Apple, in the past two years, has seen its Macintosh line of laptop and desktop computers increase its market share to 11.6 percent in 2011 and 13.6 percent in 2012 according to data gathered by analyst firm Gartner. If you count yourself among new Mac users, you’re probably wondering which apps are the ones worth buying or downloading. Even longtime Mac users can always use a few helpful suggestions for improving their Mac experience. Regardless of your affiliation, we have a must-read list for you.
This list of the 50 best Mac apps highlights the software that you should download to your OS X desktop or laptop. The apps will help you express your creativity, be more productive, browse the Web, communicate with others, and much more. Some of the apps are exclusive to the OS X platform; others are cross-platformers that you’ll find on Linux and Windows. Two of the highlighted apps even let you run those operating systems within OS X, which opens the door to even more apps than what Mac natively supports.
One software category is conspicuously absent: games. We purposely excluded games here as they’ll have their own dedicated story in the near future similar to our 10 Best PC Games article.
Click on the slideshow to get started or check out the menu on the right to see the 50 best Mac apps indexed by category. Are there some high quality Mac apps we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below.
Adobe Dreamweaver CS6
Adobe Dreamweaver CS6 is far and away the world’s most powerful Web editor, though it’s a little rougher around the edges than its less-capable, Windows-only rival Microsoft Expression Web. Dreamweaver CS6 is unquestionably the first and only Web-building tool that works smoothly and capably in the new multi-platform world. It has a few flaws, but Adobe Dreamweaver CS6 also has more power and flexibility than any other app in its category.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4
Adobe adds maps, basic video editing, better adjustment tools, soft proofing, photo emailing, and book creation to the leading photo workflow app—all at a new lower price that’s $150 less than the previous version. If you’re serious about digital photography, this Editors’ Choice award-winning apps is the software that you need.
Apple Aperture 3.2
Since our review of Aperture 3.0 , Apple has not only tightened the app by making it more stable and correcting minor glitches in specific cases, but also adding new capabilities like support for iCloud, iOS 5, and OS X Lion multi-touch. Aperture’s smooth user interface, Faces and Places features, plentiful output options, and RAW support make it an app well worth consideration.
Apple Final Cut Pro X 10.0.3
Apple has built a completely new, faster, cleaner, and more intuitive digital video editing package with Final Cut Pro X 10.0.3. While some professionals are still kicking and screaming about the changes it brings, they’ll eventually be won over by Final Cut Pro X’s significant speed and usability advances. Besides, Apple and third party developers have already addressed a significant portion of their original objections. Meanwhile, prosumer video enthusiasts get a less daunting upgrade path to a pro-level Mac editor.
Apple GarageBand ’11
GarageBand isn’t a professional music studio, but it’s a great start. The audio app features excellent multimedia music lessons, basic recording, mixing, and editing tools make it even more suited to home music enthusiasts than a straight music editing program. For music hobbyists, this in-its-own-class app is sure to provide hours of satisfaction. GarageBand ’11 is a third of the fun $49 iLife ’11 suite.
Apple iMovie ’11
iMovie ’11 improves on the already-impressive ease and power of Apple’s iconic video production software. The new audio editing and amazing Hollywood-style trailer features are enough to make the upgrade both worth your time and the reasonable price. iMovie ’11 can be purchased individually, or a part of the excellent $49 iLife ’11 suite.
Apple iPhoto ’11
The latest version of Apple’s entry-level photo app adds an improved full-screen view, impressive new photo e-mailing, and remarkably tight Facebook integration. It also delivers some of the best output options available in a photo app—slideshows, cards, calendars, and books. As part of the bargain-priced $49 iLife suite or by itself for $14.99 in the Mac App Store, iPhoto is hard to resist.
DxO Optics Pro 7
It might be overstating the case a bit to say that DxO Optics Pro 7 is the Holy Grail of digital photo correction, but not by much. The app will get the best possible results from camera raw files, doing the best job of removing image noise and chromatic aberration. It adds some impressive adjustment tools, too, but it lacks basic workflow capabilities and crashes somewhat frequently.
GraphicConverter is the best graphic file management and manipulation software for everyone—except professional graphics designers. GraphicConverter does more things with more formats than any other application I’ve ever seen on any platform, and if you’re a non-professional who needs high-quality image manipulation and conversion on a Mac, it’s both the only choice.
Pixelmator brings varied and flexible photo-editing features to the Mac at a very wallet-friendly price. Pixelmator isn’t as deep as Adobe Photoshop CS5—and it isn’t trying to be—but it’s still a very capable image editor that’s cheaper than Adobe Photoshop Elements, and packs more power than Picasa and Picnik.
Anyone in need of a lightweight, easy-to-use screen capturing and editing tool will find a lot to like in Skitch. The free app makes it incredibly simple to annotate, resize, crop, and add shapes, lines, arrows, and watermarks to photos on your desktop or ones snapped with a webcam. It doesn’t perform functions you’d find in high-end image editors like Adobe Photoshop CS5, but that’s not what it’s intended to do. Skitch is all about quick, effective edits—and it does its job extremely well.
Data is perhaps the most valuable resource in business. With FormsCentral, users are given access to this precious resource with a tool that’s both affordable and easy to use. For businesses that rely on analysis of their current and potential client base, Adobe FormsCentral could prove to have real ROI.
This productivity app searches your computer and launches programs and files it finds while keeping your fingers on the keyboard rather than the mouse. Productivity proponents and those suffering from mouse-related repetitive stress shouldn’t have a Mac without it. Some users will see Alfred as unnecessary because it replicates a lot of Spotlight’s capabilities, while the rest of us enjoy an app that works wonderfully.
Apple iWork ’09
Apple’s visually dazzling productivity suite isn’t yet a replacement for Microsoft Office for the Mac, but iWork ’09 offers a terrific set of programs for light word processing (Pages) and medium-to-heavy spreadsheet (Numbers) use. And the absolutely stellar Keynote presentation app leaves the competition in the dust.
Bento 4 (for Mac)
This revision of Bento, the personal database for Mac, is the most useful an appealing version to date. It adds support for your iPhoto pictures and videos, location-based information, offers useful new templates, and makes inroads towards database sharing over your local network. New security options round off this excellent update.
Dragon Dictate for Mac
Dragon Dictate 3 for Mac is, as the name might suggest, a choice tool for dictation. While it does offer voice control too, that’s not its primary selling point, and on the Mac the built-in tools for voice control work just fine. For composing emails and writing lengthy documents, however, Dragon Dictate removes the repetitive stress of using a keyboard and mouse and transcribes what you say beautifully.
Evernote for Mac (Premium)
$45 per year
Evernote for Mac gives the app’s mobile users an open and comfortable space to finish and polish all their on-the-go ideas, making the whole Evernote experience supremely worthwhile. Paired with its Web clipper, Evernote’s Mac app is one fantastic piece of software, with a syncing service you can rely on.
LibreOffice is an offshoot from the old OpenOffice.org application suite, now renamed Apache OpenOffice. It gives you a word-processor (Writer), a spreadsheet app (Calc), presentations and graphics apps (Impress and Draw), and other tools. LibreOffice isn’t for every Mac user, but for anyone who has to work with oddball formats and legacy documents, it’s an essential tool. And you can’t argue with the price.
If you’re looking for feature-packed remote control, desktop sharing, and presentation software, TeamViewer is both the simplest and most powerful option. Businesses will have to shell out a bunch up front, but individuals can use it free. Either way, this versatile app is an extremely good deal. —Next: Utilities Apps >
WordPerfect Office X6
There’s no doubt that Microsoft Office is our Editors’ Choice for office suites, but any office that works with sensitive and confidential data ought to consider WordPerfect as an alternative. WordPerfect’s code-based formatting makes it easier to see exactly what’s in your documents, and the “Save without Metadata” item on the File menu is a lot more straightforward than Word’s comparable, but well-hidden, feature.
Acronis Backup & Recovery 11.5
Acronis Backup & Recovery stores and recovers drives, partitions, folders, and files in more different ways than any other software I’ve ever seen, and, if you’re willing to learn to navigate its complex menus and obscure options, you may never want anything else.
Adobe Acrobat XI Pro
If, like me, you spend a lot of time and effort working with PDFs, then Acrobat remains an essential tool, and Acrobat XI adds plenty of value—more than enough to justify the $199 upgrade from Adobe Acrobat X. It doesn’t do everything, but Adobe Acrobat is still the most powerful, stable, and mature PDF application, from the creator of the PDF format.
BetterZip is the best archive utility for OS X. It’s easy to use, and packed with advanced features including a built-in file previewer. Yes, BetterZip seems expensive for a utility that should have been built into the OS—though it’s hardly macitbetter’s fault that Apple ZIP management is weak.
Free, $5 for premium accounts
If you need to send large files to others on a regular basis, Cloud (for Mac) lets you do just that. Chances are that if you need a service of this type you’ll probably want to shell out cash for the premium service—which is cheaper than using Dropbox—in order to avoid the free model’s limitations. Still, although you need a Web connection to access your saved files, you’ll find it worth the price of admission.
Data Rescue PC3
Data Rescue PC3 doesn’t have all the options available in data-recovery software from OnTrack, Active@, or Stellar Phoenix, but it does include the drive-cloning feature found in all its rivals, so that you can try to copy data from a physically-failing drive to backup media and recover files from there. Best of all, it comes on a bootable CD, so it’s ready for action when your system won’t boot at all (which won’t mean much to you if you own a disc drive-less MacBook Air).
If you rely on your Mac for work, and not just for e-mail and chatting with friends on Facebook, you should have a copy of DiskWarrior ready for emergencies. And if you don’t keep a copy handy, make sure you know how to get one quickly, because, when disk disasters strike, nothing else will restore OS X’ directory structure like this must-have app.
Find Any File
Find Any File is fast, because it uses a catalog file that’s constantly updated by OS X. If you remember the “Find file…” feature in the “Classic,” pre-OS X, days of the Mac, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of how Find Any File works. If you make heavy use of your Mac for fun or for work—or both—then Find Any File is an essential tool and a clear Editors’ Choice for Mac utilities.
Genie Backup Manager Home Edition 9.0
Genie Backup Manager Home Edition is a long-established consumer-level backup program that has always impressed with its clarity, power, and well-chosen range of genuinely useful features. It lacks the ability to create a bootable rescue disk on a USB flash drive. If you can lie with this one minor limitation, then Genie Backup Manager is a fast, efficient, and beautifully designed application for saving and restoring data.
Handbrake is a free, open-source video transcoding utility. It’s licensed by the GPL, available for multiple platforms (Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux), and takes full advantage of multithreading when available. It supports most common multimedia file formats, as well as DVD and Blu-ray video sources that are not copy protected.
MacUpdate Desktop isn’t perfect, but it’s worth the $20 per year asking price as it keeps almost all Mac apps up to date. A paid-for software updating service is a luxury in a world where many—not all—apps alert you when they’re updated, but it’s a luxury worth having for anyone whose Mac is packed with software.
Parallels Desktop 7
Parallels has been many Mac users go-to app for running Microsoft Windows (or other operating system) on Apple computers. The latest version is slightly more Windows-like than Windows under VMWare Fusion, Parallels’ biggest competitor. If you care mostly about appearance, then go for Parallels, which looks a bit slicker than Fusion (though it produces more desktop clutter). The bottom line is that if you need to run Windows on a Mac, you can’t go wrong with Parallels Desktop 7.
Between laptops, smart phones, tablets, and other Web-enabled devices, people often read and view a lot of online material—Pocket gives users a way to not only save their favorite clips for reading at a later time, but also manage them as well. If you’re a Mac user who loves clipping and sharing the Web, consider Pocket an essential app.
PopTrayU is still the best-designed system-tray mail checker, with full keyboard support and a vast range of options. PopTrayU is an indispensable time-saver and distraction-reducer. Even as a work in progress, this app is better-designed than any of the dozen or more rival mail-checkers we’ve tried over the years.
Sooner or later, almost everyone needs screen captures—images of all or part of a computer screen—to use in presentations or Web pages or printed documents. An excellent screen capture utility is Snagit, which combines traditional image-capture with video-capture functions. The latest version, SnagIt 11, preserves all the ease-of-use of the earlier versions, while adding features like the ability to capture audio output when recording a screen video.
The small and highly specialized TotalFinder for Mac increases the usability of the Finder space by making it neater and tighter. Average consumers may see the $18 price as too high, but command-line users who will tap into its advanced features will get a little more bang for their buck.
VMware Fusion 4
VMware Fusion 4 represents one of two outstanding Mac apps (the other is Parallels Desktop) that let you run Windows or Linux in tight integration with OS X itself. VMware Fusion 4 tops its rival thanks to a streamlined, clutter-free design, and compatibility with legacy apps running under Windows XP.
BitTorrent clients are designed to do one thing, and one thing well—download large files at lightning speed. If you need just that, any of the BitTorrent clients (BitTorrent, Deluge, uTorrent) will get the job done. However, if you want a more feature-rich client, one that lets you transcode files and control your torrents remotely, the Editors’ Choice award winning Vuze is the one to choose.
While iCloud has some integration with Windows machines, it’s really best suited to the Apple-exclusive crowd. Use iCloud for keeping your Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch) backed up and apps synced to each other. The file-syncing service is also quite useful for storing current documents and collaborating with others.
CX is a worthy cloud-based syncing tool that offers more free storage—10GB—than any of its competitors. An elegant online dashboard may be even more useful than the seamless desktop software for both Mac and Windows. It’s a shame CX doesn’t support Android or Linux yet, as it’s among the best syncing services otherwise.
Dropbox is an example of a software-and-service duo that gets virtually everything right. Dropbox is both a downloadable product, with a version for every major operating system—Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, BlackBerry—and every user also gets a Web account with file access, too, just in case you’re on a computer that doesn’t have Dropbox installed. It’s an excellent way to backup your files if you only need something lightweight.
File synchronization service SugarSync offers more cloud storage space with a free account (5GB) than any of its rivals, and is even more intuitive than its biggest competitor, Dropbox. SugarSync shows a few quirks here and there (such as the lack of drag-and-drop from desktop to file manager), but it is still the very best we’ve tested.
Google’s Chrome browser is fast, has excellent tab implementation, and features bookmark and prefernence syncing. Its speed, minimalist design, built-in Flash and PDF ssupport, and advanced support for HTML5 have been attracting more and more users to the browser for good reason.
Firefox may be losing ground to Chrome of late, but it’s far from dead. It’s a pleasure to use, it’s fast, and truly open. The organization also continues to add new standards support, developer tools, interface enhancements, and improvements to underlying systems. Mozilla developers have built a beautiful, responsive, compatible, secure, and flexible piece of software.
Opera 11.60 is not only among the speed leaders in the current crop of browsers, it also arguably offers the most features. True, its new extensions capability trails those of competitors Firefox and Chrome, but the Nordic browser also stands up to the rest with unique features like Unite, Turbo, BitTorrent, widgets, mail, and more.
With iTunes Match ($25/yr), iTunes in the Cloud, Home Sharing, and the biggest media store on the planet, iTunes is a music and video player without equal. It’s also a must if you’re one of the hundreds of millions of iPod, iPhone, or iPad users.
Streaming music service Spotify, after years of popularity overseas, has finally reached the U.S. And it’s good! Spotify has excellent audio, easy playlist formation, and over 15 million tracks for your listening pleasure. If you want to taste something a bit different than Pandora or Slacker, Spotify is worth sampling.
VLC Media Player
If you have trouble playing a media file such as a video or tune you’ve downloaded from the Internet, and you can’t play it in your standard media player, chances are that VLC media player will play it. The free apps supports more video file formats than you can shake a stick at, and can record and stream audio and video.
$55 per month or $45 per month with an annual sign up
Adobe Connect is the most capable, customizable Web conferencing option available. While slightly more expensive than WebEx and GoToMeeting, Connect’s $10/month premium is compensated for many times over in scalability, and a best-in-class 100-user license that comes with unlimited video feeds.
Adium can handle virtually every IM system protocol out there—AIM, Google Talk, Yahoo, you name it. Adium does a great job of keeping you in touch with friends and colleagues thanks to an attractive, tabbed interface and Address Book integration.
The biggest argument in favor of FaceTime is that, in the parlance of Apple, “it just works.” If your video-chat buddies are tethered to Macs, iPhones, or iPads, FaceTime makes the process as aesthetically pleasing as it is effortless: No matter the connection or camera, video quality is consistently good.
By Jeffrey L. Wilson, PCMag