9 Default Mac Apps You Can Replace With Powerful Alternatives

Michael McConnell 26-09-2017

There are a ton of third-party apps with better features than the basics that come with your Mac. That is not to say that you should go out and replace an app if it is working for you.


If you find yourself frustrated with missing features, we’ve got a few alternatives you might want to try. A little bit of novelty never hurts either.

We also have a comprehensive list of all the best Mac apps as well The Best Mac Apps to Install on Your MacBook or iMac Looking for the best apps for your MacBook or iMac? Here's our comprehensive list of the best apps for macOS. Read More .

Spotlight: Alfred (Free)

Spotlight is great. It allows you to use a keyboard shortcut (Command + Space) to search your Mac, the web, or do simple calculations. Once you play around with it, you can save time on many essential tasks.

However, it is still fairly limited. To truly expand your horizons you need to replace it outright.

mac default app alternative alfred


That is where Alfred comes in. Alfred’s most basic form has more search options than Spotlight. It also gives you keywords to perform system actions like Shutdown and Reset. The app shines once you install the Powerpack add on. To get the Powerpack, you need to pay €19 (~$23) for an additional download.

Once installed, it enables you to integrate 1Password, call up an iTunes mini player, manage files, and run Terminal commands. The Powerpack also makes Alfred extensible. Workflows allow you to create or install custom workflows. You set the keyword and the triggered actions.

Check out some of our favorite Alfred workflows 10 More Alfred Workflows to Send Tweets, Set Reminders & More If you're a Mac power user, application launcher Alfred is a powerful way to get things done with click-saving workflows and a few swift keystrokes. Read More .

Terminal: iTerm (Donationware) is probably the most powerful app on your Mac These 6 Awesome Terminal Commands Will Boost Your MacBook You can only cram so much into graphical user interface before it becomes cluttered, so it should come as no big surprise that you can do some really cool things using the Mac Terminal. Read More . There are many system tools that you can dig around and use, most of them have an analog in the Terminal. Mastering this tool can make you more efficient. Not to mention you get to know the lower levels of your system.


While Terminal is a powerful app, some helpful features are missing.

That is where iTerm comes in. iTerm gives you a more powerful Terminal Customize Your Mac Command Line With These Terminal Alternatives One of the best ways to make macOS your own is to customize the command line, either through alternative apps or just tricking out the Terminal app. Read More . Its simplest advantage is that you can tile your sessions in a single window. Though you can still work in tabs like the default Terminal app. iTerm has more than just visual tweaks.

mac default app alternative iterm

There’s an instant replay option that lets you roll back your terminal window. You can then see the output from that command that flew by. In Top, you can go back in time to see what programs are taking your resources. The app features auto-complete and clipboard history that makes working in Terminal easier.


Terminal is a great way to dig into the more advanced parts of your Mac 4 Cool Things You Can Do With The Mac Terminal The Terminal is the Mac OS X analogue of the Windows command prompt, or CMD. It's a tool, as you probably already know, that allows you to control your computer using text commands, as opposed... Read More . iTerm is the app that makes working in the Terminal easier, even if you are already an expert.

Activity Monitor: iStat Menus ($18)

Activity Monitor is a handy app to see what is consuming resources on your Mac Macnifying OS X: Learning To Utilize Activity Monitor on Mac Read More . It’s useful, but it’s not an easy app to just keep an eye on while you are working. If you are looking to have your resource usage surfaced constantly Monitor Your Mac’s Vital Signs With These Third Party System Monitors As useful as Apple's Activity Monitor is, there are many more monitoring apps made by third-party developers that can be of use to the discerning Mac user. Read More , try iStat Menus.

mac default app alternative istat menus

You can pick and choose what performance metrics you want to see in your menubar. Small graphs showing CPU, RAM, network traffic, temperature, and battery stats are available. Each has links to the built-in Apple system tools for more info.


Best of all you can get back your battery’s time remaining display that Apple removed from macOS.

iStat Menus can take up a good chunk of your real estate on a small screen. There is an option to create a combined menu. You get a drop-down with all the details but without the menubar crowding. It ruins the ability to casually watch your system, but it is still a single click away. It is not an essential replacement, but it is a nice convenience.

TextEdit as Plain Text Editor: BBEdit ($50)

TextEdit is powerful and serves two purposes on the Mac. The first is as plain text editor. The app for creating basic text documents for quick and dirty scripts or HTML code. However, it does not have syntax highlighting, nor any advanced file handling.

If you want a full featured text-editor The Best HTML Text Editors for Your Mac Need a new text editor for your Mac? We look at the best free and paid HTML text editors for macOS. Read More , you can get BBEdit. Its roots date back to the Classic Mac days, though it is a thoroughly modern app.

mac default app alternative textedit

The example above is an HTML document, but you can use BBEdit for any plain text document. It has a left-hand column that allows you to open documents or entire directories. This feature makes it easy to keep organized when working on projects.

You have different syntax highlighting options, including Markdown, JavaScript, AppleScript, and Bash. It even ties into the Applescript editor. There is a menu item to pull up the dictionary to build your scripts.

These options make for a powerful text editor for coding and scripting. BBEdit is a paid app; it is free equivalent used to be Text Wrangler, but the apps have combined. BBEdit now loses some features after thirty days without a license but even the free version is a great lightweight text editor.

For another powerful free option, why not check out Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code Visual Studio Code Is the Perfect Text and Scripting Editor for Mac Microsoft's text editor supports myriad languages, and you don't even need to compare it to Xcode, since they serve different needs. Read More .

TextEdit as Document Creator: Ulysses ($40/Year)

TextEdit is good for more than just a plain text document editor. It is a bare bones word processor. This mode allows you to create basic rich text files with simple formatting and layouts. That use is perfect for keeping your workspace minimal, but it only handles single files.

mac default app alternative ulysses

That is where Ulysses comes in Is It Time to Ditch Pages and Word for Ulysses? In 2016, not everyone needs a full-service word processing program, which is why software like Ulysses exists. Read More . Ulysses is more complex than TextEdit. However, its interface is still rooted in simplicity. Rather than organizing your project in Finder, Ulysses organizes your files internally. You can combine its internal iCloud library with external folders on your Mac. Then you have all your text files in one place.

Ulysses’ minimalism comes from using Markdown for editing. This keeps the interface simple. However, if the syntax is a little intimidating you can use a menu to insert any Markdown you need. There are also basic keyboard shortcuts like Command + B to make text bold.

You can export your documents in a variety of formats, including PDF and DOCX. There’s a ton of features to explore, but none of them are complex enough to get in the way of your writing. Check out our comprehensive guide to Ulysses Ulysses III: A Clean Stylish Text Editor for Writing and Managing Documents When it comes to writing on a Mac you're no longer limited to Microsoft Word or Apple Pages. Programs like Ulysses III make writing more manageable, providing only the most essential tools you need. Read More .

Safari: Opera (Free)

There are plenty of great options to replace Safari 9 Great Safari Browser Alternatives for Mac Users It is not that Safari is a bad browser or that it has a limited feature set -- you may just want a different focus, or major updates more than once a year. Read More . Almost every web browser has something to offer. Safari has plenty of great features but is pretty limited in some areas. Opera excels with a mix of extensibility, performance, and built-in features I Switched From Chrome to Opera and I’m Never Going Back Any browser works. There's only one reason to pick one over another: it's more in line with how you like to browse the web. And you might prefer Opera, too. Read More .

mac default app alternative opera

If you are using a MacBook, Opera has a battery saving mode to help you get more time from your laptop. If you worry about security, Opera even has a free VPN service you can use Get Free Unlimited VPN on the New Opera Desktop Browser Opera is doing a lot to lure users back, and its latest feature is a doozy. Opera now comes with unlimited, free VPN for life! Read More . If you are worried about losing some extensions, you have the ability to install Chrome Extensions How to Install Google Chrome Extensions in Opera Browser Opera is making a case for you to switch to it. There's one small problem: extensions. What if you could install Chrome extensions in Opera? It's easy, so here's a quick guide. Read More .

Mail: Spark (Free), like Safari, has some advantages. Its accessibility for casual users can leave power users wanting. Readdle’s Spark balances the needs of power users with designing an app that is still easy to use Why You Should Be Using Spark to Manage Your Mail on iPhone & Mac Spark is a new breed of email app, one that organizes and prioritizes your mail for you (and it's free). Read More .

mac default app alternative spark

Like, you get an iOS companion app that lets you manage your email the same way across both platforms. Spark has a great smart sorting feature that breaks up your emails into types as they come in. You get a smart inbox that has categories like Notifications, Newsletters, and Personal. You can snooze or pin emails to follow up on them later.

Spark also has smart notifications that try and only alert you to email you want to see. You can control this on a per account basis, just like the Smart Inbox filtering. You can send your email to a variety of apps, creating to do lists in or Todoist. You can also save your email to note taking apps like Bear or Evernote.

This is a powerful email client with an accessible approach to features.

iTunes as Media Player: VLC (Donationware)

If you hate iTunes, you are not alone. If you are relying on it to sync your iOS devices, there isn’t much you can do. If you want a better app to work with your music library, then VLC can help you out. The best thing about VLC is its simplicity.

mac default app alternative vlc

VLC can play almost anything. That compatibility comes with a much steeper learning curve than iTunes. However, you should be able to open your iTunes media folder and add the folders right to your VLC library. It is spartan, and importing large libraries needs to be done in several steps. You can also use it to share media to your iOS devices Ditch iTunes & Use VLC For iPhone & iPad Media VLC for iOS does rather a lot that Apple would probably rather it didn't. It's also better than iTunes for media on the go. Here's why. Read More .

VLC’s simple design hides a variety of useful ways to both play and share your media 6 More VLC Media Player Features You Must Try VLC is a media player more powerful than you might realize. Are you using it to its full potential? Here are some pointers. Read More . The app can stream media on the local network with just a couple of clicks. Even with all the available options, it has less cruft than iTunes. However, that does mean it is a bit harder to use.

VLC might not replace iTunes for everything, for but it is a handy media player The Best 6 Free Universal Video Players For Mac There are a lot of video players out there, but which is the best? Here are our Mac favorites. Read More .

Preview: PDFPen [No Longer Available] ($75)

Preview is a powerful app. You can read and combine PDFs, even highlighting and adding notes. You cannot do much to edit PDFs with it though. Smile’s PDFPen allows to make full edits to PDFs, not just attaching your signature.

mac default app alternative pdfpen

PDFPen is pretty steep at $75, but you’ll know if you need it. If your workflow involves collating and correcting PDFs, PDFPen saves you the trouble of converting to and from PDF. You can also do easy document redaction.

If you are looking to create forms and tables of contents, you need the pro version [No Longer Available]. Compare the features of each here.

Are These Your Only Choices?

If you are looking at this list and don’t agree with the options, that is okay. The thing that makes the Mac community great is that there are a lot of independent developers. Each of these categories has other apps that might work better for your needs. These are just the standout apps.

If you have a better replacement app, please let us know in the comments. What is your favorite Mac app, what App from another platform do you still think the Mac needs help with? Let us know in the comments.

Related topics: Mac Tricks, macOS High Sierra.

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  1. thomas
    September 7, 2019 at 6:38 pm

    You promote Spark, but forget to mention that if you read Sparks' terms of service, you will notice that they are downloading all your emails on their servers, in Ukraine. This is a massive privacy issue, buried in the terms of service. Sadly, this is really the best email client for the mac...