do something on your home desktop or laptop — assuming it’s on — then Chrome Remote Desktop makes it very, very easy to interact with your remote system as if you were sitting right in front of it. You don’t have to memorize your home system’s IP address or any of that; a simple PIN authentication is all you need to gain access to your remote system’s mouse, keyboard and desktop.
You can now make and receive phone calls via OS X. However, you don’t have a great keypad in the operating system with which to do that. While you don’t really need one, assuming you’re calling your contacts, having some kind of keypad makes it super-easy to call everyone else’s numbers. This $1 app drops a little keypad on your screen that you’d use just as you would the keypad on your iPhone. You can click on the numbers, copy and paste them in, or just start typing the name of the person in your contacts list.
If you’re a big online shopper, you know that tracking deliveries can be a bit of a mess. How are you supposed to know when you need to be home to collect certain packages? The $5 Deliveries app tracks shipments from a number of different services (including Amazon, Apple, FedEx, UPS and the USPS).
If you’re a video connoisseur, or if you’re always finding that you have to convert your videos to make them playable (or streamable) to all of your devices, then you’re going to want HandBrake on your Mac, pronto. This is one of the best OS X apps for video conversion, period. It’s detailed enough to give power users plenty of options to play with, but it’s also simple enough in its core functionality that even newbies will be able to figure out how to convert a video file from one type to another. Best of all, it’s free.
We’d be surprised if you hadn’t heard of this super-popular cloud storage service. Here’s the gist: Install Dropbox, and you’ll get 2GB of cloud storage free. The app dumps a simple Dropbox folder onto your Mac, and anything you drag into there will be synchronized with the cloud. You can head over to Dropbox’s website to access these files remotely (or download them to a separate device manually). Or, if you have multiple computers, anything in your Dropbox folder will be synchronized across all the other systems the app runs on. It’s as easy as that — and cross-platform, too.
VLC Media Player
VLC Media Player is a powerful media playback app from the nonprofit VideoLAN group. Resolutely open-source, the team has ported VLC to OS X, Windows, Linux, Android, iOS and more. What sets this media player apart is its ability to play — or stream — almost any non-DRM file you throw at it, all without requiring the installation of various codec packages. Have an old audio file, camera footage or other piece of arcane media? VLC can get the job done.
Sometimes, downloaded applications dump stuff all over your hard drive, and the standard uninstallation routine (deleting the apps from your Finder) doesn’t get rid of all the extra stuff that came with them. If you install AppCleaner, it will find these extra bits of data and delete them for you. When you want to uninstall an application, just pull up AppCleaner first; then drag the application you’re removing into the AppCleaner window. It’s as easy as that. AppCleaner finds all related files, and it’ll give you a prompt to delete them when it’s done searching.
BetterTouchTool enhances your Mac desktop or MacBook laptop with two powerful features. First, you can customize gestures and apply them to various actions on your laptop. So, for example, you can open your favorite game by spelling the first letter of its name with your finger. You can even trigger multiple actions in a sequence so that tapping a certain way can start a chain reaction of actions on your system. Cough up an additional $3, and you’ll even be able to use your iOS device as a remote for your computer.
If you’re more productive when keeping your hands on your keyboard at all times, then you need a quick and convenient way to move the windows around your desktop or laptop screen. Spectacle lets you shoot your open windows around your desktop (or to other monitors) using simple keyboard shortcuts. You can send the windows to pre-defined areas, such as the four quadrants of your main screen or your screen’s horizontal or vertical thirds. You can also shrink and expand windows as you see fit, all without touching your trackpad or mouse.
If you have just a few applications installed, you’re probably already feeling a bit overwhelmed. Take one glance at your Mac’s menu bar, and it probably looks like a smorgasbord of icons. Yuck. Bartender helps you fix that by giving you a lot more control over this otherwise hands-off area of OS X. Though this app is expensive, it’s worth every penny: You can take a bunch of the icons on your menu bar and hide them under a single icon, which keeps the top of your screen clutter-free (until you need to access those apps for something). If you have some must-use icons, keep them on your menu bar; hide everything else for less of a visual headache.
Sophos Home for Mac
If you switched to a Mac because you thought the platform was free of viruses and malware, you should know that is no longer the case. Fortunately, our current top pick for Free Mac antivirus software is not only easy to use, but also supports multiple machines. Sophos provides capable malware detection and a light system impact.
Tweetbot for Twitter
The power user’s Twitter client started out on iOS, and its desktop counterpart is one of the best ways to use the social network on a Mac. Tweetbot provides all of the mute filter options you’ll need to tune out hashtags, users and even keywords, and it syncs with its mobile sibling, so your streams are up to date on all platforms. It also provides a multiple-tab view, so you can keep track of all of your lists at the same time.