Mac OS X ApplicationsOver the years I’ve installed a lot of commercial software, shareware and freeware on my Macs. I love trying new apps. That being said, most of what I install gets used once or twice, then discarded. But there is a small collection of apps and utilities for Mac OS X that I’ve found to be extremely useful and kept around for the long haul.

I have no set criteria for deciding what stays and what goes, but for the most part the app has to serve a particular need, look good, and work as advertised. The following is not a complete list of what’s installed on my Mac, but it represents what applications and utilities have stood the test of time, and what I use the most.

My favorite apps are, in no particular order:


There are lots of note-taking apps out there, but when I set out to find one that was dead simple, had a Mac and web client, and synced with my iPhone – I found only one that worked for me. JustNotes uses the SimpleNote service and syncs with all my Macs, my iPhone. It offers a menubar item for quick access, a few keyboard shortcuts, and not much more. It’s exactly what I was looking for, and it’s free.

Note: SimpleNote offers a web client, as well as iPhone app by itself – so you only need JustNotes (or other compatible app) if you want a Mac client.


Now you might wonder why I would need Evernote when I just told you I use JustNotes/SimpleNotes. The reason is simple. Evernote offers image, PDF and other file support. Evernote also offers the ability to create multiple notebooks to keep things organized. Like JustNotes, Evernote also offers a Mac client, an iPhone app, and a browser plugin. I use Evernote more as a web-clipping service than a notes app. Evernote offers a free version, and a paid subscription version that removes ads and increases storage.


While the original intention of Dropbox was simply to share files with other people, it has turned into an indispensable app that many other utilities and services take advantage of. With referral bonus space pushing my storage limit to over 10GB of free storage, I have plenty of space for sharing files with printers. But Dropbox gets the most use from other utilities and applications to store their data files for syncing between my laptop and desktop Macs, a storage bin for article ideas, and a simple way to bring files home from my PC at work.


Though Mac OS X has the ability for the user to assign keyboard shortcuts via the System Preferences, it’s a truly half-hearted offering. Quite frankly, I find it useless. In searching for a utility to allow system-wide keyboard shortcuts for launching apps, opening folders and assigning events, I came across Spark. It’s not sexy, and doesn’t get updated very often, but it works perfectly and is absolutely free.


I use my MacBook Pro for work on the road. I carry it everywhere and don’t always have the ability to plug it in to charge, so preserving the battery is always in the back of my head. AppTamer is similar to Apple’s stock ActivityMonitor app in that it lists all running apps and processes and allows you to quit them at will. The advantage AppTamer has over ActivityMonitor is that it offers an AutoStop feature. AutoStop puts an application or process to “sleep” until needed. Though the battery charge savings aren’t significant, every little bit helps. You also get the advantage of saving a few extra CPU cycles and MBs of RAM by AutoStopping apps you aren’t using. AppTamer is $14.95 for a single-user license.


Before I found RipIt (actually, the developer found me after I was complaining about not finding a great simple app to backup my DVDs on Twitter), I tried Handbreak, and a host of other apps that were all WAY too complicated. RipIt is just fantastically simple to make backup copies of your commercial DVDs, and for me at least has worked every time. You put a DVD in your drive, launch the app and click a button to make a disc image of your DVD which you can then backup to a hard drive or burn to DVD. There are a few compression options available, but the lack of “features” to decipher is what makes this app so great. RipIt costs $24.95.

SneakPeekSneakPeek Pro

When Apple introduced Quick Look into Mac OS X, I immediately took to it. It annoys me to no end to have to open a file just to see what it is. Unfortunately, Quick Look doesn’t always work with graphics files like InDesign documents, and it offers little other than a preview of the file. SneakPeek Pro not only works with those InDesign files, but also offers information about the file itself, such as a list of fonts used in the document, color plates, and more. SneakPeak Pro can be had for $19.95.


Experienced Mac users know that simply deleting an application does not completely uninstall it. There are a load of preference files, frameworks files and more that litter the hard drive. For years I used AppZapper, or rather, I tried to remember to use AppZapper to more thoroughly remove an application. The problem was I had to remember to use it. AppCleaner automates the job by collecting those lingering preference files when you drag an application to the trash. You can also customize AppCleaner to protect default applications and create your own protected list so you don’t accidentally delete anything you don’t want to. The process is so seamless that I’ve forgotten that it’s not part of the default Mac OS X installation. AppCleaner is free.

Toast TitaniumToast Titanium

With all the free apps to create CDs and DVDs, including Apple’s built-in burner software, I’m still amazed that I’ve been using Toast since the days of Mac OS 8 and 9 to burn CDs. I shouldn’t be surprised though. Toast is the by far the most comprehensive app for doing the job. It offers plenty of options to burn a CD or DVD in virtually any way you wish. Over the years, Roxio has added secondary applications to the app, such as a utility to catelog your CDs as your burn them for later searching. In the end though, I rarely use all the add-on apps – Toast does its job so well that I long ago stopped looking at alternative applications. At $99, it’s worth every penny for me – but if it seems a bit pricey, there is a $20 mail-in rebate available.

Adobe CS5Adobe Creative Suite 5

Many years ago, I used a mix of tools for print design, which included Quark XPress, Macromedia Freehand and Photoshop. When Adobe released InDesign, I immediately switched to an all-Adobe workflow – and haven’t looked back. Having recently released Acrobat Pro X, Adobe has reaffirmed its dominance in the graphics and content creation market. While there are other cheaper alternatives out there, none even come close to offering the professional features that the Creative Suite apps do – and none are more widely accepted by printers and professional organizations. If you’re just getting started in the business, you might as well get the Adobe apps now, because you’re going to have to use them eventually. Pricing varies depending on which suite you purchase.

In part 2 of this article (which I’ll publish on Wednesday), I’ll share several more utilities and apps I use on a regular basis. Until then, feel free to share your favorite apps in the comments.