Every day brings new apps to Mac OS X. Few are gems, but some stand out from the crowd and deserve to be on every Mac owner’s machine. In our fifth annual Lifehacker Pack for Mac, we’re highlighting the best downloads for better productivity, communication, media management and many other tasks.
The Lifehacker Pack is a yearly snapshot of our favourite, must-have applications for each major computing and mobile platform. If you’re curious to see how things have changed this year, here’s last year’s Lifehacker Pack for Mac.
Quicksilver makes everything you do on your Mac easier. At its simplest, Quicksilver launches apps via the keyboard. Once you get the hang of Quicksilver you can use it to quickly write emails, control iTunes and even browse 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’re looking for a feature-rich alternative, check out Alfred. If you want nothing more than a simple app-launcher, pick up Chuck.
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 strong rivals, including the Simplenote syncing app Metanota, and the much-loved Evernote (discussed below), but Notational Velocity wins a slot here with its mix of features and simplicity.
Text expansion, also known as typing shortcuts, can save you hours of typing each day.You type a small word or combination of characters and it will expand into full, complex sentences — handy for frequently-used phrases or bursts of coding.We love aText because it offers so many great features and only costs $5.If you haven’t yet jumped on the text expansion train, it’s time.
You have an extensive range of choices for to-do apps on your Mac. Wunderlist is one of our favourites because it’s free, syncs to the cloud, and is cross-platform across just about every modern device. 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.
Internet And Communications
Most modern browsers get the job done; 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.
Despite Google’s acquisition of Sparrow marking the end of its development, it still remains the best email client for OS X — especially for Gmail users. Sparrow Lite offers a free option with ads and a single account limit, but you can pay $US10 for no ads and additional accounts. Those who don’t want to take up an abandoned app should check up-and-comer AirMail, which might be our top pick by next year.
As a messaging client, Adium doesn’t have a lot of complicated features and that’s part of the reason we like it. That said, you can customise it with all sorts of plugins. Apple’s Messages offers a simple alternative with video chat and a variety of other nice features, but if you just want to IM then Adium is the way to go.
Skype is the easiest way to video chat on your Mac, and virtually everyone has an account. 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.
Reeder and NetNewsWire
We often argue over which is the better RSS reader: Reeder or NetNewsWire. Both offer a strong feature set and are well-designed, and both need to evolve with the death of Google Reader. Bottom line: either is a solid choice. NetNewsWire was free for Mac last year and now costs $US20, while Reeder, which cost $US10 last year, is now available for free.
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 why bother when VLC works right away? VLC also offers features such as video conversion, but for the average user it’s simply the best video player to have around. If VLC isn’t to your taste, we suggest checking out Movist.
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 storage on your iPhone. You’ll need a copy of 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.
Plex doesn’t just give you a home media centre; it also provides a way to access your videos from virtually anywhere. Set up Plex Server on your main computer and you can stream your content no matter where you go. If Plex can’t stream the content in the original format, either because your device doesn’t support it or the file is too large to send as-is over your connection, it will encode a more appropriate version on-the-fly. Note: Although Plex costs nothing on your Mac (or any other desktop platform), you will have to pay around $US5 for the luxury of streaming to mobile. It’s worth it, though.
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.
Love it or hate, every Mac comes bundled with iTunes and you won’t find any powerful alternative without paying a lot. Instead of managing what you own, we’d recommend a streaming service as a replacement. Spotify is our pick, but there are lots of other alternatives. If you prefer a dedicated MP3 manager, Enqueue is the closest we’ve found to replacing iTunes and costs $10.49.
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 free space.
For BitTorrent clients we’re fairly evenly split between uTorrent and Transmission. However, uTorrent wins out for having a stack 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.
On the surface, Skitch doesn’t seem like 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.
While OS X Mountain Lion added native notifications via Notification Center, Growl still reigns as the standard for system notifications and pretty much every app out there supports it to some degree. If you prefer Notification Center, it can funnel all its activity directly to it, too, so you don’t have to wait for your favourite apps to add support. While once-free Growl now costs about $US2, it’s worth the small amount if you really like your notifications.
Archive files are a regular download activity. The built-in OS X utility can handle a fair number of formats, but not everything. Unarchiver makes sure you’re covered no matter what you download. One nice feature: it works right in Finder, so you never have to locate a seperate app.
The Extended Pack
We love a lot of apps, so not every one can make the cut for our main categories. If you want to browse through a few more downloads, here are some of our more niche favourites. (There are also plenty more apps we mentioned last year, but we decided to exclude this year to highlight some newcomers.)
While a little expensive ($10), Dropzone is an awesome utility. It puts a tiny little icon in your menu bar, and you drag stuff up to that icon to initiate a variety of tasks.You can upload files via FTP, to Amazon S3, to cloud services or to social media sites. You can print text and documents. You can speak text. You can set a desktop picture or email a file. Those are just a few examples. It’s a great little shortcut tool.
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 have more options to quickly search through all the different places you store files. It also offers a great shortcut where you can tap the Control key twice to pull up the search menu.