Apps for your new Mac: Useful utilities

Posted:
in Mac Software edited January 2014
New Mac users will find OS X a capable performer by default, but there are a few gaps that are best filled by third-party apps. AppleInsider has rounded up some of the most useful additions to any Mac user's arsenal.

Useful utilities


For this roundup, we focused on true utilities: small, often single-purpose apps that plug small holes in the Mac experience. While we usually recommend that new Mac owners work with their computers for a while before diving into the Mac App Store, the apps on this list should find a home on nearly every Mac.

Growl

Notifications

Growl


Before Apple introduced Notification Center in OS X Mountain Lion, apps communicated new information to users with Growl. For various reasons, Apple's version has not yet cornered the market --?many popular apps like instant messager Adium and streaming music player Spotify still rely on Growl for notifications.

Growl has some advantages over Notification Center for users as well: notifications can be skinned and resized, for instance, and their contents can be synthesized as speech by OS X's built-in voice synthesis engine. For those who want notifications from the apps that still use Growl but prefer to keep things organized, Growl can now act as a proxy, sending updates to Notification Center.

Formerly a free download, Growl is now available in the Mac App Store as a 6.8-megabyte download.

The Unarchiver

Extract compressed files

The Unarchiver


OS X ships with a built-in compressed file extraction utility aptly named Archive Utility, and while it works well, it has some limitations. Archive Utility's list of supported file formats is slim, and it has been known to suffer performance issues on large zip files or with files created in non-Roman languages.

Enter its equally-aptly-named alternative, The Unarchiver. The Unarchiver is a speedy drop-in replacement for Archive Utility that adds support for nearly 100 older or less popular compressed file formats like 7-Zip and RAR as well as disk image archives like ISO, BIN, and Microsoft's MSI.

The Unarchiver is a free, 5.3-megabyte download from the Mac App Store.

Alfred

Keyboard shortcuts for everything

Alfred


Alfred began life as a replacement for Quicksilver, a popular program that helped users to quickly perform system actions like launching apps using only the keyboard. Quicksilver, despite its then-immense popularity, fell into disrepair around the release of Snow Leopard and Alfred rose to Quicksilver's place.

Thanks to its laundry list of plugins and highly scriptable nature, Alfred can be configured to perform nearly any task with a few simple keystrokes. Even if users choose not to take advantage of its more advanced features, Alfred makes it faster and easier to launch applications, find contacts, create new email drafts, and search the web out of the box.

Basic Alfred functionality can be had with a free download from www.alfredapp.com, though a ?17 ($28) purchase is required to unlock its more advanced features such as Automator-style worflows.

AppCleaner

Completely uninstall apps

AppCleaner


Though Mac apps are often distributed as single-file bundles that can be installed by simply dragging-and-dropping them into your Applications folder, uninstalling those apps is not always as easy. Apps can create related files in many locations around OS X, and Apple does not provide a central "uninstaller" for apps that were not purchased from the Mac App Store.

Many third-party "uninstaller" utilities are available, but AppCleaner is the best. It works quickly and easily --?just drag an app onto its window and AppCleaner will find and display all of its related files, then remove them with a singel click.

AppCleaner is a free download from its developer at www.freemacsoft.net/appcleaner/.

VLC

Play back nearly any video file

VLC


OS X's built-in media player, QuickTime Player, is speedy and well-designed but offers limited support for different types and encodings of media. While some may advocate installing a codec pack that expands QuickTime Player's reach, we recommend usurping QuickTime Player's role entirely with stalwart alternative VLC.

VLC is a cross-platform, open source media player created by the non-profit VideoLAN organization. Put simply, VLC plays absolutely everything you can throw at it --?from 3GP videos recorded on early-2000s camera phones to 4K video streams and even corrupted files, rare is the file that will trip VLC up. If you plan to watch video on your Mac, VLC is the app to use.

VLC is a free download from www.videolan.org/vlc/.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 66
    I'd add Window Tidy to that list; handy for people with large screens (though the Finder has gotten way more manageable with its tabs)
    https://itunes.apple.com/app/window-tidy/id456609775?l=en&mt=12

    Also, [URL=https://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/28008/rarify]Rarify[/URL] to compress, [URL=http://calibre-ebook.com]Calibre[/URL] as an alternative .epub reader, [URL=http://www.ragingmenace.com]MenuMeters[/URL] as a SysPrefs plugin, [URL=http://tmkk.undo.jp/xld/index_e.html]XLD[/URL] for converting audio, HandBrake.fr and [URL=https://itunes.apple.com/nl/app/ivi/id402279089?l=en&mt=12]iVI[/URL] for video converting and so on and so forth.
  • Reply 2 of 66
    jabohnjabohn Posts: 539member
    Adium has supported OS X notifications for about a year already.
  • Reply 3 of 66

    I wish Apple would obsolete The Unarchiver. It’s great, but we shouldn’t have to use it.

     

    And VLC can go rot.

  • Reply 4 of 66

    Bartender ought to be on the list. Great app for ending Menu Bar clutter.

    http://www.macbartender.com

  • Reply 5 of 66
    VLC can go rot.

    How so? (Not familiar with the phrase, but presume it's meant negatively)
  • Reply 6 of 66
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by PhilBoogie View Post



    I'd add Window Tidy to that list; handy for people with large screens (though the Finder has gotten way more manageable with its tabs)

    https://itunes.apple.com/app/window-tidy/id456609775?l=en&mt=12

     

    I've tried every single windows management app available for Mac and I'm confident to recommend that "Moom" is by far the absolute best. It's packed with features and shortcuts, and best of all I can manage windows between multiple monitors on  my MBA 11" and my external display.

  • Reply 7 of 66
    Both HandBrake (video converter/ripper) and Onyx (general Mac maintenance) should definitely be on that list.
  • Reply 8 of 66
    Growl really doesn't do anything that Notification Center doesn't. It's redundant. If developers haven't updated their apps to take advantage of Notification Center, I won't bother to use their apps. I don't want third party software handling notifications.
  • Reply 9 of 66
    Quote:
    "Originally Posted by Tallest Skil

    VLC can go rot.

    How so? (Not familiar with the phrase, but presume it's meant negatively)"


    I don't know his reason, but I agree with him. VLC has gone down hill for many months now - choppy performance (that being my number one complain; it's irritating when skipping 5-10 sec of a movie and the whole thing freezes and/or loses the audio), over-complicated menus e settings (absolutely one of the worse layouts I ever seen in an App) and -gasp- does not play ALL the videos like it used to. Sometimes, for movies created by Quicktime (or other App that uses quicktime's codecs) it won't play. I have to use movist.
  • Reply 10 of 66
    Originally Posted by PhilBoogie View Post

    How so? (Not familiar with the phrase, but presume it's meant negatively)



    It’s terrible software with a horrible interface, ugly design, and exists to prop up the fringe market of formats which don’t need to exist at all.



    ONE WORLD.

    ONE ENCODING.

    ALL DEVICES.

  • Reply 11 of 66
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

     



    It’s terrible software with a horrible interface, ugly design, and exists to prop up the fringe market of formats which don’t need to exist at all.



    ONE WORLD.

    ONE ENCODING.

    ALL DEVICES.


     

    With that I have to agree - what a terrible UI VLC has.

  • Reply 12 of 66
    andysolandysol Posts: 2,506member

    It’s terrible software with a horrible interface, ugly design, and exists to prop up the fringe market of formats which don’t need to exist at all.

    ONE WORLD.
    <span style="line-height:1.4em;">ONE ENCODING.</span>
    ALL DEVICES.

    Exactly. Which is why handbrake should be on the list. If it doesn't run on iTunes- handbrake it to the correct format. Don't settle with VLC (although you need VLC to run those on handbrake). :)
  • Reply 13 of 66
    bugsnwbugsnw Posts: 717member
    Amen, tallest skil.

    Add to that quirky interface list Handbrake, Gimp and PDFPro. I tolerate the 3rd but wish they'd consult someone to clean up their GI.
  • Reply 14 of 66
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,866member
    andysol wrote: »
    Exactly. Which is why handbrake should be on the list. If it doesn't run on iTunes- handbrake it to the correct format. Don't settle with VLC (although you need VLC to run those on handbrake). :)

    Big Handbrake fan here. The one reason why I need to think about getting a big file server.

    As for VLC it is one of those apps that you need to hate but at the same time have to have around just in case. By the way guys, yes the interface sucks but there are far worst bits of software out there.
  • Reply 15 of 66
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,229moderator
    brlawyer wrote: »
    With that I have to agree - what a terrible UI VLC has.

    I partially agree but I consider Quicktime X's UI bad too for the main reason that it overlaps the video. If you are reviewing videos for artifacts, the UI can obscure some of them entirely and you can't see where you are in the video until you hover over the video. VLC can be customized to skip back/forward with the arrow keys - great for skipping to the good parts in your favorite movies. You can resync audio on the fly with f/g keys. Also recrop video and change aspect on the fly. The format support is great for transcoding - just use the convert/stream option and it can convert all the old formats to MP4, I've used it a couple of times for movies Handbrake didn't support. It also lets you take screenshots from DVDs unlike DVD Player. It only supports one movie open at a time though, which is annoying.

    Other apps I would add to the list would be
    - Carbon Copy Cloner for backups
    - Diskwave for finding what's using file space
    - Easyfind for when Spotlight doesn't find something in hidden folders
    - Pacifist for installations that won't install or extracting files from installers
    - Quickboot for restarting in Bootcamp without holding the alt-key
    - R-name for batch file renaming
    - Soundflower for looping audio back into recordings so that you can screen record streaming video with audio
    - Steam for games
    - TextWrangler for when TextEdit is no good (more and more often unfortunately)
    - Xee, a hardware-accelerated image viewer that will let you flip through hundreds of images in a folder and delete ones you want very quickly once you map the arrow keys
  • Reply 16 of 66
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Marvin View Post





    I partially agree but I consider Quicktime X's UI bad too for the main reason that it overlaps the video. If you are reviewing videos for artifacts, the UI can obscure some of them entirely and you can't see where you are in the video until you hover over the video. VLC can be customized to skip back/forward with the arrow keys - great for skipping to the good parts in your favorite movies. You can resync audio on the fly with f/g keys. The format support is great for transcoding - just use the convert/stream option and it can convert all the old formats to MP4, I've used it a couple of times for movies Handbrake didn't support. It also lets you take screenshots from DVDs unlike DVD Player. It only supports one movie open at a time though, which is annoying.



    Other apps I would add to the list would be

    - Carbon Copy Cloner for backups

    - Diskwave for finding what's using file space

    - Easyfind for when Spotlight doesn't find something in hidden folders

    - Pacifist for installations that won't install or extracting files from installers

    - Quickboot for restarting in Bootcamp without holding the alt-key

    - R-name for batch file renaming

    - Soundflower for looping audio back into recordings so that you can screen record streaming video with audio

    - Steam for games

    - TextWrangler for when TextEdit is no good (more and more often unfortunately)

    - Xee, a hardware-accelerated image viewer that will let you flip through hundreds of images in a folder and delete ones you want very quickly once you map the arrow keys

     

    Good additions, but pls note that CCC is no longer free.

  • Reply 17 of 66
    profprof Posts: 76member
    You do know Quicksilver is quite alive again? And IMHO it's much better than Alfred and free..
  • Reply 18 of 66
    profprof Posts: 76member
    In case you're not aware: Quicksilver is quite alive again and IMHO a whole lot better than Alfred plus you can't beat free...
  • Reply 19 of 66
    profprof Posts: 76member

    Sorry about the double post. For some reason my posts don't show up on the main page.

  • Reply 20 of 66
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member

    I was a user of VLC for many years but for some reason (can't remember now) switched to Movist on the Mac App Store. It's really very good, the developer keeps it up to date with new OS X features.

     

    Steam has the most games now, but what about in the future? Mac has it's own app store, Windows has it's own app store, and Valve has launched Steam OS. The writing is on the wall, Steam will become Steam OS only.

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