The Best Mac Utilities Under $5

When you spend most of your work day in front of a Mac’s screen, you develop a system for being productive. Fortunately, there is an abundance of apps available for OS X that fill very specific needs and help keep you and your computer running efficiently. Some of the utilities that I use on a daily basis are rather expensive, such as 1Password.

However, I use dozens of utilities as part of my workflow that cost five bucks or less. Here are some of my favorites.

The Best for $5 or Less

Yoink

OS X has never made moving files as simple as it should be. It typically prefers to copy files rather than move them by default. Yoink solves this issue by automatically revealing a tray on the side of your screen when you grab an object. Place it on the tray, navigate to the folder you want, and move the file. Yoink makes sure it moves rather than just copies. I’ve tried a few competitors, such as DragonDrop, and I prefer Yoink for the extra features it offers.

Price: $2.99
Requires: OS X 10.7 or later
Developer: Matthew Gansrigler

Apptivate

I’m a huge fan of using application launchers instead of cluttering my dock. Apptivate combines some of the best features of app launchers like Alfred with more advanced features for power users, such as the ability to add Automator workflows. Where it shines is the hotkey sequencing that allows you to customize shortcuts to execute a complex series of actions.

Price: $2.99
Requires: OS X 10.6.6 or later
Developer: Cocoabeans Software

Frank DeLoupe

I spend a good deal of my time in Adobe Creative Suite. With each major update, Adobe adds a few features to color palettes, but there is always room for improvement. Frank DeLoupe lets you use the color dropper anywhere within your system. After connecting the app to Photoshop, you can click on the dropper tool from your menubar and send a cool color you find on the internet straight to your palette.

Price: $0.99
Requires: OS X 10.7 or later
Developer: Jumpzero

PopClip

For all the frustrations I have with word processing on iDevices, one thing I have always enjoyed is the way the menu pops up automatically from highlighted text. From there, you can cut, copy, paste, and more. PopClip brings that feature to your Mac. Highlight some text, and you can spare your fingers from the tedious ⌘ – C shortcut.

Price: $1.99
Requires: OS X 10.6.6 or later
Developer: Pilotmoon Software

Reeder

The amount of incredible content out there on the internet can be overwhelming at times. That’s why I use Google Reader to follow my favorite RSS feeds. The web app has always felt too cluttered to me, and for a long time, I struggled to find a desktop reader that I liked. Fortunately, Reeder does an incredible job syncing with your Google Reader account, and offers sharing to all your favorite social networks (and even a few I’d never even heard of before). You can interact with Google directly from the app, meaning you can manage your subscriptions, star your favorite posts, and much more.

Price: $4.99
Requires: OS X 10.6.6 or later
Developer: Silvio Rizzi

Palua

In a reasonable effort to limit the number of keys on a keyboard, Apple (and most computer manufacturers) assign multiple functions to each key. Certain applications that utilize a huge number of shortcuts make the task of constantly hitting the “function” key a hassle. Palua lets you create modes that can switch on with pre-assigned applications so that you don’t have to worry about hitting that pesky function key, and just worry about the F5 key. This is a solution to an annoying problem that I didn’t realize I had until I found Palua. It has made Photoshop shortcuts incredibly easier to use.

Price: $0.99
Requires: OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Molowa

Tictoc

There is no shortage of options for tracking your time, but Tictoc is my favorite solution thanks to its simplicity. It sits in the menubar, and allows you to track multiple projects with ease. You can add notes about your work, and export all the information into several formats.

Price: $4.99
Requires: OS X 10.7 or later
Developer: Overcommitted

Disc Doctor

Keeping your Mac healthy requires keeping clutter to a minimum. Several options exist for cleaning up a Mac’s hard drive, but Disc Doctor makes the task quick and easy. Just fire it up, select your drive, and choose what sorts of files you want to clean up. It quickly saves you valuable space on your drive.

Price: $1.99
Requires: OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: FLIPLAB

MailTab Pro

Although Google constantly improves Gmail’s web interface, I have never liked having to keep a tab open in my browser just for email. Desktop clients like Outlook and Mail have always felt like overkill for something like email, and I’ve found MailTab Pro to be a great alternative. It gives you access to all the features of the GMail web interface right from your menubar. If Google decides to resurrect Sparrow, I’ll hop right back, but for now, MailTab Pro is my favorite solution to quickly reading and responding to email.

Price: $1.99
Requires: OS X 10.6.8 or later
Developer: FLIPLAB

Unclutter

Like my actual desktop, I prefer to maintain a rather Spartan desktop on my Mac. I hate having any loose files on the desktop, and Unclutter helps prevent that from happening. I use it as a “junk drawer” where I can sweep stuff off the desktop without throwing it out. Highly-configurable, you can use Unclutter to store clippings, notes, and files, in order to keep your desktop nice and bare.

Price: $2.99
Requires: OS X 10.7 or later
Developer: Software Ambience

Hardware Growler

Mountain Lion’s Notifications have rendered Growl mostly unnecessary for me. However, I still use this app from the same developers to keep tabs on major hardware notifications. Hardware Growler alerts you when anything is plugged into or unplugged from your system. Perhaps more importantly, you get alerts regarding changes to your wireless connection and IP address.

Price: $2.99
Requires: OS X 10.7 or later
Developer: The Growl Project

Temperature Gauge

Keeping your Mac running cool is one of the best ways to ensure it lives to old age. While iStat Menus is my system monitoring app of choice, Temperature Gauge does a fantastic job of alerting you when your Mac is running too hot. It gives you a great deal of information using your computer’s built-in sensors, and presents all the information in a simple format.

Price: $4.99
Requires: OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Tunabelly Software

Volume for iTunes

Another solution to a problem I never realized I had, Volume for iTunes allows you to reconfigure your volume control keys to only change the levels on iTunes rather than on your whole system. I like keeping notification sounds on my Mac at a constant level, but frequently need to mute or lower the volume on my music. Volume for iTunes fixes that problem easily.

Price: $1.99
Requires: OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Yogi Patel

Shutdown Timer

One of my favorite features of HandBrake is the option to put my Mac to sleep after a long encoding session. I’ve always wished more developers would include that feature in other apps. As the name suggests, Shutdown Timer simply tells your Mac to go to sleep after a user-defined interval. I use it when I am streaming from my Mac but want it to go to sleep when I’m done.

Price: $0.99
Requires: OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Mario Schreiner

Skip Tunes

While most of the music I listen to while I work is saved in iTunes, I also use Rdio to check out new music. Skip Tunes integrates with iTunes, Rdio and Spotify to let you control your your music from each app, depending on what is playing at the moment. Clicking on the icon in the menubar also shows you album art.

Price: $2.99
Requires: OS X 10.8 or later
Developer: Greg Dougherty

White Noise

I am not someone that needs the silence of a library to be productive. I need background noise. Sometimes music is too distracting, so playing nature sounds or the noise from a city street helps me concentrate. White Noise gives you access to a ton of different sounds, from the rolling of ocean waves to the honking of car horns. The interface is clean and minimal, and you can star your favorite sounds for easy organization.

Price: $4.99
Requires: OS X 10.6.6 or later
Developer: TMSOFT

The Best for even Less

Those are my favorite utilities that cost less than five bucks. However, there are a few free utilities that I use so often that I would be willing to pay up to five dollars if the developers ever decided to start charging for them.

Serve to Me

I stream my DVD and Blu Ray collection from a hard drive connected to a Mac in my office to the iMac in my bedroom. Rather than worry about any complex system of sharing the movie files across a network, Serve to Me (and the receiving clients on Mac and iOS known as Stream to Me), make this process dead simple. Select the file you want to watch, and you get full playback control over it. You can also add password protection in case you share your wireless network with others.

Price: Free ($2.99 for iOS client)
Requires: OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Matthew Gallagher

Mint QuickView

I have always been way too lazy when it comes to organizing my finances. That’s why Mint.com is the ideal budgeting system for me, as you just plug your accounts in and it gives you a clean, easy to understand analysis of your money. Mint Quickview gives you access to your Mint.com account from the menubar. It integrates nicely with Notification Center, alerting you to new spending and sends other messages shaming you for your reckless spending.

Price: Free
Requires: OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: Mint.com

Found

The growth of cloud services, while convenient, has also added a level of confusion at times regarding where I’ve actually saved certain files. Found helps you search across several different services, as well as your Mac. You can connect it with Gmail, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Evernote. The search is quick, and when you select a search result, you get a Quick Look preview.

Price: Free
Requires: OS X 10.6.8 or later
Developer: Found Software

Flux

While we all know that we need to unplug from the computer before bed, that is often easier said than done. Flux slowly changes the color and brightness of your screen as it gets darker outside in order to help your eyes adjust. I never realized how much it helps until I forgot to install it on a new system.

Price: Free
Requires: OS X 10.5 or later
Developer: Flux

Caffeine

Screen savers are a great way to protect your expensive screen from getting images burned into it. Unfortunately, your Mac might get a little trigger happy with activating it, unaware that you are still using your computer if you aren’t moving the cursor or typing. Caffeine lets you prevent the screen saver from turning on while you watch movies, have Skype conversations, or use your Mac in any other way that might otherwise make the computer think you are away.

Price: Free
Requires: OS X 10.5 or later
Developer: Lighthead

Bowtie

When your iTunes library gets large enough, you can easily lose track of what music you have. Bowtie sits on your desktop and/or menubar and gives you track and artist information. There are a ton of great themes available, so you’re sure to find one that you can stand having sitting on your desktop all day.

Price: Free
Requires: OS X 10.6 or later
Developer: 13 Bold

The Unarchiver

A veritable Swiss Army Knife of a utility, The Unarchiver lets you unzip just about any format of compressed file that exists in the world. For as important a function as unzipping, you would think Apple would have hired its developer and fixed the dismal unzipper that ships with OS X.

Price: Free
Requires: OS X 10.6.0 or later
Developer: Dan Argen

And That’s All, Folks!

Those are my favorites. What are your favorite cheap and free utilities?


  • Franck Carlichi

    I’m one of the developer of Molowa. You made a typo with our product name. It is “Palua” and NOT “Paula”. By the way, thank you for the great article

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      Sorry about that; we just got it fixed!

  • Martin Rothe

    Some great suggestions, I especially love PopClip.
    It’s worth noting though that you can grab colors from anywhere on your system with the built-in Photoshop color dropper, just click it inside the PS window then drag it over to another!
    Also if you want temperature monitoring then iStat Pro does that among other things, it’s not compatible with ML by default but there are some user contributed patches online to make it fully functional again.

    • Will J.

      I can drag-copy with the eyedropper (from Photoshop CS6) so some other kinds of windows — for example, into Firefox — but dragging to other places doesn’t work, like a Finder window. Do you find it working to anywhere on your desktop?

      • Caroline A

        Hmm, that is strange. I can definitely drag the dropper into any application or window, including finder from Photoshop CS6.

  • Matt

    Wow, Yoink is seriously awesome. Can’t believe I’ve never heard of it.

  • http://nicolaarmellini.com Nicola Armellini

    Thanks for including Frank in the list! :)

    • http://www.thinkandbuild.it Yari D’areglia

      Yeah!!! Thank you guys :D

  • Stephan Sann

    Nice collection. Thanks for sharing.

    Also great:
    Moom – moving and zooming windows easy
    Witch – window switching finally done right
    Fluid – Turn Your Favorite Web Apps into Real Mac Apps.
    Forklift – great file-management tool
    Quicksilver – Can do a real lot of things. I use it to start my apps and control iTunes with the keyboard.

    Some of them come for more than 5$, but you can put them on your Appshopper.com-wishlist – sometimes they drop in price (I got Witch for 1$ instead of 14$).

  • http://stefgonzaga.com/ Stef Gonzaga

    Another +1 for Popclip. It’s one of the best utilities I’ve ever bought. I immediately downloaded the Paste= action as I needed a tool that could highlight, copy, and paste unformatted text.

  • Stephan Sann

    Forgot an important one:

    TypeIt4Me – very good text expander

  • Rodger

    Palua is a great app for Adobe CS users and I even purchased it. But I would like to recommend FunctionFlip [ http://kevingessner.com/software/functionflip/ ] as it is free. It does not work exactly like Palua, and you will have to occasionally hit the fn key for certain things. BUT, for the way I use my keyboard, and the limited use I have for brightness keys, FunctionFlip has been perfect … and it’s free.

  • name

    AppCleaner – Uninstalls programs the right way, deleting preferences and other files:
    http://www.freemacsoft.net/appcleaner/

    Alfred – Quick search bar with many advanced features and a minimalist style:
    http://www.alfredapp.com/

    Bartender – Organizes and hides your menu bar icons:
    http://www.macbartender.com/

    Dropbox – Puts a folder on your computer that automatically backs up and syncs any files you put in it, incredibly useful:
    https://www.dropbox.com/

  • Mark

    Thanks – just downloaded unclutter as I’m a bit of neat freak!

  • http://iynque.com iynque

    I love this. Thanks!

  • jorge

    Hey! Check out these great disk cleaning utilities!
    http://duplicatefilesdeleter.com/ “say goodbye to those nonunique files!”
    http://longpathtool.com/ “don’t you just hate when this happens to you?!”

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