Essential Mac OS X Applications

Every year I look back at the applications I use on my Mac in order to improve my productivity.

I present to you here, a list of the Mac applications I use everyday. I love putting these lists together, I love even more hearing about what other Mac users like to use on a day to day basis. It’s a great way of discovering new stuff and boost your productivity.


If it isn’t written down it never happened. My life before Omnifocus was a disorganized mess. I’ve tried other task management systems but nothing tops Omnifocus for it’s sheer power and flexibility.

There is a bit of a learning curve but with the great book Creating Flow with Omnifocus you’ll get the hang of it in no time.


Oh LaunchBar, how I <3 thee.

LaunchBar is an application launcher. To call it a mere application launcher is a gross injustice. It’s a swiss army knife that let’s you do a [intlink id=”636″ type=”post”]ton of things[/intlink] on your Mac without every having to lift your hands up off of the keyboard.

It is probably my #1 essential productivity tool

Text Expander

TextExpander is a close second. TextExpander allows you to create text snippets which are tied to some shorthand text. It’s hard to realize how useful this application is until you start using it.

Once you do, you won’t believe how you lived without it.

TextExpander, along with Hazel has helped me automate my filing and enabled me to go paperless in my home office.


Too many of us create simple passwords that are used over and over again across websites. This can have disasterous consequences.

With 1Password, you don’t have to worry about [intlink id=”69″ type=”post”]creating unique strong passwords[/intlink] for every website you visit because it stores them in an encrypted vault.

Coupled with a rich set of browser plugins, 1Password allows you to save strong passwords and then auto-fills them in when you visit websites.

Google Chrome

Mac Safari is good but for speed and extensibility, nothing really beats Google’s Chrome browser.

Here are the extensions I use, most aren’t available on Safari.

  1. 1Password – this is the companion extension to the awesome 1Password. It allows you to enter passwords from 1Password directly from the browser.
  2. AdBlock Plus – Ads are the lifeblood of many a website, this one included. However, some websites are so overly egregious with ads that it slows down the page. For those sites, I use AdBlock Plus.
  3. – I share a lot of content that I find on the web. The plugin let’s me make short URLs from long ones.
  4. Buffer – Buffer is a great way to create a queue of Twitter or Facebook feed posts and have them slowly drip out over the course of a day.
  5. Reddit Companion – Reddit is an extremely addictive website, this plugin helps you navigate it more easily.
  6. Sabconnect++ – I occasionally download tvshows from USENET newsgroups. This is the companion plugin to SABnzbd+
  7. Instapaper – if you have an iPad, the Instapaper plugin lets you bookmark content and then read it later on your iPad.


I’m a huge fan of writing in plain text files. The beauty of a plain text file is the portability. You don’t have to worry about proprietary file formats.

A number of applications have cropped up that allow you to enter text in a distraction free, full screen editor. I’ve tried a few and settled on Byword because it looks great an supports the Markdown markup format.


I’m a huge music fan and have pretty much abandoned my personal library for Spotify. I pay for the premium service which allows me to listen ad-free plus download music to go on my iPhone.


Twitter is a first class citizen in Mountain Lion. You can post tweets directly from the Notification Center.  Unfortunately, the official Twitter client is a bit lacking. Luckily there is Tweetbot. It’s a little pricey but if you use Twitter on a regular basis you’ll love how easy it is to organize and manage your Twitter accounts.


I live and die by my calendar but, a calendar is only good if it is kept up to date. Fantastical is the essential tool for keeping it up to date.

Fantastical is, in a word, like magic. With Fantastical, you can type in free text such as “Make a doctor’s appointment tomorrow at noon.” and it will create a calendar entry for you.

What’s really cool about it too is the integration with services. So, if I receive an email that has appointment information in it, I can highlight it, send it to Fantastical and the awesome parser will convert it into a calendar entry.


Dropbox is the glue that holds my system together. Every file I create goes into a Dropbox folder. This allows me to access my files everywhere and on any device.

A typical workflow allows me to edit a text file using Byword on my Mac, save it to Dropbox, and then pickup editing it again on IAWriter on my iPad.

Dropbox is free for up to 2GB, for more storage their pricing plans are really reasonable.


Meh, I hate that this is on the list but there really is no getting around the fact that if you use your Mac for business you have to use Excel.

Apple has done a decent job with the iWork suite but Excel is the de facto macdaddy of spreadsheets.

How about you?

These aren’t the only Mac applications that I use but they are my most mission critical.

What are some of your essential day to day Mac applications? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Essential Apps for new Mac Users

Updated October 2010 – This used to be a list of my 10 favorite apps, I find I’m using a lot more each day to make my life easier.

After you have time to play around with the applications built into the Mac, you might be wondering what else is out there. Here is my list of essential applications that I use everyday to make my Macbook more productive. Note that this list contains both freeware and commercial software. Some applications just need to be purchased.

  • AdiumFree – great cross platform messaging client. I prefer it to iChat because it cleanly manages all my accounts
  • Cyberduck – FTP application. If you manage a website you are going to want this program
  • Things – an awesome task list application. It’s great if you follow the GTD methodology. I’ve tried dozens of todo list applications and this one is the best
  • ScreenflickCommercial – inexpensive screencasting software. I use it to create the videos for this site
  • TweetDeck – I’ve dumped Seesmic for Tweet Deck, I like the layout and the support for multiple accounts
  • Transmission – Bittorrent client, download content from the Internet, fast.
  • VLC – if you download a video using Transmission and you need to play it, this application plays everything
  • 1Password – great password manager, integrates with Firefox and Safari to keep all your passwords in a encrypted safe
  • [intlink id=”463″ type=”post”]LaunchBar[/intlink] – took over the duties of Quicksilver. Quicksilver, you were fun but sadly, you’re not well supported anymore. LaunchBar was endorsed by the original creator of Quicksilver and it rocks. Allows you to drive your Mac without using the mouse. Get, Love it.
  • VMWare Fusion – As much as I love OSX, I still occasionally need to run Windows applications. VMWare Fusion is the way to do it.
  • Unison – This is a great program for downloading binaries from USENET news groups. It’s really cool because it supports NZB files. If you don’t know what any of this means, check out
  • Mac Office – the king of all office suites. I use it everyday and well, it’s really the best player out there.
  • [intlink id=”566″ type=”post”]Skitch[/intlink] – This is my new favorite application for taking screen captures. I use it nearly every day.

If you have any favorite Mac applications that you can’t live without, tell us about them.

Installing Downloaded Applications

In an earlier installment, we showed you how to download a program using the Safari web browser. In this episode, we show you how to install it into the applications folder.