Essential Software for Mac Switchers: 23 Must-Have Apps

If you recently made the switch to Mac from a Windows computer, you might be a little “lost” regarding what software is supposed to replace your old setup, or what apps are particularly worthwhile to own on the Mac platform.

One of the great things about having a Macintosh is the amazing range of beautiful apps available, many of which have the potential to add a great deal to your computing experience.

Today, we’re taking a look at some of the apps that we find vital and very useful, as well as software that makes using a Mac much easier than Windows!

Wine Bottler / Parallels

Wine Bottler
Once you make the switch from Windows, you might miss some software that you used to have there. These two apps give you the ability to run those few Windows apps on your Mac, with little to no effort.

Wine Bottler is an open source project that gives you a free solution to doing this task. It won’t run every app out there, and it might feel slow at times, but then again, it’s a free solution.

Parallels is a popular app in this category, and it is also an expensive one ($79). It guarantees a simple experience, and it says that it works even for complicated tasks like gaming. I’ve heard from a lot of users that it really is an excellent app and that it runs Windows apps fast and with little effort.

You could always dual boot into Windows using “Boot Camp”, but this isn’t such a simple solution if you’re wanting to easily switch between Mac and Windows apps.

Why it’s essential for a new user: Sometimes, especially right after you make the switch, you’ll run into apps that don’t have a Mac version, and that only run on Windows. These two apps are made for those few occasions. I’d suggest you give Wine Bottler a try, and if it doesn’t cut it for you, go for Parallels.

Office for Mac ’11 / iWork

Office for Mac
Office and iWork are the most popular office suites available for the Mac. Each one of them includes a collection of apps that can do different things, like word processing, spreadsheets or presentations.

Office for Mac ’11 is a lot more expensive than iWork ($149 vs. $60, respectively), but it also includes their email manager, Outlook and features a lot more features than iWork does. As any Windows application, it is hard to get into and has a lot of buttons and features that will probably only confuse you. iWork is pretty and simple, but it also lacks some in-depth features that you might want to use.

Why it’s essential for a new user: Besides your browser, an office app will probably be your most used one if you are a student or an office worker. These are two of the best options available for the Mac and they both do their job well. Office for Mac is more professional and elaborate, while iWork is very fast and simple. I’m currently using Office, but I might go back to iWork since I find Office to be too slow for my taste.

The Unarchiver

The Unarchiver
Your Mac comes packed with its own uncompressing tool, but it’s not as good as you’ll expect. For example, it won’t decompress .rar files, which are a very common format along with .zip. The Unarchiver, on the other hand, can decompress any file type you throw at it.

It is very much a set-it-and-forget it type of app. It runs in the background and once you have it setup, it won’t bother you at all. Everytime you try to open a compressed file, it will pop up and decompress it on a certain location, depending on your settings.

Why it’s essential for a new user: Your Mac comes pre-installed with a lot of useful applications and utilities. Most of them are fantastic, but some are lacking in a few areas. The decompressing tool that comes pre-installed is one of those few ones. You’ll notice it the first time you try to open a .rar file.

Adium

Adium
Adium is a free instant messaging app that handles a multitude of services. You might wonder why you need it when your Mac already comes with its own instant messaging app, iChat. Well, the truth is, iChat is pretty lackluster in comparison to Adium.

iChat only supports a few services like AIM and Google Talk, but Adium supports MSN, Yahoo!, and even Facebook Chat, along with a bunch of other services. It also has support for themes, add-ons and it has an impressive list of features.

Why it’s essential for a new user: Instant messaging is useful for a number of things, and with the number of services available out there, you have to keep a number of accounts in order to stay in touch with all of your friends. Adium helps you stay connected to all these services at the same time and still keep everything organized.

iLife Suite

iLife
Most Macs come included with the newest suite of iLife. These apps include GarageBand, iMovie, iPhoto, iWeb and iDVD. The value of these relatively free apps is one of the many reasons to justify the price of a Mac computer.

While there are more professional apps that are better than these, most people will be fine with the apps included in this suite. Garageband is great for amateur musicians, iMovie works perfectly for creating a movie for a small project, and iPhoto is a very good app for storing, managing and manipulating your photos.

Why it’s essential for a new user: Instead of having to buy each of these apps externally, Apple gives them to you for free with the purchase of any of their computers. You’ll have to pay to upgrade them once a newer version comes out, but chances are you won’t really need the features that the new versions include. These apps save you money and time.

Caffeine

Caffeine
Caffeine is a small, but very popular app that I’ve heard a lot of praise for. What it does is simple: it stops your computer from going to sleep when you activate a little button on the menu bar. Let’s say you are downloading a big file that will probably take all night to get finished. You just need to open Caffeine up on the menu bar and it will stop your Mac form going to sleep, showing the screensaver, or dimming the screen.

Why it’s essential for a new user: There are a lot of situations where you might want to use this app. I won’t count them, but it really is a stellar little app.

Alfred

Alfred
Alfred is yet another tiny third party app that has gotten a lot of praise, especially around here at AppStorm. Alfred is a quick launch app, meaning it shows up with a keyboard shortcut and can be used to perform various actions, launch applications, or search the web. Think of it as a Spotlight on steroids.

Alfred, unlike Spotlight, is really, really fast and it has a lot of features that you can tweak. It’s also a calculator, a dictionary and it can help you search Google or Wikipedia. It can even launch system events like the screen saver or sleep. You can add “keywords” so that it will perform certain functions when you trigger them and, well, it’s really awesome.

Why it’s essential for a new user: Alfred is the king of time saving apps. Once you start using it and begin to understand the various features, it will become an absolute essential. It can do pretty much anything with just a few keystrokes.

Pixelmator / Seashore

Seashore
Pixelmator is a professional image editing app that has been getting a lot of attention lately, since it’s one of the first apps to move their buying system entirely to the Mac App Store. Seashore is a simple and free open source app for manipulating images.

Seashore has few features and it is very simple, but it gets the job done. I’ve been using it since I got my Mac and it has never failed to meet my expectations. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to manipulate an image in a particular way, but with a little time you can get anything done with it.

Pixelmator looks amazing. It has a beautiful interface that goes along well with the Mac theme. It’s more professional and expensive than Seashore, but it also has a lot of features that Seashore doesn’t have. Despite this, it also manages to keep things simple.

Why it’s essential for a new user: An image editing app is always useful. iPhoto is very, very basic when it comes to image editing, so you can forget about it for your intricate needs. If you can afford Pixelmator ($29), I would suggest you buy it, but if you’re looking for a free alternative to it, Seashore is simple and works great.

jiTouch

jiTouch
jiTouch is probably my favorite app on my Mac. But if you are going to use it, you’ll need a trackpad or a Magic Mouse, since it’s essentially a way to super-charge a touch based input.

jiTouch brings a number of extra commands to your trackpad, besides the usual two-finger scroll, 4-finger exposé/wallpaper, etc. The feature that I use the most is tab switching with two fingers, but it also has a bunch of other commands like tab close, resize window, minimize window, refresh page, zoom in, and a lot more, just with a few finger gestures. You can also set up your own commands and even use it as a quick launch app!

Why it’s essential for a new user: One of the coolest things about the new MacBook is the multi-touch trackpad. Apple doesn’t take enough advantage of it, but with jiTouch, you can, and it will become a major time saver for you!

Dropbox

Dropbox
I guess you already know aboout Drobbox, but if you don’t, it is a universal file synchronizing app. Basically, you install it on a number of devices and you upload files to its system so that you can have access to those files anywhere.

Dropbox has apps for pretty much any device out there: Android, iOS, Mac OS, Windows, Linux and more. It has gained a lot of popularity; numerous people that I know use it to keep their devices synchronized, and it even has a number of creative uses that you could put to practice.

Why it’s essential for a new user: It is very useful, and it’ll make your life a lot easier. Forget about USB memory – cloud sharing is the future. It’s also a fantastic way to backup your data!

Aperture / Lightroom

Aperture
iPhoto is great for fixing little details in photographs, but if you are a proffessional photographer looking for a better way of editing your photos, you might be better off with either of these apps.

Aperture is made by Apple, and it is very much a “powered up” version of iPhoto. It manages to keep a level of simplicity while bringing a huge amount of extra functionality to the game. Lightroom is Adobe’s response to Aperture, and as such, you should expect expensive upgrades every year or so. It is, however, a perfectly functional app with plenty of features to discover.

Why it’s essential for a new user: This is useful for professional photographers, or people that are looking to get into photography. If you are not really into this, you better stick to iPhoto.

Hidden

Hidden
We recently had a theft-recovery app roundup, and one of the easiest and cheapest apps recommended, was Hidden. There are plenty of options in the market, but I think Hidden wins in both features and price ($25).

This app can help you recover your Mac if it ever gets stolen. Once you install it and link it to your computer and account, it will always run in the background of your computer. If your computer ever gets stolen, you just have to log in to their website and report the computer as “stolen”. The next time your computer is online, Hidden will track it and take pictures of the thief with your FaceTime camera.

Why it’s essential for a new user: We hope that you never have to use this app, but it’s always good to be cautious. Hidden doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get your computer back, but it also doesn’t hurt to try it out. Another remarkable app in this category is Undercover, but it is pricier.

Twitter for Mac

Twitter
The recently updated Tweetie is now called Twitter for Mac, and it is probably the best Twitter client available for Mac right now. It’s small, pretty, simple, and it has plenty of features.

While it may not be the most elaborate and feature-rich Twitter client in the market, Twitter for Mac does plenty. It has support for multiple accounts, search, trending topics, lists, retweets, and most important of all, it’s very simple and it looks great.

Why it’s essential for a new user: Twitter is a great tool for marketing your business, or simply keeping in touch with friends and media. The web version is excellent, especially with the update it got a few months ago, but you still might want a desktop app to handle all your Twitter accounts and give you notifications. Twitter for Mac is a top choice.

1Password

1Password
You really shouldn’t use the same password for more than a few sites, because if anyone gets access to that password, they’ll have access to all of the services that you have subscribed to, and you probably wouldn’t like that. But it’s also not convenient to keep a log of every password that you have for each different site.

1Password fixes this problem. It saves all the passwords that you use so that you don’t have to memorize them or take note of them. It has apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, and even a web service so that you can access your information from anywhere.

Why it’s essential for a new user: 1Password helps you keep your passwords organized so that you don’t have to use the same one for every site. This way, you remain secure and you don’t have to deal with the inconvenience of having multiple passwords.

Reeder for Mac Beta

Reeder
If you like to use an RSS reader, here’s the newest and hottest one available for Mac. I was a big Gruml fan for a while, but once I saw Reederbeing reviewed, I had to switch.

Reeder for Mac brings the iPad interface feel to the Mac, to provide a really comfortable and beautiful experience; and everything about it really feels and seems very simple. It works in conjunction with Google Reader, so you’ll need a Google account to use it.

Why it’s essential for a new user: I like Google Reader’s web interface, but when I use it I also miss the convenience of reading my feed in a desktop app, where it’s always available. There are many desktop reader apps out there, but Reeder for Mac is definitely the simplest and prettiest one, and it’s also free.

Skype

Skype
Skype is the most popular VoIP service out there. It has been pretty much the only relevant choice in its field for a while, and I’m sure you’ve used it or at least heard of it already.

The Mac app for Skype gives you the ability to call Skype friends for free, and other local and international numbers for a small fee. Think of it as an IM client, but more focused on voice and video calling. It also has support for features like screen sharing and voice mail.

Why it’s essential for a new user: I’m pretty sure you already use or have used Skype, and if you haven’t, I’d totally encourage you to create an account. Many people say that their fees for phone calling are way cheaper than any regular phone provider.

VLC

VLC
I’m not a big fan of this app, but I still use it because it can play any video or audio format that you throw at it. Quicktime is the default video player that comes pre-installed on your Mac, but as soon as you start using it you’ll notice how limited it is, especially when it comes to obscure formats.

VLC is a really ugly app. I don’t like how it looks and I don’t like the fact that it isn’t as easy to use as many other Mac apps, but it still is the best video player I have come across. Forget about downloading weird codecs from shady sites in order to play a video file, just install VLC and it will play any type of format you could imagine.

Why it’s essential for a new user: Because it will save you time and lots of effort. Quicktime is very limited when it comes to format support. VLC is not as good looking, but it works wonders.

Permute

Permute
Permute is a very simple video converter. It works through drag-and-drop and has presets for popular devices like an Xbox, an iPhone and the Apple TV. Even if you know nothing about video formats and what difference there is between them, you should have no problem understanding how to use this app.

Why it’s essential for a new user: Eventually, you might want to convert a video for a device that only supports certain formats, like your iPhone. Permute makes this process super easy and fast, even for people that don’t know what they are doing.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are a lot of apps that make it worthwhile to have a Mac computer, and most of these are only available on Mac OS.

Have you found any of these apps useful? Would you like to recommend any other apps for new Mac users? Let us know in the comments!


  • John Frankel

    I would say a GTD tool is a must have. I recommend Wunderlist from http://6wunderkinder.com or Things (though a little bit pricy and no cloud sync so far)

    • ARS

      Things=abandonware.
      Wunderlist=looks pretty.
      OmniFocus=best.

      • http://YouMeUs.in sunil R

        TaskPaper – simple & elegant

    • insanedreamer

      -The Hit List
      -TeuxDeux (web, not an app)
      - +1 for TaskPaper
      - Simplenote (there’s a nice dashboard widget for it)

      • Gordon

        You guys sure love your GTD apps round here :) I think windows users would find Notational Velocity and MAMP amazing. And don’t underestimate SugarSync as an alternative to DropBox.

  • chiefer

    First of all – TotalFinder, absolutely must for people accustomed to MS Windows. Fresh switcher will praise God for this app and thanks it’s producer! I can’t imagine work with Finder without TotalFinder add-on.

    For playing videos I prefer Movist. Better look and this same functionality as VLC with more friendly settings.

    I know that fresh switchers often look for Winamp’s exchange – I find VOX, very good, small and handy app with a lot of usefull functions.

    • Mew

      Yeah, Movist is great! It’s my primary media player for video.

      I would however like to switch out 1Password for LastPass as it’s free, syncs with the cloud and has extensions for all the big browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera).

    • zeroryu

      I’d add MPlayer OSX Extended and Movist.

      Use MPlayer for playing large mkv files. Movist for better sequential play. ex: watching series of episodes without having to add all the files into playlist.

  • 2mac4U

    Totalfinder is a gem. Another great little app is Dockview. Gives the dock some of the look and functionality of windowz.

    • Mew

      HyperDock is even better in my opinion… and free. (Atleast for now.)
      http://hyperdock.bahoom.de/ …if you want to try it out. :)

  • dixhuit

    Have to disagree on a few of these.

    Alfred is totally pointless next to Spotlight if all you need is a Launcher if a few extra features. Command + Space all the way. FREE (and already installed).

    Reeder is totally over rated eye candy IMHO. I’ve yet to find a better RSS reader than Google Reader in the browser (yes, I’ve tried Gruml). FREE.

    VirtualBox is also a very solid OS virtualisation app to rival Wine Bottler / Parallels. FREE.

    I would also add TotalFinder to the list and personally prefer the extra functionality of TweetDeck over Twitter for Mac any day.

    Have fun switchers! Don’t forget to check out Steam if you’re a gamer :)

    • David Ferguson

      Alfred is 1000x faster and adds a lot more functionality in comparison to Spotlight.

      • dixhuit

        “if all you need is a Launcher if a few extra features”

    • David Ferguson

      Also, since FREE since to be your big argument for several of these.. free isn’t a synonym for good/better/best. I’m not saying this covers every case, but typically, paid software ends up with more features, better support, etc.

      • http://franciscans.tv Matto

        Nah. I still prefer Namely.

      • dixhuit

        Was just pointing out that they were free.

    • Cody Keisler

      Reeder for mac is not just eye candy. Yes, it may not have all the functionality of other RSS reader Mac apps but its also still in beta, give it time

    • PeterBreis

      Spotlight is a pig.

      It defaults to finding by content, can bog down till it is any guess as to whether it is doing anything. The results, if there are any, are mostly unsortable and when it locks up as it does irregularly on my Macs you can’t even force quit it.

      Hard to believe Apple created this and marketed it as a great idea!

      It is so stupid, I have had it search on names copied from files sitting in front of me in the Finder, and it fails! This is what we are supposed to rely on instead of properly organised directories?

  • Alex Ennes

    Brilliant post , agree with every app you mentioned.
    Also to note for whoever enjoys gaming , steam is also available for mac although the games available are limited its definitely worth a look.
    Great post

  • http://nataliaventre.com Natalia Ventre

    When Mac dims the screen, the downloads don’t stop, Caffeine is useful if you are watching long YouTube’s videos or similar.

  • http://drdkl.isgreat.org Dreadedkilla

    Unless my sleepy eyes have deceived me, there are 22. But 22 quality apps they are.

  • Jawcl

    Permute is nice, but its better to use Handbrake. Its free ;)

    • steve

      +1 for handbrake..

  • Alex

    I wander if anyone had ever heard of MPlayer OSX Extended (http://www.mplayerosx.ch/).

    It’s free as VLC. It looks nice. It plays everything. I still to find a file that it cannot play.

    • V8

      Mplayer Extended cannot play RMVB files. You need real player for this type of files.

      • Alex

        I’m surprised it’s still alive. Haven’t seen it in use for years.

  • Bob Balin

    Here’s another vote for Movist as prettier VLC alternative. It plays all the formats that matter and has great features.

    • jaro

      I second that !

  • David Ferguson

    I have decided, you should burn for not including Sparrow.
    CloudApp or Droplr should be included too.

    • Cody Keisler

      I second that!

  • http://tomdavenport.co.uk Tom Davenport

    Thanks, I’m a long term mac user and it was still helpful. I’m getting HIdden, Reeder and Permute right now!

    I would add ‘Things’, which has become an essential part of my life. It’s not perfect, but it keeps all my to-dos and ideas nicely organised, and synced between iPhone and macbook.

  • K-VT

    QuickSilver > Alfred

    • David Ferguson

      Tell that to all your other QS friends that are constantly swapping.

  • docMD

    There really isnt a need for VLC, use Perian (http://www.perian.org/) to extend Quick Time and install XBMC (http://xbmc.org/download/) if you want a pretty front end (both free).

  • Jaro

    Keep the quality, not quantity !!!

    VLC??? GOM Player ( fastest player on win with wide support of fortmats and great shortcuts ) alternative on mac is MOVIST not VLC !!! Although VLC is not bad – if you are patient enough to spend a life to adjust it… and speed is not its strong part after all that monkeying…

  • jaro

    And for simple music player ( alternative for winamp on win ) definitely you omit vox player.

  • John

    iFlicks is the best video converter app. Great interface and the app automatically adds meta data to your movies / tv shows…

  • markypoo

    ohmylanta.
    thank you.
    so.much.
    JiTouch… is… AMAZING.
    I would’ve never known about it if it wasn’t for this list.
    THANKS!

    • bas

      or use BetterTouchTool…same thing..

  • Noa

    Here’s another nod to Movist, though having recently stumbled across the Blackpearl mod for VLC, I’m considering giving VLC another try.

    http://hirolabs.de/download_vlc_blackpearl.php

  • Tim Lahey

    I prefer LaunchBar to Alfred. It has a lot more features and is more responsive. I find Alfred has a long delay to activate.

  • http://www.megrot.com Fmegrot

    for me, EVOM rather than PERMUTE (same and FREE)

  • Yansky

    If you’re not happy with the interface for VLC, you should check out Lunettes. It’s basically VLC with a native GUI.

    http://pdherbemont.free.fr/Lunettes.png
    https://github.com/pdherbemont/Glasses/downloads

  • Rohan

    Have to say I would have HandBrake and Growl on my list of must-haves. Not sure if Growl would really count as an app though.
    An iTunes controller probably wouldn’t be a bad, my personal favourite is Bowtie.
    Also, you should probably mention Perian, just in case people don’t want to use VLC all that much.
    CapSee has also helped me out of a lot of silly moments. :)

  • MacUserSince01

    You left out at least 2 other good choices for running Windows on a Mac:
    - Virtual Box which is free and VMWare which is a paid app but with an established software company with good support.

    Misc….

    - Office 2011 for Mac – Yup Microsoft has FINALLY done it…If you have been holding out buying one of their earlier versions (ok efforts but slow and limited in a lot of ways), THIS IS THE ONE TO GET. It’s great from top to bottom and in some ways actually better than MS Office for Windows 2010

    - The Unarchiver is great but folks need to know that UnrarX is great for unpacking rar files too and that there actually is a version of Winzip for Mac now that deserves a looksee

    -Where is Perian? It lets Quicktime take on a lot of media files that it otherwise couldn’t handle. You also probably need to mention Flip4Mac’s Windows Media plugin/player that’ll play those .wmv files from Windows.

    - Yes to Skype, but keep an eye on Apple’s Facetime which I think has a lot of potential for video chat as well. Still, Skype is the king right now

  • Sam Frysteen

    As a Mac user, I can’t live without Default folder installed…. very much a must have utility.

  • NONO

    VLC? Yuck! MPlayer OSX Extended.

  • Alopex

    You have only slight ideas about what you are looking for inside your Mac ? Tembo, gets it for you within a few clicks : no comparaison with Spotlight.

    So I warmly recommend to install Tembo. I use it several times a day.

  • insanedreamer

    - VirtualBox works great (and free) for VM.
    - Transmission (for torrents), also free.
    - NewNewsReader, as an alternative to Gruml, also free. (but Reeder for Mac is better)
    - Burn – super easy burning-to-CD, and free
    - +1 for Evom, free
    - NotationalVelocity is a worth rival to TaskPaper, free
    - I would take Acorn over Pixelmator.
    - Freedom, Concentrate or Self-Control, for making sure you stick to what you need to do :)
    - Bean – A free, nice, easy to use wordprocessor that does everything most people need.
    - Droplr or CloudApp to share files (Dropbox better for actual storage)
    - ClamXav – for free virus protection (though not so needed compared to Windows)
    - Carbon Copy Cloner – backups, copies, etc. – free
    - For devs, tons of tools, I won’t even go there.
    - Forklift – a very good finder replacement that doubles as a good FTP/SFTP client (including public key authentication), and with double-pane, tabs, etc.
    - GrandPerspective – free utility to see what’s taking up space
    - ReadNow – handy tray utility that connects to your Read It Later account (someone should make something like that for Instapaper).

    • insanedreamer

      Oh, and once you try iWork, you’ll never want to go back to MS Office. Pages in particular is much better for page layout than MS Word (which I used for many years).

      • mkrakowiak

        Maybe for page layout iWork is better than Office, but for anything else is just horrible. At least for a switcher. I’m so looking forward to getting a copy of MS Office 2011.

  • Elad

    VLC is so old news. Movist is much lighter and elegant!

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  • Yusuf Miles

    More or less the standard bunch of general apps. For some productivity apps for you switchers out there check it:

    Text editing: Macromates’ Textmate
    Version control: Zennaware’s Cornerstone (stunning app)
    Graphics: Pixelmator

    That will get any budding Web/iPhone/iPad designer up and running for ~$100. All best in their class, so not bad at all.

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  • http://www.preyproject.com Mike

    Free alternative for Hidden. This software does everything Hidden does, but it’s absolutely free. Check it out.

  • xen0blade

    Prey (http://www.preyproject.com) is way better then Hidden…because it is free. Nice post Mike (you almost beat me…but you forgot the link…)

  • Franz

    Ok guys your suggestions are great for a switcher. but i haven’t found alternatives for:
    - xnview (I know they have a mac version but its not like the windows one, the feature I loved from xnview was the shell extension)
    - ditto clipboard manager (take memory of all your ctrl+c, ops sorry, cmd+c)
    - “send to” shell menu (expecially send to bluethoot and email)

    any help??

  • Barrie Parsons

    Many thanks to all contributers…………..I have ‘GOOGLED’for weeks trying to find out what software is available for my new IMAC that I am waiting for….BUT could not find any info.I just come onto this site by accident and am amazed and vey grateful for the info.Thanks all….Barrie g4yjs.

  • Ashley

    Hey guys,

    I switched from a Windows to a Mac (love it) but am missing a few Windows programs. I then heard of Parallels 7 for Mac. It’s the best of both worlds! I definitely recommend it. If you’re interested, there is an opportunity to win a free copy of the software. It’s a Twitter contest, so it’s super easy.

    http://www.nightlion.net/reviews/osx/2011/parallels-desktop-7-for-mac-free-giveaway-contest-4-copies-available/

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  • http://techieshome.com/ Ankul Barar

    Just moved to Mac from Windows and I love it! Downloaded almost all the apps that you have mentioned in the list. Also Adobe’s photoshop and dreamweaver.
    Thank you so much! :)

  • Jamal

    Great list. but it would be much better with the prices included.

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