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.
Literature and Latte's Scrivener is a must-have application for any serious writer. Scrivener is way more than just a text editor — it's a tool for crafting stories, organizing books, planning characters and capturing notes for your latest writing project. Best of all, Scrivener takes care of the formatting for you. So whether you're writing an article or a feature-length screenplay, you can stop worrying about line justification and spacing, and use your mind for what really matters: content.
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.
You don't need to spend hundreds of dollars on a photo-editing application in order to get the advanced features you've come to expect. Pixelmator is a $30 app that can hold its own against the big boys, with features like layering, effects and customizable keyboard shortcuts. If you're not ready to drop the big dollars on a big-name photo editor but cropping and resizing in Preview just isn't cutting it, Pixelmator will give you everything you want and more.
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.
Even though the security experts tell us we should constantly lock our computer, it's such a pain to constantly type in that dreaded password. Knock is a simple little application, with a companion iOS app, that allows you to unlock your Mac by knocking twice on your nearby smartphone. Although nothing beats the security of a secure password, Knock is an excellent added layer of security for people who tend to leave their computers unlocked.
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.
When your computer is working properly, it's easy to forget how much is going on under the hood. But all you want are answers when your apps start slowing to a crawl and the cooling fan is blowing at full speed. iStat Menus puts all of your critical Mac information directly in your menu bar, allowing you to monitor things like your computer's internal temperature, CPU usage, network connectivity and disk usage. If there's a specific app that's hogging all your memory, it's easy to quickly quit the app and get your computer back to normal.
One of our favorite Mac-only tools is CloudApp, a supereasy way to share screenshots and other files. A review in Apple's Mac App Store calls this tool "Simplicity Personified," and we agree — its elegant design is typical of Apple's aesthetic. Once installed, a tiny cloud icon lives in your Mac's menu bar. Drag any file to the icon, and it gets uploaded to CloudApp's servers. A link to the file is automatically inserted into your clipboard — all you need to do is paste it in an email or instant message, and you're off. The best feature is Cloud's screenshot auto-uploading, which makes sharing jokes and software bugs a breeze. Users of the Free version are limited to 10 shares of up to 25MB each, while users of the Pro version can send an unlimited number of 500MB files.
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.
When you install a new program, ever wonder who it's talking to? Unsavory developers can sneak spyware onto your system that calls home periodically, sending potentially identifiable details about you and your Internet activities. Little Snitch can help with all of that. While a firewall keeps people on the Internet from getting onto your system, Little Snitch can prevent your system from getting out onto the Internet. After installation, the program will warn you each time an application wants to connect to a website — which you can deny or allow, as you wish.
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There are so many apps that vie for a spot in your menu bar, but there's only a finite number of space before those icons start crowding out the drop-down menus. Bartender solves this problem by allowing you to create a second menu bar that collapses to hide the icons you don't need displayed at all times. Do you love Chrome but hate that little bell icon it adds to your menu bar? Hide it with Bartender, and leave more room for at-a-glance system monitoring from iStat Menus.