30 best Mac apps for just about everything

Top OS X software downloads - both free and paid-for

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The selection of great free or inexpensive Mac programs on offer has never been better. You can now get amazing software designed by small or independent developers to cover practically anything you could ever want to do on your Mac.

With the rise of the App Store, it's easier than ever to pick up software that you know is safe to use, and is recommended by other Mac users. You can find everything from video compression apps to music makers, invoice creators, photo editors, presentation tools and much more.

Not all of the apps here are from the App Store, but all are guaranteed to be awesome and essential in the day-to-day running of your Mac.

Here's our list of 30 Mac apps you shouldn't be without – ever:

1. AirDisplay - £6.99

I'm a firm believer that multiple medium-sized monitors make you more productive than one big one – we humans seem to work well with compartmentalised tasks – and if you have an iPad or even iPhone, you can add AirDisplay to turn it into an extra screen for your Mac.

It works over Wi-Fi, and I've found myself using it often at home when I just want a separate space to look at grabs, say, while I'm writing. It's not a permanent solution, but it's a handy thing to have. That iPads/iPhones are battery-powered and wire-free is a bonus.

2. Anime Studio Debut - £20.99

With even mid-range Macs now carrying plenty of processing power, it's possible to do even more with them for a thoroughly reasonable price. Take Anime Studio Debut – it's a way to creating animations really quickly and easily, but without sacrificing more advanced features.

Its Character Wizard makes it easy to create characters, and using its skeletal animating makes it simple to get things going. There's a Beginner's mode for those just starting out, and you can build into using the more complex tools.

3. ArtRage studio - £29

For all but the most dedicated – or especially solvent – graphic artists, the natural media application Corel Painter is an expensive luxury when the ArtRage range exists. Its watercolour is a bit disappointing, but the acrylic paints look good, and there's enough flexibility here to work with.

I love that the interface can easily be shoved to the perimeter so that I can concentrate on my drawing or painting – my background's in design – and the way I can have source images pinned to the screen. The tracing feature is a really great way to get a head start on a piece if you're in a hurry.

4. Bento - £20.99

Bento is a flexible personal database app, enabling you to keep track of projects and tasks, plan events, create a more powerful contacts directory, and much more besides. It comes with plenty of templates to get you started, and you can share your databases across your local network with any other Macs you have.

Something like a database app can seem like overkill, but when its made this easy to use, you'll find there's plenty you can do with – what you might have kept as text notes or a spreadsheet looks much better and is easier to search through if you take the time to use Bento.

5. BetterTouchTool - £FREE

With OS X Lion now on the loose, Multi-Touch is the big thing on Macs, and this handy utility let you make the most of it. It enables you to assign just about any Multi-Touch gesture supported by your Magic Mouse or Trackpad to a set preset action, or to a key combination of your choosing.

Want to be able to create a new folder in Finder with a pinch? You can! Want to split clips in iMovie with a swipe? As long as you know the keyboard shortcut, you can do just about anything. Use it wisely and you'll by flying along using only your Trackpad!


In the old days, if scientists wanted to crunch a bunch of numbers, they'd have to build or rent space on a supercomputer, one single, monolithic, terrifyingly expensive cluster of processors. The advent of the internet, however, has given rise to a new kind of computing: distributed computing.


The basic idea may be simple – an organisation parcels up little bundles of work, and sends them out to millions of computers all over the world to do then report back on – but the results can be extraordinary.

Though there are a few different distributed computing frameworks around, BOINC is particularly worthwhile as it enables lots of different research institutes to run their projects on a common system; install BOINC, and you can choose to participate in projects looking for cures for cancer and AIDS, looking for models that will help predict climate change, or even just looking for extraterrestrial life with the venerable SETI@home project.

Install BOINC, sign up for one or more projects, and decide how you want it to run. You could run it constantly in the background or just as a screensaver. Either way, this app offers a great way to put your Mac's spare processor cycles to good use.

7. Byword - £6.99

This is an app I use all the time for writing. It's a great exercise in simplicity and a focus on a few features making an appindispensable. Byword is designed for distraction-free writing, and does it with your choice of fonts, so there's as little to get in your way as possible.

It's being updated all the time, and new features added include a typewriter scrolling mode (for keeping the line you're working on in the centre of the screen) and smart substitution of some punctuation. On top of that, it's got full OS X Lion support, including a fullscreen mode, autosaving, Version compatibility and Resume.

8. Carbonite - £36/year

I'm paranoid about backup – as everyone ought to be! – so as well as using Time Machine, SugarSync and SuperDuper!, all for different reasons, I also bought a subscription to Carbonite as it enables me to back up everything on my MacBook Pro to a secure, offsite, properly managed server system. Even if my flat was razed to the ground, my data – irreplaceable photos, never mind work stuff – is safe.

9. DaisyDisk- £6.99

This is a beautifully designed way to view the space taken up on your hard drive, and gives you a way to very simply analyse what's there. Got some suspiciously big folders lying around? DaisyDisk will highlight them clearly, so you can delete them, if you want. Notebook users in particular will find this hugely useful when disk space gets a bit tight.

10. Delivery Status - £FREE

This lovingly crafted little widget for Mac OS X's Dashboard layer tracks deliveries though all the big courier companies, including City Link, FedEx, Parcelforce, the Royal Mail, TNT, UPS and USPS. Delivery Status also ties directly into some stores' order and delivery systems, most notably Amazon and, of course, Apple.

Delivery status

Entering delivery details is easy, and the fact that it's a Dashboard widget means you only have to tap a single key to take a quick glance at how your delivery is coming along. And with Dashboard becoming more prominent in OS X Lion, it's more useful now than ever.

Of course it's only as good as the data the courier provides, but it's undeniably more convenient, especially if you're tracking multiple deliveries. I love, too, that it syncs with a service in the cloud that can also push delivery notifications to a £2.99 iPhone/iPad app.

11. djay - £34.99

Wannabe DJs with a huge selection of music to mix in their iTunes libraries won't be able to keep their hands off the djay app for Mac. It's recently been improved with OS X Lion features such as a fullscreen mode and better Multi-Touch control, but it's always been an excellent choice.

Mix songs, beat match, fade, apply effects and generally rock whatever room you happen to be in at the time. It's a brilliantly visual app too, and uses your iTunes artwork on the 'decks' to give your actions more personality.

12. EyeTV - From £45 with tuner

The current incarnation of this app is nicely evolved, but it's functionally very similar to how it's always been – EyeTV is still the nicest way to watch, record and edit TV on your Mac. I use it on my Mac mini media centre all the time; I particularly like setting up a Smart Guide to list all upcoming films that I can just scroll through and record, later trimming and exporting to iTunes. It has broadened my taste in movies, and boosted my iTunes collection.

13. Evernote - £FREE

I make a lot of notes. Ideas for features, apps to check out, things I might want to do at the weekend – I want to jot it all down somewhere before I forget. The brilliance of Evernote is that it syncs it all to the cloud, so whatever I make a note of on my iPhone or iPad is there on my Mac when I get to it.

I can arrange things how I want, tag them for future searches, share notebooks with others, and even search text that's in images. It's had an interface overhaul for OS X Lion, with a new fullscreen mode, so new Mac users should pick it up straight away.

14. HandBrake - £FREE

Handbrake is basically a transcoder; it converts digital video files into a different format. Sounds dull, but one of its best uses is to convert almost any movie into a file that can play on an iPod, iPhone or iPad.

It comes with a slew of different presets, but it's hugely configurable as well, so that with sufficient experimentation, you can balance quality and compression to suit you. It hooks up with VLC for codec help and some other naughtiness that lets it convert commercial DVDs.

15. iPlayer Desktop -£FREE

Yes, it's an AIR app, and yes, its use of Flash for the video player means iPlayer Desktop is really demanding on your CPU, but the ability to download BBC programmes for later watching is terrific.