30 best Mac apps for just about everything

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

16. iStat Menus -$16

As you'd expect, I'm forever working on fresh Macs, or setting up new systems. Literally, the first thing I do – before I even open Software Update to patch the system – is go to bjango.com and download iStat Menus.

iStat menus

Without it installed on a Mac, I feel blind; is that site loading slowly because the server is having problems, or is it my internet connection? Why are my MacBook Pro's fans suddenly spinning up; what app's gobbling up CPU cycles? Hey, that Time Machine backup seems to have stalled; is there actually any data flowing on the FireWire 800 bus? Do I have enough space on my internal SSD to download that HD programme on iPlayer?

iStat Menus puts a series of highly configurable status icons in my Mac's menubar that I glance frequently to check what my Mac's up to; if I want more detail, I can click on the various icons to drill down into richer info. And even though the Mac can display the date beside the clock in the menubar, I much prefer the smart black icon that iStat Menus can use.

17. iStudio Publisher-£12.99

Apple's Pages has always been good for laying out pages with images quickly and easily, but it's not very powerful for more advanced page design. Home publishers won't exactly want to pay what Adobe demands for its InDesign software, so enter iStudio Publisher.

It's not far from being a pro-level DTP program, and it costs less than a good pub dinner. It's got a simple interface that won't scare of beginners, but advanced users will find plenty of features to get their teeth into. It even exports to ePub, so is great for ebook publishing.

18. Kindle - £FREE

Speaking of ebooks, here's Amazon's Kindle. Though your Mac may not be the ideal place to do some long-form reading, there are plenty of books on the Kindle service that you might want to reference while working, or you might just want to pick up on what you were reading while you're at your desk for ten minutes.

Amazon's servers will sync your place in your ebooks across all your devices, from the Kindle app on your iPad to your actual Kindle device, to the Mac app. You'll never forget where you are, and it's easy to search books and save notes. It could be ideal for students, especially.

19. LogMeIn - From £FREE

There are lots of VNC apps around now – more so than ever before, mainly thanks to the iPad and the great ideal of accessing your desktop Mac from anywhere. Many of them are excellent, but can be unreliable. LogMeIn works every time, so you'll find yourself worrying about it.

20. Plex - £FREE

Those who like to use a Mac as a media centre, like me, will have been disappointed with the sudden demise of Front Row in OS X Lion. The silver lining is that it leaves an opportunity for other developers to fill the gap, and Plex is a superb choice. It's got wide codec support, an appealing interface, and works across many different platforms, including iPad and iPhone.

21. Reeder - £6.99

This tool for reading the feeds from your Google Reeder account is simply the best way to browse news on your Mac. I use it all the time to keep on top of what's going on, simply because it presents everything in such an easy-to-read way.

It makes articles eminently readable, has a fullscreen mode for OS X Lion (so you can read without distraction), and integrates with Evernote, Instapaper and ReadItLater.

22. Scrivener -£31.99

Scrivener is a word processor, but one focussed on the task of writing complex, structured documents such as novels or, in my case, features and group tests for MacFormat. (It also has a range of presets for writing screenplays, and so is a legitimate competitor to the heavyweight Final Draft app.)


Rather than creating one hugely long, linear document in Byword or (shudder) Word, Scrivener lets me create a raft of discrete, re-orderable documents that I can focus on one at a time. Each document can have a word or character count associated with it, as well as a notes field that is invaluable when writing group tests.

The Research folder can hold webarchive files from Safari – a terrific way for me to refer to products' spec sheets or Wikipedia references, for example – as well as PDFs.

And because you can split the writing view horizontally or vertically, it's easy to write while keeping an eye on your notes and reference. Documents can be exported in a range of formats, and Scrivener documents themselves are just a special kind of folder; right-click on one to Show Package Contents and you'll see that they just consist of a series of nested RTFs.

Your writing isn't locked away in a dangerously proprietary format. The developer himself is actually a writer who, when he realised there was no software that did what he actually wanted it to, took time out, taught himself how to code, and created Scrivener.

It shines through; this really is a writer's tool, and I'm delighted not only by Scrivener's fantastic abilities, but also by the fact that whenever I discover a new ability, it works in exactly the way that I'd want it to. It's also now got support for OS X Lion, including a new fullscreen mode.

23. Spotify - From £FREE

We're banned from usingSpotifyat work, and you can understand why; if hundreds of people were using this free music streaming service, our bandwidth would plummet! At home, though, it's a fantastic way of checking out bands; though the free service is now very limited.

The paid-for premium service offers unlimited listening to an absolutely huge range of artists and albums, however. And the ability to collaborate on playlists is great for parties (or annoying friends!).

24. SugarSync- From £FREE

I bought a subscription to SugarSync because it acts not just as an offsite backup – copying essential work files to its servers – but because it syncs files across multiple computers, even those running Mac OS X 10.5 or Windows XP and later.

Unlike Dropbox, which currently mandates that you put the files you want to sync into a specific folder, SugarSync just asks you what folders from your existing folder hierarchy you want to sync.

I especially love that if I have to put my MacBook Pro in for repair, I can just use another of my computers; all the files will be there, and any changes I make will be synced back when I open up the laptop again.

25. SuperDuper!- £19.85

If the SSD in my MacBook Pro failed, I have to give all the other backup systems I use time before I could actually start working again. With Time Machine, I'd have to reinstall and start to copy everything back to a new disk, and Carbonite and SugarSync would take an age to download.


SuperDuper!, though, creates a bootable backup. I just have to restart and hold down Alt, pick the SuperDuper backup volume, and I'm working again. The paid version does incremental backups, so the clone is updated at 16:45 every work day.

26. Things - £34.99

Thirty-five quid? For a to-do manager? Yeah, I know, it seems like – and, frankly, is – a lot, but, although I'm late to the party, I'm a total Things convert. The beauty of the system, for me, is that once I've taken a little time to set up areas of responsibility, projects, tags and deadlines, I can throw stuff I need to do into the app, and each day check it to see what I need to do.


It syncs with the iPhone and iPad – though each edition is a separate app – over Wi-Fi, and though the system isn't perfect, it's a great de-stresser; I don't have to worry about remembering stuff any more.

27. Transmission- £FREE

There are lots of clients for the Mac that hook into the world of BitTorrent, but Transmission is the one I use; it's clean, simple-yet-configurable, and Mac-like. BitTorrent is a system for downloading files that are held not on a central server, but on the hard disks of many thousands of ordinary users like you and me all over the world.

Though it has a murky reputation, BitTorrent can be used for good; Linux distros, for example, many of which work on Intel or even PowerPC Mac hardware, are often distributed using it. I like the web interface, too, which lets me add torrents to my Mac mini at home from my iPhone when I'm away.

28. Transmit - £23.99

It will come as no surprise to learn that I'm forever shuttling huge files – podcast recordings, high-resolution graphics, InDesign files and more – around the world. And I also, because of the way our networks are set up at Future, use FTP to transfer stuff to and from our corporate servers from the personal MacBook Pro on which I do all my work.

Transmit is a lovely client for FTP, SFTP, WebDAV and other standards, and the new version even lets you mount remote servers as disks in your Finder sidebar, making it easy to open files live from remote servers. Its developers are gratifyingly passionate about the Mac, too; the attention to detail is staggering.

30. VMware Fusion -£53.95

I always have to keep the occasional Windows machine around to check stuff, and Fusion is my favourite way to do it. I keep virtual machines for every major version of Windows since 3.1 as virtual machines on a big external disk. Ironically, perhaps, our sister PC magazines often come to me for grabs.