Must-Have Apps For Any New Mac [OS X Tips]


Little Snitch is one of the most useful apps your Mac doesn't feature out of the box
Little Snitch is one of the most useful apps your Mac doesn't feature out of the box

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 will play just about any media file you throw at it
  • 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.

  • Tom Kiss

    CyberDuck, really?! Is this like, 2004 or something?
    Transmit is the king of FTP on OSX.

  • Tom Campbell

    MPlayerX is also a very good video player, and its free.

  • SamuelBrock

    Perian is a swissarmy knife of codecs for QuickTime Player.

    MPlayerX is another open source media player that has better eye candy than VLC.

  • KeirThomas

    Doh, I forgot that one! Yes everybody, download Perian too.

  • Marek Netuka

    The (better) alternative to VLC is MPlayerX ( 

  • 69Voltage

    And I would have to say Plex is better than both.

  • relichd

    Plex is a total waste of hard drive space and time. For as long as it can’t playback DRM protected video I bought on iTunes, this has no place on my Mac…

  • Lee Hinderstein

    Get over it, I am a 20 year Mac veteran and I am getting sick of the Windows bashing,  Windows 7 is currently the most useable OS out there, Lion is the biggest piece of crap Apple has ever put out!  So I am stuck on Snow Leopard and if this is the direction Apple is going I will be a Windows convert.

  • Michael Scivally

    I appreciate you sharing but this has nothing to do with this article. The author gave one slight jab and after all this is a Mac-centric site. “Unlike with Windows, few add-ons are required.” I would call that the authors opinion. The article is also aimed at new Mac users. “Got a new Mac? You’ve probably realised that OS X provides an excellent out-of-the-box experience.” … “But there’s still some tools that most experienced Mac users download the minute they boot-up a new Mac.”  This says to me if your an “experienced Mac user” your probably already know some of the limitations and might not need to read this. I’ve used the Macintosh since its public conception and I read stuff like this to give newer mac users some ideas / things I might take for granted. Guess what I do the same thing for my Microsoft friends. Started using Windows with  it’s first public release also. Please explain to me how you getting hung up on one very short sentence helps any one of these new mac users. Do you expected them to run out and return a new Mac based on comments like yours? Nothing wrong this giving some helpful advice and sharing an opinion but being so bitter about something so small isn’t doing anybody any favors including you.

  • 69Voltage

    Seriously? Because of that? I use Plex flawlessly for movies, TV shows, and music I download from various sites. Also great for Hulu, TED Talks, Vimeo and other plug ins. Shows like The Daily Show, Colbert Report, ect. are also available.

    You are really missing out if you don’t use it just because you can’t play a video you got off of iTunes.

  • relichd

    Maybe so. The trouble is that most of the quality online streaming video channels are US only – so after I installed Plex and bumped into a few ‘sorry this video is not available in your country’ I just trashed the whole thing right away…

  • John Lehmkuhl

    A little sensitive are we? Sounds like you’re a convert already….

  • Erik Janssen

    Hmmm – why VMWARE Fusion over VirtualBox? The first one will set you back 50 bucks while the other one is for free.

  • Ramón van Geytenbeek

    Antivirus? Really? I have never had an antivirus app on my Mac ever and I have owned Macs for as long as I have been using computers. 

  • KeirThomas

    For the reasons I mentioned: running additional OS X installs and also running downloadable virtual machines. Not sure VirtualBox can do those two things, at least not without a lot of hacking. 

  • Jordan Clay

    You also need Handbrake,  It easily converts all your Video Files to MP4 so it can be dropped in iTunes and organized! 

  • Jordan Clay

    Well that definitely clears things up,  I would have Plex either if I ran into that.

  • Tymo Teusz

    And what about Parallels? Similar price like WMWare, but faster + coherence mode. This is my choice :-)

  • Fábio Teixeira

    I think mplayerx is better than vlc…
    Give it a try ;)

  • nanog6

    The only one thing that makes me keep using VirtualBox and avoid VMWare is I can configure my host-only virtual adapter easily. Try to do that in VMWare Fusion without ‘hacking’.

  • ZeeKazim

    I use it to play almost everything on my mac, while I haven’t used VLC more than a couple of times to test some files…

  • djrobsd

    Little Snitch is a total joke for paranoid schizophrenic Mac users… Remember those old Apple commercials bashing Microsoft for the whole cancel or allow thing?  Why the hell would anyone want to bring that to their Mac experience??!!