I think everyone has a set of applications that are absolutely essential to them. I’d like to list a few of the essentials and favourite apps that I use for OS X (I’ll do another list later for Linux). There are a lot of great applications out there… some open source and/or free, some shareware, and some commercial. I think each have their place and unlike some people, I don’t necessarily go for the open source and/or free ones first. I go for what fits my needs and if it works as I need, I’ll pay for it. If I can find something just as good (or better) open source, then I’ll obviously take that first.

Having said that, let’s get on with the list.

I’m going to break the list down by application/usage type:

Development Tools

By development tools I mean things like IDE’s, text editors, etc. Most of my development is in PHP (web design, web apps), with a little bit of perl, shell scripting, and applescript (sorta, still learning it) thrown in.

  • Zend Studio - an excellent PHP IDE written in Java. Although I prefer ActiveStates’s Komodo, there isn’t an OS X-native version (yet).
  • BBEdit - an excellent text editor with syntax highlighting, awesome regexp support, and lots lots more. A little expensive, but if you like the features it has, well worth it.
  • YourSQL - a good tool to create and manipulate SQL databases (open source).
  • MySQL Administrator and MySQL Query Browser from the MySQL developers. These are new(ish) tools (at least on OS X) but they work great for administering MySQL databases


Web browsers. Love ‘em or hate ‘em. Here’s a few I like:

  • Safari - of course. In Tiger it’s much better, although I don’t like the RSS support, but that’s just me. It’s my normal every-day browser
  • Firefox - great browser. The only browser I use under Windows, I don’t really care for the “feel” of it under OS X. Having said that, the web developer tools plugin is second to none and that in itself makes Firefox essential for debugging websites.
  • OmniWeb - I have a love/hate relationship with this browser… it uses the same engine as Safari and has some great features (per-site preferences, screenshot tabs, and some other cool features)… unfortunately, it’s kinda crashy under Tiger right now and it doesn’t seem like the authors are in a hurry to update it… sometimes it makes me regret that I put out money for it, but oh well

Video and Audio

I do all of my audio with iTunes. It does absolutely everything I need. For video, I primarily use QuickTime to view what it can, but I’ve found it doesn’t view everything. I try to avoid Windows Media Player unless I absolutely have to use it.

  • VLC - this is one wicked media player. I found some mpeg video files that wouldn’t play in WMP for OS X or in QuickTime; they’d only run in WMP on Windows and in some other third-party video viewer on Windows. They played perfectly in VLC. This is a recent addition to my must-haves, but after that, it’s definitely one to check out. It’s also open source and free.
  • MPFreaker - a program that inserts artwork and updates MP3 ID tags… it’s not free, but I really like this software as it makes managing my iTunes library a little bit easier… I know there are some freebie programs that are probably just as good or better, but I’ve been using this one for a while and really like it

Interface Customization

Coming from a Linux background where I can switch from GNOME to KDE to Englightenment and skin them any which way I want, the look of my desktop is important to me.. if for nothing else than to relieve some boredom since I look at it all day long. To that end, there are a few apps that help me manage because I think I’d go stir crazy or switch back to a fulltime Linux desktop if I had to stare at an unmodified Aqua all day long.

  • ShapeShifter - from the fine folks at Unsanity, this lets me change the look of the OS with themes
  • CandyBar - an easy-to-use and fast way to change icons for your desktop
  • LaunchBar - not really something to change the look of the desktop, but with a two-key combo, I can launch any application on the system, folder, music file, etc. Some people think that Spotlight makes LaunchBar obsolete, but I disagree. Spotlight is a great search tool, but LaunchBar beats launching an app from the Finder and is faster than Spotlight in returning what you want… an OS X desktop feels naked without it
  • Desktop Manager - this gives you virtual desktops and while from the site it sounds like it may not work too well, I’ve had no problems with it at all. Again, coming from a Linux background where I routinely have at least four active virtual desktops, each with something on it, Desktop Manger is a life saver and it feels wierd when I don’t have virtual desktops anymore.
  • PathFinder - not quite as essential as I had once thought since the Finder’s had a bit of an overhaul in Tiger, this is still a good Finder replacement. I don’t use it as a Finder replacement, but I do use it instead of the Finder a lot of the time as it can be customized some more and has some great “power user” features. Hasn’t been updated in a bit, but I’m looking forward to seeing what the next version will do
  • WeatherDock - I used to be a WeatherPop Advance user until I found this. Not only is it more accurate, it’s also much nicer looking with a desktop overlay and menu bar status… and just as importantly, it’s free

Networking Tools

From browsers to RSS readers to IRC clients… these are what I use:

  • X-Chat Aqua - an extremely well done port of the X-Chat IRC client to use the Aqua interface. X-Chat is all I use on Linux and I’ve tried a few other IRC clients for OS X and they all stink. X-Chat Aqua is the best of the bunch, it’s free, and very reliable… I live in IRC so I need something good
  • NetNewsWire Lite - I don’t have a problem with paying for software, but the Lite version of this good RSS reader works well enough for me and I don’t need the advanced features. For a while I was using NewsFire, but since it hit 1.0 and the author essentially said “thanks for the free beta testing, now I’m charging”, I’ve gone back to NetNewsWire Lite.
  • Unison - a good NNTP client. I’ve yet to find anything that comes close to Unison for news reading on OS X… this one works very well
  • Transmit - version 3 of this FTP client is a much needed refresh and it’s a pretty decent FTP client now. I’ve also looked at Yummy FTP and this looks like a really good FTP client too. Both are shareware, and since I’d already paid for Transmit, I haven’t bothered to look at Yummy much more than just to check it out… has some exceptionally nice features and in many respects is better than Transmit, but I don’t use FTP enough to shell out for another program (I typically use scp or rsync for most file transfers). The odd time I do need to use FTP I’m either using ncftp (installed via Fink) or Transmit
  • SSHKeyChain - a nice GU frontend to managing SSH keys. Absolutely essential for me since I can use my ssh keys now from within any terminal, BBEdit, and so on
  • AdiumX - an excellent open source multi-protocol instant messaging client. I use it for the odd MSN and Jabber needs, although i use iChat for my day-to-day IM. AdiumX is an extremely well done client, my only beef is it’s based in Gaim which I think is utter crap software due to the high number of security holes that have been found in it in the last year alone
  • SpamSieve - I use Apple Mail and it’s junk filters are ok, but nothing great… SpamSieve is an awesome spam filter. Makes using Mail so much nicer considering the high volume of spam I get.
  • GPGMail - a plugin for Mail to allow for the use of GPG encryption, signing, etc. (absolutely essential for me since I sign everything I send out)

Productivity Tools

By productivity I mean things like CRM, PIM, project management, word processing, etc. There’s a lot of stuff out there, and a lot of it is awful. Some is pretty good and I’m sure I haven’t found all of the good stuff, but this is what I use and like:

  • DayLite - the best CRM (Contact Relationship Manager) I’ve seen for OS X. Unlike the other tools for OS X, this one has power. It uses an SQL database for the backend which allows me to share my info between the desktop and laptop machines without any silly synchronization schemes. Hooks well with Address Book, and moderately ok with iCal (the 2.0 promises to have better integration). Extremely useful software although it’s a bit pricey at first glance… the features make the cost well worth it (but only if you have a need for the features that can’t be found in other CRM or PIM apps; for anyone who wants to share data in an organization, DayLite is a must-have)
  • Merlin - a project management app that allows for different views (Network, Gantt), budgets, resource assignments, file attachments, and more. A very useful app that goes a long way in helping me plan my week
  • DevonThink - an excellent all-purpose tool… great for taking notes, keeping copies of websites, organizing PDF’s (and making them text searchable). DevonThink is really useful for organizing text. I use it to keep electronic books and magazines, hints from macosxhints.com, weekly reports for work, system logs, etc. With the quick search engine it makes finding stuff a snap. The new PRO version promises to be a worthwhile upgrade, but a while ago they promised it would be a multi-client app, but I don’t think the first PRO version will have these capabilities, which is a shame.
  • NeoOffice/J - a port of OpenOffice.org for OS X. I’ve used OOo on OS X under X11, and let me tell you, NeoOffice/J is much nicer. Normally I use a text editor like BBEdit (or joe/vim in the terminal) for working with text, and I do have a copy of Microsoft Office which I use the rest of the time, but I often get files in OOo format, and using NeoOffice/J is much more convenient (and prettier!) than using OOo under X11. It’s also GPL and free, so the price is perfect.

Miscellaneous Needed Apps

The other stuff that I use/need that doesn’t necessarily fall into the above categories and I just don’t feel like breaking out into a bunch of new categories… =)

  • Fink - a package management system and ported “Linux” apps for OS X. They’re not really Linux apps, but they’re bundled open source applications to make for easy install on OS X. This is one of the first things I install on OS X… Fink is an absolute must have (easy access to apps like ncftp, joe, vim, nmap, ethereal, and a whole whackload more… you can even install KDE via Fink!)
  • SuperDuper! - the absolute best backup software for OS X I’ve ever laid eyes on. Like Carbon Copy Cloner, but so much better. I use this to create disk image backups of my drives.. these are true 100% perfect replicas of the original drive and have saved my butt a few times
  • TinkerTool and TinkerTool System - TinkerTool is for personal settings and allows you to tweak all kinds of things; TinkerTool System is for system-wide tinkering. TinkerTool is free, TinkerTool System costs a few dollars (not much, only 7 euros) and is well worth it with all the things you can do with it
  • Yasu - Yet Another System Utility; not a bad little tool. TinkerTool System and TinkerTool together do everything Yasu does and way more, but Yasu is a good tool if you don’t need all the power of TT and TTS. Great for cleaning caches, running the periodic maintenance scripts, etc.
  • GeekTool - this is an awesome tool that lets you put the output of commandline commands right on the desktop. It also does the same foor images and system logs. The author says it’s not fully compliant with Tiger and doesn’t have any plans for a short term release, so use it at your own risk. Having said that, it works wonderfully for me and I use it to view various logs that are “sticky” on the background… a great way to have logs displayed in near real-time without having a separate terminal open to tail them
  • MenuMeters - displays CPU usage, network throughput, memory usage, and other stuff in your menu bar.. very handy

And that’s my list. I’m sure there are heaps of great software out there that I’ve never even checked out before, but for what I need to do, these are the apps I am most often using and would have a hard time doing without. There’s probably a few that I’ve missed, but these are the ones I can think of right now…. regular apps are easy enough to see/remember, but it’s the little things that are preference panes, etc. that are sometimes easy to miss. If I think of more, or find some new stuff, I’ll be sure to update this entry.

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