Got a new Mac? You’ve probably realised that OS X provides an excellent out-of-the-box experience. Unlike with Windows, few add-ons are required. There’s a great browser, for example, and full PDF support. But there’s still some tools that most experienced Mac users download the minute they boot-up a new Mac. Here they are, listed for possibly the first time…
This is another great tip from Keir Thomas, author of Mac Kung Fu, a new book containing over 300 tips, tricks, hints and hacks for OS X.
- Growl: Adds a simple notification system to OS X so that apps can report when they’ve finished a task, for example. Plugins are available for many built-in OS X apps, and lots of third-party apps support Growl too. Available for $1.99 from the App Store.
- ClamXav: Adds on-demand virus scanning to OS X. Unlike other antivirus programs, ClamXav doesn’t remain present in memory. You can run it to scan any files that look suspicious, such as those you’ve downloaded from a less reputable website. Available free of charge via the App Store. (See also Sophos Antivirus for Mac, which provides resident scanning and is free for home users.)
- Xcode: Apple’s own programming toolkit and integrated development environment is free of charge via the App Store for anybody who purchased OS X Lion. It allows you to create apps for OS X and iOS and also create Dashboard widgets. Available free of charge from the App Store, although beware: it’s a multi-gigabyte download.
- The Unarchiver: Significantly expands OS X’s knowledge of compressed file formats, specifically adding in the ability to expand RAR, 7-zip, LhA, and StuffIt formats. Expands files in a fuss-free way just like the built-in compression tool. Free of charge via the App Store.
- Little Snitch: OS X already has a powerful firewall protecting your computer from inbound connections, but Little Snitch adds outgoing firewall protection to OS X. This lets you control which apps have access to the Internet and thereby potentially put a block on malicious software or just stop software from “phoning home.” Little Snitch can be purchased for $29.95 from the author’s website.
- Transmission: There are a variety of BitTorrent clients for OS X, but this is perhaps the most fully featured and is frequently updated with new features. It’s a free of charge download from the developer’s website.
- Cyberduck: File transfer program that works with FTP, SFTP, WebDav, Amazon S3, Google Storage (including Google Docs), Microsoft Azure, and Rackspace Cloud Files. Can be purchased via the App Store for $23.99, but a free-to-try “donationware” version is available from the website.
- iWork: Apple’s own office suite, consisting of Pages (word processor), Numbers (spreadsheet), and Keynote (presentations). All are packed with features plus the ease of use and excellent design expected of Apple products, but, perhaps crucially, the apps also integrate 100 percent with OS X Lion’s features, such as Versions. There are versions of the iWork apps available for the iPhone/iPad too. Each component of iWork for OS X is purchased individually from the App Store for $19.99.
- VMwareFusion: Creates virtual computers within software that let you run Microsoft Windows, Linux, or even additional installations of OS X Lion. Fusion is useful if you need to run some Windows software or games but not enough to warrant a full BootCamp installation of Windows, and you can also access pre-built machines sometimes offered for download. VMware Fusion is currently available for $49.99 from the VMware website.
- iTerm 2: Those who work at the command line might come up against limitations of OS X’s built-in Terminal program. iTerm 2 is a third-party replacement that offers many more features plus increased compatibility when making remote connections. Free download from the developer’s website.
- Adium: Instant messaging client that supports just about every chat protocol in existence and integrates fully with OS X’s Address Book. Free download from the developer’s website.
- VLC: Your Mac’s support for video and audio files is pretty good but there’s still a handful of files that catch it out. The solution is to use VLC, which is an entirely separate player application that supports just about everything. It’s a free download from the developer’s website. (See also the free of charge Windows Media Components for QuickTime add-on, which brings support for viewing Windows media files to OS X, and Perian, which adds support for various other media file formats to QuickTime and is again free of charge.)
Know of any more essentials? Add them to the comments below.