Every day brings new apps to OS X. Few are gems, but some stand out from the crowd. In our fifth annual Lifehacker Pack for Mac, we’re highlighting the best downloads for better productivity, communication, media management, and more.
The Lifehacker Pack is a yearly snapshot of our favorite, must-have applications for each of our favorite 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 ourMac App Directory.
Simply put, Quicksilver makes everything you do on your Mac easier. At its simplest, Quicksilver launches apps via the keyboard. Once you get the hang of things 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 want to get a better idea of what Quicksilver 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.
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.
We recently re-discovered the greatness of Evernote and how to use it properly. Since then, it’s become an indispensable organization tool for many Lifehacker writers and staff. You can use it to keep notes, make to-do lists, create reminders, make a recipe book, save travel plans and itineraries, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Some might prefer the simple comforts of previously-mentioned Notational Velocity, but it all depends on your needs and how you like to work.
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’ll expand into full, complex sentences that you often use. 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 a nearly infinite amount of choices for a to-do app on your Mac, but Wunderlist is one of our favorites because it’s free, syncs to the cloud, and it’s 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
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.
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 $10 to remove all that stuff. Those who don’t want to support an app out of development should check up-and-comer AirMail, which might be our top pick by next year.
Adium doesn’t have a lot of complicated features and that’s part of the reason we like it. That said, you can customize it with all sorts of plugins and add pretty much whatever you want. 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’s the way to go.
Skype is the easiest way to video chat on your Mac, and pretty much 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 the better RSS reader: Reeder or NetNewsWire. Both offer a great feature set and look great. With the death of Google Reader, changes are in store for both. Changes or not, you’ll serve yourself well by downloading one or the other. Interestingly enough, NetNewsWire was free for Mac last year and now costs $20 ($20 if you pre-order version 4). Reeder, which cost $10 last year, you can now get for free. Funny how things change.
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.
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.
Plex doesn’t just give you a home media center, but also 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 just too large to send as-is over your connection, it’ll 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 $5 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 organize 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 $20.
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 $9.99.
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 2 GB for free, but it’s easy to get free space.
For BitTorrent clients we’re pretty split between uTorrent and Transmission. However, uTorrent wins out for having a ton 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 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.
OS X Mountain Lion came and went, but 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 right to it, too, so you don’t have to wait for your favorite apps to add support. While Growl was once free and now costs about $2, it’s worth the small amount if you really like your notifications.
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.
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.
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 favorites.
If you want to learn to code, you need a plain text editor. It helps to have one that highlights the syntax of your language to make your code easier to read. Some of the best options cost quite a bit of money, but Textastic rivals them in features and in cost. For only $6, you get syntax highlighting for a variety of languages, automatic saving, iCloud support, and versioning built right in.
Do you like how you get a little pop-up bar with options whenever you select text on an iPhone (or other iDevice)? PopClip adds that functionality to your Mac and then some. Instead of just getting copy and paste buttons, PopClip can speak text, search the web for your selection, and a ton more. If the built-in functionality doesn’t do it for you, PopClip offers tons of plug-ins so you can add what you need.
Albeit a little expensive ($10), Dropzone is also a little awesome. 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, and 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 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.
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.
This list is hardly exclusive. There are plenty of apps we mentioned last year, but decided to exclude this year to highlight some newcomers.
Photo by Perfect Vectors (Shutterstock) and Litz (Shutterstock).
via Lifehacker Lifehacker Pack for Mac 2013: Our List of the Best Mac Apps