50 Essential Mac Apps for OS X Beginners

So you just unboxed that shiny new Mac, fired it up and heard the glorious chime. Now what? It can be a little bit overwhelming to start from scratch and build a library of useful applications but we’re to help!

Today we’ll take a look at 50 awesome apps that are perfect for new OS X users switching over from a PC. As I’m sure your new Mac has cleaned out your savings, I tried to focus on primarily free apps. There are a few thrown in that will cost you but the vast majority won’t set you back a single cent. I’ve seen a lot of users ask for more screenshots lately so we’ve piled them into this roundup!

Stuff You Had on Your PC

If you’re just getting started on a Mac it’s safe to assume that you’re probably used to Windows-based machines. One of the biggest questions you’re likely to have is whether or not you’ll be able to run all your favorite software.

Fortunately, many popular software developers create multiple versions of their leading apps so they can be used on any major operating system. Below are a few that you might want to check out.

Firefox

Yep, your favorite browser is available on the Mac as well with all the bells, whistles and plugins you could ever want.
Price: Free

screenshot

Firefox

Google Chrome

In case you’re not a Firefox fan, Macs have Google Chrome too. And don’t forget to click on Safari in the dock and give that a shot as well!
Price: Free

screenshot

Google Chrome

Microsoft Office

Of course, the quintessential software suite for PC users everywhere is also available on the Mac. You might be surprised to find out that the Mac version has some unique features and looks a lot better than the Windows version!
Price: $149.95

screenshot

Microsoft Office

Adobe Reader

For the most part you can use Preview to open and view PDFs but if you prefer Adobe software, Reader is a free download and an excellent app.
Price:Free

screenshot

Adobe Reader

Dropbox

If you used Dropbox to sync all your files on your PCs, just download the Mac version, log into your account and those same files will be transferred to your new computer.

If you’ve never used Dropbox, start now. It’s the easiest way to backup, share and sync files across computers.
Price: Free

screenshot

Dropbox

Evernote

The same story as for Evernote applies here. Just grab the free download and sign into your account. The same data you’ve bee collecting for years will seamlessly sync with your new Mac.
Price: Free

screenshot

Evernote

Skype

Mac users tend to use iChat to IM and video conference but unfortunately it won’t pull in all your Skype contacts. To keep in touch just download Skype for Mac.
Price: Free

screenshot

Skype

MC Solitaire

I know how Windows users love solitaire and are often saddened to not find it preinstalled on their Macs. Here’s a free Mac version that looks pretty decent. Now you can officially be confident that you’ll survive the big switch.
Price: Free

screenshot

MC Solitaire

Windows Virtualization

Admittedly, there is still going to be plenty of Windows software that you won’t be able to find available for Macs. In these situations, you’ll need one of the applications below to help you run actual Windows applications right in your native OS X environment.

Apps like these make Macs the single most powerful computers on the market because they can run nearly any major application in existence and aren’t confined to software created specifically for the Mac operating system.

Wine Bottler

One of the better free options available, Wine Bottler packages Windows applications in such a way that they run right in the native OS X environment. It’s a little techie but if you’re confused check out our how-to article.
Price: Free

screenshot

Wine Bottler

VMware Fusion

“Run the most demanding Mac and Windows applications side-by-side at maximum speeds without rebooting. With more than 80 new features in VMware Fusion 3, including 5X better 3D graphics performance and 35% faster end-to-end performance in version 3.1, it’s never been easier to run Windows on your Mac.”
Price: $79.99

screenshot

VMware Fusion

Parallels

“Mac OS or Windows? Parallels Desktop 5 for Mac lets you seamlessly run Windows and Mac OS X side-by-side, drag-and-drop your files between operating systems, and run Windows software on your Apple computer without rebooting.”
Price: $79.99

screenshot

Parallels

CrossOver Mac

“CrossOver Mac allows you to install many popular Windows applications and games on your Intel Mac. Once installed, your application integrates seamlessly in OS X. Just click and run your application directly from the OS X Finder.”
Price: $39.95

screenshot

CrossOver Mac

Application Launchers

Resist the urge to put every app you own in your dock. Put the most important stuff there and leave the rest to quick launchers that allow you to access all your apps in a matter of seconds via keyboard shortcut.

The built-in Spotlight application is a great launcher as well if you want something simple but the applications below tend to be a bit more robust.

Quicksilver

Quicksilver is the mother of all launchers. It has a rich plugin system that no one else has come close to replicating. Unfortunately, it’s supposedly out of development permanently though it has unexpectedly received a recent Snow Leopard update.
Price: Free

screenshot

Quicksilver

Google Quick Search Box

Rumor has it that the guy who created Quicksilver is now working on GQSB for Google. It has a modest start towards a similar plugin system and is definitely a great looking launcher.
Price: Free

screenshot

Google Quick Search Box

Alfred

Alfred is the new kid on the block in the launcher game but is making a big splash with its awesome interface, impressive feature set and extremely user friendly workflow.
Price: Free

screenshot

Alfred

LaunchBar

Like Quicksilver, LaunchBar seeks to be much more than an application launcher by providing a quick access interface to a great deal of your digital life.

Unfortunately, this much control comes at a price and you’ll have to shell out $35 if you want to play.
Price: $35

screenshot

LaunchBar

Apptivate

The apps above use a keyboard shortcut to bring up a window to begin typing an app’s name and subsequently launch it. If you’re looking for something a little more direct, Apptivate launches any app on your hard drive instantly with a predefined keyboard shortcut.
Price: Free

screenshot

Apptivate

FTP and Torrent Apps

If you’re the techie sort, one of the first things you’ll probably want to do on your new Mac is get plugged back into the rest of the world. Here are a few free FTP and torrent apps to get you going.

Cyberduck

Simply the best free FTP application available for the Mac. It has all the features you need and is a breeze to setup and use.
Price: Free

screenshot

Cyberduck

Transmission

I’m not big on torrents as the bounds of legality are so easily stretched but I have tried Transmission and it’s an excellent little app.
Price: Free

screenshot

Transmission

Limewire

Limewire has been the gateway for so many teenagers to discover the thrill of downloading pirated music. I’m sure you can think of some much more legitimate uses though.
Price: Free

screenshot

Limewire

Vuze Torrent Client

“Vuze Meta Search offers you the most comprehensive entertainment search experience on the web. By aggregating results from a variety of top sites, Vuze delivers the best torrent search results on the web.”
Price: Free

screenshot

Vuze

Web Tools

Below is a random gathering of web related tools and applications to help you get the most from your Mac internet experience.

Fluid

Fluid is an awesome app that lets you quickly turn any website into a standalone Mac application. This is great for any website that you use daily such as Gmail, Facebook or Pandora.
Price: Free

screenshot

Fluid

Newsfire RSS

“Simple to use and packed with features, NewsFire makes it a joy to keep atop the constant flow of information on the web.”
Price: Free

screenshot

Newsfire RSS

MacTubes

MacTubes makes it easy to watch and even download your favorite YouTube videos.
Price: Free

screenshot

MacTubes

iStumbler

“iStumbler is the leading wireless discovery tool for Mac OS X, providing plugins for finding AirPort networks, Bluetooth devices, Bonjour services and Location information with your Mac.”
Price: Free

screenshot

iStumbler

Steam

Now Mac users have access to one of the largest gaming networks on the planet.
Price: Free

screenshot

Steam

Nambu

There are tons of Mac Twitter clients but Nambu is a great place to start and is packed with features.
Price: Free

screenshot

Nambu

Window Management

With Expose and Spaces built into OS X, you already have a powerful system for managing your open windows and applications. However, if you want to push the limits of your control to the extreme, here are a few apps to help you out.

Divvy

Divvy is by far my favorite window management app. The unique interface lets you quickly create the most complex window arrangements you can dream up in seconds flat.
Price: $14

screenshot

Divvy

SizeUp

“SizeUp allows you to quickly position a window to fill exactly half the screen (splitscreen), a quarter of the screen (quadrant), full screen, or centered via the menu bar or configurable system-wide shortcuts (hotkeys). Similar to “tiled windows” functionality available on other operating systems.”
Price: $13

screenshot

SizeUp

Cinch

“Cinch gives you simple, mouse-driven window management by defining the left, right, and top edges of your screen as ‘hot zones’. Drag a window until the mouse cursor enters one of these zones then drop the window to have it cinch into place.”
Price: $7

screenshot

Cinch

Witch

“With Witch installed, a pop-up panel shows all open windows—even windows in other Spaces, if you’re running 10.6. From the panel, simply select the window you’d like to activate. There is no step two!”
Price: $19

screenshot

Witch

SnapRocket

“With SnapRocket you can easily navigate between desktop windows with just a couple of keystrokes. No more fumbling for your mouse or scrolling through a long list of window names to switch windows.”
Price: $14.95

screenshot

SnapRocket

General Utilities

Below are apps of all kinds that every Mac user should give some thought to checking out. They cover everything from system maintenance to DVD ripping.

AppCleaner

“AppCleaner is a small application which allows you to thoroughly uninstall unwanted apps. Installing an application distributes many files throughout your System using space of your Hard Drive unnecessarily. AppCleaner finds all these small files and safely deletes them.”
Price: Free

screenshot

AppCleaner

CleanMyMac

“CleanMyMac represents sophisticated all-in-one-suite utility that helps keep your Mac clean and healthy. With just two simple clicks you can delete useless files that basically pile up and waste your valuable disk space.”
Price: $29.95

screenshot

CleanMyMac

Black Hole

“Black Hole is a powerful application that allows you to clear sensitive information from your Mac with a single click. Black Hole automates many operations such as quitting applications, removing recent items from application menus, emptying the Trash, and more. More time for you!”
Price: Free

screenshot

Black Hole

AppFresh

“AppFresh helps you to keep all applications, widgets, preference panes and application plugins installed on your Mac up to date. All from one place, easy to use and fully integrated into Mac OS X. AppFresh works by checking the excellent osx.iusethis.com for new versions and lets you download and install available updates easily.”
Price: Free

screenshot

AppFresh

CoconutBattery

“CoconutBattery isn’t just a tool which shows you only the current charge of your battery – it also shows you the current maximum capacity of it in relation to the original capacity your battery had as it left the factory.”
Price: Free

screenshot

Coconut Battery

Stuffit Expander

“Easily expand and decode all the files you download from the Web or receive in your email. Expands over 30 archive file formats!”
Price: Free

screenshot

Stuffit Expander

The Unarchiver

“The Unarchiver is a much more capable replacement for “BOMArchiveHelper.app”, the built-in archive unpacker program in Mac OS X. The Unarchiver is designed to handle many more formats than BOMArchiveHelper, and to better fit in with the design of the Finder.”
Price: Free

screenshot

The Unarchiver

Carbon Copy Cloner

“Spinning for years at 75MPH, your hard drive’s catastrophic crash could really hinder your productivity. Use CCC to make a bootable backup of your digital life today!”
Price: Free

screenshot

Carbon Copy Cloner

ClipMenu

ClipMenu is hands down the best free clipboard manager for OS X. You can not only use it to store your recently copied items but also manage and insert frequently used text snippets.
Price: Free

screenshot

CAPTION

TextExpander

If you type a lot, download this app as soon as possible and smile as it changes your life. TextExpander can save you loads of time by automating the process of typing frequently used snippets. Simply type a few preset characters and they will automatically expand into the snippet you want!
Price: $34.95

screenshot

TextExpander

Mac The Ripper

“MacTheRipper is a DVD ripper (extractor). It removes CSS encryption, Macrovision protection, sets the disc’s region to ’0′ for region-free, and is capable of removing RCE region checking. It can also copy ARccOS copy-protected DVDs. This is to backup your legally-purchased DVDs onto your hard drive.”
Price: Free

screenshot

MacTheRipper

Growl

Growl is a system-wide notification system. It lets you know when things happen. You can set it up to notify of anything from Tweets and Emails to downloads and uploads. Definitely one of OS Xs top must have utilities.
Price: Free

screenshot

Growl

LittleSnapper

LittleSnapper is a screenshot utility on steroids. Think of it as iPhoto for your screenshots.
Price: $39.00

screenshot

LittleSnapper

Mactracker

“Mactracker provides detailed information on every Apple Macintosh computer ever made, including items such as processor speed, memory, optical drives, graphic cards, supported Mac OS versions, and expansion options. Also included is information on Apple mice, keyboards, displays, printers, scanners, digital cameras, iPod, Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, Wi-Fi Cards/Base Stations, Newton, and Mac OS versions.”
Price: Free

screenshot

Mactracker

CloudApp

“CloudApp allows you to share images, links, music, videos and files. Here is how it works: choose a file, drag it to the menubar and let us take care of the rest. We provide you with a short link automatically copied to your clipboard that you can use to share your upload with co-workers and friends.”
Price: Free

screenshot

CAPTION

Perian

“Perian is a free, open source QuickTime component that adds native support for many popular video formats.”
Price: Free

screenshot

Perian

BetterTouchTool

BetterTouchTool adds tons of functionality to the MagicMouse, MacBook Trackpadand MagicTrackpad.
Price: Free

screenshot

BetterTouchTool

Monolingual

Price: Free

“I don’t know about you, but I use my computer in only one (human) language — English. And I’m willing to bet that you do too, albeit perhaps not English. So why do you have a bunch of localization files for the Mac OS X operating system filling up your hard drive? Enter Monolingual, a handy utility for reclaiming your space for more useful things… like international mp3 files, email or whatever you like.”

screenshot

Monolingual

What Else Do You Need?

The apps above should definitely get you off to a great start with maximizing your Mac experience. However, there are no doubt a few apps that you’ll still miss from your PC life. Leave a comment below and tell us what apps you miss the most and the Mac community here will no doubt pitch in to help you find a suitable OS X replacement!


  • BizarreRod

    Great roundup! However I wouldn’t reccomend Office:mac unless you need absolutely 1 to 1 compatibility in your work, etc. I swtiched recently and found out that iWork is much better in terms of speed, interface and features.

    • Topy

      I agree with you. When I first got my mac I didn’t know if it was better to have the office:mac or the iwork. I gave them both a try, and became in love with iwork interface, it is really built for mac

    • http://www.designshack.co.uk Joshua Johnson

      I completely agree actually, I absolutely love iWork and loathe Office. I was just trying to make sure that new Mac users were confident that the software they’re used to is available on a Mac as well.

    • http://www.designshack.co.uk Joshua Johnson

      However, Office for Mac has gotten a lot better in recent years by attempting to become an iWork clone!

      • BizarreRod

        Yes, this week I saw the new videos of Office:mac 2010 and it’s a copy of iWork, especially the theme selector, which they claim to be a great idea from Microsoft…

      • janosch

        For people, that need more then a WYSIWYG text program, you could bring to focus Latex (for example Lyx as an easy application).
        But I have to admit, it’s not very “beginner” kind…

        Regards

    • http://www.btko.ca Brendan

      Agreed, why iWork should be listed before Office:Mac — Office:mac is a horrible program. I’ve used iWork for a couple years (and I’ve had to do many exports to .doc and .pdf for school) with no problems.

  • Jack

    This is why i love mac.appstorm. Everytime that this kind of roundup post, i learned a lots of apps.

    good job!

  • Bob DeGrande

    Virtual Box (http://www.virtualbox.org/) doesn’t quite have all of the features of VMWare Fusion or Parallels, but it is a very good free alternative for running Windows in a virtualized environment.

    • jenn

      Agreed! Virtual box is great…they seem to miss it on round ups tho…

    • http://blog.verysofisticated.com Matt

      I always find it weird how VirtualBox is never mentioned, while, it’s easily on-par with every commercial solution available. For an enterprise, VMWare is great, but for a single developer, VirtualBox is free and does everything (worth noting) VMWare can.

    • http://www.zeego.net Daniel

      the same : )

  • Paul

    The only kink that I still haven’t got worked out after switching to Mac… when I open MS Word files that were created on the PC, they lose all their nice slick formatting when opened up in Pages. I like Pages, don’t get me wrong, but unfortunately 90% of all my coworkers use MS Word. About 3/4 of the time, when I open up one of their word documents in Pages, it’s all funky looking. I have the newest version, and it’s not a Font issue, either. If there was just a GOOD ms office for Mac, I’d be 100% confirmed switcher!

    LOVE this list of apps – thanks a lot – several I hadn’t heard of before.

    • http://www.designshack.co.uk Joshua Johnson

      Have you tried Word for Mac? As I was just saying above, it now has a lot of the same features that you see in Pages and the compatibility with formatting, etc. is much greater when sharing docs with PC Word users.

    • Kurban

      Microsoft does release Office:Mac so you could just use Word from that.

    • Simon

      I don’t know why no one has mentioned Open Office. It’s free, works awesome, simple, fast…. why bother paying for an office suite anyway, Open Office is definitely more than enough to get the job done.

  • Thiago

    For those who think that Finder is not good enough, you really should try TotalFinder http://totalfinder.binaryage.com/.

    It brings tabs (like Google Chrome), dual panel, show folders always on tob (oh my god I love this feature) and more.

    • Jack

      Or Path Finder which looks more complicated but useful.

      • Thiago

        Yeah, but since we are talking about apps for OS X beginners I think TotalFinder is the best option.

    • lee Webb

      Total Finder is Snow Leopard only.

  • Brandon Roach

    I use OpenOffice (http://www.openoffice.org). It’s free and open source and does exactly what I need.

  • syphadius

    wow, no istat menu?

    • http://www.designshack.co.uk Joshua Johnson

      Still bitter about the fact that it all of a sudden became a paid app and gives me an annoying upgrade pop up every ten minutes :)

      • Rohit

        I think you can stop that upgrade pop up by deleting 1-2 files (don’t remember exactly which ones). I remember Gruber having the same problem and Bjango guys replied with a solution (few weeks back). Some plugin/preference file in Application Support folder..Not sure..

      • etchings13

        or just uncheck the “check for updates” boxes in the istat prefs

  • Benjamin

    For those who struggle with Office for mac, I recommend NeoOffice. It’s like OpenOffice but adapted to the wishes and needs of mac users. It’s easy to create and share Office documents with your pc friends. And the best of all, this amazing software is FREE!
    http://www.neooffice.org/neojava/en/index.php

  • Chris

    I like Cyberduck, but would argue Transmit is the best FTP program on any platform. It’s worth the money, especially since their overhaul to version 4.

  • Fábio

    Great list !!! I just disagree with Adobe Reader, Preview is a lightweight multi format reader and works great!! I bought my mac on 2008 and since then I have never used Adobe Reader again! If you really need work with PDF I would like to suggest Papers.

  • Paul

    If Preview doesn’t do it for you, you should definitely try Skim (http://skim-app.sourceforge.net/). As for the iWork Office:Mac thing, I would prefer iWork but compability and Numbers keep me from switching.

  • Pedro Homero

    To enjoy video files, i would recommend either VLC (videolan.org) or the even-better-when-it-comes-to-subtitles-(-should-you-need-them) movist ( http://code.google.com/p/movist/ ); both are free and very good.

  • http://reys.be/blog/ Mike

    For virtualisation I use VirtualBox from Oracle. Free, open source and seems to be able to boot a second MacOS ;-)

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  • Jeffrey

    Great list! But you lost me on Stuffit Expander. Questionable company, questionable app, and whoever uses a Mac back in the day HATES .sit (or the stupid .sitx).

    • Derek Moss

      I used to have Stuffit installed since everything you downloaded was either .DMG or .sit but that was in the leopard-tiger era but I can say for the last three years I haven’t had it installed and I have not run into a single app that requires it anymore. I remember in tiger there was one app that i used that had it, i want to say Realplayer but back then you actually needed realplayer, so thats the only reason for Stuff-it.

    • http://www.designshack.co.uk Joshua Johnson

      It’s my designer biased. It’s a must-have when you’re working with major marketing companies and design firms like Chiat and BBDO. They always send .sitx files.

      For my own purposes, I just .zip stuff with the Finder.

  • Erc

    You guys are freakin great…

    really proper job putting this together…

    and yet, I dont know what reader for MAC is the best for my e-Books…

    a little help here please…

  • Laurent Rathle

    Xslimmer ( http://www.xslimmer.com/ ) remove all the unnecessary code depending on your machine architecture (intel or ppc) and languages. 14,95 $

  • http://loneplacebo.com Tony

    What a damn coincidence. I just bought my first MacBook Pro yesterday, and this post is published. Thank you, mac.appstorm!

  • http://connorcrosby.me Connor Crosby

    I love Cinch and Cloud App. They are really nice. Cinch allows you to do what Windows 7 does by dragging a window to the left or right and taking up half the screen.

  • sheala

    I always have newbies I know put OnyX on, so when they ask about cleaning caches and defragging and all that maintenance, they can run that every so often. Makes ‘em feel better and it does keep a Mac nice and tidy.

  • http://zachkrasner.com Zach

    Great list! I’d include ProFolio for any artists, photographers or designers out there, too!

    Also, Cabos or Terragen 2?

  • iCooper

    Berokyo (http://www.berokyo.com) is an excellent desktop organizer and launcher. Free for 30 days, then $ 18.95.

  • http://pixert.com Kate Mag

    That’s a great list of Mac Apps for Beginners. Thanks for sharing :)

  • Andre

    A Great Collection of Mac Software! Thank you. Sad, that i didn’t Found it earlier. I Figured out half of them in my own. Really a Great selection.

  • Plasmabot

    I prefer open source apps, and some of them are a lot better than their closed source equivalents:
    - Keka ( http://www.kekaosx.com ) is better than The Unarchiver and Stuffit.
    - MPlayer OSX Extended ( http://mplayerosx.sttz.ch ) uses less cpu than perian.
    - Telephone ( http://code.google.com/p/telephone/ ) is a great SIP softphone.

  • Victor

    I have two suggestions:
    #1. Bodega, which is like the app store for the desktop Mac´s (plus has the appFresh functionality of keeping your apps up to date! and its free!)
    http://appbodega.com/

    #2. Path Finder by CocoaTech, it enhances the functionality of the finder, which is sometimes annoying for us who still have contact with PC’s
    http://www.cocoatech.com/

  • http://izit.org Rob

    Can I suggest you add, handbrake to that list if you’re going to include mac the ripper ;)

  • Emil

    Why don’t you mention that Better Touch Tool does everything (and more) that Cinch do? And better that is. And its free! Just enter the actions tab and activate “Window Snapping”

  • http://meerzdaily.blogspot.com/ Meerz

    Thanks for the list. It’s essential. However, I love uTorrent as a torrent client. It’s the best!

  • Jim Schutz

    I prefer Skitch over LittleSnapper. It is free, fast, and unobtrusive.

    • http://www.robinmalau.com Robin

      +1

  • Rahul

    You missed out AppZapper.

  • Salva

    Thanks, I’ve found a lot of useful stuff.
    The only thing I miss since I’ve switched from PC to Mac,
    is a software which let’s the mouse behave like on windows.
    There are a bunch of apps which promise this effect,
    but none of these does it really good.
    Has anyone a good tip?
    Maybe it depends on the mouse itselfs?

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  • Zak

    Also .. For those who just switched .. moveAddict is a must if you are used to combining ctrl-x, ctrl-c, and ctrl-v to move files

    And if you used alt-tab to switch between windows a lot .. Then try Switche by the same guy

    I’m not promoting his software as I don’t personally use it, but I know a lot of “switchers” who loved it

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  • Shane Doherty

    Great resource guys, I was looking for a batch file renamer if anyone knows of any?

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  • Justin

    I just use automator for batch file renaming. It’s pretty easy to set up and only takes a few steps.

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  • Faran

    Don’t forget Caffeine. Really useful when watching movies.

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  • Stephen

    The listing of apps is very helpful. I could see having a rating system for those presented to give some sense of ease of use and lack of conflict with other apps. As far as an app not listed, I cannot find software that will utilize what used to be called SMART CURSORING on the PC. It’s an automatically ticked option in the Options dialogue box, and bypasses the need to move the mouse to another box & clicking return.

  • http://www.macbeginnerschool.com Remi

    I recommend iWork from Apple (http://www.apple.com/iwork/)

    There is also a breif overview of recommended software for Mac beginners at http://www.macbeginnerschool.com

    There are also answers to the most frequently asked questions for Mac newbies, together with a step by step “school” for beginners.

    Cheers

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  • http://www.katskinner.com Kat Skinner

    I suggest Hyperdock for OSX (by Bahoom I think). Been using it since the beta trials, and bought first day released. Definitely worth supporting the developer.

  • Max

    If you miss Total commander for Windows then you might like Disk order for Mac.
    Its basically the same thing.

  • Wesley

    for batch renaming, check out “a better finder renamer”
    it’s amazing!

  • Shay

    What, no mention of Solitaire Till Dawn X? Even back in the Classic Mac OS days, this was the best.

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  • Jamie Kitchens

    Great Apps I Have a lot of them on my mac os x tiger thank you

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