Essential Mac Apps

What makes an essential app? One that you use every day? One that sits in your Dock and has the open at login flag set? One which will make your life just that little bit less difficult or consume a little bit less time? Probably; and I daresay a lot more besides. An essential app is a deeply personal choice.

These then, in no order other than the order I thought of them, are my essential apps for my Mac.


Firefox IconThe choice of a web browser can be a thorny issue; but I don't want to get into the Internet Explorer vs. the rest of the world flame war. I just want a web browser that, err, browses the web. I want to like Safari and I've really tried to get on with Camino but I keep on falling back to Firefox for my browsing needs. It's fast, it's flexible, it remembers my passwords, it has great plugins (Adblock anyone?) and I get to keep a consistent browser interface across all the other operating systems that I use on a day-to-day basis.

SSH Tunnel Manager

SSH Tunnel Manager IconSSH tunnels are in themselves an essential app. Without them I wouldn't be able to tunnel into my home network and check my mail in a secure manner. I could use a command line version of ssh in a window. I could wrap the command line options into a script and run that from a window. Or I could define my tunnel parameters in SSH Tunnel Manager's preferences and have that app automatically bring up the tunnel link when I log in to my iBook and have it run quietly in the top right hand side of my screen, prompting me for my password if the link drops for any reason. I know which option I prefer. IconDoes an intergral part of OS X count as an app? Don't know and don't really care. I tried out Apples own and sometimes maligned email client one the first day I booted up my iBook and ran it in parallel with Pine running natively on my mail server. After a month I migrated my Inbox into and rewrote my Procmail recipes into rules and I've never been back to Pine since. My Inbox alone holds over 3.5 thousand messages and this app is still as responsive and fast as when I first started using it. The blazingly fast integral Spotlight searches help as well.


Fire IconLike a lot of people I have a lot of Instant Messaging accounts. Like a lot of people I don't want to have to run one app for MSN Messenger, another for Yahoo! Messenger and so on. I want an app that talks all of these protocols and more. For me, Fire is that app. Yes, there are others and yes, when the IM companies make a (frequent) change to their protocols then Fire does break. But that's still not a good enough reason to go with the proprietary offerings. And don't even start to talk to me about the helpfully targeted adverts that some IM clients bombard you with.


Flip4Mac IconEver since Microsoft announced the impending death of Windows Media Player for the Mac, they've been pushing Telestream's Flip4Mac as a replacement. And whaddaya know? It works. All of a sudden QuickTime gains the ability to play WMV format video files and my Mac gains from the additional disk space reclaimed from deleting the old Windows Media Player. Which is nice.


RCDefaultApp IconThe solution to my first Mac annoyance. I've downloaded Firefox and URL links insist on opening up Safari, which is most definately not what I wanted. Nor did I want to have to open up Safari to tell OS X that I didn't want to use Safari to open URL links. I could have used Finder's Get Info panel but I would have had to do that for every file whose association I wanted to change. Then I discovered RCDefaultApp and all was well with the world again. Which, again, is nice.

Microsoft Mouse

Microsoft Mouse IconI've never subscribed to the one button is enough approach to mouse design and with the release of the Mighty Mouse it looks like Apple doesn't either, at least not any more. But I won't be shelling out for a Mighty Mouse just yet, not when I've got a perfectly serviceable USB Microsoft Optical Wheel Mouse and for that to work the way I want it to, and because we're in Microsoft's world, albeit briefly, you need drivers. I don't really see why I have to download drivers for a mouse but I do and that's about all there is to it. My mouse works fine with these by the way.


iTunes IconI like iTunes. It burns CDs, it (looks around furtively) burns CDs, it plays music, it feeds my iPod, it displays album art, it searchs my music collection via Spotlight, it shares music with the iTunes libraries on other machines I run and manage. I don't download that much music and prefer instead to rip my own CD collection so I can't comment on DRM restrictions and Apple's own Fairplay scheme. I like iTunes and iTunes works for me day in, day out. That's enough of an essential app for me.


iStumbler IconI use wireless networks a lot with my iBook and even at home they're not infallible. Sometimes a combination of the Location tool and the AirPort card in my iBook just fails to notice my home network. That's where iStumbler becomes invaluable; it detects and shows me the state of all the wireless networks in range, hopefully including my own. I don't use this app every day and so it doesn't sit in the Dock but when I do need it, it's just a Spotlight search away. Oh and it also detects Bluetooth devices and Bonjour services as well.

Gary Gale

I'm Gary ... a Husband, Father, CTO at Kamma, geotechnologist, map geek, coffee addict, Sci-fi fan, UNIX and Mac user