15 apps you should install on your Mac

Here are some suggestions of apps that will refresh your Mac and save you time and effort. Just bought a new Mac? Download these apps from the Mac App Store and online now!

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  • winzip WinZip
  • epichrome Epichrome
  • graffiti Graffiti
  • foreversave ForeverSave 2
  • fileinfo File Info Professional
  • launchbar 100538061 medium LaunchBar
  • default folder settings 100538060 large Default Folder
  • textexpander 100538058 large TextExpander
  • 1password main view with popup 100538056 large 1Password
  • dropbox 100538055 large DropBox
  • skype connected 100538052 large Skype
  • crashplan 100538050 large CrashPlan
  • airfoil app 100538051 medium Airfoil
  • vlc 100538053 large VLC
  • graphicconverter browse feature 100538049 large GraphicConverter
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WinZip

We know what you’re thinking. WinZip?! That ancient Windows stalwart with the usefully infinite trial period? The Mac version of WinZip is actually pretty good and by no means a straight clone of its Windows counterpart.

It can also manage loads of tricks the built-in OS X compression tool can’t. It can add files to existing zips, and it also lets you remove files from them. It automatically creates zips devoid of the OS X “dot files” – so no .DS_store, .Trash etc to annoy your Windows-using friends. It lets you preview or open files contained in zips, a bit like Quick Look, without the need to first decompress the entire archive. It installs a Quick Look plugin so you can peek inside zips without opening them, without the need to open WinZip itself. It features support for tighter compression zip file formats (.zipx), and can protect zips by adding a password with various levels of security.

There’s much more, including cloud storage integration, and it’s all extremely simple to use. You can add it to your Dock and just drag there anything you want zipped. Alas, all of this comes at a price – £25.95 (less on the Mac App Store) – but it’s worth the investment.

Buy it on the Mac App Store for £22.99

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Next Prev winzip

We know what you’re thinking. WinZip?! That ancient Windows stalwart with the usefully infinite trial period? The Mac version of WinZip is actually pretty good and by no means a straight clone of its Windows counterpart.

It can also manage loads of tricks the built-in OS X compression tool can’t. It can add files to existing zips, and it also lets you remove files from them. It automatically creates zips devoid of the OS X “dot files” – so no .DS_store, .Trash etc to annoy your Windows-using friends. It lets you preview or open files contained in zips, a bit like Quick Look, without the need to first decompress the entire archive. It installs a Quick Look plugin so you can peek inside zips without opening them, without the need to open WinZip itself. It features support for tighter compression zip file formats (.zipx), and can protect zips by adding a password with various levels of security.

There’s much more, including cloud storage integration, and it’s all extremely simple to use. You can add it to your Dock and just drag there anything you want zipped. Alas, all of this comes at a price – £25.95 (less on the Mac App Store) – but it’s worth the investment.

Buy it on the Mac App Store for £22.99

 

Epichrome

Some of the most popular paid-for apps on the Mac App Store turn online services like Facebook, Gmail and YouTube into pseudo-desktop apps that you can access on your Mac in the traditional way via a Dock icon. These apps are astonishingly simple and essentially put the site inside a browser window that’s stripped of the usual decorations like a toolbar, so that it looks like a regular app window.

Epichrome lets you create your very own “wrapper” apps, as they're called – and for free too. It uses Chrome as the browser engine, so that’ll need to be installed first. When Epichrome starts it walks you through the very simple process of creating a dedicated app for whatever online service or site you want. You just provide the URL – facebook.com, for example, or netflix.com. You could even turn basic websites like BBC News into an app using Epichrome.

Save the new app you create in the Applications list of Finder when prompted, and in future you can run it by simply double-clicking its icon. You literally won’t be able to tell it apart from a real app, especially if you provide a decent icon image file during the setup stages (hint: use Google Images).

Unfortunately it's not on the Mac App Store, but you can get a copy of Epichrome here

 

Graffiti

Most people who use the built-in OS X Mail app have a love/hate relationship with it. It can lack features taken from granted in other apps, and one of these is the ability to create rich-text email signatures – which is to say, email sigs that are anything other than plain text. There are ways around this.

For example, you can design the signature elsewhere and then copy and paste it into the Mail preferences dialog box. However, Graffiti is a mail plugin that offers complete control over the design of signatures.

Once installed, it adds a new icon to the toolbar within Mail’s Preferences dialog box that lets you create or modify signatures. A handful of excellent templates are provided, into which you can simply input your own details, or you can click the cog icon to the right of the signature’s entry in the list to edit the signature either visually, using a standard word-processor-like WYSIWYG interface, or using the Expert (HTML) mode that, as its name suggests, lets you hand-code using web markup language.

Alas, this kind of power will set you back £6.95 but consider that an investment in the professional image you’ll project onto the world!

You can get a copy of Graffiti here.

 

ForeverSave 2

Most apps make it insanely easy to save a file. Just tap Cmd+S. But can any of us remember to do that on a regular basis? No! What then happens is that edits to a file get lost if an app crashes, while at the very worst the entire caboodle goes down the drain.

Wouldn’t it be useful if there was an app that pressed Cmd+S for you? Well, there is, and ForeverSave 2 is its name. It uses the Accessibility feature of OS X to achieve this, and for each app you configure within its interface you can set a timer for how frequently Cmd+S is pressed on your behalf – from one minute upwards. However, that’s not all this app does, because it will also save a version of your file each time it hits the key combo, making it easy to return to a previous edit.

Alas, there’s a few drawbacks. When ForeverSave 2 is running it’ll stop your Mac going into sleep mode because, as far as your Mac’s concerned, somebody is repeatedly hitting a key. The biggest downside is the price, £14.99, which is perhaps a little steep for such a simple bit of software. On the other hand, what price is peace of mind?

You can buy ForeverSave 2 from the Mac App Store here.

 

File Info Professional

Ever found a file that’s missing its file extension and that won’t open in any app when you double-click it? Command-line gurus have ways of finding out what kind of file it is by looking at a dump of its raw contents, and now that world of investigation is available to the rest of us with File Info Professional, available free from the Mac App Store.

Open a file in the app and you’ll see the contents as ASCII and hexadecimal. This can be invaluable because at the head of every file there’s usually information about what kind of file it is.

Open a PDF, for example, and the first few lines will read something like “PDF 1.5”. File Info Professional can also be used to salvage data from a corrupted file – just copy and paste from the app window when viewing the raw data – or indeed allow you to see what the file contained before it became impossible to open it in the usual way.

Rather cleverly, once installed, File Info Professional registers itself as the go-to app for files that haven’t already got an app of their own, so if you do find something mysterious and want to know what it is then all you need do is double-click it.

Download File Info Professional from the Mac App Store here

 

LaunchBar

While OS X's Launchpad and Spotlight can, in different ways, let you quickly find and open apps, documents, and other things, they can be maddening. Launchpad's interface is hardly useful when you have more than a handful of apps, and Spotlight searches everything, rather than specific categories and in specific ways. Instead, pick LaunchBar (€24 individual, €39 family), which indexes and links to all sorts of stuff: music, contacts, apps, emoji, search history, bookmarks, and more.

LaunchBar can be invoked from a keystroke - I use the default Command-Escape. Then you just type a few letters to select the thing you want, and press Return to launch it or open it with the appropriate app. LaunchBar's bar, however, also lets you perform most Finder actions with a Command-shortcut and carry out calculations.

LaunchBar can also add Clipboard depth, turning into something like the old pre-OS X Scrapbook: You can revert to and cycle through previous items you've copied or cut.

You can buy a copy of LauchBar here

 

Default Folder

There are three elements of OS X itself that I spend more time interacting with than any other: the Open dialog, the Save dialog (and variants like Export), and Finder window navigation. Default Folder X (£24.82) enhances all of these to your advantage in efficiency and organization.

When installed, the app wraps your open and save dialogs in a bunch of extra interface items. On one side, you can select from volumes and special locations, Finder windows, favourited locations, and recently visited folders. The file-navigation dialogs can also be set to snap to the last document opened or other locations, while pressing Option plus the down or up arrow cycles backward or forward through recent folders. Another item allows a variety of Finder-style file actions directly within the dialog, like rename, duplicate, and move to trash.

A pane at the bottom reveals a preview, Spotlight comments, tags, and permissions, as well as file data like creation date and whether the item is locked or not. There's a host of other options, too: Tap a key combination, and the current folder is opened in the Finder. With Default Folder installed, you never have to painstakingly navigate your drives and folders.

You can buy Default Folder here

 

TextExpander

I know this is crazy talk, but what if you could replace the tedious repetitive typing of common phrases with a few keystrokes? Such shortcutting dates back decades--once known as "macroinstruction expansion" or "macros"--and TextExpander (£35.95 individual, £49.95 family) is the modern mature version of it.

Start with figuring out a few characters to type instead of your name or mailing address. Advance to using its tools for tapping a few keys to insert the current date, formatting it as you like. Move to employing prefabricated AppleScript to tap into URL shorteners, handling the roundtrip from clipboard to a tiny path. Graduate to its fill-in forms, which allow you to compose a message with selectable fill-in values to automate replies.

Smile revised its iOS version, TextExpander (£3.99) to work within the add-on keyboard approach in iOS. Snippets can sync using Dropbox among Mac and iOS devices.

You can buy TextExpander here, or download TextExpander 3 from the App Store here.

 

1Password

Security pundits, including yours truly, recommend that you create a unique strong password for every site or service you use. That's impossible for a human to manage, but an integrated password generator and secure storage app like 1Password (£22.99) handles that with ease. It can create random password according to rules you set, or those absurd ones imposed by sites, and then securely store them for you.

That would be perfectly dandy, but not terribly useful if that's all it did. However, 1Password also comes with browser plug-ins for Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, which let you invoke the app while visiting a site. Tap a keystroke, and it either prefills a username, password, and more, if there's only one match; or lets you choose among multiple accounts for a site. When creating an account, the password generator can be invoked in the same way.

1Password also stores and can fill in one or more identities (address information), as well as credit-card details. Versions are available for Windows, iOS, and Android, and a password database can be synced among them. (The App Store version is required for iCloud sync with OS X and iOS.)

The similarly featured LastPass is an alternative for those who want to be able to gain access to passwords via website, which 1Password doesn't offer.

You can buy 1Password from the Mac App Store here.

 

DropBox

Keeping files up to date among multiple computers was a pain for many years. It wasn't until Dropbox (free tier with 2 GB; 1 TB Dropbox Pro, £7.99/month; or Dropbox for Business £11/user/month) appeared - a harbinger of cloud storage - that it became simple. Dropbox has a single folder into which you can place anything, and it's copied to its Internet storage in your account, while also synchronized to any computer logged into the same account. (You can selectively omit specific subfolders on each machine.)

That would be enough, but Dropbox also offers two kinds of sharing. Shared folders sync the contents to any members who have joined the folder. A shared link allows any recipient to download a file or folder, or browse a folder's contents.

Because Dropbox keeps a copy centrally, it keeps track of every change. Older versions and even deleted files are available for up to 30 days after a change or removal, and a upgrade to Dropbox Pro, called Extended Version History ($39/year), extends that to a year. Dropbox's iOS client lets you browse its cloud-stored versions, forward files, and download them to the app or open in other apps.

Get Dropbox here

 

Skype

You already have FaceTime available on your computer and iOS devices. Why would you need Skype (free)? Because not everyone you know has a Mac, iPhone, or iPad, and because FaceTime doesn't come with a calling plan, even though in OS X can access your iPhone to make and receive calls to landlines and cellular numbers.

Skype has a tattered history of Mac updates, but it remains the lingua franca for person-to-person and group Internet telephone calls. The service also has inexpensive calling plans for making unlimited phone calls to specific countries (such as the US and Canada), and cheap per-minute rates without a plan or to countries not included in a plan. You can pay for one or more incoming "real" phone numbers, too, placing them in countries in which you routinely receive calls, making it a local call for residents there.

It offers audio only and video calls, as well as screen sharing, file transfer, and instant messaging, along with SMS. I've used Skype for years as my main incoming and outgoing business line to avoid the fixed cost, and as it's typically higher quality than a cell call.

You can get Skype here

 

CrashPlan

CrashPlan can back up any selection of files to a locally connected drive, a local-area network volume, a peer's drive elsewhere, or its cloud service--in any combination. Only the cloud storage comes with a fee attached, $5/month individual, $12.50/month family. The family subscription option lets you pull in any of your otherwise backup-adverse relatives without them having to manage the details of a separate account themselves.

The peer-to-peer option lets you push your encrypted files to someone else's drive anywhere on the Internet. That other person gives you a code, and off your files go onto their backup volume or a separate volume you could provide, offering true offsite backup without a recurring fee.

CrashPlan isn't a full-system clone. For that, Time Machine or Super Duper (£19.85) is a better option. Rather, CrashPlan is best at archiving your documents, preferences, and applications, and can store endless revisions of the same files for recovering older drafts.

I have about 1.5TB stored with CrashPlan's cloud service across my own and several family computers, and have relied on restoring files from the cloud and local drives many times, both through its Mac interface (including over 600GB after a recent drive failure) and its free iOS app.

CrashPlan's major downside is that it continues to require Java, an extra installation in OS X for years. Installing Java for CrashPlan is safe, because it's not enabled for use on the Web without extra steps.

Buy CrashPlan here

Buy Super Duper here

 

Airfoil

AirPlay is one of the best things about Apple's ecosystem of audiovisual-friendly devices, and many strictly audio devices support AirPlay audio playback, too, including a Yamaha receiver I purchased a couple of years ago. But AirPlay has a number of limits. iTunes is the only Apple software that has a specific AirPlay option, which includes simultaneous playback to multiple devices. Otherwise, you're limited to choosing a single device from Sound preferences to which to shunt all system audio.

Airfoil ($29) works around this limit by letting you take just the audio output of any software or audio input device and route it to one or more AirPlay-compatible receivers, including an Apple TV or AirPort Express. Better still, Rogue Amoeba offers Airfoil Speakers apps, free software for receiving Airfoil audio for Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and Linux.

Download AirFoil here

 

VLC

VLC (free) is the Swiss Army knife of video playback software. QuickTime Player can handle popular formats in a straightforward way, but everything it can't, VLC can. VLC can play Internet streaming video of all sorts, read various disc formats, and convert some files it can't read. If you deal with older file formats, say, those used by people that eschew H.264 because of patent issues, or video created or distributed for Windows and Unix variants, VLC is a one-stop shop.

Beyond video file support, VLC can open and convert tons of audio formats, which you might find in sorting through several decades of cruft on the Internet and in your own digital history, depending on your age. It can also directly open YouTube URLs, subscribe to podcasts, make video playlists, and play Internet radio stations from a large, built-in list.

Download VLC here

 

GraphicConverter

As VLC is to video (and audio) formats, GraphicConverter (£29.99) is to image files. While Apple's Preview offers a decent subset of image viewing and manipulation controls, GraphicConverter has more in common with Photoshop without the subscription fee now required for Adobe's graphical-editing pioneer, nor nearly as steep a learning curve.

GraphicConverter can open just about anything, offers photographic (non-linear levels) and image-editing (gradients, fills, and like) tools, and the basics like cropping, canvas resizing, and up- and downsampling. I often turn to GraphicConverter's Browse command to view images in a directory, where I can preview and see file data, as well as rename or delete them.

You can directly import images from scanners and cameras (including in RAW format), and GraphicConverter can upload directly to Google+, Flickr, and other services. And if you need to process a number of images--converting a folder from TIFF to JPEG, for instance--the program has simple batch processing, with more advanced options available to those who need them.

Buy GraphicConverter 9 from the Mac App Store here

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