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10 Essential Apps (6 Free) For Mac Newbies


A few months ago, I took the plunge, headfirst, into Apple’s world. I bought a MacBook Air and, for the first time since my family’s Apple IIe 25 years ago, I was regularly using something other than a Windows machine. While there were several apps that I installed that are also available on Windows, it was fun to discover some Mac-only applications. Here are the first 10 such apps that I installed. This list doesn’t include apps that were pre-installed on the Air, like iMovie or iPhoto. It also doesn’t include apps that can be found on Windows, which I’ll cover some other day.


1. Reeder

I have several dozen RSS feeds that I subscribe to with Google Reader, so I wanted a desktop client to help me enjoy those feeds. Reeder (yep, spelled with a double E) is the best RSS reader I’ve found yet, on any platform. It’s still in beta on the Mac, but works great, albeit with some missing features like feed management. It’s also available for iOS. While in beta, Reeder for Mac is free.


2. TypeIt4Me

TypeIt4Me is a text expander, allowing you to set up abbreviations which, when entered, will expand into words or phrases that you predefine. I use it to set up signatures, to enter phrases that I use frequently, and even to compose pre-canned responses to frequent email inquiries that I receive. TextExpander is a similar app, and gets more press, but TypeIt4Me does the trick for me, and is cheaper. If you use an iPad or iPhone, though, check your favorite apps to see if any of them have built in support for a particular text expander. TypeIt4Me is currently available for $19.99 in both the App Store, and from the developer’s site.


3. Twitter

While there is no official Twitter client on Windows, there is one for Mac. If you’re familiar with Twitter on iOS, it will feel a bit similar, as it was created by the same developer who created Tweetie (which became the official Twitter iOS client). It is elegant, allowing you to view just what you need, with windows sliding in and out depending on what you’re viewing. Twitter is free in the Mac App Store.


4. Sparrow

I’ve written about Sparrow previously. At the time, Sparrow was Gmail only. Since then, it has gained general IMAP support. For a full rundown on what makes Sparrow my favorite email client, on any platform, check out our previous review. Sparrow does have a light version, while the full version is currently $9.99 in the Mac App Store.


5. Caffeine

If you are using a MacBook, in one of its incarnations, then Caffeine can be very handy. By default, the MacBook screen dims after a predetermined period of time. Caffeine installs an icon in your system menu bar. When clicked, your screen will stay fully illuminated until you click the icon again. This is great for certain activities, such as watching movies. Caffeine is free in the Mac App Store.


6. Seashore

If you do any image work, you’ll need an image editor on your Mac. I did try out the free trial of Pixelmator, and could see myself going back to it, but for now the free app Seashore does the trick. Seashore is based on GIMP, but adds a much nicer user interface while not having all of GIMP’s functionality.


7. Espionage

If your Mac is a notebook, you might feel uncomfortable leaving important apps on it. It would be nice if there were a way to lockdown apps, similar to how we can lock down and encrypt Evernote on Windows. You can use sparse bundles on the Mac, or, to make it easy, you can use Espionage. Espionage allows you to password protect apps on your system, encrypting their databases. I’ve used it lock down Evernote and Sparrow on my Air, so I feel a bit better putting sensitive data on a machine that is an easier target for thieves. With Sparrow, a password box pops up when starting the app, and the app is automatically relocked when it is closed. Evernote doesn’t work quite as smoothly, since the clipper remains behind on the toolbar, requiring you to manually relock the app. Espionage costs $34.95 from the developer’s site.


8. Alfred

Alfred is an app that I really haven’t taken full advantage of. Think of it as Spotlight on steroids, since it allows you to use keystrokes to find and launch apps, perform web searches, execute math calculations, and more. Right now, though, I’m using it much how I used Spotlight, and haven’t really scratched the service. The interface is a bit nicer than Spotlight’s interface, popping up a larger box, right in the middle of your screen. It also remembers your most-used apps, so it does a good job at guessing what you want to launch, and putting that first in your results. Alfred is free, although you can also purchase a power pack that adds additional functionality. You can find it in the App Store, and on the developer’s site.


9. Deeper

If you want to dig . . . well, deeper . . . into your Mac’s settings, check out Deeper. Deeper is a free app that allows you to enable and disable hidden functions of Finder, Dock, QuickTime, Safari, iTunes, Login window, Spotlight and many of Apple’s applications. You can do things like modify the location of the arrows in the scroll bars in OS X, display hidden files and folders in Finder, and set an animated desktop background. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as Deeper offers a whole host of customizations. Deeper is free.


10. Littlesnapper

I purchased Littlesnapper back when I was looking for a screen capture tool, and it was on sale for dirt cheap in the Mac App Store. Littlesnapper acts as a scrapbook of sorts, allowing you to collect and organize your screenshots. You can also annotate and edit your screenshots. You may also want to consider Snitch, which seems popular with users. Littlesnapper is quite a bit more expensive then when I bought it, listing for $29.99 in the App Store, and on the developer’s site.


There you have it- my top ten if you’re a Mac newbie like me. What did I miss? Let us know in the comments which apps you consider to be the most essential.