Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.
So you bought your first Mac. Congratulations! After you’re done admiring its sleek, shiny exterior, it’s time to get down to the business of installing applications and customizing OS X. To help you get started, we have come up with a common list software you should be on the lookout for, along with recommendations for each type.
For now, we’re assuming that you’re transitioning to a Mac from a PC. Even if the Mac is your first computer ever, you’ll need most of these apps sooner or later. One last thing — you can speed up the app installation process for free and trial software with GetMacApps.
The web is where all the action is, and to surf the web, you need a browser. We recommend sticking with Safari, which comes bundled with your Mac. It’s lightweight, fast, and if you use an iPhone and iPad you can share bookmarks, Reading List and tabs via iCloud between devices.
If you use Chrome, Firefox, or Opera on Windows, you may simply prefer to switch over to its Mac counterpart, but we still recommend trying Safari. If you can, avoid using Chrome on Mac as your primary browser until Google fixes the Chrome problems that wreak havoc with your Mac’s battery life.
If you decide to go with Apple’s native browser, customize Safari to make the best of it. You can also bring many of your favorite Chrome and Firefox features to Safari.
Depending on whichever cloud storage service you use right now, you may feel inclined to just get its desktop client. That’s great! You don’t need a new cloud storage service just because you have switched to a new computer or operating system. You could experiment with third-party desktop clients for that service, but remember that they’re seldom free, while the official client usually is.
If you are interested in jumping ship, iCloud Drive is the most obvious choice on OS X. iCloud is tightly integrated into the Apple ecosystem and designed to play nice with the other apps in it, and you’ll get 5GB free when you sign up. Here’s our guide to iCloud Drive setup.
@kwiltj Been there man. Lost some gold as well. Sign up for the iCloud Drive and keep your most important stuff there.
— Spalding, John (@seasonneverends) April 7, 2016
If you haven’t used a password manager ever, why not start with Apple’s iCloud Keychain. It’s already there on your Mac, and setting up Keychain is painless. You go to System Preferences > iCloud > Keychain, log in with your Apple ID and password, and follow the onscreen instructions.
Once you set up Keychain, it does a good job of saving every last password you create when you’re using your Mac or iOS devices like iPhones and iPads. Passwords are backed up to your iCloud account, so you can retrieve them anytime in case something goes kaput. Here’s everything you need to know about Keychain.
Keychain is not a full-featured password manager, so you might prefer to install a third-party password application anyway. If you already use password manager like LastPass or RoboForm, it’s best to install its Mac client. If it doesn’t have one, it’s time to explore some other options.
okay iCloud keychain
i’ll figure you out later
— ? (@progducto) March 22, 2016
If you want an OS X password solution for use with Android (iOS works too) that’s truly free and secure, try the open source KeePassX. Among the paid options, 1Password ($64.99) is the most popular choice and it looks like 1Password is worth its hefty price.
Dashlane is another good password solution. It comes with a free plan, but you’ll have to cough up $39.99 per year if you want features like web access to your passwords, cloud backup, and all-important device sync.
I use Sticky Password ($29.99/year) on my Mac and I’d definitely recommend it for its simplicity and ease of use. I started out with Sticky Password’s free plan and after a couple of months using it, I paid for a one-year license. The Lifetime license now costs $149.99, and I’m hoping to bag it when I can get a nice discount.
Jump right into installing VLC, the free and open source media player that plays everything.
If you also want a dedicated music player, try VOX Music Player. It’s lightweight, powerful, and free. Be sure to install the VOX Player add-on to control VOX using the media keys on your Mac’s keyboard.
Don’t dismiss OS X’s default multimedia player, QuickTime Player, just yet — it’s underrated. Apart from playing media, QuickTime Player actually performs several handy tasks like movie recording, screencasting, and audio recording (for free!). You can even record video straight from your iOS device — just in case you ever need to do that.
In case you use Evernote, but are not a fan of its desktop version, you could opt for one of its third-party clients, of which Alternote seems to be the most popular. Unfortunately it’s not free like the official client, and will set you back $6.99. Be sure to research it well before you take out that digital wallet.
OS X’s mail client, Mail, is good (and getting better), but it’s a long way from perfect. A third-party client can give you several added benefits. Having said that, Apple Mail’s integration with other Apple services and apps makes a pretty good case for using it as your primary desktop email client. If you decide to give Mail a shot, you’ll want to install these five Mac mail plugins.
If you have moved over to Inbox by Gmail and want to use it on OS X, you’ll have to go with the unofficial client Boxy ($6.99) for now; it comes with a 14-day trial. If you’re a Thunderbird regular, try the Mac version, or you could experiment with the highly-customizable Nylas (free).
There are a few really good paid mail client options. Leading the way with those is CloudMagic, which is already a user favorite on mobile devices. It now has a Mac client, priced at $19.99. Airmail ($9.99) is another wonderful alternative among the paid email apps.
Instant Messaging & Voice Calling
Messages is the default OS X instant messaging client, and it’s great for chatting with OS X and iOS users. It also allows you to chat using other IM services like Google Talk, AIM, and Jabber. I have noticed that if you’re using these other services, iMessages doesn’t get updated with the messages that were sent to you when you were offline or when the app was closed.
If you want a dedicated third-party IM client, Adium (free) is the way to go on OS X.
For voice calling, OS X’s in-built app (FaceTime) is good, but it allows you to communicate only with other OS X and iOS users. So you will need a third-party application for voice and video calls to people on other platforms.
If you’re used to Skype, stick with Skype’s Mac client. If you prefer Hangouts, Google’s Chrome version of Hangouts is the closest thing you’ll get to a decent free client. Willing to pay up for a better Hangouts application? Check out Hangouts Plus ($9.99). [No Longer Available]
There are a couple of new messaging apps on the scene: Franz and Parrot. Both of them look promising. Franz supports several popular services including Google Hangouts, Slack, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger. Parrot supports only Hangouts for now.
Whether it’s Mac, Windows, or Linux, you have to factor in quite a few things to pick the office suite that’s best for you.
Your Mac already comes with an office suite — iWork. It has Pages for word processing, Numbers for spreadsheets, and Keynote for Powerpoint presentations. iWork will serve you well, but it might take some getting used to. You can always use Google’s Docs, Sheets, and Slides as a backup.
If you’re a regular Microsoft Office user, you might not be willing to switch to a different office suite. In that case, you’ll need Microsoft Office for Mac. Of course, it’s not really a must-have for everyone when there are good open-source alternatives like LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice.
NERD ALERT: I just updated to the office suite for Mac, and I finally feel at home again in excel. Awesome improvements. Thanks @Microsoft
— Steve Bowen (@stevebowen12) December 4, 2015
RSS Feed Reader
Before you go about buying one of the above apps or any others, consider these three options:
- Safari, if you have a limited set of feeds: Safari allows you to add RSS subscriptions under the Shared Links section in its sidebar.
- Vienna, if you want something free and open source: Vienna is robust, if a little dated. It’s reminiscent of Thunderbird, which, by the way, has feed reading capabilities of its own.
- Feedly for Mac, if you like Feedly’s web interface: Feedly’s Mac client is nothing more than a wrapper for its website. If you can make do without a desktop client, we’d actually recommend sticking to Feedly on the web.
Archive Extraction Utility
The default Mac unarchiver doesn’t have a clue how to extract basic zip archives. Thank God for The Unarchiver! pic.twitter.com/afdYth51GN
— Dan the Man (@daniesy) January 10, 2016
App and Widget Uninstaller
You’ll probably need a piece of cleanup software to help you get rid of residual files and folders when you uninstall an app. We recommend going with AppCleaner. It’s a lightweight utility that does one thing — uninstallation — and does it well. Read more about why AppCleaner is the best free uninstaller app for Mac.
If your calendar needs are basic or minimal, you won’t mind using OS X’s default Calendar app. If your daily life revolves around your calendar, you might want to invest in something that’s feature rich and versatile, like Fantastical 2. Users vouch that Fantastical 2 is worth the steep price of $49.99.
This one’s important if your computer doubles up as your workspace. You need a proven time management strategy to work on tasks, and the Pomodoro technique is as good as it gets.
For working with Pomodoro on your Mac, you’ll need a nice Pomodoro timer. You have several choices, but we’d suggest sticking with something non-intrusive like Pomodoro Time [No Longer Available]. It stays in OS X’s menu bar until you need it. You can create a list of tasks and work on each of them in short Pomodoro bursts, all through a pop-up panel via the menu bar.
Pomodoro One is another timer option. It’s simple and lovely. You can get rid of the in-app adds for $1.99. Unfortunately, you can’t put Pomodoro One in the menu bar and hide its dock icon.
Virtual Private Network (VPN) Client
If you aren’t clear on why you need a VPN, read this list of five uses for a VPN.
Hotspot Shield has a free version that’s impressive. It’s a reliable place to start exploring VPNs. ExpressVPN and TunnelBear also have decent free versions. If you’re ready to move on to paid alternatives, NordVPN is a good choice. The super simple Cloak VPN is also garnering great reviews. Its plans start at $2.99/month and come with a 30-day free trial, so we’d recommend giving Cloak a shot.
Before you make a decision on which VPN to get, take a look at our list of the best VPN services.
BitTorrent has several legit uses including downloading game updates and distributing videos. We recommend installing Transmission to get started with BitTorrent. It’s the standout BitTorrent client on OS X.
No Antivirus Software?
If you bought a new Windows PC, an antivirus software would probably be one of the first few apps you’d install. Do you need to do the same on OS X? It depends on whom you listen to, because opinion stands divided on whether Mac needs an antivirus program at all.
— Syluban [Mastodon] (@Syluban) March 1, 2016
Ready to Start Using Your Mac?
Most of the apps that OS X includes by default are great. For example, there’s iBooks for reading ePubs, Spotlight for searching your Mac, and Reminders for scheduling appointments and managing to-do lists. You’ll do just fine even if you don’t swap these default apps for third-party ones, but we understand why you might want to.
Now that you have some of the most useful apps up and and running on your first ever Mac, it’s time to explore what you can do on OS X.
Seasoned Mac user? Share your app recommendations for first-time Mac users.