Macs come bundled with a lot of software out of the box. While most of it is at least passable, much of it lacks the feature set power users need. We’ve compiled a list of our favourite replacements for the usually-workable-but-sometimes-lacking OS X default software.
The catch with a lot of default Mac software is that it’s easy, but the second you want to do something more with it, you’re out of luck. That’s when replacements come into play. (For Windows users, we compiled a similar list earlier this year.)
Application to Avoid: iTunes
Indictment: iTunes has become a bloated, slow-as-molasses music player that can hardly handle loading an MP3, let alone playing and managing a giant playlist. It also seems to enjoy doubling up files, deleting random albums, and losing track of podcasts.
Notes: It’s a sad day when a music streaming service like Spotify integrates your iTunes library and then works better than the software it’s importing from. You will always need to use iTunes for the App Store, but for just playing and managing your library, we recommend the beautiful and simple Enqueue, or the more feature-packed and customisable Songbird. If you only use iTunes for the podcasts, consider proprietary software like gPodder to replace it.
Application to Avoid: Safari
Indictment: Safari is a fine little browser, but its lack of a lot of good extensions or plug-ins makes it hard to customise.
Notes: Safari is fine for vanilla usage, but if you want to augment your web browsing with amazing extensions and plug-ins, Chrome and Firefox are the way to go. If you need some tips for getting started with either, our power user’s guides for Chrome and Firefox are excellent places to start.
Application to Avoid: iDVD
Indictment: iDVD is horribly, horribly slow and occasionally churns out a pixelated, low-quality video for no reason.
Superior Alternative(s): SmallDVD
Notes: SmallDVD quickly burns a video without all the fluff. You lose out on the goofy menu themes and title screens from iDVD, but if you just want to burn a DVD with video on it, SmallDVD is your best option.
Application to Avoid: iPhoto
Indictment: iPhoto is limited in function, has proprietary saves, and is insanely slow.
Notes: iPhoto locks its images inside its app folder and you have to either open up iPhoto or poke around where you’re not supposed just to grab a picture. Both Picasa and Lyn allow you to store your photos in any folder you want, browse any folders you need to, and both work significantly faster than iPhoto. Both also feature better management options for tracking and locating your photos quickly.
Application to Avoid: iMovie
Indictment: iMovie ’06 was awesome but the new versions have lost features, slowed down performance, and added an oddball interface that makes them difficult to use.
Superior Alternative(s): iMovie 06, Avidemux
Notes: If you know absolutely nothing about editing video, iMovie is probably a great tool, but if you have even a tiny understanding of how pros do it, it’s instantly confusing. iMovie ’06 is your best option, because it’s still a fantastic application, but if you’re looking for something more readily available, but still feature-rich, Avidemux is the next best thing. Unfortunately, iMovie ’06 is no longer around, but you can still track down copies of iLife ’06 on eBay.
Application to Avoid: iChat
Indictment: Considering it’s supposed to be easy to use, iChat’s simplified interface just makes it confusing and hard to set up for multiple chat clients.
Superior Alternative(s): Adium
Notes: Adium is dead simple to use and integrate with every chat client you have an account with. It also has plenty of notification options, so if you’re particularly diehard about it, you can customise it with any sound you like.
Application to Avoid: iCal
Indictment: Like most of the apps on this list, iCal is fine, but its complete lack of features make it hard to work with on a large level. It’s also next to impossible to quickly enter large amounts of data into it.
Notes: Fantastical sits where a calendar should, in the menu bar. Technically it integrates with iCal instead of replaces it, but it’s such a smooth experience you won’t recognise it as the same app. BusyCal is a bit expensive for normal people, but it does absolutely everything you could ask a calendar to do, including multi-user support, to do list management and cloud syncing.
Application to Avoid: iWeb
Indictment: iWeb leaves behind some of the worst code we’ve ever seen, making it difficult to pop into your website and tweak anything without loading up and redoing it in iWeb.
Notes: Sandvox and RapidWeaver both make designing websites simple, but they also make editing sites outside the default editor easy as well. Where iWeb relies almost completely on its simplified interface to build your pages, Sandvox and RapidWeaver both let you tweak and edit code and themes wherever you like. Neither spits out completely clean code, but they’re certainly a step up from iWeb.
Application to Avoid: Garageband
Indictment: Like iMovie, Garageband seems OK at first, but the second you try to do anything it doesn’t like, it crashes or blocks your path.
Notes: Audacity is the best free solution for audio editors out there and its support for a wide variety of plug-ins makes it easy to love, even if is occasionally a little unstable. Logic Pro is one of the more expensive software upgrades on this list at $US199, but if you find Garageband throwing up roadblocks in your audio adventures, it’s the most sensible upgrade for users familiar with how Garageband does things. Logic keeps things simple, but doesn’t lock away features.
Application to Avoid: iWork
Indictment: iWork isn’t bad, but it doesn’t conform to the standards set by Microsoft Office very well. Like most of Apple’s “i” suites, it’s simple and does the job, but it’s often difficult to make the programs in the suite do what you need them to do.
Notes: NeoOffice is a free suite of apps that has the function and form of Microsoft Office, but with better stability than LibreOffice or OpenOffice. NeoOffice also comes with its own built-in cloud support, so if you’re only using iWork for its iCloud access, you can still get the same functionality here. Google Docs, of course, is a fully functional suite as well and if you have full-time access to the internet it’s the way to go.
Application to Avoid: Mail
Indictment: Mail’s recent upgrades in OS X Lion saved it from being complete crap, but if you’re not on Lion, it’s an archaic mail reader in nearly every respect.
Notes: Postbox and Sparrow both extend the functionality of a typical Mail client into something that makes email less of a chore. Postbox is great for those with Gmail, because it adds support for Google calendar and Gmail shortcuts. Sparrow is more of an all-purpose solution for those with multiple email addresses and its clean interface makes it a breeze to use. Both also feature Dropbox integration for sending attachments, which is helpful if you like to kick around big files in your email box.
Application to Avoid: Quicktime
Indictment: Quicktime’s lack of support for many popular video codecs and its inability to properly download them often makes it a bummer to use.
Notes: VLC has been the go-to Quicktime replacement for Mac users for a while and its support for nearly every video format makes it easy to recommend. If you’d prefer to use multi-touch gestures to do the same thing, MPlayerX is one of the best that integrates all the fancy new tricks of Lion. That said, if you enjoy using Quicktime but want to play more formats, Perian adds native support to every video format directly into Quicktime.
Application to Avoid: System Preferences
Indictment: One of the main complaints Mac users have is the inability to get down and dirty to edit the system settings in OS X. System Preferences is fine for the casual user, but power-users want more options.
Superior Alternative(s): TinkerTool
Notes: TinkerTool gives you control over nearly every preference you can think of that’s lacking in System Preferences. You get more control over login items, iTunes, the Dock, desktop, Finder, and even Lion’s new resume behaviour. It’s a free overhaul to changing everything in OS X that Apple doesn’t want you to.
Application to Avoid: Mouse
Indictment: If you’re running a vanilla OS X, chances are you might have the in-the-box Magic Mouse too. If you do, you might have noticed that it sucks horribly bad and it’s next to impossible to use on the default settings.
Superior Alternative(s): MagicPrefs
Notes: MagicPrefs adds every single feature you could possibly imagine to the preference pane for your Magic Mouse, Magic Trackpad, and Macbook trackpad. It fixes the horrible tracking speed on the Magic Mouse and adds complete customisation of the all the gestures.
Application to Avoid: Activity Monitor
Indictment: Activity Monitor is a surprisingly simple utility that doesn’t do much more than help you see what’s going on, but it’s ugly and not especially readable for most casual users.
Notes: Each of the replacements has a different feature that’s going to appeal to a different type of user. MiStat is a detailed little system monitor that has a lot of realtime graphs to help you better visualise what’s going on inside your computer. Desktop Monitor, on the other hand, plops all that info straight onto your desktop so you don’t have to go through and open and look at another app. If you’re more of a menu bar fan, MiniUsage stuffs everything you need to know inside your menu bar so you can quickly glance at it if your computer is going crazy.
Application to Avoid: Disk Utility
Indictment: Disk Utility gets the job done for simple tasks, but if you really want to optimise your system, it doesn’t have a lot of options.
Notes: MainMenu gives you more precise control over your hard drive. It doesn’t just repair permissions or erase free space, it also cleans your mail index, cleans all your cache’s, updates your databases, and does it all on a schedule. IceClean, on the other hand, takes all those cryptic clues left behind when repairing with Disc Utility and actually does something about them. It’s true both just tap into Terminal commands to get the job done, but if you don’t want to play with Terminal, they’re great for disc repair and maintenance.
Application to Avoid: Finder
Indictment: For the most part, Finder rocks, but its limited functionality often means you’ll end up with five different Finder windows open while you navigate your hard drive.
Notes: TotalFinder is more of an extension to the Finder you already know and love. It adds tabbed browsing to your folders so you can quickly move files around and it has better cut and paste functionality than Finder. Path Finder is a total overhaul, adding most of the same features as TotalFinder as well as the ability to bookmark, throw files in a holding area while you’re moving things around, and additional sorting options.
Application to Avoid: Terminal
Indictment: Terminal is simple for a reason, but that doesn’t mean users don’t want more features out of it.
Superior Alternative(s): iTerm 2
Notes: iTerm 2 updates the idea of Terminal with 21st century features without changing the core of how you use a command line. It adds all the bells and whistles of a modern program like autocomplete, readability, mouse reporting, Growl, Exposé, and full screen mode, but it’s still Terminal through and through.
Application to Avoid: Spaces
Indictment: Spaces is an awesome way to manage multiple desktop configurations, but it doesn’t let you label and organise everything very well.
Superior Alternative(s): Hyperspaces
Notes: Hyperspaces gives you the ability to name each desktop, change backgrounds, dock preferences, and more. Since Apple overhauled how Spaces works in Lion, Hyperspaces only works in Leopard and Snow Leopard, but if you haven’t made the Lion upgrade, Hyperspaces does everything Spaces can’t.
Application to Avoid: Archive Utility
Indictment: Archive Utility does a fine job of unzipping the limited files it supports, but it sucks at compressing files.
Notes: If you just want to uncompress nearly everything, Unarchiver will do the trick. If you’re more interested in a fast, easy way to compress files, BetterZip 2 deserves a place in your compression toolbox for its ease-of-use and ability to preview everything inside a compressed file.
This list hardly covers everything, but it does give you some options for adding the features the out-of-the-box software doesn’t offer. Do you have some programs you want to mention? Tell us why they’re superior alternatives in the comments.