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Welcome to our ultimate list of must-have Mac apps. From email clients to system utilities, from time savers to productivity apps, on this page you’ll find the best Mac software you should be using.
We’ll continue to update the list on a regular basis, so be sure to tell us about your favorites in the comments!
Jump Ahead: Audio | Backup | Browsers | Calendars and Lists | Code and Text Editing | Email | Image Editing | Instant Messaging and Social Media | Miscellaneous | Notetaking | Office | Reading | Security and Privacy | System Tools | Timesavers | Video | Virtualization | Window Management | Writing
This old Mac favorite is a serious recording tool for beginners and enthusiasts, and it’s free for all Mac users to download. You can record audio, play virtual instruments, and access the Apple loops library of royalty-free sounds with the app.
Download: GarageBand (Free)
Audacity is an open-source, cross-platform audio editor that can handle most common audio tasks for free. Should you choose it over GarageBand for music production? Our GarageBand versus Audacity comparison will help you decide.
Download: Audacity (Free)
Clementine is one of the best free alternatives to iTunes for listening to local media. It supports a huge number of audio formats and external services including Spotify, Google Drive, and Dropbox. You can also transcode music, manage podcasts, and enjoy visualizations while listening.
Download: Clementine (Free)
Harmony is another powerful alternative to iTunes. It can play music stored on your Mac and also bring music that’s scattered all over the web to a single location. The app supports Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube, Google Play, and more.
Download: Harmony (Free, licensed version available)
Vox is a stylish free media player with a focus on high quality codecs like FLAC and DSD. Thanks to its compact menu bar option, it’s easily one of the best Mac menu bar apps out there.
Download: Vox (Free, premium subscription available)
Time Machine is your Mac’s native backup solution. It’s sturdy, reliable, and accessible from the menu bar. If you haven’t got around to backing up your Mac, it’s time to set up Time Machine.
Carbon Copy Cloner
As good as Time Machine is, you’ll find third-party solutions that are even better. They can give you all the advanced options you need, and Carbon Copy Cloner leads the pack in this area.
Download: Carbon Copy Cloner ($40, trial version available)
If you want a bootable clone of your hard drive, you can get one for free with SuperDuper. The app is fast and easy to use. If you want to schedule backups, run user scripts, and perform other advanced tasks, you’ll need to upgrade to the premium version.
Download: SuperDuper (Free, premium version available)
Safari is the default browser installed on every Apple computer. It’s the best browser for most Mac users, plus there are plenty of useful extensions to make Safari better.
Google’s own browser, Chrome, is a powerhouse for those who need developer tools, extensions, and separate profiles for work and play.
Download: Chrome (Free)
This free and open-source browser is an excellent alternative to Chrome. It’s fast, streamlined, and lighter on system resources than Chrome. If you haven’t tried Firefox in a while, it might be time to give it another go.
Download: Firefox (Free)
Calendars and Lists
The calendar that ships with your Mac pales in comparison with more feature-filled third-party apps, but it’s still a good app to work with.
Calendar supports the use of natural language. You can pair Calendar with Itsycal to view and create events from the menu bar.
Despite its steep price, Fantastical continues to be the number-one replacement for Apple’s basic calendar app. It integrates with Apple Reminders, has a today widget, and also a dedicated iOS app.
Download: Fantastical ($50, trial version available)
Like Calendar, Reminders comes with macOS by default. Use it with Siri to make a shared shopping list you can control using your voice.
If Apple’s own Reminders app doesn’t cut it, you can’t do much better than TickTick. It has fast become a user favorite across both desktop and mobile for features like smart lists, task notes, attachments, and voice input.
(Another much-loved lists app, Wunderlist, while still functional, is all set to go away. That’s why we haven’t included it on our list, as much as it was tempting to.) But for other choices, check out our comparison of OmniFocus vs. Things for task management.
Download: TickTick (Free, premium subscription available) [No Longer Available]
NotePlan is a one-of-a-kind app that comes across as a readymade digital Bullet Journal. It lets you create, view, and manage tasks, notes, reminders, and events in a single, easy-to-use interface.
Download: NotePlan ($20, trial version available)
Code and Text Editing
Xcode has everything you need to start writing apps for Apple devices, including macOS, iOS, tvOS, and watchOS. The development tools are free to download. For a yearly fee, you can enroll in Apple’s developer program to list your apps on their various storefronts.
Download: Xcode (Free)
Visual Studio Code
Microsoft’s extensible open-source code editor is perfect for scripting, editing HTML, or even Markdown.
Download: Visual Studio Code (Free)
Atom starts off as a basic text editor that you can customize as you please using the add-on packages available. It’s a great choice if you’re looking for a cross-platform solution or if you want a nice Markdown editor for Mac.
Download: Atom (Free)
This document browser and code snippet manager gives you fast access to reference materials for various programming languages.
Download: Dash (Free)
Mail is among the less adventurous email clients available for macOS, but it’s free and works well. We recommend that you polish it up with a few visual tweaks and make it more powerful with the Mailbutler extension.
If you want a smart-looking email client with smart features like automatic email sorting, quick replies, and natural language search, install Spark. It has an iOS client too and supports cloud syncing of accounts, settings, and signatures.
Download: Spark (Free, premium subscription available)
Kiwi for Gmail
If you want your Gmail experience to be identical both on the web and on the desktop, get Kiwi for Gmail. It works with the popular scheduling plugin Boomerang.
The lite version of Kiwi limits you to one Gmail account. With a premium subscription, you get access to multiple accounts and Google Suite apps as native desktop clients.
Download: Kiwi for Gmail (Free, premium subscription available)
You can ignore the rumors of Thunderbird’s death and install this no-nonsense email client that has been around for ever. It’s quite customizable, especially when you pair it with the right add-ons.
Download: Thunderbird (Free)
If none of the free options above appeal to you, there’s another powerful and popular client you can take a look at: Airmail. It offers Markdown previews, snoozing, keyboard shortcuts, and trackpad gestures among other features. It’s a pity Airmail doesn’t come with a free trial.
Download: Airmail ($10)
Don’t be quick to dismiss your Mac’s default image management application. It comes with all the basic features and filters you need to edit photos and turn them into beautiful printed products.
Photos can handle RAW files and recognize people, places, and objects for you. You can also extend the app’s capabilities with powerful extensions like Pixelmator and Affinity Photo.
Adobe Lightroom Classic CC
Lightroom Classic CC is the ultimate photo editing and management app for the pros. If you don’t prefer subscription pricing, we have a few Lightroom alternatives for you.
Download: Adobe Lightroom Classic CC (Subscription required, trial version available)
Affinity Photo is a well-planned, well-designed image-editing package for a one-off fee that makes it a solid budget alternative to Photoshop. You can work with Photoshop files, edit RAWs straight from your camera, use adjustment layers, and a whole lot more with Affinity Photo. Its sister app Affinity Designer makes a great alternative to Adobe Illustrator for vector work.
Download: Affinity Photo ($50, trial version available)
Pixelmator Pro competes with Affinity Photo for the top spot as the best Photoshop alternative. It has many of the same features found in Adobe’s pride and joy, except you can use it forever with a single payment.
Download: Pixelmator Pro ($40, trial version available)
If you’d rather go the free and open-source route, GIMP is the most obvious choice. It comes in a macOS-flavored version with RAW support and a range of photo-editing plugins.
Download: GIMP (Free)
SketchBook is the best free drawing app for artists and designers. It has support for graphics tablets and similar input devices. Once you sign up for a free Autodesk account and install the free SketchBook app, you’re ready to start doodling.
Download: Autodesk SketchBook (Free)
Inkscape is one of the best vector graphic design platforms on the Mac. Cross-platform and open-source, it’s the choice of many designers, illustrators, and web comic aficionados the world over.
Download: Inkscape (Free)
Instant Messaging and Social Media
Your search for a good-looking, lightweight Facebook Messenger client with a focus on privacy ends with Caprine.
Download: Caprine (Free)
If you want the best full-featured Twitter client there is and are willing to pay for it, install Tweetbot. It supports the Dark Mode introduced in macOS Mojave and integrates with various third-party services like Pocket and Bit.ly.
Download: Tweetbot ($10)
Bring all your communication into a single interface with Franz. It supports every service from WhatsApp, Messenger, and Skype to Gmail, Twitter, and Slack. You can even run multiple instances of the same service, such as two Gmail accounts.
Download: Franz (Free)
If you’re using macOS Sierra or later, you already have access to Siri via the menu bar, dock, and Spotlight.
Do you use Apple’s in-built text-to-speech service? Dictater improves that feature by allowing you to pause, skip, replay, and even read along. It hasn’t seen an update in a while, but it works fine.
Download: Dictater (Free)
Every Mac owner needs a BitTorrent client at some point, and Transmission is 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.
Download: Transmission (Free)
Mac menu bar looking a little messy? Use Bartender to tidy it up and hide the icons you don’t want to see and make the rest easier to find. Try Vanilla for a cheaper alternative.
Download: Bartender ($15, trial version available)
Waltr gives you one of the best seamless ways to sync music and other media with your iPhone wirelessly. That means no more struggling with iTunes.
Download: Waltr ($40, trial version available)
You have a few ways to turn any website into a desktop app for your Mac and Fluid is the best of the lot.
Download: Fluid (Free, premium version available)
Apple’s own note-taking app has shaped up to be a surprisingly strong competitor to the likes of Evernote and OneNote. The lack of export options, Markdown support, and a few other features dull its shine a little. But Apple Notes is still a solid choice if your life revolves around macOS and iOS.
Evernote is probably the most popular and best-supported note-taking solution in the world. Its Mac client is not the best notes app there is, but it’s still the ideal option for Evernote users. Of course, given the service’s now-toothless free tier, you have reason to ditch Evernote altogether.
Download: Evernote (Free, premium subscription available)
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. Unlike with Evernote, there’s no two-device restriction to deal with here.
Download: Microsoft OneNote (Free)
If you like the simplicity of Apple Notes, but the lack of essentials like Markdown, tags, and text export bothers you, get those features with Simplenote. The app is lightweight, clutter-free, and cross-platform. By popular demand, Simplenote now comes with checklists and a distraction-free mode, too!
Download: Simplenote (Free)
Bear is the notes app everyone is raving about, and with good reason. It has the polish and the power to impress. Bear’s switch to a subscription model was a turnoff for many users, but if subscription pricing doesn’t bother you, you’ll get along well with Bear.
Download: Bear (Free, premium subscription available)
iWork (Pages, Numbers, Keynote)
Apple’s native office suite, iWork, can prove to be quite capable and likeable once you stop comparing it to Microsoft Office. It has three apps: Pages (for word processing), Numbers (for spreadsheets), and Keynote (for presentations).
Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition
Despite the high price, if you think you’ll get enough mileage out of the whole Microsoft Office suite, this starter edition is a good place to begin. It includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for a one-time payment.
Download: Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition ($150)
Looking for an office suite but can’t justify the $150 Microsoft is asking for their budget version? LibreOffice is as good an option as iWork for the price of free. It’s open-source and includes a word processor, spreadsheet tool, and a presentation app.
Reeder is only desktop RSS reader you’ll ever need. It has the best interface, great themes, and customizable shortcuts. It also supports a wide range of services to give you a premium reading experience. If Reeder’s $10 price tag stopped you from getting this gem before, now it won’t—Reeder is absolutely free!
Download: Reeder (Free) [No Longer Available]
If you want a classic Thunderbird-like look or prefer an open-source RSS client, Vienna is a good option that gives you both. Thunderbird also has an integrated RSS reader, by the way.
Download: Vienna (Free)
Security and 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, Keychain might be perfect for you.
1Password is a stellar password manager. It not only generates and stores passwords, but also secures other sensitive data such as credit card and identity information. Despite drawing flak for its switch to subscription pricing, 1Password continues to be a must-have for many Mac users.
Download: 1Password (Free, subscription required)
If you want a password manager that’s free to use on all your devices, give LastPass a shot. For $3 per month, you can get extra features like group password sharing and advanced 2FA options.
Download: LastPass (Free, premium subscription available)
If you don’t like LastPass or subscription pricing, or if you want a cheaper 1Password-like solution, get the unlimited version of Secrets with a one-off payment. The app has a free version, but that’s quite restrictive, with support for only up to 10 items.
Download: Secrets (Free, premium version available)
OnyX is one of the best free tools to detect and fix common macOS problems. This all-purpose system maintenance tool will help you keep your Mac in top shape. It’s helpful for deep system tweaks and cleaning up caches.
Download: OnyX (Free)
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. And there are several reasons why you should upgrade to Malwarebytes Premium.
Download: MalwareBytes (Free, premium version available)
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 also allows you to control what gets said on a per-app basis.
Download: Little Snitch ($45, trial version available)
You can set up a virtual private network with Apple’s built-in networking tools. But if you’d rather have an app-based VPN solution to browse securely and access blocked or region-locked content, try hide.me. It’s fast, gives you 2GB data a month, and maintains no logs of your online activity.
Download: hide.me (Free, premium subscription available)
Prey is laptop- (and mobile-) tracking software that you can activate remotely if your device goes missing. You can use the free plan in combination with FindMyMac to overcome a few limitations of the free tier. Of course, instead of that, you can sign up for one of the premium subscriptions to get the best of Prey.
Download: Prey ($10, free and premium subscriptions available)
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. It’s one of the Mac apps you wish Apple had preloaded.
If you want a file-compression utility that supports multiple formats and has password encryption, try Keka.
Download: The Unarchiver (Free)
Stop your Mac from going to sleep with Amphetamine, a small utility that lives in the menu bar. This is a great replacement for Caffeine, which no longer works on modern versions of macOS.
Download: Amphetamine (Free)
If you need to get rid of an app without leaving any traces, you need AppCleaner. It removes all preferences and system files while uninstalling apps, to the point where it can reset many shareware trials.
You can use AppCleaner to restore an app to its default state. To do this, uncheck the app name from the list of files found when you run the app and go ahead with the deletion of the remaining files.
Download: AppCleaner (Free)
Have trouble sleeping after working at night? Let Night Shift auto-adjust your screen to a warmer hue, to simulate the day’s natural light cycle and help you get a better night’s sleep.
f.lux came long before Night Shift and works in the same manner. It offers users a more customizable experience, which is better for power users.
Download: f.lux (Free)
Duplicate File Finder Remover
Duplicate File Finder Remover gives you a quick and easy way to scan your Mac’s hard drive or any folder on it for duplicates and delete them in a snap. You can also preview similar folders, and for a small one-time fee, you can get rid of these or merge them.
If you want fine control over the scan settings and are willing to pay for it, Gemini is the best option available to you.
Download: Duplicate File Finder Remover (Free, premium version available)
Disk Drill is a pro at chasing down lost files and recovering them for you, but it does a lot more than that. You can also use the app to analyze disk space, free up storage, delete duplicate files, protect and back up your data, and watch disk health. If you want Disk Drill’s complete set of features, give its Mac App Store version a miss.
If you want a dedicated app for disk space analysis, DaisyDisk is a great choice.
Download: Disk Drill (Free, premium version available)
Using your smartphone’s personal hotspot to work on the go? TripMode restricts which apps and services have network access, saving you precious data. It’s a must-have for remote workers.
TinkerTool gives you point-and-click settings to make useful changes to macOS. For starters, you can add a Quit option to the Finder menu and change the default save location and file type of screenshots.
Download: TinkerTool (Free)
BetterTouchTool is worth getting for its customizable keyboard shortcuts and trackpad gestures alone. If you add support for key remapping, text expansion, and window management, you have the ultimate productivity app for your Mac.
Download: BetterTouchTool ($9, trial version available)
With Dropzone, you can install apps, copy/move files, shorten URLs, share files via AirDrop, and do a lot more. What’s so great about that? You can take care of those tasks from the menu bar! Dropzone also gives you a temporary place to stash files for quick access.
Download: Dropzone ($10, trial version available)
Spotlight not cutting it for you? Switch over to Alfred. It’s an advanced launcher app that lets you control files, applications, and online services from a single location. Ensure that you download Alfred from its official website; the Mac App Store version is out of date.
Download: Alfred (Free, premium upgrade available)
For similar tools, take a look at more Spotlight alternatives.
Next to Alfred, Keyboard Maestro is a must-have app if you aspire to be a macOS power user. You can use it to create macros for pretty much any set of macOS functions. Clipboard management, text expansion, iTunes control, app launches, Share actions, mouse-click automation—Keyboard Maestro can do it all for you.
Download: Keyboard Maestro ($36, trial version available)
If the text expansion feature built into macOS isn’t enough for you, TypeIt4Me can step in to give you a better option. It’s not as well known as the pricier alternatives of TextExpander and Typinator, but it does a good job. Of course, if you use an app like Alfred or BetterTouchTool, you already have powerful text expansion features at your fingertips.
Download: TypeIt4Me ($20, trial version available)
QuickTime Player is handy if you want to make quick screencasts, trim audio and videos, and record your iPhone’s screen. It’s one of the most useful default Mac apps.
Open any media file or stream with VLC, the world’s best media player. Don’t miss VLC’s top secret features!
Download: VLC (Free)
If QuickTime’s limited codec support trips you upr and VLC isn’t right for you, mpv makes an excellent alternative to both video players.
Download: mpv (Free)
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.
Download: Duet Display (Free)
AirServer turns your Mac into an AirPlay receiver and lets you stream your iPhone or iPad’s screen to your laptop or desktop computer. If you’re looking for a way to mirror the screen, you can also do so using your Lightning cable and QuickTime.
Plex is a robust, database-driven media server. It automatically scans incoming media and keeps your collection organized.
Download: Plex (Free, premium subscription available)
Convert videos with a click using Handbrake, the go-to open-source video transcoder for Mac. It’s also available on Windows and Linux.
Download: HandBrake (Free)
Kodi (formerly XBMC)
The world’s best media center makes the perfect place to collect and view all kinds of digital media. The good-looking interface doesn’t hurt. Kodi is one of the must-have Mac apps if you’re an entertainment junkie.
Download: Kodi (Free)
Run Windows on your Mac for free with VirtualBox. Keep in mind that you’ll still need a valid Windows license to get anywhere.
Download: VirtualBox (Free)
If VirtualBox doesn’t cut it, VMware Fusion is another great option with better support for demanding applications like games. It doesn’t come cheap though.
Download: VMware Fusion ($80)
Parallels Desktop Lite
Parallels Desktop Lite lets you run windowed Windows and Linux applications on your machine. You don’t even have to reboot your machine or switch to a virtual desktop first. The app also supports Modern.IE virtual machines and can be a good testing ground for macOS versions too.
Download: Parallels Desktop Lite (Free, subscription required)
The Lite version above has a few restrictions, such as missing Bootcamp support and no file sharing from the virtual machine with macOS. To overcome these restrictions, you’ll need the full-featured Parallels Desktop. You can opt for a licensed version of the app or pay for an ongoing subscription.
Before you make a choice between the two apps, read the official comparison of Parallels Desktop Lite and Parallels Desktop.
Download: Parallels Desktop ($80, trial version available)
Trying Wine for the first time. Installing a Windows app onto a Mac is an eerie feeling!
Fingers crossed! pic.twitter.com/cAQF1un5ca
— Just Zaalbeth (@Zaalbeth) April 17, 2016
Wine lets you create “wrappers” for Windows applications that run via a compatibility layer on your Mac. It’s not the perfect solution available, but it comes in handy for certain apps when you don’t want to run them on a virtual machine. PlayOnMac, Crossover Mac, and Porting Kit are other options you can consider to get similar functionality.
Download: Wine (Free)
Spectacle is a free, no-nonsense way to switch between various window sizes and positions with keyboard shortcuts. It’s lightweight and easy to set up. Spectacle doesn’t add to menu bar clutter; you can hide its menu bar icon and summon it from the background with a shortcut or with Spotlight.
Download: Spectacle (Free)
With Magnet, you can snap windows to create custom tiled workspaces best suited for the task at hand. The app works with various window sizes including halves, quarters, and thirds. If you use multiple displays, Magnet has support for those, too—for up to six of them.
Download: Magnet ($1)
Do you need advanced window options like custom snap areas and app-specific snapping sizes? Head straight for BetterSnapTool. You don’t need the app if you already use its equally terrific sister app, BetterTouchTool. The latter has built-in window snapping functionality among other features.
Download: BetterSnapTool ($3)
Typora’s beta tag is misleading. The app is stable and reliable enough to go live, plus, polished and easy to work with.
A sleek interface, live Markdown previews, stats, import/export options, a focus mode—you get all this and more with Typora. Mind you, feature rich does not equal clunky and cluttered in this case.
Download: Typora (Free)
If you want a clean, capable, distraction-free text editor with WYSIWYG Markdown support, you’ll love Byword. It gives you much-needed writing basics like a word counter, typewriter and focus modes, and iCloud sync. But it also ensures that your focus isn’t pulled away by too many knobs and buttons. If sidebar access to drafts is a must-have for you, give Byword a miss.
Download: Byword ($11)
Ulysses prides itself on two things: excellent Markdown support and a distraction-free environment. But there’s much more to it than that. For five dollars a month, you’ll have access to an impressive set of writing, productivity, and organization tools.
Download: Ulysses (Free, subscription required)
A few staff members at MakeUseOf swear by Scrivener, a cross-platform software for writing drafts and managing lengthy writing projects. It’s popular among screenwriters and novelists for its efficient workflow and rich feature set.
Download: Scrivener ($45, trial version available)
If you’re looking for a diary or journal application, Day One is the way to go. But there’s no escaping that many of the best features of Day One are now hidden behind a premium subscription. With a monthly payment, you can keep unlimited journals, draw in them, add unlimited photos, sync across devices, and do a lot more.
Not willing to shell out for an ongoing subscription to Day One? Then your best option is to pay a one-time price for Journey.
Download: Day One (Free, premium subscription available)
You’re Spoiled for Choice With Mac Apps
After that mammoth list of apps, it’s now time to discover our top choices for Mac menu bar apps.