Essential Apps for New Mac Owners

A few of my colleagues are switching from Windows to Mac OS X thanks to the recent release of the new MacBook Air models. As a Mac user for more than 8 years now (since well before the Intel switch), I thought it might be handy to post a list of what could be considered some essential apps for new Mac users.

With that in mind, here goes…

File Transfer: Cyberduck

On Windows, many people use Filezilla for their file transfer needs. Filezilla does have a Mac OS X version, but I’ve never used it; instead, new Mac users might prefer Cyberduck, a free and open source file transfer application that supports FTP, SFTP, WebDAV, Amazon S3, Windows Azure, and Google Storage. It’s not just an FTP client anymore! The nice thing about Cyberduck is that it leverages many of the features that drew you to Mac OS X in the first place: Spotlight, Quick Look, Bonjour, and Keychain.

Cyberduck is versatile, but for flat-out raw speed you’ll want to have a look at Interarchy. It’s not free, but it is powerful, and supports many of the same features as Cyberduck. Transmit, from Panic, is another option. Interarchy is my tool of choice.

Instant Messaging: Adium

Without a doubt, Adium is the king of the Mac OS X instant messaging world. With incredible protocol support (including Google Talk, Facebook Chat, MSN, AIM, MobileMe, Yahoo Messenger, ICQ, Bonjour/iChat, Twitter, IRC, MySpaceIM, Lotus Sametime, and Novell Groupwise), support for encryption (via OTR), integration with the Mac OS X Address Book, and a polished user interface, it’s hard to beat. Oh, did I mention it’s free and open source?

If you need integration into a corporate Microsoft Communicator-type environment, Microsoft has a Mac version of Communicator that will fill that need. For all other IM needs, use Adium.

Diagramming: OmniGraffle Professional

Need to create network diagrams (or any type of diagram, really)? Try OmniGraffle Professional. OmniGraffle Pro imports and exports Visio files (not just Visio drawings but also Visio stencils and templates), supports shared layers, custom data, and numerous other features. This is one app you’ll want to evaluate if you have a need for building diagrams of any sort. It’s not free and not open source, but still worth it in my opinion.

You can, of course, still run Microsoft Visio via a virtualization solution (see below).

Application Firewall: Little Snitch

Just because Mac OS X hasn’t yet seen as much malware and other stuff as other platforms doesn’t mean it isn’t coming. So be prepared: use an outbound application-level firewall like Little Snitch. Little Snitch will let you know about any outbound traffic that an application tries to initiate, and will let you approve or deny the traffic. Combine this with Mac OS X’s built-in inbound application-level firewall (enabled in the Security section of System Preferences) and the BSD-level ipfw firewall (which you’ll have to configure manually) and you’ve got the ability to keep network traffic into and out of your Mac locked up tight.

Traditional Productivity: Microsoft Office

Apple’s iWork suite (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) are handy, but they haven’t quite caught up to Microsoft Office. If you need to exchange documents with other people using Microsoft Office (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?), this is your best choice (OpenOffice and LibreOffice come to mind). Is it the only choice? No, certainly not; there are numerous alternatives. But this choice saves you time sorting out conversion issues, giving more time to get real work done. Heads-up: I haven’t upgraded to Lion yet, and I’m hearing that there are some potential compatibility issues between Office 2011 and Lion.

Twitter Client: Twitterrific

While the 4.x branch of Twitterrific dropped some features I personally considered essential—namely, tweet filtering support and AppleScript support—I still find it to be a great Twitter client. I also find it handy to use the same client on my Mac, my iPhone, and my iPad.

Transition Support: VMware Fusion

Regardless of the new apps you might adopt, as a new Mac user you’re bound to find things that you still need to do in Windows. For those times, VMware Fusion is the way to go. Yes, there are other options (Parallels Desktop), but I’ve been using Fusion since the very earliest “Friends and Family” pre-beta releases in 2006 and have never experienced even the first problem with it.

SSH Client: OpenSSH, built-in!

As a former Windows user, you had to download and install an SSH client (typically PuTTY). No longer! Mac OS X comes with OpenSSH preinstalled, and all you need to do is open up Terminal (found in Applications > Utilities), use the ssh command, and you’re good to go.

There are plenty of other great apps that I use and support—Unison, Colloquy, Typinator, Yojimbo, Handbrake, MarsEdit, OmniFocus, and Skim, among others—but the seven applications listed above will certainly get you started.

Are there other apps that veteran Mac users would consider essential for a new Mac user? Please speak up in the comments!

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  1. Nicholas Weaver’s avatar

    Nice Scott!

    Just what I needed


  2. scott’s avatar

    I would check out #2 (it is on google code) as a replacement for the (gui vim) from google code brings vim to the gui. If you need a git client, look at Non-free git client that is awesome.

  3. slowe’s avatar

    Nick, glad I could help! Let me know if you have other questions.

    Scott, iTerm2 is a great application, but for new Mac users I think that is sufficient. The other suggestions look great for new Mac users who used those apps under Windows or UNIX/Linux. Thanks for the suggestions!

  4. sh0x’s avatar

    Excellent list! I think 1password is worth a mention.

  5. RedSneakers18’s avatar

    Wow this is great!! I am converting over from Windows to Apple also trying to migrate my EMC software as well. Do you have any gotchas with Fusion 3 you can share?

  6. Johnny’s avatar

    Scott, a couple of things I’d recommend:

    * Flip4Mac or VLC for viewing Windows Media files.
    * Flash Player and Java
    * Firefox for those sites that don’t support Safari or Chrome
    * 1Password, LastPass or KeePass for password management
    * (Mariner Software) MacJournal, Evernote or (Circus Ponies) Notebook for journal/diary
    * Dropbox to reduce sneaker net as well as good integration for portable password vaults
    * Growl for pop up notifications
    * QuickSilver for launching apps via keyboard shortcuts (or use Lion’s Launchpad for iOS style launcher)
    * PGP disk for whole disk encryption (or FileVault under Lion)
    * CoRD or MSFT RDP client to access Windows boxes. VNC client is part of Finder (Finder->Go->Connect to Server-> Enter in “vnc://name_of_server”)
    * A USB to DB9 serial adapter that has good Mac support. There are some AppleScript scripts out there that will help you launch a hyperterm-like window with access to the serial port. Handy when you have to have a serial connection to a switch.

    -Johnny (@sd0a)

  7. slowe’s avatar

    Sh0x, I also use 1Password. Good app—but not necessarily an “essential” app for a new Mac user.

    Redsneakers18, I’m not aware of any gotchas with Fusion. I haven’t had any issues with it.

    Johnny, great list of apps. But, as I mentioned above, I wouldn’t necessarily consider all those apps “essential” for new Mac users. Are they great apps? You bet! A number of them are apps I use (1Password, Dropbox, Growl, Quicksilver). Whether they are “essential” for new Mac users is less certain. The key thing I wanted to achieve with this post was to get new users started with the basics. Still, I appreciate the great list of apps, and as these users get acclimated I’m sure they’ll appreciate the list as well!

  8. Damian’s avatar

    The one app I consider essential for network/storage/linux admins is SecureCRT. I’ve been a die hard SecureCRT user on the windows platform since it was first released (actually had used CRT even before SecureCRT was released). Now that VanDyke has a Mac version I consider it essential on the Mac as well. OpenSSH and are handy to get started but you can’t even compare them to the usability of SecureCRT for all your terminal connection needs.

  9. slowe’s avatar

    Damian, so what is it about SecureCRT that makes it so much better than OpenSSH, *the* well-accepted standard for remote connectivity to UNIX/Linux systems?

  10. sh0x’s avatar

    Well, I don’t consider any of the apps you listed at the end as ‘essential’, but they too were worth a mention :)

  11. Damian’s avatar

    It not only does SSH connectivity, you can also use it to connect via a number of other protocols, including telnet and serial, and some others. I use the serial ability a lot to connect to networking gear for initial setup. You can also do X/Y/Zmodem transfers from it if you have to deal with a bricked switch. Of course it also has connection management, and tabbed windows, plus scripting (but I believe they use python for their scripts, since it cross platform).

    It also has a bunch of other features, but for me the big two are serial connectivity and zmodem transfers.

  12. Josh Atwell’s avatar

    Thanks Scott, I almost wish I would have had this list 8 weeks ago when I had the choice between Windows or Mac laptop. No worries, I’ll end up with a Mac b4 too much longer I have a feeling.

  13. Simon Gallagher’s avatar

    CoRD is also a great app if you have to manage a large number of Windows Servers via RDP

  14. Mark Vaughn’s avatar

    Great list. I also recommend HyperDock, one of the few apps I have paid for. Great for people who generally have a million things open at once, spread between several “spaces”. Also control iTunes and Spotify apps.

    If you do multimedia work, I would also recommend GIMP (like photoshop), Audacity (audio editing) and ImageResizer (batch image resizer).

  15. slowe’s avatar

    Sh0x, good point! Thanks for the comment and the suggested apps.

    Josh, I tell everyone the same thing: use the tool that fits you best. If that’s a PC running Windows, go for it. If it’s Linux, awesome. If it’s a Mac, great. Ultimately it’s about being productive, not looking cool or trendy.

    Simon, I’ve used CoRD in the past. It’s a good tool—thanks for mentioning it!

    Mark, thanks for the suggestions!

  16. Eric Sarakaitis’s avatar

    some that I use:

    CoRD – Awesome for remote desktop
    Grand Perspective – Great for finding out whats eating all your disk space
    Transmission – Bittorrent
    Evernone – keep organized
    Frostwire – limewire4ever
    UnRARx – winrar will never die
    ZenMap – snoop them packets
    SuperDuper – Time machine is never enough
    RipIt – dvd ripping software

  17. Glenn Ellin’s avatar

    SecureCRT work great, i use it with my Bluetooth serial Adapter.
    I also use an App called “LockDesktop” i allows you to quickly lock your mac when you walk away from it.

  18. Chris W.’s avatar

    For those of us that do a _lot_ of work in SSH, SSH Keychain ( is invaluable for managing your SSH keys.

  19. Josh Sinclair’s avatar

    Fusion is great! In my opinion it works better than VMware Workstation. The only gotchas I’ve experienced with Fusion is getting used to running VMs with limited resources (as opposed to running on a 32 proc server with 256GB RAM). On a dual core Macbook pro I usually only succeed in running 1 Windows VM at a time.

  20. slowe’s avatar

    Damian, serial connectivity is supported via (or its equivalent) using this simple command (using a KeySerial USB-to-serial adapter):

    screen /dev/tty.KeySerial1 9600

    Works like a champ! Obviously, you’d need to adjust the speed to the recommended setting for whatever device you’re using, but this gives you the general idea.

    However, I’m not immediately aware of a way to do X/Y/Zmodem transfers, so if that’s something you need I can see why you might choose SecureCRT. I do want new Mac users to know, though, that SSH, telnet, and serial connectivity is provided by default out of the box—no need for an additional app unless you want extra functionality. Thanks!

    Eric, thanks for the list! I use a couple of those apps as well.

    Chris W, I used to use SSH Keychain but it seems that as of the 10.6 release (maybe even with 10.5) it’s functionality was no longer needed, and I haven’t used it in ages. What in particular do you find extremely useful?

  21. Johnny’s avatar

    Glenn Ellin, you can setup a hot corner on your desktop to lock your screen. When you want to walk away from your desktop, just dump the mouse cursor into the hot corner.

  22. Mike Foley’s avatar

    I just started moving to a Mac last week with the purchase of a new i7 based Air. Enjoying it so far!

    Cord is an absolute essential. Much like mRemoteNG on Windows. What’s nice is that if you resize the window, it’ll resize the RDP session as well. Love that.

    One of my fav tools on Windows is WinDirStat for finding those pesky huge files. A great free Mac doppleganger is DiskInventoryX. A must have. :)

    Now we just need a View client that supports PCoIP. :) And LiveWriter ported to the Mac. (as if that’ll ever happen) Until then, I use LiveWriter via Fusion.

  23. Ausmith1’s avatar

    Another great feature of SecureCRT is its extensive logging capabilities.
    If you work in a secured or regulated environment this is a real bonus so that full accountability is brought into play when something goes wrong.

  24. eprich’s avatar

    Great list. I use a lot of these tools. Another useful one for any Mac user (whether new or old) is caffeine. It helps keep the display from dimming during presentations and looooong webex sessions. Plus it’s free

  25. Ken Watson’s avatar

    Just received my new Air and I am trying to get it to work in my Active Directory. I have it all setup but does anyone know how to setup wireless to prelogin before I login? Running Lion and the wireless icon in the top right of the login screen is greyed out. The username field also states that network logins are not available. No kidding since it can contact the domain controller. THis is easy to setup in Windows but I can seem to find anything related to OS X. Any help would be welcome. Also, thanks for the list of Apps. They will help me a lot.

  26. Chris’s avatar

    Other apps I use every day:

    - nvALT
    - TextExpander
    - Reeder

  27. Greg!’s avatar

    How about homebrew, VirtualBox (in lieu of VMware Fusion) and vagrant?

  28. slowe’s avatar

    I’m not familiar with homebrew and vagrant–what are those?

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