10 Mac only apps I can’t live without

Mac owns a mere seven percent of the world’s desktop operating system market share (Windows has over 92%) and yet, it has some of the most functional and beautifully designed software ever developed by humankind.

While some software developers develop for multiple platforms, some develop only for Mac. Here is a list of 10 apps developed exclusively for Mac, apps that I love, apps which, if pried away from me, would make life feel less meaningful.


It’s difficult for me to express in words the love I have for this email client. Firstly, I am — like many of you — a massive Gmail fan, so not just any native Mac email client would do. It had to be a client specifically designed with Gmail in mind. Until Sparrow came along there were no good alternatives. Mailplane came close, but Sparrow changed my life, for the better. I used Gmail’s web app for years, but now that I’ve experienced Sparrow’s unified Gmail inbox for multiple accounts and built-in Dropbox support, I will get into a physical altercation with anyone that tried to make me use anything else. There’s a free and paid version. The paid version gets rid of the ads and lets you use multiple accounts.


If you asked me which is more indispensable, Google Docs or Gmail, I’d stare at you blankly. Unfortunately, until Google releases a native Docs client most of us are stuck with using Docs in a browser tab, or are we? Meet Fluid, the app that lets you create a real Mac app (or “Fluid App”) out of any website or web application, effectively turning your favorite web apps into OS X desktop apps. I can now launch Docs from Spotlight, place it on the Dock, Force Quit if I need to and run it as a full screen app in Lion. Think about web applications like Gmail, Facebook, Campfire and Pandora all running the same way. I opted for the paid version to use Fluid apps in full screen mode, but the free version is just as great.


Uninstalling an app on a Mac is easy. Just Trash it. Sadly that’s not really where the story ends. Often preference and application support files remain on the file system which can add up to lost disk space over time. AppCleaner does its very best to remove all remnants of an app from your system. It’s one of the most indispensable free apps I have.


Spotlight is great, but it can be better. One of the biggest ways in which Alfred excels is the way it can launch web searches directly from a keyboard shortcut. There’s no need to switch to your browser to search Google, Wikipedia and Amazon for anything. It’s the killer feature that makes it impossible for me to live without. You can also use the built-in Mac calculator and dictionary directly from Alfred. I use the free version, but if you get the paid version you can control iTunes, see and save your clipboard history and email people, all directly from Alfred. You can also extend Alfred’s functionality with third party extensions and global hot keys. Also check out Launchbar and Quicksilver to compare functionality.


My Dock has only three icons: Finder, Downloads and Trash. Well it used to have; now it has four. Everything I don’t want to display in the OS X Dock goes into Overflow. The ebb and flow of my OCD absolutely makes Overflow critical to my sanity. It’s free for 20 days, but you’ll have to drop a hefty US$15 to keep the party going. Alternatively check out Jumper.


When it comes to text editors on the Mac, BBEdit is king and TextMate is queen, but they both cost around US$50. I’ve come to love the free TextWrangler. Although I don’t use it primarily for development, it can do syntax highlighting and it has built-in FTP/SFTP support. It’s a brilliant text editor to have lying around and I’d feel incomplete without it.


You’ve got friends on Windows Live Messenger, Google Talk, Facebook Chat and if you’re old school, IRC. Adium consolidates communication across these services and many more into one application. There’s not much more I can say here, it’s pretty much the be all and end all for instant messaging clients on the Mac and, it’s free.


Is Reeder the best RSS reader of all time? You decide, but it’s fantastic and integrates swimmingly with Google Reader. If you’re invested in the Apple ecosystem it’s available on iOS too, so you’ll feel right at home on whichever iDevice you’re using it. I’m running an older free beta, but nowadays Reeder will set you back US$10. If you twist my arm I’d say the second best reader is NewsFire so check it out if you don’t want to pay for Reeder.


Of all the mac only apps I’ve listed here, Pulp is the only one that isn’t essential for GTD, but it’s great for kicking back and whimsically consuming news on your Mac. The app is gorgeous to look at and presents your RSS and pre-set feeds in a newspaper layout. You’ll have to think twice about spending US$10 on what is essentially just an RSS reader, but it sure is beautiful to look at and makes for great Sunday morning coffee reading.

Mac OS X Lion

I suppose this last entry is a bit tongue in cheek, but Lion is Mac only and I can’t live without it. I remember sitting around a table and announcing to my best friends who were mostly Mac users that I’ve finally left Windows behind. They were genuinely delighted to hear it and I remember them saying: “it will change your life”. I was dismissive, but a few years later I agree with them. It has changed my life. The single biggest element I’ve come to find indispensable is multi-touch gestures. I know the trend has caught on with Windows and third party hardware and drivers, but with OS X, gestures have become a core part of the experience and something I truly treasure.



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