Looking for a few great, free apps to beef up your Mac? We’ve got you covered with our annual Lifehacker Pack for Mac. Here are the best OS X downloads for better productivity, communication, media management and more.Want to skip to a specific category? Use these links:
The Lifehacker Pack is a yearly snapshot of our favourite, must-have applications for each of our favourite platforms. If you’re curious to see how things have changed this year, here’s last year’s Lifehacker Pack for Mac.
At its least useful, Quicksilver is a fantastic keyboard-centric app launcher. If you really get into all it can do, you’ll find yourself writing emails, browsing your file system, assigning new keyboard shortcuts to practically anything, and controlling iTunes all from a tiny little interface. Even that’s just scratching the surface. If you’re new to all it can offer, you’ll want to check out our beginner guide. We’ve also can show you some handy settings tweaks and some helpful video demonstrations.
When it comes to keeping track of plain text notes, Notational Velocity is about as good as it gets. It was our favourite syncing note-taker for the app directory because it’s so simple and easy to use without sacrificing utility. You can do it all from the keyboard, and using it doesn’t require much more than typing. By default it syncs with Simplenote, so your notes are everywhere, but you can make it work with other services like Dropbox (or really anything that can automatically sync a folder of plain text files). If you want to get an idea of how it works and why it’s so great, watch this video for a demonstration.
Kod is a new addition to the many programming text editors on the Mac, and while it still has some room to grow it’s already pretty fantastic. It has a Google Chrome-like interface with features you’d usually find in expensive programming text editors like TextMate and SublimeText, but for free. For example, you get syntax highlighting, customisable styles, editing of both remote and local files, and more. It’s also really lightweight and fast, taking advantage of the multi-core CPU you likely have in your Mac. While at the moment you’ll get a bit more if you pay for one of the aforementioned, pricier apps, Kod may close that gap in time. For now, it still holds its own quite well if you don’t need the broad feature set that something like TextMate can offer.
While we also love Firefox, Google Chrome has taken root as our default browser on the Mac because it’s both fast and functional. It also syncs nearly everything you could ask for via your Google account. Both browsers have grown into great browsing tools, so whichever you choose you’ll be in pretty good shape. If you’re looking for alternatives to the big two, Opera offers lots of neat features (like media streaming) and Camino is a great, open-sourced, lightweight option.
If you want a Gmail desktop client, you want Sparrow. While the full version will cost you $10.49, the Lite version has most of the same functionality and will serve you well if you only need a single email account. While Sparrow was a little slow and starved for features in its initial release, it has recently bloomed into a really fantastic email client. The latest version, released alongside OS X Lion, brought some great interface enhancements and speed improvements. If Gmail’s your email provider of choice but you still prefer to use the desktop, Sparrow’s an app you’ll want to download.
While Transmit is our favourite if you’re willing to pay, Cyberduck comes in at a close second regardless. As far as free file transfer clients go, it’s incredibly versatile and pretty straightforward. It supports plenty of protocols, from FTP to Amazon S3, and works cross platform — which is great if you also use Windows.
While it can’t handle video chat, screen sharing, or any of the other media-rich features you’ll find in iChat and some other apps, Adium does instant messaging so well that you won’t care. It supports every type of IM account you can imagine (plus some you can’t) and has tons of amazing customisation options that will let you turn it into a very personal app.
NetNewsWire has been around for a very long time, and so it’s unsurprising that it’s a solid, stable RSS newsreader. While it’s not as beautiful as Reeder, it’s also not nearly as expensive (because it’s free). It syncs with Google Reader, has an iPhone counterpart, and makes it easy to organise all your feeds.
Twitter’s official app for the Mac is pretty great. It lets you manage multiple accounts, shortens URLs automatically, uploads pictures included with your tweets, searches Twitter, lets you view user information, and a whole lot more. It’s basically the Twitter site in a nice, compact little desktop interface. While Whitson prefers Kiwi for some reason, you shouldn’t listen to him because he molests computers. There are many other clients out there, but the official Twitter app is a good compromise between useful features and a minimal interface.
The Unarchiver is kind of a no-brainer utility for the Mac. You download a bunch of compressed files on the internet all day long, but OS X isn’t really equipped to handle formats like RAR, for example. The Unarchive handles them just fine. It integrates into the Finder just like the built-in OS X archive utility, plus you can choose which file formats it does and doesn’t handle. The only thing that would be better is if it compressed files as well, but for that you should take a look at Keka.
While many of us have moved on to the file sharing service that dare not speak its name, BitTorrent is still alive and well. If you’re on the Mac, you have a few clients to choose from but we like Transmission and uTorrent. They both pride themselves on being pretty minimal, easy, and smart, yet many people strongly prefer one or the other. Try them both out and see which one is your pick.
OS X’s built-in disc burning features aren’t bad, but if you’re looking for a little added power you’ll want to give Burn a try. It makes it very easy to create all kinds of discs, plus you can burn additional formats like video DVDs. Burn can also copy discs, which is a lot less tedious than using OS X’s Disk Utility for the same task. While Burn is super-simple to use, if you have any trouble you’ll find instructional videos on its web site that’ll show you how to do pretty much everything.
Pretty much everything on OS X uses Growl nowadays, as it has become the standard for system notifications. If an app wants to subtly let you know what it’s up to, it can post that to a Growl notification that’ll fade in and out. This is useful for things like new emails, Twitter updates, a finished DVD rip, etc. It’s also really easy to access via AppleScript, so you can utilise it yourself. With customisable skins and display options, you can really control how everything looks and operates. If you need notifications, this is what you should use.
While Dropbox has had its security issues lately, it is still our go-to file-synchronising tool. While there are plenty of alternatives, Dropbox wins on simplicity. Plus, it’s easy to get free storage space in addition to the 2GB they already give you. You can use it to organise and sync all your files, or you can just use it for plenty of other clever things. Whatever you choose, it’s a very useful tool to have.
Crashplan is a very versatile file backup utility. It’s free if you’re not backing up to its cloud storage service, as the service is capable of local backups and backups to remote computers as well. It’s a really solid service, and a great way to create a bulletproof backup plan. It’s also quite a bit more affordable than many other options, as it supports large amounts of data on the cheap. That may not last forever, but if it doesn’t you can just use the app to back up to a friend’s computer and pay nothing at all.
VLC is a great video player for Mac. Yes, some people hate it, and to them we say download Movist (which is like MPlayer, only it works). VLC is far from perfect, but if you need to play any type of video or audio it will be there when you need it. It has a bunch of other features, like video conversion, but those are really too convoluted for the average user. VLC is just a solid, free, open-source video player that does its job well.
While we felt obligated to choose iPhoto as the best photo management app, Picasa is probably the best one you can get for free. It provides a lot of the same features as iPhoto, and integrates beautifully with Google services (like the new Google+). If you’re looking for an iPhoto alternative — especially a free one — you ought to give Picasa a try.
Whether you’re ripping DVDs or just converting your media files, Handbrake is an all-around great tool for the job. While the interface can be a little complicated for some, it’s so fast and powerful that it’s worth it takes the time to learn it. In fact, we can teach you. Whether you want to get your DVDs and other videos in a format you can play on your iDevice or just want copies of movies on your computer, Handbrake can do the job well and free-of-charge. Note: To rip DVDs, you’ll need a copy of VLC which you’ll also find in this section of the Mac App Pack.
For the files Handbrake can’t covert — and even the ones it can — you’ve got Adapter. It can handle audio and images as well as video. Adapter can tackle just about any format, gives you plenty of options, and makes things as simple as possible. If you want more complex options, it does offer some customisability. It’s basically the swiss army knife you need for media file conversion.
StreamToMe originated as an iOS app, letting you serve up video and audio from your computer to your iPhone or iPad. Because iOS restricts the formats you can play, StreamToMe was incredibly useful because it converted any incompatible files on the fly. We noted that we’d love to see a Mac version and we got our wish. Even better yet, despite the iOS app being priced at a few bucks, the Mac download is completely free. It’s almost identical to the iPad app, and it works just as well. If you want to stream your video and audio when you’re away from home, this is the most drop-dead simple way to do it.
ScreenSharingMenulet does one thing very well — it lets you add VNC server addresses to your OS X menubar so you can quickly choose them and connect without going through several steps. It’ll automatically detect local machines via Bonjour, but you can manually input bookmarks to other machines so you can connect regardless of whether they’re local or not. Why Apple has yet to add this as an option to OS X is unknown, but ScreenSharingMenulet fills in the gap perfectly — so no harm done.
Wish you had a handy drop-down calendar in your OS X menubar? That’s what Calendar can do. It’s an easy way to quickly check the date and get an overview of what you have scheduled on any day of the year. If you want more details, you can just click on a listed event and view it in iCal. Since it works with iCal, you have support for any calendar service iCal supports, such as Google Calendar. This is a great alternative to the overpriced Fantastical, which basically does the same thing.
Camouflage is a simple little utility that hides everything on your desktop. If you do screencasts it’s particularly handy, but changes are you’ll use it more often to just cover up the clutter. It’s a lot easier to be more productive when you’re not staring at a bunch of crap all day, and Camouflage relegates that solution to a simple keyboard shortcut.
There are lots of ways to upload your files, but Cloud is an app that resides in your OS X menubar and uploads anything you drag onto it. When it finishes with the upload, you’ll get a link to the file and you can do with that link as you please. It’s simple and it works really well. Alternatively, you can roll your own with Dropbox, Automator and Quicksilver.
If you’re looking for more options, or just to see what’s changed for 2011, check out last year’s Lifehacker Pack for Mac. Got any other free Mac apps you find indispensable? Share your picks in the comments.