on Essential Mac apps

UPDATE: I’ve posted an updated list here for those of you referencing this old posting.

There’s a zillion of these lists out there, but this is mine. A list of the essential, cool, and nice-to-have Mac apps. This is all my most important free or shareware products. The list of commercial stuff will be the topics of another day.


  1. Adium – Premium, way cool, instant messenger. Supports Yahoo, AOL, MSN, Jabber, Google, + many others (free)
  2. Cyberduck – The FTP/SFTP client for Macs (free)
  3. Desktop Manager – Multiple virtual desktops with the coolest switch transitions. This alone has made people go “ooohhhh! I need a Mac” (free)
  4. FFView – The fastest, most feature rich image viewer I have been able to find for the Mac. (free)
  5. Firefox – if Safari won’t do it, this will (free)
  6. HandBrake – The easiest way to rip, transcode, and store DVD’s. Can be used for video iPods as well. (free)
  7. Thoth – The best USENET news reader out there (there’s also Unison – actively being developed). Thoth is not actively being developed, so you have to … ahem…. find it on USENET. (free – kinda)
  8. Vim – The VI clone with a GUI interface. Already comes in a CLI format built in. Vim.org has the GUI version. (free)
  9. VLC – The opensource Video viewer. If this doesn’t play it, you can’t play it on a Mac. (free)
  10. Flip4Mac – Microsoft has stopped supporting their video player and is now giving this as a Quicktime plugin instead. This works better than the media player ever did, but doesn’t work with DRM content. (free)
  11. RDC Menu – Let’s you launch multiple windows remote desktop sessions at the same time. (free)
  12. Spark – A key macro tool that lets you control your apps via keyboard shortcuts. I use it to control iTunes while it’s hidden. (free)


  1. CHM Viewer – let’s you view/print Microsoft CHM format documents. A ton of technical ebooks are now in this format. (shareware)
  2. ecto – A blog editor. WYSIWYG and HTML formats. Let’s you edit with spell checking and live previews. (shareware)
  3. Gimp – The opensource image manipulation program. (free)
  4. LaunchBar – Spotlight on steroids and then some. (free)
  5. MacTheRipper – Another DVD ripper. This one doesn’t transcode, but it does a superb job of de-DRM’ing your collection. (free)
  6. TinkerTool – tinker with a zillion Mac options. (free)


  1. Azureus – the best torrent client. (free)
  2. BBEdit – the most feature rich native Mac editor. If it wasn’t for VIM, i’d use this all the time (shareware)
  3. Opera – a very nice, fast, feature rich web browser. (free)

Outside of Safari.App, Mail.app, and Microsoft’s Office apps, I spend 90% of my time in the stuff here. There’s other command line stuff that I use, but that too is the subject of another post.

8 Responses to “on Essential Mac apps”

  1. rshangle says:

    I’d consider checking out Path Finder as a potential entry in “cool”.

    Finder browse window-on-steroids-and-crack. Built 4 speed.


  2. rshangle says:

    Although it currently tracks that Rich Wareham will release the next major release of Desktop Manager some time in the next millennium, I am using the available developer (beta, alpha, whatever) release of 0.6, which adds a mostly-functional “sticky”/application affinity feature (the only thing I felt was missing from the 0.5.3 “stable” version), while (bafflingly) removing a number of existing functions (ex. little text in the switching bar with the name of each virtual space) and adding others I really could care less about (ex. making the switchy-bar a floating window… which really only means it’s consuming more of my desktop than it was before).

    Been using a few days and I think I’ll stick with it, bugs and all. That’s one of the things I really like about Desktop Manager – it’s an app, not some wretched thing putting hooks into the OS or Finder permanently (that I know of…). You want to use it = turn it on / set it to run on boot. Don’t, don’t.

    Oh yeah – I should probably send that guy (Rich Wareham) some money, considering his app has made me, I feel, at least a) 2x more productive and b) (as you mention) at least 4x more likely to get into conversations with supermodels on airplanes who just can’t take their eyes of my totally awesome visual FX as I switch between desktops.


  3. juan says:

    I’ve been bad about not adding this exact comment myself. The .6 beta is supperior in those ways that you mention.

    Agreed on the money thing too, although the supermodel thing has yet to happen. I do, however, believe that this app alone has made at least two people that I know make a decision for Mac. Not as in *the* thing that made them switch, but as in the straw and the camel thing.

  4. rshangle says:

    Agreed re: it being a key app, and something that Apple I’m sure will co-opt/steal in Puma or Bobcat or whatever.

    Other thing I forgot to mention, re: Desktop Manager 0.6 losing some functions: the little window (ok, I realize it’s technically called the “desktop pager”) no longer has OS X icons in each virtual window… so they’re all just blank grey boxes.

    I actually liked that I could see which apps (sorta) were running in each window before. Also, you can no longer click on the little virtual window and move it around from within the desktop pager.

    Come to think of it, this app feels like it’s been rewritten from the ground up. Maybe if I actually read the developer’s page I would see something to that effect, but I am a lazy man that clicks first and asks questions later, or never.

    It’s still good, 0.6’s app-to-window stickiness is still good, still sticking with 0.6, still need to send RW money. Out.


  5. rshangle says:

    Desktop Manager is now being developed as free software by the Virtue Project. Inexplicably, I couldn’t find a reference to this change on Wareham’s page, and found out through some other source (namely massive Google searches, begging the Google Hive Mind to reveal a version of RD that was more stable/usable than “developer 0.6”).

    Currently running Virtue’s 0.52-something-something-build-something. So far: a) cleaner b) where did the pager go? c) only time will tell if it’s up to the standard that 0.53 was.

    Still has crazy desktop transitions… which I still have turned off… because they still take forever (inexplicably) to render on my G5 DP.


  6. Jessica M. says:

    Jessica M.

    I’m sorry for little off-topic, but I want to ask you about design of this site. Did you make this template yourself or got from any templates website? Looks pretty cool for me :)

  7. juan says:

    Jessica – it’s one that I found: black-letterhead. Don’t remember from where. I did make some small changes, but it’s almost all that style.

  8. […] thanks and welcome. Hopefully you’ll find what I post here useful. If you compare this to my original post, you’ll see that this list has grown quite a bit. That’s a good thing. It probably […]

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