Buying a MacBook is like getting a ticket to a land of fantastic new software. In addition to all the free apps that Apple gives to every buyer, both the Mac App Store and independent developers provide tools that make using your computer easier — and a little more fun. Our updated, must-have list includes an app that remembers your passwords, apps to keep track of your notes and to-dos, and even an app that makes it easy to create awesome GIFs.
Mac power users know that the fewer times you use your mouse, the faster your computer experience will be. That's why there's an app like Alfred, a feature-filled app launcher that lets you launch applications, search the Web and initiate workflows with just a few keyboard clicks. It's like Apple's Spotlight search on steroids, allowing you to pull up the details of your favorite movie, calculate the time in a different country and save a link to Pinboard in the same amount of keystrokes as it would take to find a file.
GIFs are a mainstay of the Internet, allowing us to take our favorite video clips and watch them, looping over and over, ad nauseam. Thanks to GIF Brewery, you no longer need advanced photo or video editing skills in order to create your very own GIFs. The app lets you import video clips and easily set the start and end points, add captions and adjust the frame rate and color palate. Within seconds, you'll have a high-quality GIF that's just dying to make the front page of Reddit.
We're currently living in a music lover's dream: Almost any song is available at your fingertips whenever you want it. Spotify is the largest cloud-based music application, allowing you to forgo your personal audio collection in favor of a seemingly infinite online selection. The Spotify app brings all of your favorite tunes and carefully crafted playlists to your Mac, giving you full reign over more than 20 million songs.
1Password to rule them all: Given how many accounts we have, it's getting harder to keep these username and password combos straight, let alone differentiated (you are using a different password for every account, right?). AgileBits' secure app lets you keep all of your passwords in one place, so you can create a single master login password with the maximum security. The app lets you store credit card information to auto-fill forms, and it keeps track of your security questions for different sites. You get Dropbox and iCloud syncing support, and for a few extra bucks, mobile apps to take your passwords on the go.
This Retina display-optimized app provides a front face for accessing Evernote's popular note-taking and storage service. While the app's design lacks some finesse, it does simplify note-taking, capturing quick tasks and saving documents as Web pages. The process of searching through notes is now simplified, so all you need to do is tell it what you want in plain language — for instance, you can tell the app you want to search for "notes with PDF." All of this info is then synced to the cloud, so all of your devices have access to the same data. Step up to the premium version to add annotations and markup ($45 per year). If you're stuck in the Microsoft camp, the company's OneNote software offers similar functionality, also for free.
Task management apps are a dime a dozen these days, but few match the sheer simplicity of Realmac's Clear. There's not a million options to get lost in; you start it, type in your tasks and swipe them away as you complete them. Clear lets you rearrange them in order of importance — indicated by that handy red-yellow gradient — and set due dates for time-specific tasks. iCloud syncing, as well as iPhone and iPad apps, give you the same easy access on the go.
Flexibits, the developer of Fantastical, calls the app "the Mac calendar you'll actually enjoy using," and darned if it isn't right. In a lot of ways, this calendar replacement reminds us of Siri. For instance, you don't click specific days and times to set appointments. Instead, you just type your sentence in plain English, and the program figures out what you're trying to schedule. Fantastical can work with Calendar, iCal, BusyCal, Entourage or Outlook. While Fantastical's functionality somewhat overlaps with that of Clear, we preferred Clear for simple daily tasks, and Fantastical as a robust appointment system.
If you find yourself needing to leave your Mac's screen on for an extended period of time, but you're tired of messing with your screensaver or turn-off-display options, then you need some Caffeine. This tiny little app runs in OS X's menu bar (and can even start automatically when the operating system launches). Tap the coffee icon to "fill" the cup, and your Mac's screen will stay on indefinitely — no screensaver, no dimming, no turning off. When you're done, tap the icon again to flip back to your normal display settings.
Where did all that money go? What the heck are you spending your monthly paychecks on? How the heck are you going to have any funds for that big vacation coming up? Your finances can give you a lot of questions; iBank 5 is a (semi-expensive) app that's designed to give you a few answers. Connect your bank accounts, and you'll be able to update the app with all your latest transactions just by pressing a button. And once you have the raw details, you can use the app to more easily track your spending patterns, create budgets and even notify you of big bills that are coming up. While iBank 5 isn't as good as having your own personal accountant, it's a lot better than nothing.
If you're a big video connoisseur, or if you're always finding that you have to convert your videos to make them playable (or streamable) to all of your devices, then you're going to want Handbrake on your Mac, pronto. This is one of the best OS X apps for video conversion, period. It's detailed enough to give power users plenty of options to play with, but it's also simple enough in its core functionality that even newbies will be able to figure out how to convert a video file from one type to another. Best of all, it's completely free.
Don't just let your iPad or iPhone sit on your desk or nightstand while you're working. With Duet Display, you can turn your other Apple devices into secondary displays for your Mac desktop or laptop. Let your iPad serve as a second screen for your work. Or, if you don't want to squint, tap your iPhone to interact with your Mac in new ways. Duet Display helps you get the most out of all of your Apple hardware, making this app well worth its not-so-insignificant price.
We'd be surprised if you haven't heard of this super-popular cloud storage service. Here's the gist: Install Dropbox, and you'll get a free 2GB of cloud storage to play with. The app dumps a simple Dropbox folder onto your Mac, and anything you drag into there will be synchronized with the cloud. You can head over to Dropbox's website to access these files remotely (or download them to a separate device manually). Or, if you have multiple computers, anything in your Dropbox folder will be synchronized across all the other systems the app runs on. It's as easy as that — and cross-platform, too.
We've messed around with a lot of VNC services, and Google's Chrome Remote Desktop is the best and easiest tool for accessing your computer from afar. If you're sitting at work and need to do something on your home desktop or laptop — assuming its on — then Chrome Remote Desktop makes it very, very easy to interact with your remote system as if you were sitting right in front of it. You don't have to memorize your home system's IP address or any of that; a simple PIN authentication is all you need to gain access to your remote system's mouse, keyboard and desktop.
VLC media player is a powerful media playback app from the nonprofit VideoLAN group. Resolutely open source, the team has ported VLC to OS X, Windows, Linux, Android, iOS and more. What sets this media player apart is its ability to play — or stream — almost any non-DRM file you throw at it, all without requiring the installation of various codec packages. Have an old audio file, camera footage or other piece of arcane media? VLC can get the job done.
If you still don't like the thought of switching to all Web-based email, then you should give Mailbox a try. This handy little app, created by Dropbox, is currently in beta for OS X. We love its accessibility and simplicity. It's easy to archive or delete incoming messages, and it's even easier to have the app remind you to follow-up with particular messages whenever you need the friendly nudge. The app synchronizes perfectly with its iOS or Android variant, and it works with both Gmail and iCloud accounts.