Here you have it – our ultimate list of must-have Mac apps. From email clients to system utilities, time savers to productivity boons; on this page you’ll find the best Mac software used by MakeUseOf staff and readers alike.
We will continue to update the list on a regular basis, so be sure to add your favorites in the comments and we’ll consider them the next time we update this page.
Last updated: September 29, 2016
An open-source, cross-platform audio editor that can handle most common audio tasks without breaking the bank.
If Audacity isn’t cutting it and you want a polished, lossless audio editor built from the ground up for macOS, Fission is a solid option.
A completely free kernel extension for macOS that allows you to pass audio between applications by acting as a virtual audio device. Essential for recording system audio when paired with Audacity (above).
One of the best free alternatives to iTunes for listening to local media, Clementine supports a huge number of audio formats and external services including Spotify and cloud storage services like Google Drive and Dropbox. You can also transcode music, manage podcasts, and enjoy visualizations while listening.
Another completely free alternative to iTunes, with a focus on bringing music that’s scattered all over the web into one app. Supports Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube, Amazon Music, Google Play, and more.
Spotify changed the game when it first launched, bringing unlimited streaming music to desktops and mobiles for a fixed fee. You can also stream for free, if you’re not bothered by adverts.
Included with your Mac, iTunes is the only way to access the Apple Music streaming service which is one of the best alternatives to Spotify.
Safari is the default browser installed on every Apple computer. We think it’s the best browser for most Mac users, especially where energy usage is concerned.
Google’s own browser, Chrome is a powerhouse for those who need developer tools, extensions or multiple profiles for separating work or play.
An excellent alternative to Chrome, Firefox has focused on slimming down over the past few years after complaints it had become bloated. If you haven’t tried it for a while, it might be time to give it another go.
Also consider: Opera
Basic and included as part of your operating system, Mac Mail is still a very popular client. While it’s a bit crusty and lacking in new features compared to some of the more adventurous clients; smart mailboxes, plentiful plugins and in-built stationery are just a few reasons many still prefer it.
AirMail 2.0 ($9.99)
AirMail is probably the best Gmail client on the Mac, with a beautifully simple aesthetic and full support for labels and starring, among other Google features.
Mail Pilot 2 ($20)
The second version of Mail Pilot continues the “to-do list” approach to email in a bid to make you more productive by focusing on what’s most important. A new feature called Dash provides an at-a-glance overview of new emails, outstanding conversations, and responses that are overdue.
Nylas N1 is a bit of an oddity in terms of an email app. It’s both a premium sync service and an open source roll-your-own extensible email client. If you’re happy to compile it yourself and run your own sync engine, you can enjoy one of the best email experiences completely free of charge (otherwise it’s $7 per month).
Reeder 3 ($9.99)
The only desktop RSS reader you will ever need, Reeder disappeared for a short while before appearing again in public beta in early 2014. The latest version is more striking than ever with a redesigned interface, new themes, more supported services, and the same premium reading experience.
Justin raved about ReadKit and for good reason. This powerhouse reader works with all major RSS providers and “read later” services, features a new clutter-free reading mode and an interface reminiscent of the original Reeder.
If your budget looks something like $0, Vienna is as good as it’s going to get. Fortunately, you get much more than you pay for with this capable Open Reader compliant RSS app.
Run Windows on your Mac for free with VirtualBox, though you’ll still need a valid Windows license to get anywhere.
VMware Fusion ($79.99)
If Virtualbox doesn’t cut it, VMware Fusion is another great option with better support for demanding applications, like games – though it’ll cost you just shy of $80.
Parallels Desktop ($79.99)
Parallels is a virtualization environment that lets you run windowed Windows applications on your machine without having to switch to a virtual desktop first.
Wineskin and WineBottler are two (separate) free programs that let you create “wrappers” for Windows applications that run via a compatibility layer on your Mac.
Photos & Images
Don’t dismiss your Mac’s default image management application just yet. Its basic image editing features and filters are fine for small edits, plus it can handle RAW files and recognize people, places, and objects since the macOS Sierra update.
Photoshop CC ($20/month)
Affinity Photo ($80)
Apple’s “App of the Year” for 2015, Affinity Photo delivers a powerful image editing package for a one-off fee that makes it a solid budget alternative to Photoshop. Work with Photoshop files, edit RAWs straight from your camera, use adjustment layers, and a whole lot more.
AstroPad isn’t an image editor but an app that turns your iPad or iPhone into a full-fledged graphics tablet. It works best when paired with an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil stylus, fusing the intuitive touch controls with the precision of a high end stylus.
Evernote is probably the most popular, widely used and best-supported note-taking solution in the world. Recent changes mean that the free version is limited to just two devices, but it’s still a note-taking powerhouse.
The closest Evernote competitor is OneNote, and it’s completely free. Access your notes from any device, save files and sketches, clip web pages and collaborate with others — all without Evernote’s two-device restriction.
Apple’s own Notes app was a bit useless until it received a makeover in El Capitan and iOS 9. Now it resembles more of a cut-price Evernote, and while it lacks many of the features you’ll find in dedicated rival products it’s a solid choice for users of the macOS and iOS ecosystem.
Fantastical 2 ($50)
The number-one alternative to Apple’s basic Calendar app, Fantastical allows you to schedule appointments by typing a description of your event. It enjoys excellent support, and has integration with Apple’s reminders system and a separate iOS app as well.
This one also comes with Mac OS X by default. Not only does it sync automatically with iOS devices and integrate nicely with Apple’s own calendar solutions, it even works with IFTTT these days.
If Apple’s own Reminders app doesn’t cut it, you can’t do much better than Wunderlist, a completely cross-platform system that’s easy to use and powerful to boot.
Appearing on iOS first, Clear is a slim and easy to use to-do list manager which places an emphasis on aesthetic value and mobile access.
If Evernote is overkill, Simplenote might just be what you’re looking for. Free, lightweight and cross-platform; it also gives Apple Notes a run for its money.
Do you use Apple’s in-built text to speech services? Whether you rely on the accessibility feature or you’re just feeling lazy, Dictater makes the feature even better by allowing you to pause, skip, replay, and even read along (plus it’s free).
Code & Text Editors
Everything you need to start writing apps for Apple devices, including macOS, iOS, tvOS, and watchOS. The development tools are free to download, but you’ll need to pay a yearly fee and enroll in Apple’s developer program to list your apps on their various storefronts.
Sublime Text ($70)
If you need a serious text editor (and if you have to ask that question, then you probably don’t) you should consider dropping $70 on Sublime Text.
Just like Sublime Text, TextMate is a highly capable text editor for those who write code for a living. You should probably try them both before settling on a favorite.
TextWrangler is the completely free fork of BBEdit. Though it omits a few of the advanced features found in its bigger brother, it’s still the best free text editor on the platform.
A document browser and code snippet manager, Dash is designed to provide fast-access to reference materials for a huge number of programming languages.
If you need a simple distraction-free writing environment for free, FocusWriter is the app for you. For such a lightweight and minimal app there’s a surprisingly long list of features (but you don’t have to use them all).
iA Writer ($10)
Looking for something a little more capable? iA Writer is another distraction-free word processor, coming in both macOS and iOS varieties. Among the key features is auto-markdown support, syncing over iCloud and support for importing Word documents.
Ulysses prides itself on two things: excellent markdown support and a distraction-free environment. It’s one of the most powerful writing tools on any platform, and it does away with many of the distracting features found in the bigger packages while still providing an impressive array of writing, productivity, and organization tools.
Despite the eye-watering price, if you think you’ll get enough mileage out of the whole Office suite then you can’t do much better than the Home & Student Edition. It includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and (free app) OneNote for a one-off fee.
Looking for an office suite but can’t justify the $150 Microsoft is asking for their budget version? LibreOffice might just do the job. The open source word processor, spreadsheet tool, and presentation app lacks polish but it’s completely free and much less temperamental than most browser-based alternatives.
A few staff members at MakeUseOf swear by Scrivener, the cross-platform and highly capable written project manager. It’s popular among screenwriters and novelists for its efficient workflow and rich feature set, and we’ve produced a guide to help you get started.
If you’re looking for a diary application, then look no further than Day One. It syncs over iCloud or Dropbox with your iOS devices, allowing you to update your journal regardless of where you are.
If you’ve bought a Mac in the last few years, there’s a good chance you have a free copy of Pages, Apple’s equivalent to Microsoft Word. Despite lacking much of the Microsoft feature set, it’s a competent word processor and even includes collaborative features.
BetterTouchTool allows you to execute a huge number of commands using gestures on a touchpad, mouse and even Leap Motion. It now uses a “pay what you feel” donationware model, allowing you to pay anywhere from $3.99 to $50 for a license.
Dropzone 3 ($4.99)
Just like the name suggests, Dropzone is a small icon that lives in your menu bar and when you grab and drag files it offers a variety of oft-used functions, locations, applications and even actions to perform.
In the style of Dropzone, Unclutter provides a place to store files at the top of your screen. It also adds support for pasteboard clips and notes, speeding up your workflow by providing you with fast access to everything you need.
macOS Sierra allows you to unlock your Mac using an Apple Watch, but if you haven’t got an Apple Watch you can use your iPhone instead. Download both Tether for Mac and iOS to automatically unlock your Mac when you approach.
Part Spotlight, part Quicksilver but with more functionality than both, Alfred is an advanced launcher for OS X that lets you do more with your files, applications and online service. Check out some of the more advanced ways you can put it to use.
Text expansion is a wonderful thing. It allows you to add shortcuts for often-used phrases or words, correct your most common typos and get more done with less effort. TextExpander is the gold standard for text expansion on the Mac, complete with a companion iOS app to boot.
A must-have app for anyone still using Apple’s in-built Calendar app, Remind Me Later provides a Fantastical-like interface for adding events by simply typing. For example, “meeting with Justin on Thursday at 10 @30m” would create a new entry that reminds you half an hour beforehand.
iClip is a clipboard manager that keeps a copy of everything you copy to your Mac’s clipboard so you can quickly access it again. Discreet and highly customizable, iClip is perfect for casual and power users alike.
Security & Privacy
Integrated into Apple’s Safari browser is a password management solution called iCloud Keychain. The service syncs with iOS devices and other Macs, so you have access to your credentials wherever you go. If you rely on Safari then this might be perfect for you.
Despite the steep price tag, 1Password is a highly recommended password manager that stores and generates passwords and other sensitive information.
If 1Password’s steep price has put you off, LastPass is technically free to begin with. You can use it for free on any one device (including your Mac) but when it comes to syncing and accessing your passwords elsewhere, you’ll have to go premium for $1 per month.
Just like 1Password, except open source and built around the KeePass standard; this free password manager stores your sensitive information in an easy to use (if a little barebones) package.
Your Mac can get malware, but it’s not a particularly common occurrence. There aren’t too many security apps your Mac needs, but MalwareBytes is a nice free safeguard to have around.
Little Snitch ($35)
Block unwanted connections with Little Snitch, a dedicated firewall tool for your Mac. Not only does it show you exactly who your computer is talking to, it allows you to control what is said on a per-app basis.
Browse securely, access region-locked video and other blocked material using Hotspot Shield. The basic package is slow but free, and the paid plans aren’t badly priced.
Prey is laptop and mobile tracking software that can be activated remotely once your device goes missing. The free plan allows for a limited number of reports to be generated at a set period, including capturing images using the webcam and uploading desktop screenshots, among others.
Unlike Windows users, Mac users don’t have the option of using 7zip. Luckily, The Unarchiver can open just about any compressed archive including .ZIP, .7Z and .RAR.
Use Geektool or Nerdtool (separate projects) to display various information, terminal commands, images, text documents and more on your desktop. While Geektool has more potential, Nerdtool is probably easier to use.
Find out exactly which files are eating your available hard drive space with DiskWave, a must-have for most Mac owners – but particularly those with limited solid state drives.
Bartender 2 ($15)
Mac menu bar looking a little messy? Use Bartender to tidy it up and hide the icons you don’t want to see, so you actually notice the rest.
Using your smartphone’s personal hotspot to get some work done on the go? TripMode restricts which apps and services have network access, saving you precious data. A must-have for remote workers.
If you have a Retina MacBook Pro, or a new 5K iMac, some older apps will have pixelated UI elements. Free app Retinizer makes it all better.
Stop your Mac from going to sleep with Amphetamine, a small free utility that lives in the menu bar. This is a great replacement for Caffeine, which no longer works on modern versions of macOS.
If you need to get rid of it, you need AppCleaner. It completely removes all preferences and system files when uninstalling apps, to the point where it can reset many shareware trials.
This free app takes any Dashboard widget and transforms it into a standalone app, freeing it of the shackles imposed by Apple’s neglected other desktop. Pin it to the dock, drag it around, minimize it – and then disable the Dashboard altogether.
Open any media file or stream with VLC, the world’s best media player.
Want to use your iPad or iPhone as a second Mac screen? Duet Display lets you do this better than any network-based alternative ever has with virtually no lag. The Mac client is free, but you’ll need to pay $20 for the accompanying iOS app.
Turn your Mac into an AirPlay receiver and stream your iPhone or iPad’s screen to your laptop or desktop computer. If you’re looking for a way of mirroring the screen, you can also do so using your Lightning cable and QuickTime.
A robust, database-driven media server that automatically scans incoming media and keeps your collection organized.
A universal plug and play (UPnP) and DLNA-compliant media streamer with full transcoding ability, PS3 Media Center allows you to stream pictures, music, video and web sources.
Convert videos with a click using Handbrake, the go-to free video transcoder for Mac, Windows and Linux.
Kodi (formerly XBMC)
Every Mac owner needs a BitTorrent client at some point, and Transmission is probably the best of the bunch. Not only does it support a web UI and magnet links natively, it’s regarded as a “trusted” client by many private trackers.
Tired of not being tired after a long day’s work? f.lux attempts to mimic the Earth’s natural light cycle by dimming and tinting your screen depending on the time of day. Perfect for late night web addicts who have trouble sleeping afterwards.
Use one mouse and keyboard to control a whole army of Macs, perfect if you have a MacBook and iMac or Mac Pro to deal with.
What are your favorite Mac applications?