Lifehacker Pack For Mac: The Best Free Apps

Lifehacker Pack For Mac: The Best Free Apps
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Finding excellent free software for your Mac is increasingly tough. In our fourth annual Lifehacker Pack for Mac, we’re highlighting the best free downloads for better productivity, communication, media management and more.

The Lifehacker Pack is a yearly snapshot of our 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. For our always-updating directory of all the best apps, be sure to bookmark our Mac App Directory.

Want to skip to a specific category? Use these links:


Quicksilver makes everything you do on your Mac easier. At its simplest, Quicksilver is a keyboard app launcher. Once you get into it you can use it for quickly writing emails, controlling iTunes, and even browsing your file system. It takes a little bit of effort to get used to it, but it’s well worth it, and our beginner’s guide will help you along the way. If you want to get a better idea of what it does, check out our video demonstrations. If you’re looking for a feature-rich alternative, check out Alfred, and if you want nothing more than a simple app-launcher, pick up Chuck.
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Notational Velocity

What makes Notational Velocity great is that it has the exact amount of features needed in a note-taking app with no fluff. It does what it needs to: syncs notes across Simplenote or Dropbox (and all apps that support Dropbox), provides a simple place to type notes with basic text options, and allows you to control the app from the keyboard. Notational Velocity has some contenders, including the Simplenote-syncing app Metanota, and the much-loved Evernote, but Notational Velocity wins with its mix of features and simplicity.
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Text expansion is one those pieces of productivity software that most people only associate with power users, but it’s incredibly handy for just about everyone. DashExpander is the only free text expansion software we’ve found that we really like. It doesn’t have the features of the paid apps, but for the standard user it’s good to have around.
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You have a nearly infinite amount of choices for a to-do app on your Mac, but Wunderlist is one of our favourites because it’s free, syncs to the cloud, and it’s cross-platform. Wunderlist is easy to use and anyone can start making to-do lists right away. Wunderlist isn’t packed with as many features as something like OmniFocus, but it’s considerably easier to use.
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Everyone has their reasons for loving one browser or another, but on Mac we prefer Chrome over Firefox. It’s fast, functional, and syncs everything across your computers (and iOS devices with Chrome mobile). Both Chrome and Firefox are good browsing tools, but if you want to sync up across iOS devices Chrome is your best option.
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Sparrow Lite

Sparrow was great when it was essentially a Gmail-only desktop client. Now it supports all types of email accounts and works with every major service out there, including your own. Sparrow does everything the default Mail app does, but adds support for labels, filters and a great interface. The full version gets rid of ads and costs $10.49, but the lite version is fine for most people and offers a glimpse at what you might be missing.
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Adium doesn’t have a lot of complicated features and that’s part of the reason we like it. Adium does instant messaging, and it does it well. It supports every major IM client out there, and you can customise it with all sorts of plugins. Apple is releasing a big update to Messages in Mountain Lion that might challenge Adium, but for now, Adium is our favourite IM client.
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Skype is the easiest and most reliable way to video chat on your Mac. As a video chat app it’s easy to use and exists on just about every platform imaginable so you can chat with anyone, anywhere. It’s far from perfect, but the Mac version has seen stability improvements over the last year. If you’re not a fan of Skype or just don’t want the extra software, Google+ Hangouts is a fantastic, web-based alternative.
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Despite the rise of social reader apps, RSS is still the best way to get news from your favourite blogs and papers. Macs have a lot of options for RSS readers, but NewNewsWire is still the best free app. It syncs directly with Google Reader and has an iPhone version as well. If design is more your thing, Reeder is a great looking alternative that still has solid support, but costs $5.49.
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Music, Photos and Video


If you want to play videos on your Mac you need VLC. Sure, you could play around with Quicktime codecs for hours, but VLC works right away. If you want to dig into it, VLC also has features like video conversion, but for the average user it’s a good video player to have around. If VLC isn’t your thing, we suggest checking out Movist.
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Handbrake is good at two things: ripping DVDs and converting media files. It’s not the most intuitive software in the world, but we’ve put together a guide to help you get used to it. Once you do, you can convert videos to any format for streaming or even storage on your iPhone. You’ll need a copy of the above mentioned VLC to do conversions. If you run into anything Handbrake can’t handle Adapter is another piece of free software that should be able to take care of converting everything else.
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If you want to turn your Mac into a movie streaming device, StreamToMe is your simplest option. You can serve up video to your iPhone, iPad or other computer. It’s not particularly hard to use, but we have a video guide if you need a little help. StreamToMe doesn’t have the power to stream to Apple TV or any set top box, but for computer-to-computer streaming it does the job.
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Picasa is hands-down the easiest to use free photo management app for Mac. Picasa works both offline and online, and syncs up to Google+ for unlimited backup (at a lower resolution). As a management app it gets the job done and you can organise your pictures in the same way as Apple’s iPhoto. If you’re looking for something with more features, our pick is Lyn, but you’ll have to cough up $US20.
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Love it or hate, every Mac comes bundled with iTunes and you won’t find any powerful alternative for cheap. Instead of managing what you own, we’d recommend a streaming service as a replacement. Spotify is our pick, but Rdio is similar and has most of the same music. If you prefer a dedicated MP3 manager, Enqueue is the closest we’ve found to replacing iTunes and costs $US9.99.
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If you have a work computer, a home computer and a smartphone, then you know keeping files in sync across devices is a pain. Dropbox solves this by syncing any files you want across multiple computers for easy access anywhere you are. You get 2GB for free, but it’s easy to get more space for free.
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For BitTorrent clients we’re pretty split between uTorrent and Transmission. However, uTorrent wins out for having lots of features, including a portable mode, complex bandwidth adjustment and remote monitoring. If you prefer Usenet to BitTorrent, we’d suggest SABnzbd. If you combine either with Sickbeard or Couch Potato you can easily set up the ultimate automatic streaming machine.
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On the surface, Skitch isn’t much more than a screen capture app, but it’s also a way to quickly annotate an image, point something out and share it instantly through Evernote. Screen grabbing isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, but drawing a moustache on a friend’s face certainly is.
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Growl is the standard for system notifications and pretty much every app out there supports it to some degree. When an app wants you to know something, it displays a small notification in the corner of your screen with Growl. These notifications might be emails, Twitter updates, upgrades or whatever else. The newest version of Growl bumps it up to a paid download for $US1.99, but users of OS 10.6 and 10.5 can still snag the free older versions. It’s hard to say how useful Growl will be if you plan on upgrading to Mountain Lion, but if you don’t, it’s essential to keep track of all your notifications.
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Crashplan is a versatile and easy to use backup service that’s free as long as you’re using an external hard drive. It’s our preferred bulletproof backup system because even the paid tiers are cheaper than other options. You should backup your system often. Crashplan is the easiest way to do it.
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You probably download all sorts of archived files on a daily basis. The built-in OS X utility can handle its fair share of formats, but not everything. Unarchiver makes sure you’re covered no matter what you download. The nice thing is that it works right in Finder, so you never even have to locate a seperate app.
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The Extended Pack


The built-in iCal app is great, but it doesn’t offer a way to quickly get a look at your calendar. Calendar does just that. It’s a tiny little app that works in conjunction with your iCal events, but it’s great when you just need a quick look at your upcoming events.
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Found is a universal search app that allows you to quickly search files on your Google Drive, Dropbox, Gmail and your Mac’s hard drive. Found is just as responsive as Spotlight, but you get more options to quickly search through all the different places you store files. It also has a great shortcut where you can tap the Control key twice to pull up the search menu.
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The default Mac Address Book isn’t bad, but Cobook blows it out of the water with its social media integration, automatic updates, and its fast search. The one downfall is that Cobook works in conjunction with Address Book for syncing, but as a speedy, simple, address book it’s a good addition to any system.
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Keyboard shortcuts are awesome time savers, but they’re incredibly easy to lose track of which shortcuts do what in different apps. CheatSheet offers up keyboard shortcuts for most popular apps when you hold down the Command key. If you’re new to a Mac or you just downloaded a bunch of new apps, CheatSheet is handy to keep around.
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Read Later

Read Later is a desktop viewer for articles you have saved in the bookmarking services Pocket and Instapaper. The interface is similar to what you find online, but you can download and save articles to your hard drive. This means you can catch up on reading even when you don’t have an internet connection.
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This list is hardly exclusive. There are plenty of apps we mentioned last year but decided to exclude this year to highlight some newcomers.


  • the adium client hasn’t updated in about a year now, stability for a few services is buggy at best, so i use trillian
    quicksilver i replaced with “alfred”
    growl is still amazing, good work
    still prefer transmission to utorrent

    no cyberduck in this list which i’m surprised at, really stable, lots of cloud backup abilities out of the box, auto google-drive link etc.
    also one other app that i use all the time is “smultron”

    awesome list, should try to sticky this article and update it every 6 months or so

  • Goodness, you left Evernote out of the Windows pack and now you’ve left it out of the Mac pack, even though you refer to it as “much loved”. Maybe this thread should be titled “The Best NEW Free Apps”.

  • My thoughts on a few of these:

    Notational Velocity – Tried this once with PlainText/Dropbox and found that it was just as to easy to manage my (admittedly minimal) notes as text files in Finder. I can see it’s merit for managing lots of notes and still have it installed for if I ever need it.

    DashExpander – Fantastic little app. I use it for the usual stuff like emails and user name, as well as inserting Greek characters with a simple \delta, etc. I really like (and I don’t know if this is a common feature in text expanders or not) that the snippets are case sensitive so that \sigma gives “σ” and \SIGMA gives “Σ” and so on.

    Chrome – My day to day browser. I’ve found it to be more reliable and speedy than Firefox. It also correctly uses the green ‘traffic light’ button by sizing the window to fit the content whereas with Firefox I suddenly have the browser taking up the whole screen unnecessarily as soon as a webpage is a little wider. That said I continue to use Firefox for mass downloading files from my uni Blackboard site (DownThemAll), downloading Flash Videos (FlashGot + DTA) and for other large downloads (DTA again. I like DTA).

    VLC – It is disappointing in version 2 that it cannot handle alisases in the Movies folder to my Videos folder on an external drive. Symlinks kinda work but opening a folder starts the first video in it so it’s easier to use the finder, which is how I used to do it so I guess that’s no loss. MPlayerX is another video player I use (probably more often than VLC) mainly because it allows me to have a video playing on only part of the screen with the disappearing title bar a-la Quicktime. I could be wrong but I believe it has comparable compatibility to VLC, I certainly haven’t found anything I needed it to play that it couldn’t.

    Dropbox – I assume there was meant to be an entry to go with the giant Dropbox icon so I will say that I would find it very hard to manage without it. Easy shared folders and sharing of any file, LAN-sync, integration with third party applications (particularly useful on iOS), easy earning of more free space. The competition has a lot of catching up to do.

  • One app I’d personally recommend, even if you never use it, is prey ( It lets you track your computer if it goes missing, doing everything you might need to do to get it back. (for the record, it’s also available for windows, linux, android and iOS)

    It’s free, incredibly light weight, and if you do end up needing it you’ll be thankful for having it.

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