Great Apps List - Mac

Here I am, sitting at my desk on a Saturday night, with nothing to do. I guess that means I will put on some cartoons and write about all the apps I use as a student and as a web developer to get my work done. The list below are applications I have installed on both my iMac and my Macbook Air and I use them all on a normal basis. Some are free, most are not. Some are from the App Store, others not. Some are old, some are new. You get the picture, here we go. I try to note how things sync together where relevant, which is important for us multiple-computer users.

Section One: General Applications

Clear - $7 - App Store

This is a pretty new one to the collection. I do not use it as a catch-all todo list, but I do use it for smaller lists, like things to pick up at Walmart or things I need to fix on an email template. Syncs via iCloud.

Why use it? Clear has an amazing interface that can best be described as "fun." It is strange to say that about something that is not mobile. It works really well for the small things - grocery lists, dream lists, errands to run. For homework or things to do at work, this is not the right app. Either way, if you buy Clear, you will find a use.

Chrome - free - Website

Still the daily browser for me. I cannot get away from it, I guess. Regarding extensions; I use AdBlock, Facebook Demetricator, JSONView, LiveReload, and Wallet. Syncs via Google Sync.

Why use it? I mean… Firefox on Mac? Safari? Chrome is getting bloated, yeah, but it is still the snappiest browser and the tabs interface is still one of the best out there. Safari's tabs are gross, and Firefox? Firefox is sadly still too slow. Also: I have noticed more and more issues with sites that are standards compliant in Firefox.

Google Earth - free - Website

I have a trajectory predictor in my list of personal projects and this really makes the whole visualization part worthwhile. I really enjoy how you navigate the world with it, even if the interface and graphics are not amazing.

Why use it? Honestly, Earth is not for everybody. It is really great for mapping based applications, like my trajectory predictor, thanks to its awesome KML support, but if you do not have the legs for flying, you may just want to stick with Google Maps, which we all know is still the best.

iA Writer - $5 - App Store

Using this right now, a good testament towards practicality. I use this for notes in class too. If you think in Markdown, it is a really great way to go. All the other "simplistic" writing apps are literally a rip-off of iA's software. It is pretty sad on them, but just get the original. Syncs via iCloud.

Why use it? Chances are that you have used Textedit or physical paper to write something down this past week. iA Writer is a solid application that does the same thing but syncs via iCloud and offers an incredibly well designed UI. If you have one of those knockoff apps, you are probably going to stick with that silliness, but if you are looking for a new place to write notes, learn Markdown and use iA Writer!

Wallet - $20 - App Store

Sadly, Acrylic Apps was bought up by Facebook for reasons that nobody really knows and Wallet no longer receives updates. I still love it much more than I love 1Password, and it is much better designed. It has some selective Dropbox sync conflicts, but in the end, still the best password manager out there. Syncs via Dropbox.

Why use it? It is hard for me to push paid software that no longer offers support (or any prospects of updates), but if you opened 1Password and felt sick to your stomach, or just have not found something else, Wallet is very elegant, syncs with other devices, and does not get in the way.

Mint Quickview - free - App Store

This is more of a neat toy than anything. I do not really desire to see how low my bank account balance is as much as I would like to see an empty email inbox. Mint Quickview is really well designed, showing graphs and charts along with all of those balances. It is pretty relaxed on the password policy, allowing for a PIN to be chosen as an alternative to leaving it open all day. It is a menubar app, which is a bit strange, but whatever.

Why use it? I mean, if you have got a bank account with a positive balance, you are in the minority of Americans, so feel free to show that off with charts and junk. Or maybe use it for knowing if you can afford the nicer plate of dinner. Remember that it is very pretty, but credit/debit cards still take days for some transactions so yeah.

Postbox - $10 - Website

When I saw that Postbox was only $10, I was a bit offended. I paid about $30 to get that on my computers. it is the best Mac email app out there and with Sparrow gone, there really is no competition ( Not really). It handles multiple accounts very well, and I have used it with at least three accounts since I have first had it. Email is still clunky, but at least clunky can be pretty here.

Why use it? If you have more than one inbox and want to keep things very neat and organized, I recommend Postbox. It is very well designed, handles archives and email folders nicely, and it tries to take the awkward ugliness that is email and makes it into something nice.

Propane - $20 - Website

I use Campfire for group chat and leaving a browser tab open all day is impractical. I am not a huge fan of Propane, but it is the best Campfire app for OSX out there. I have played with Flint for several months and it works, but I would not recommend it to anybody.

Why use it? Because keeping a tab open all day is really hard and the other Campfire apps for Mac do not work all that great. Notifications.

Rdio for Mac - $5/month - Website

I started paying for Rdio at some point after my freshman year and I have not turned back since. I used to pay over $20 a month for music, and as a college student that just was not practical. I get all the new music as it comes out and I really enjoy that. To this day, I use Rdio for several hours daily and I am using it right now to listen to some Stars.

Why use it? Unless you are using Spotify already, paying to subscribe to music is a really great idea. No ads, no pirating, and you can enjoy as much music - that you pick (no "radio" BS) - whenever you want. I would call that fair. Most major distributors have made their records available to stream, so you would not miss out on too much unless you have a very strange musical collection.

Things - $50 - App Store

The greatest to-do application to ever be written. There was this awkward period of about a year and a half where the world lost faith in Things because of its lack of proper sync, but when Things Sync went public, Things once again became the greatest. I have never forgotten a homework assignment I have used Things to manage and that is really saying a lot for somebody with memory-retention issues. Syncs via Things Sync.

Why use it? Because forgetting about homework or work assignments always has fairly drastic consequences. We live in a short-attention-span culture, and writing a task down in Things takes a second or two. Throw it in the inbox and add details later. Just keep it open and you will have to consciously choose to ignore tasks.

Tweetbot - $20 - App Store

I just got this one today, after realizing was pretty lame with its lack of Mountain Lion features. I use Tweetbot on my iOS devices and it is been the best Twitter application for a number of years now. The OSX interface is not the prettiest - it sticks to several design choices that were better suited for mobile devices - but the features makes the cost worthwhile. I had to tweak the display a bit to get it small enough to leave in the corners of my windows all day, but it is nice to have something modern there. Syncs via iCloud.

Why use it? Twitter addicts like myself really like to watch tweets come in all day. Tweetbot does this wonderfully on Mac and on iOS and Tweetbot is the only application that does this altogether so well. The interface may be interesting, but it is customizable until you find its place on your desktop. Pricy? Yes. They have good reason.

VMWare Fusion - $50 - Website

I do not really care to virtualize anymore (Linux days are long gone, folks), but this helps me get my Computer Science homework done without having to deal with an awful PC or their plastic-y keyboards. Fusion has done really well with Mac integration and it works very nicely when I do use it. I have recently upgraded to 8GiB of RAM so that I can leave Fusion open and forget about it (edit: not really - still hogs processor).

Why use it? If you need Windows for anything or have an unsatisfiable desire to run Linux, this beats wrecking your hard drive by partitioning and having to deal with bootloaders - which includes the boot camp one. I just installed Windows 8 for fun and can delete it when I get sick of its lack of a native start menu.

Section Two: Taskbar Applications

These tools sit in the taskbars of both of my computers and are great utilities I find myself using on a day-to-day basis.

Alfred - $24 - Website

The one tool I literally could not work without. The greatest way to share how useful Alfred has been is a screenshot of my usage:

I use Alfred to open applications, URLs, and do tons of other things. I use it so passively I could not even remember them (when I get on a Mac without option-space opening Alfred, I get frustrated). Some syncing compatibility via Dropbox.

Why use it? Well, to start, most of the features are free. Just try it out to get a feel for how much more quickly you can open things. I got the Powerpack, and it was worth every cent. Once you have it around long enough, Alfred is something you cannot work without.

Anvil - free - Website

This is one I am still trying out. Anvil is an interface to Pow that makes it really easy to host Rack applications and static sites locally. It is really well designed, and it actually makes me want to be a Ruby developer a bit more. It may even get me out of using PHP for personal projects, which is great because PHP is supposed to be dead or something like that.

Why use it? If you are a web developer looking for the best localhost experience, this is it. You might have to switch to Rack based apps for your smaller stuff (I used Sinatra to rebuild Fly Near Space). It may support PHP in the future, but I would not bet on that.

Caffeine - free - App Store

Caffeine is just a simple utility that keeps your Mac from going to sleep. It is nice when you are trying to show something off on your screen or need the light to work on something on your desk. Seriously.

Why use it? Sometimes the dimming / powering down of your screen can be annoying. Caffeine helps with that.

Characters - $3 - App Store

Characters makes it so I do not have go digging around for character entity codes online. Cost is easily justified, it saves me lots of time just with those silly arrow characters alone. Also helps me use trademark symbols on Twitter and Facebook when I want to be a prick about something. 10/10 would buy again.

Why use it? Having access to characters in your taskbar helps keep your mind focused when working on something that requires it. Googling character entities steals focus and time.

Cloud - free - App Store

Really simple screenshot sharing. It automatically uploads screenshots and places the URL in your clipboard. Easy to paste into chat windows. This is also bad, I have got caught pasting those in the wrong window at times and it was awkward. Remember, the free version only gives you 10 a day, but for the most part, you will be under that.

Why use it? It really helps with bug reports and trying to figure out what issues other people see on their screens. Or showing off. Or trying to make a point. Great for web developers for all of that. I guess normal folks may not need this.

Dropbox - free - Website

Dropbox would have to be the second thing I could not live without. I have always used it in the background, but ever since getting my Air, it has become a little lifesaver by keeping my important stuff in one place and updated. These days, I use it to keep my important documents, work code, my personal code, my schoolwork, Alfred configuration, and sites synced and backed up. I hope to eventually get a paid plan and keep my TV shows backed up, but ever since iTunes allowed you to re-download content, that may not even be necessary. They give out free space like candy, so Dropbox is a really great online drive to stick with.

Why use it? Dropbox can be everything from backup service to an online thumb drive. It does not lose stuff and it helps you keep your computers in-sync very well. It runs invisibly. It has an amazing web interface to access everything. The sharing feature is really tops.

Fantastical - $20 - App Store

This has not completely replaced for me, like it has for many more people but it certainly helps me keep track of dates much better. Fantastical is very well designed and great for a quick, weekly calendar view. The natural text entry for events is absolutely incredible. It also works with Alfred if you so desire.

Why use it? If you add lots of things to your calendar at the last second, this is the way to do it. Just a button press away from having your event written down, and probably thrown into iCloud depending on your setup.

Moom - $10 - App Store

Window management. This is one of those things I really do not notice anymore, but use constantly. I just set up some keyboard shortcuts so that I can resize my windows really quickly. I am fairly OCD about window size and centering so Moom keeps that in control.

Why use it? Window organization is a thing and Moom does a great job of it. Set up some keyboard shortcuts, like moving windows to a new screen, or shrinking them, or centering them. When you throw all the other windows in their place it helps you stay productive (somehow).

Livereload - $10 - App Store

LiveReload watches your web project folders for updates and then it tells browsers to update when your file has been changed. It is really nice when you can see changes as soon as they happen. It has lots of advanced features too, like automatic compilation of all the hipster CSS preprocessors, running shell commands on save, and other great things.

Why use it? Because saving and then moving windows to refresh is inconvenient and it takes away focus. Because SASS and LESS files should not have to go through multiple steps before you see the results. Because you can do all of this on multiple devices.

Tictoc - $5 - App Store

Tictoc is a simple app that makes it really easy to keep track of time spent on various projects for work. I lose track of time instantly after starting a project and Tictoc keeps that up in my taskbar. It does not have any advanced features, nor do I wish it did. It does everything I need it to very well.

Why use it? Sometimes keeping track of time does not need a full-featured solution like Billings. Sometimes it just needs a little tool that works well - Tictoc is that tool.

Section Three: Design Applications

At one point in time, I was a graphics design minor in school, which is why I keep most of these around. I just use the student edition of Creative Cloud now to avoid paying full cost for Adobe's software, as they tend to break too much to justify the full cost.

Illustrator - Website

Actually, I do not use Illustrator. I never do. No idea why it is on this list or both of my computers for that matter. Huh.

Why use it? If you make something on paper, Live Trace is an amazing way to digitalize it. Vector imagery is better for logos and other work that needs to scale up and down nicely. I do not need it that personally, but if you do any digital art, Illustrator is a worthy investment.

InDesign - Website

I use this for Graphic Design class several times a week. InDesign is the best for designing for print, sure. Not really my thing though, once I am done with the class, I will probably forget what bleeds and slugs are again so I will just leave it alone until I get paid to use it.

Why use it? InDesign is one of the best print design applications around. It has every option you could want for a project and the ability to get your work into the hands of the printer, however they want it. Steep learning curve, but worth it, if print publications are your thing.

Photoshop - Website

A strange blend of the best and the worst, Photoshop has sometimes been on my side, either breaking or helping me with design work. I do not design much on my own anymore, but it was fun while it lasted. I use it mostly to make some quick PSD adjustments for work, recolor images, or resize things very precisely.

Why use it? Because you have to or because you want to.

Pixelmator - $30 - App Store

This is the snappiest full-suite photo editor you can buy. It does all the little things Photoshop does really well - except for working with PSDs. Pixelmator does not have layer styles or any of that fancy stuff, so its purpose is not to design crazy artwork. Has iCloud compatibility, amazingly. I have never really used it, but I guess syncing pictures is nice.

Why use it? Pixelmator is a great editor for those who cannot afford Photoshop. You can learn plenty about design and image manipulation, as Pixelmator shares many tools in common with Photoshop. Pixelmator is a better entrance into the world of graphics than dropping cash on Photoshop.

Slicy - $30 - App Store

Slicy (formally Layercake) is an application by the same company who made Espresso. It takes a PSD file with annotated layer groups and exports those layer groups as files. Tricky to explain, but it makes turning PSDs into web sites much, much, much easier. No more hiding all the layers and trimming and reverting. It works for 97% of all the PSDs I throw at it and then I am done with those PSDs! The hardest part is dealing with poorly organized PSDs, which have to be reorganized, which can be a meticulous process.

Why use it? Slicy has a great place in the workflow of a web developer, especially if they work with a lot of PSDs. It also can watch files for updates, if you work on the design and development side of things.

Section Four: Development Applications

I am a web developer, a Javascript developer, and occasionally I work with some other languages. I have spent the past two years with a Mac trying to figure out the most intuitive way to get things done. I am convinced that I have selected the-best-of-the-best for what I do and stick with these ruthlessly.

Arduino - free - Website

The Arduino application is a small IDE and compiler/uploader for Arduino boards. Arduino does not have the best IDE ever, and I usually just code in Chocolat and use Arduino for its compiler and uploader features which are rather difficult to pull off on the command line.

Why use it? If you have an Arduino, this is the easiest way to get sketches on the board. It allows you to use external editors really easily. If you are just starting with Arduino, contains loads of example sketches that can be quickly uploaded to the board.

Chocolat - $50 - Website

Textmate 2 never really happened, but eventually I had a friend tell me about Chocolat in its beta stage, and I have used it as my main go-to editor since then. Chocolat has Textmate bundle support and an impressive set of its own features. People keep telling me to switch to SublimeText 2 or such, but why would I give up a proper menus and a proper application for that sloppiness? I have loved Chocolat since before I bought it and use it for Javascript projects, occasional C++ projects, and Arduino projects. I cannot use it for web coding since it lacks the autocomplete that I impulsively demand since I started with Espresso, but if you are looking for a real code editor - stop; this is it.

Why use it? If you are waiting for Textmate 2, I am pretty certain that this is it. It does not have every option to configure like Sublime 2, but why do you need that? Chocolat is an elegant Mac app that you can get work done in. New features on a regular basis.

Codebox - $10 - App Store

I got Codebox over the summer because I had a large iTunes gift card and wanted to get some neat apps. Codebox looked useful, and much to my surprise, it really is! I use it to hold snippets for work, personal projects, personal algorithms, and some schoolwork. If you save your file in Dropbox, it syncs via Dropbox.

Why use it? Because you have pieces of code that you are going to repeat in the future. Because you should have all of those pieces of code in all the places you go. Because consolidation and backing up these snippets may save your back someday.

Espresso - $75 - Website

Ever since I first had my iMac, I have used Espresso for all of my web coding. At first, I thought about going the Coda way, but a demo of Espresso fixed me up really quick. It has a proper interface (workspace instead of tabs), the best autocomplete for web I have ever used, elegant typography and syntax coloring, and Espresso is really good about getting out of your way so you can get stuff done. The built in FTP/SFTP compatibility is tops and I am so used to its elegance, that typical FTP/SFTP applications are rather offensive to me. My only complaint? How it will not place folders at the top of the working directory list (I tend to underscore-prefix things to circumvent that).

Why use it? Because Espresso is the best web code editor money can buy. Awesome autocomplete. FTP/SFTP baked in deeply. Awesome CSS helpers. Great add-ons floating around on the web. Durable for any and every web-based project.

GitHub for Mac- free - Website

Github for Mac is not the first graphical version control application for Mac, but by far, it is my favorite. I have played with the paid ones, which all disappointed me in the end. Github for Mac is really well integrated into and works very well for local version control. The app is updated constantly and it takes about 15 seconds to publish a project, with or without version history.

Why use it? Because important projects should be kept under version control. Github allows you to do that for free for open source projects, and for a very good rate for private projects. Also: it is really easy to host a site with Github.

Kaleidoscope - $40 - Website

This is not an application I use often, but when I need a comparison between two files, this is the first thing I open. Drag-n-drop any two compatible files and it instantly shows you the differences in a variety of interfaces, depending on what you are trying to do. My only complaint? That it cannot compare two plaintext pastes.

Why use it? Because sometimes in life, you need to compare two files with more accuracy than your mind has at 2am while cramming in on a project. Because seeing what your buddy did in that last commit on that giant file should be this easy.


There they are, 4000 words on my favorite Mac apps. I recommend them all for the reasons listed above and I recommend going for the paid versions if it is economically feasible for you. Most of these projects are made by smaller development teams that love what they do and should be supported for their great work. All of these apps work in Mountain Lion or they would not have made the list. I try to stick with things that sync when possible and these days that works out very well, even though they use very different sync services. I have not spoken a lot about apps that sync with iOS (some of the above do) because that is not as important as computer-to-computer sync is to me. Mac and iOS iCloud sync services take care of 90% of that need beautifully.

I hope this list has helped you find software that will help your productivity, your creativity, and your end product. They have been improving mine for years.