10 Must-Have Apps You Won’t Find in the Mac App Store

This post is part of a series that revisits some of our readers’ favorite articles from the past that still contain awesome and relevant information that you might find useful. Though, over the past year, a few things have changed, so check for the updates below, too.

This post was originally published on June 21th, 2011.

Like most Mac users, I have mixed feelings about the Mac App store. For app users, the App Store makes it easier to find and manage apps all in one place, but largely eliminates the flexibility of free trials. New developers probably enjoy the increased visibility of being in the App Store, but likely lament about the slow acceptance process and numerous restrictions.

Though it seems like most Mac app developers are following the crowd to the App Store, there are still some real gems out there that haven’t made the switch. In this round-up, I’ll go through an incomplete list of fantastic apps missing from the App Store that are worth straying to the browser for. (I’m not including free apps or popular, well-known software like the Microsoft Office or Adobe Creative Suites.)

iStat Menus

iStat Menus is a powerful system monitoring app, which makes realtime status information about your Mac easily accessible from your menu bar. iStat menus is highly customizable, letting you control exactly what information you want displayed, and how the information will look in your menu bar. iStat Menus can monitor CPU usage, battery, memory, disk usage, network activity, hardware temperatures and more. Personally, I use it to keep track of CPU usage from the menu bar, so I can quickly find out which processes are slowing down my computer and how demanding my apps are on my computer’s resources.

various iStat menus

various iStat menus

Bjango has decided not to offer their apps for download from the Mac App until it overcomes what they perceive to be significant shortcomings. Their position is cleverly outlined in their timeline of a hypothetical app released through the app store. It’s an interesting, well-argued article, check it out!

Ian Tromp’s Review of iStat Menus

Price: $16
Developer: Bjango


Now in the App Store!

1Password can keep track of all your login information for the myriad websites and services you sign up for, and makes them all accessible through one master password. I’ve been using 1Password to keep track of web logins, software licenses, bank information and more for the past six months or so, and couldn’t be happier with it. In addition to the copy-and-paste interface, 1Password integrates with your browser (it plays better with some browsers than others, but it’s pretty seamless in Chrome and Safari) so that you can fill out forms and passwords with a few clicks of the mouse, without having to rely on your browser’s own less-than-secure password storage. Agile Bits also created an iPhone version of 1Password that syncs with your Mac, but I personally haven’t found myself using it much.

1Password app interface & Chrome extension

1Password app interface & Chrome extension

I got my mother a 1Password license for Christmas, and she never stops telling me how much time and frustration it saves her!

Originally, 1Password couldn’t be featured in the App Store because of the way it integrates with browsers, but today its in the App Store and even complies with Apple’s new sandboxing requirements. Best of all, if you buy it from the App Store today, you’ll get a free upgrade to iPassword 4 when its released.

Quintin Carlson’s comparison of 1Password and Wallet

Price: $49.99
Developer: Agile Bits


CleanMyMac is a handy utility that scans your Mac for any unnecessary files and data, and makes it easy to delete anything you don’t need. CleanMyMac eliminates unnecessary language files, universal binaries, caches, logs, and more. You can pick and choose what you want to keep and delete, and it makes sure you delete files permanently and securely.

CleanMyMac scanning my computer

CleanMyMac scanning my computer

One of my favourite features of CleanMyMac is the uninstaller: when you drag an application to the trash, CleanMyMac pops up and asks if you want to delete all the extra files that accompany it, so you don’t have any leftover junk from your unwanted apps.

CleanMyMac might not ever show up on the App Store because they offer a 6-month license option for half the price of the lifetime version, and I don’t see Apple supporting that kind of pricing plan at the App Store. Plus, it requires far too much access to your system to comply with the App Store’s requirements. CleanMyMac’s developer did make a simpler app, CleanMyDrive, that’s on the App Store and can clean external drives of junk.

David Appleyard’s review of CleanMyMac

Price: $29.95
Developer: MacPaw

Alfred Powerpack

Here at Mac Appstorm, we frequently extol the many virtues of Alfred, the powerful Spotlight replacement that lets you search your computer and the internet, launch applications, do calculations, and (way) more. The Powerpack extends Alfred with additional, powerful features that take Alfred one big step further. The Alfred Powerpack lets you perform actions on the files you find, like copying, moving, emailing or opening, in addition to it acting as a mini iTunes controller, allowing you to search recent documents and clipboard snippets, launching terminal controls and commands, and more.

Performing actions on a file in Alfred

Performing actions on a file in Alfred

The Alfred Powerpack lets you do many of the common tasks you perform on your Mac without lifting your fingers from the keyboard or navigating through the Finder. The basic version of Alfred is an indispensable tool for casual and power users alike, but the Powerpack adds a whole extra level of geeky productivity that makes Spotlight look archaic.

Alfred is available for free in the App Store, but so far the Powerpack is only available for download through the website, and the App Store version can’t be upgraded to Powerpack. Alfred’s developers have promised to make the Powerpack available at the App Store in the future.

David Appleyard’s article about Alfred Powerpack Tips

Price: £15 (around $23.50, depending on the current exchange rate)
Developer: Running with Crayons


Since tabbed browsing has become the standard in web browsers, I can’t help but think tabs should be everywhere. In my opinion, any app in which you often have multiple windows open should have tabs (iWork and Microsoft Office, I’m looking at you). The Finder certainly falls under this category for me, and though a tabbed Finder seems like the next logical step to me, I was disappointed to see no Finder improvements at all in Lion.

TotalFinder main interface

TotalFinder main interface

TotalFinder is an attempt to correct this oversight, bringing Google Chrome-like tabs to the finder. The basic functionality is pretty much what you’d expect: the tabs work like they do in Chrome, and you can easily drag-and-drop between them.

In addition to the tabbed browsing, TotalFinder also offers a split-window mode, cut-and-paste, system-wide Finder access through keyboard shortcut, and finder organization.

Matt Longman’s review of TotalFinder

Price: $18
Developer: Binary Age

Path Finder

Like TotalFinder, Path Finder brings tabs to the Finder. However, Path Finder also packs in a heap of additional features and is marketed as a fully-featured Finder replacement. Path Finder adds pretty much any feature you wish the Finder had, like dual pane browsing, sorting and filtering, and breadcrumb navigation. My favourite feature of Path Finder is the “Drop Stack” which is like a temporary folder in the sidebar where you can place files as you relocate them.

A folder displayed in Path Finder

A folder displayed in Path Finder

I used Path Finder for a long time, but recently switched to TotalFinder because Path Finder doesn’t support Dropbox, which is a total deal-breaker for me.

I don’t know if apps like TotalFinder or Path Finder will end up in the App Store, I’m guessing they probably tweak the OS a lot more than Apple is comfortable with.

Joshua Johnson’s round-up of Finder replacements

Price: $40
Developer: Cocoatech


Now in the App Store!

HyperDock brings Windows 7-style window previews and snapping to OSX, showing you a preview of open windows when a dock icon is hovered over, and snapping windows to corners or sides of the screen. HyperDock’s window preview feature is handy, but personally I think it needs a bit more work.

Like I said before, I think tabbed interfaces are key, and HyperDock only shows you the different windows open in each app. I rarely have more than one window open at one time in an app, but usually have a fair number of tabs going in Chrome, Photoshop and Coda.

HyperDock displaying Safari tabs

HyperDock displaying Safari tabs

HyperDock does support tab previews for Safari, and the developer says support for other browsers is on the “to-do list.” I switched from Safari to Chrome a couple months ago, but the HyperDock integration with Safari is really slick, and I could see myself using this app a lot more if it worked with more browsers.

HyperDock also features window snapping, similar to apps like Cinch or BetterSnapTool, which works intuitively and just as well as Cinch for basic window management, but doesn’t have quite as many customization options as BetterSnapTool.

As it turns out, HyperDock made it to the App Store after this article was originally published, though it is slightly more restricted. Good thing is, you can choose if you want to buy it directly from the developer for more features or get the App Store’s convenience.

Conor O’Driscoll’s comparison of DockView and HyperDock

Price: $9.99
Developer: Christian Baumgart


Kaleidoscope is a powerful application that allows you to compare documents and review changes easily and quickly. Kaleidoscope works with pictures and with text files, and uses different comparison methods for each. When reviewing a text file, the app highlights changes, deletions and insertions in different colours, allowing you to easily see how a file has changed. This feature seems aimed at developers, with support for version control through Git, Mercurial and Subversion.

I’m not much of a developer, but I found the text file comparison really useful for writing and editing purposes. Rather than using Word’s “track changes” feature, which shows changes all in one document, Kaleidoscope highlights changes in a much more understandable way, with both documents side-by-side.

Comparing images and text in Kaleidoscope

Comparing images and text in Kaleidoscope

You can also compare images in a number of ways, but I found the most useful comparison method was the “split” view, which lets you control the angle the images are “split” at, allowing you to compare whichever portions of the image you wish.

Kaleidoscope has gone in and out of the App Store as noted in the comments, but it doesn’t seem like it’s coming back now. The good thing is, you can still get it from the developer!

Joshua Johnson’s review of Kaleidoscope

Price: $39
Developer: Sofa


Concentrate is an interesting little app: it helps you eliminate distractions by letting you set various actions to be excecuted while you’re “concentrating.” Actions include launching and quitting apps, blocking websites, opening documents, running scripts and setting off various reminders.

When I was in school I used Concentrate frequently, and my favourite features were the spoken or Growled reminders: I had it set up so that a Stephen Hawking voice would berate me every half hour or so, and a Growl message would remind me to save changes every few minutes.

Creating "rules" for yourself using Concentrate

Creating "rules" for yourself using Concentrate

Some of us need to be forced to concentrate, and can’t be trusted to stay away from distractions, and Concentrate really helps keep you on track. Though I’m not in school any more, I still launch Concentrate every once in a while when I really need to get something done without the constant temptation of the internet.

Henry Bennet’s review of Concentrate

Price: $29
Developer: Rocket


Another academic app, Papers helps you find and organize academic papers with ease. Papers is designed for anyone with an overflowing digital library of research papers, studies and the like, using automatic metadata detection or manually added information to organize your papers.

The Papers main interface

The Papers main interface

I used Papers in school to keep track of endless anthropology articles and assignments, and it was a lifesaver when it came to writing research papers. Mekentosj recently released Papers 2 with some fantastic new features that I haven’t really had a chance to delve into, like support for many different document types, unified search, coverflow interface, word processor integration and more. Papers is a brilliantly handy app for students, and I imagine it would be indispensable for researchers.

Ian Tromp’s review of Papers

Price: $79 (Student discounts available)
Developer: Mekentosj


Though this roundup is far from exhaustive, it shows how many great apps can be found outside of the App Store. Some of the developers of these apps have held back from releasing App Store versions because of their own negative opinions of the platform, others wouldn’t be able to get their apps approved, but they’re certainly still worthwhile apps, and their lack of inclusion in the App Store in no way reflects lesser quality.

What are your thoughts on App Store distribution? Do you think these developers have made mistakes by not taking the platform seriously? With the number of apps in the App Store increasing every day, can these developers still compete?


Add Yours
  • You missed one. TextMate!

    Not sure, why it isn’t in the Mac App Store. But anyways, it’s a must-have app for sure.

    • Just bought my copy yesterday :) Been using Coda before. TextMate really should be included in this list!

    • Apple taking 30% doesn’t seem like a good deal for developers with popular applications such as these ones

      • I think it is/could be :)

        THe developer doesn’t have to provide his own server to have people download their software from (which saves a huge chunk of money). It’s also some extra free publicity for your software, and you also save a good bit of money on the bookkeeping part, since you can check via your account how much you’ve sold and stuff.

        30% really isn’t that much if you count in the savings devs get when they don’t have to provide a file server for these kind of massive-amount-downloads :)

    • TextMate is the ugliest coder out there. Coda2 is a bit of a disappointment, so I make do with Espresso, which is fantastic except for some minor niggles, or SublimeText2 which is great for full on php coding.

  • Sneakily adding Kaleidoscope in there while it’s temporarily not in the App Store? ;)

    I thought “What?! Kaleidoscope is in the App Store.”, but then couldn’t find it. Apparently, it’ll be back soon:


    • I thought the same thing but then couldn’t find it… good catch.

  • I purchased my copy of Kaleidoscope via the App Store. It was a featured app for a few weeks, at a special discount price. But looks like it’s been removed.

  • People, what’s better: Path finder or Total Finder? What are your opinions about these 2 apps?

    • I’ve never used PathFinder, but I’ve been a TotalFinder user for a while and I’ve been really happy with it.

    • Forklift is better then both of them.

      Also i want to repeat that while i love my Macs – i hate the MAS.
      No more Demoversions? The MAS is slow and buggy and a pain to use.

    • I can’t imagine using a Mac without Path Finder. I’ve been using it for years and have experimented with some other apps, including Forklift…and keep coming back to Path Finder.

    • I tried both, i ended up using Forklift.

      • Same here. I found Forklift to be the best out of the bunch.

    • TotalFinder is a Finder ENHANCER, Path Finder is a Finder REPLACEMENT. Path Finder offers a ton of features, and is probably overkill for the average user. Both are fantastic!

      • My sentiments exactly. TotalFinder is all the average Mac user needs.

    • Path Finder is the closest thing to Directory Opus for Windows that I could find for the Mac. TotalFinder is nice, but it’s simply a different beast, not nearly as capable as Path Finder, but perhaps good for some people’s needs. Two things to consider:

      1. Path Finder (version 5.8.1 anyway) does indeed support Dropbox, contrary to your otherwise excellent review.

      2. Contrary to the poster who claims that none of this stuff is necessary, all I can say is to each her/his own. If you do a lot of file management stuff — say, managing lots of photos, or coding projects, or writing — an application like Path Finder is invaluable. If you don’t need it, don’t get it, but please don’t diss people who find one or more of these applications useful.

      Thanks so much for an outstanding blog!

    • I’d say pathfinder even though it’s more, is a separate program and not 100 percent effective as a finder replacement (its like 98) because it has better tabs, useful features like terminal anywhere, the current version supports openmeta. Total finder is good but it hiccups sometimes and causes some weird finder issues. if you just want the dual browser and tabs total finder is good, if you don’t want to spend the money though xtrafinder is also available has most of total finders features and is free (its also less stable last I checked but that was awhile ago)

  • Kaleidoscope is on the MAS

  • There’s a plan to add Alfred Powerpack as in app purchase in future versions.

  • What do you mean with “Path Finder doesn’t support Dropbox”? I’ve been using both and didn’t notice anything wrong until now. What I’m missing? -.-

    • It doesn’t have the dropbox contextual menus without a hack (which I’ll be writing about in an upcoming review). You also can’t update files in your dropbox without the Finder launching. It’s on dropbox to fix these problems at the moment, so we can only wait and hope :(

  • who said Kaleidoscope isn’t on MAS !???!?
    A quick google search doesn’t take more than 20 seconds.

  • You should drop 1Password for Lastpass if you really want more sync connectivity — no need for the actual app and the cloud syncing works great.

    I’d been using 1Password for 2 years now and couldn’t have been happier but now Lastpass fills that niche for the gaping window in Windows (xD) that 1Password lacks.

    • Actually, 1Password now has a PC client. I still think it is overall much better than LastPass and as it syncs an encrypted file (very securely encrypted) its not reliant on the security of a service like LastPass cloud sync.

      • 1Password on Windows works great, too, and Dropbox sync has worked perfect for everything I need. Actually, I used LastPass on Windows for the longest time, but it broke on so many sites. 1Password has been much, much better. Plus, it’s much nicer designed, which has to count for something :)

  • I wish the Mac App Store was clearer about how it works for businesses…we use 5 Macs at our small business, so it’s perfect for downloading apps to each of those machines and keeping things in sync. But I’ve heard businesses aren’t supposed to use the MAS? Would like to know before Final Cut Pro X comes out, and Lion. We need FCPX on 4 of the Macs, but 4x$300 is a lot more than 1x$300.

    1Password has a tutorial for syncing your keychain with Dropbox (takes like 60 seconds to set up), works perfect for my Macs/PCs and iPhone. Safari has the tightest integration, but I’m mainly using Chrome since Safari beachball’s all the time. Plus they’re a Canadian company.

    • Found the Terms & Conditions:
      “(ii) If you are a commercial enterprise or educational institution, you may download a Mac App Store Product for use by either (a) a single individual on each of the Mac Computer(s) used by that individual that you own or control or (b) multiple individuals on a single shared Mac Computer that you own or control. For example, a single employee may use a Mac App Store Product on both the employee’s desktop Mac Computer and laptop Mac Computer, or multiple students may serially use a Mac App Store Product on a single Mac Computer located at a resource center or library. For the sake of clarity, each Mac Computer used serially by multiple users requires a separate license.”

      So realistically, we’re supposed to buy a separate app (or license) for each Mac. Fair enough. We only have one Apple ID for the company though…surely we don’t need to create a separate Apple ID for each computer?

      Ok, I see now why people hate the Mac App Store. Hitting the forums…will call Apple later today as well, see what they recommend.

  • A year ago dumped Microsoft and went totally Apple. Just like with Windows went out and found Apps that it was felt were needed. The old Shareware Savant instincts seemed to not have failed and some of the Apps chosen were unknowns, but now grace articles on ‘must have’ Apps. The ‘App Store’ seemed great until it was seen there was no chance to ‘test then buy.’ As one who follows the rule of ‘in the computer, pay for it if asked,’ that might put me in a small category and so can understand why the App Store was set up that way. For now iTunes is off the computer and the App Store is rarely visited.

  • dont download and use iStat Menus! this application will modify the Smcfancontrol settings, and your macbook’s fan speed will never go back to normal!!

    • I use iStat Menus and unless YOU specify new settings for the fan speed, it changes nothing… At least I have no problem at all to report with this very useful app !

  • Great round up of software my MacBook couldn’t live without.

    I’ve slowly warmed up to the Mac App Store, but there continues to be a market for excellent apps that wouldn’t make the cut under Apple’s controlling vision.

  • Some other mac essentials not on the app store, from the top of my mind and in no particular order:

    – Hazel (automated folder actions and more)
    – Dropbox
    – Perian
    – VLC
    – Espresso/CSSEdit
    – Skype
    – Notational Velocity
    – TextExpander
    – Sequel Pro
    – Transmission
    – Chrome/Firefox
    – Homebrew
    – Bean
    – Adium
    – Growl
    – Handbrake
    – Steam + Many games on Steam

    • Growl is in MAS for $1.99 now.

  • I will be stuck on System 10.6 (Snow Leopard) forever it seems as hell can freeze over (and probably will the way the weather is lately) before I use the App Store on a Mac. OK for iOS devices but App Store in Lion is a plain money grab.

  • iStat Menus:
    Ridiculous. Nobody needs this unless you tart your OS up with unnecessary third-party system add-ons and hacks. A typical example of how nerds end up wasting ton of time babying their tools. Developers who need to monitor and tune app performance already have everything they need in Apple Developer Tools and SDKs.

    Idea is good but they have no excuse for using Scripting Addition hack to hatch on Safari. Apple has never meant Scripting Addition to be used to circumvent memory protection.

    Ridiculous. Who cares if I have a few MBs of extra language files and other things when I have 300GB free space?

    Alfred Powerpack:
    Tried and failed. Easier and more natural to simply use built-in procedures. Keyboard-based control is way overrated.

    I don’t care if tabbed window is useful, this app injects code into Finder, which is one of the core OS X functions, and mess around. Sure way to welcome potential system instability that’s very hard to hunt down. None of the TotalFinder features is worth taking that kind of risk.

    Path Finder:
    Reinventing the wheel for things not essential and not particularly helpful, tarting up the OS and workflow without any significant value. It doesn’t even automate anything, it only gives you more things to tinker with.

    Expose. End of story.

    The only useful app on this list.

    Hide Others, volume off, quick Command+Q taps while in task switcher, and it’s all done. Is it that hard to turn off these things??

    Yet another reinventing the wheel. People just use Finder or Evernote for this.

    Verdict: None of these are must-have. Maybe one of these would be useful in some cases, that’s about it.

    • Although I don’t love the arrogant way you said it, I agree with most of your thoughts except for the Alfred Powerpack. What “built-in procedures” would you be talking about? I use Alfred all the time for things that would take several steps or couldn’t even be done at all with the “built-in” procedures. Especially when I can extend it to do anything I want through extensions and hotkeys.

      Also – who cares how 1Password works, at least they made it work with Safari, which is more than I can say for Acrobat.

    • 1Password is hell of a useful application as is Alfred with it’s power pack (unless you only want an application launcher), iStat Menus too is an essential application for “everyone” it makes it obvious when applications hang or use ridiculous amount of memory etc.
      I agree with the rest e.g pathfinder, totalfinder, cleanmymac they are a waste of space.
      Finally kaleidoscope is useless compared to vimdiff diffmerge etc etc.

  • Probably the best app that isn’t in the App Store is Mackeeper. Its like 16 apps in one (maybe more I can’t remember) totally needed .

    I have:
    iStat Menus – Love it
    1password – Love it
    Total Finder – Super Love it
    Alfred Powerpack – Love it

    I can’t really see the need for Path Finder because you can’t really hide or replace the stock Finder app with it. If you could, I would switch. But Total Finder does a really good job at laying on top of the stock app.

    Some of this stuff is unnecessary to most people, some of us just like to add stuff that tweaks our macs or makes things more user-friendly.

  • Amazing weblog! I dont feel Ive seen all of the angles of this subject the way youve pointed them out. Youre a accurate star, a rock star man. Youve got so significantly to say and know so considerably about the subject that I believe you must just teach a class about it…HaHa!

  • great list! personally I prefer cleanmymac as all around cleaner tool. All others, like Skype, HyperDock, etc are non-critical.

  • I don’t think you’re arrogant as was suggested by another. Elitist is probably more accurate.

    iStat’s dynamic menu bar icons makes it simple to see which of my cores are tied up and to what extent when doing heavy crypto or other cpu intensive processing. Unless I need specific metrics and/or to build histograms there is no need to bother with the dev tools or the sdk. It’s fine for its intended audience, which obviously isn’t you.

    I don’t disagree with the scripting addition comment, but what are you recommending as a viable alternative for 1Password? Are the 1P developers aware of your displeasures or are you simply just venting? I dislike the way 1P behaved in the browser which is why I no longer use it. But I haven’t found anything that I like better either.

    Clean my Mac comes in handy when drive space is at a premium, say, for those users working from a MB Pro or Air, not when you’re sitting on ample drive space or have an array to play with. Until there are affordable and transportable Thunderbolt drives most users without the command line training have few choices when drive capacities are low yet require bus speed r/w transfer rates.

    Don’t know anything about Alfred. Wouldn’t have if I hadn’t read the OP. Spotlight has too many issues and merits an alternative.

    Total Finder. I’ve read way to many posts whining about how TF injects itself into the system, like system code is sacred, virginal, and must be kept chaste. I’ve yet to read of any significant issues as a consequence. Some of us like to think of system code as a starting point, not the end point. So regardless of whether an app piggybacks onto SIMBL or uses its own injection mechanisms, perhaps you should check the .git source before you pontificate conclusions. Furthermore, I like having all my finder instances in one place rather than scattered all over the desktop.

    The other apps will appeal or not to different folks for different reasons. You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, but your delivery needs some refinement.

  • Papers is completely different from Finder and Evernote. It lets you annotate pdf files and cite while you write. To compare the three is ridiculous.

  • I’d have to check with you here. Which is not something I usually do! I enjoy reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

  • Espresso!

  • Speaking of good apps, one of them is PhotoSweeper and it is on sales today, just $1.99: http://mac.appstorm.net/how-to/utilities-how-to/photosweeper-take-charge-of-your-photos-and-free-up-disk-space/

  • The only one I agree with is Totalfinder. There are also quite a few alternatives to the above apps that are available on the MAS.

    Also swap Papers for Mendeley which is free.

  • You won’t find CodeKit in the App Store — but it’s highly recommended.