By Tim Brookes
Here you have it – our ultimate list of must-have Mac apps. From email clients to system utilities, time savers to productivity boons; on this page you’ll find the best Mac softwareused by MakeUseOf staff and readers alike.
We will continue to update the list on a regular basis, so be sure to add your favorites in the comments and we’ll consider them the next time we update this page.
Last updated: July 6, 2017
Navigation: Audio | Browsers | Email | News | Virtualization | Photos & Images | Productivity | Code & Text Editors | Writing & Office | Timesavers | Security & Privacy | System Tools | Video | Others
If Audacity isn’t cutting it and you want a polished, lossless audio editor built from the ground up for macOS, Fission is a solid option.
A completely free kernel extension for macOS that allows you to pass audio between applications by acting as a virtual audio device. Essential for recording system audio when paired with Audacity (above).
Another completely free alternative to iTunes, with a focus on bringing music that’s scattered all over the web into one app. Supports Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube, AmazonMusic, Google Play, and more.
A stylish free media player with a focus on high quality codecs like FLAC and DSD.
Spotify changed the game when it first launched, bringing unlimited streaming music to desktops and mobiles for a fixed fee. You can also stream for free, if you’re not bothered by adverts.
Included with your Mac, iTunes is the only way to access the Apple Music streaming service which is one of the best alternatives to Spotify.
Google’s own browser, Chrome is a powerhouse for those who need developer tools, extensions or multiple profiles for separating work or play.
An excellent alternative to Chrome, Firefox has focused on slimming down over the past few years after complaints it had become bloated. If you haven’t tried it for a while, it might be time to give it another go.
Also consider: Opera
AirMail 2.0 ($9.99)
Mail Pilot 2 ($20)
The second version of Mail Pilot continues the “to-do list” approach to email in a bid to make you more productive by focusing on what’s most important. A new feature called Dash provides an at-a-glance overview of new emails, outstanding conversations, and responses that are overdue.
Reeder 3 ($9.99)
If your budget looks something like $0, Vienna is as good as it’s going to get. Fortunately, you get much more than you pay for with this capable Open Reader compliant RSS app.
Also consider: Feedly for Mac
Run Windows on your Mac for free with VirtualBox, though you’ll still need a valid Windows license to get anywhere.
VMware Fusion ($79.99)
If Virtualbox doesn’t cut it, VMware Fusion is another great option with better support for demanding applications, like games – though it’ll cost you just shy of $80.
Parallels Desktop ($79.99)
Parallels is a virtualization environment that lets you run windowed Windows applications on your machine without having to switch to a virtual desktop first.
Wineskin and WineBottler are two (separate) free programs that let you create “wrappers” for Windows applications that run via a compatibility layer on your Mac.
Photos & Images
Photoshop CC ($20/month)
The undisputed king of image editing, Photoshop CC is almost affordable now at only $20 per month for a single license. Perfect for RAW processing, photo retouching, designing graphics and logos, 3D elements and terrible memes.
Affinity Photo ($80)
Apple’s “App of the Year” for 2015, Affinity Photo delivers a powerful image editing package for a one-off fee that makes it a solid budget alternative to Photoshop. Work with Photoshop files, edit RAWs straight from your camera, use adjustment layers, and a whole lot more.
Need a capable image editor but can’t justify spending too much? Pixelmator might be the answer. It has many of the same features found in Adobe’s pride and joy, except you can use it forever for a single payment of $30.
If you’d rather go the free route, open source editor GIMP comes in a Mac-enhanced version that includes a range of photo editing plugins, including RAW support.
If you don’t like the look of Inkscape, BoxySVG offers another free vector option that’s built with web technologies.
AstroPad isn’t an image editor but an app that turns your iPad or iPhone into a full-fledged graphics tablet. It works best when paired with an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil stylus, fusing the intuitive touch controls with the precision of a high end stylus.
Also consider: Aperture & Lightroom
Also consider: Aperture & Lightroom
Evernote is probably the most popular, widely used and best-supported note-taking solution in the world. Recent changes mean that the free version is limited to just two devices, but it’s still a note-taking powerhouse.
The closest Evernote competitor is OneNote, and it’s completely free. Access your notes from any device, save files and sketches, clip web pages and collaborate with others — all without Evernote’s two-device restriction.
Fantastical 2 ($50)
If Apple’s own Reminders app doesn’t cut it, you can’t do much better than Wunderlist, a completely cross-platform system that’s easy to use and powerful to boot.
Appearing on iOS first, Clear is a slim and easy to use to-do list manager which places an emphasis on aesthetic value and mobile access.
If Evernote is overkill, Simplenote might just be what you’re looking for. Free, lightweight and cross-platform; it also gives Apple Notes a run for its money.
Do you use Apple’s in-built text to speech services? Whether you rely on the accessibility feature or you’re just feeling lazy, Dictater makes the feature even better by allowing you to pause, skip, replay, and even read along (plus it’s free).
Code & Text Editors
Sublime Text ($70)
If you need a serious text editor (and if you have to ask that question, then you probablydon’t) you should consider dropping $70 on Sublime Text.
Just like Sublime Text, TextMate is a highly capable text editor for those who write code for a living. You should probably try them both before settling on a favorite.
TextWrangler is the completely free fork of BBEdit. Though it omits a few of the advanced features found in its bigger brother, it’s still the best free text editor on the platform.
Writing & Office
It’s a presentation app, for making slide-based presentations. You can use the iOS counterpart to control the Mac version, or run your presentations from the web using iCloud.
If you need a simple distraction-free writing environment for free, FocusWriter is the app for you. For such a lightweight and minimal app there’s a surprisingly long list of features (but you don’t have to use them all).
iA Writer ($10)
Ulysses prides itself on two things: excellent markdown support and a distraction-free environment. It’s one of the most powerful writing tools on any platform, and it does away with many of the distracting features found in the bigger packages while still providing an impressive array of writing, productivity, and organization tools.
Despite the eye-watering price, if you think you’ll get enough mileage out of the whole Office suite then you can’t do much better than the Home & Student Edition. It includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and (free app) OneNote for a one-off fee.
Looking for an office suite but can’t justify the $150 Microsoft is asking for their budget version? LibreOffice might just do the job. The open source word processor, spreadsheet tool, and presentation app lacks polish but it’s completely free and much less temperamental than most browser-based alternatives.
Dropzone 3 ($4.99)
In the style of Dropzone, Unclutter provides a place to store files at the top of your screen. It also adds support for pasteboard clips and notes, speeding up your workflow by providing you with fast access to everything you need.
Remind Me Later lets you add reminders to your macOS Calendar by simply typing. It’s still on the list because it technically works, but it hasn’t been updated for a while and tends to misbehave at times on modern macOS versions.
Security & Privacy
If 1Password’s steep price has put you off, LastPass is technically free to begin with. You can use it for free on any one device (including your Mac) but when it comes to syncing and accessing your passwords elsewhere, you’ll have to go premium for $1 per month.
Little Snitch ($35)
Browse securely, access region-locked video and other blocked material using Hotspot Shield. The basic package is slow but free, and the paid plans aren’t badly priced.
Bartender 2 ($15)
Mac menu bar looking a little messy? Use Bartender to tidy it up and hide the icons you don’t want to see, so you actually notice the rest.
Run Apache, MYSQL and an FTP server in all but a click with XAMPP. If you want to develop a website locally before putting it online, this is exactly what you’ve been looking for.
Open any media file or stream with VLC, the world’s best media player.
A robust, database-driven media server that automatically scans incoming media and keeps your collection organized.
A universal plug and play (UPnP) and DLNA-compliant media streamer with full transcoding ability, PS3 Media Center allows you to stream pictures, music, video and web sources.
Convert videos with a click using Handbrake, the go-to free video transcoder for Mac, Windows and Linux.
Kodi (formerly XBMC)
Every Mac owner needs a BitTorrent client at some point, and Transmission is probably the best of the bunch. Not only does it support a web UI and magnet links natively, it’s regarded as a “trusted” client by many private trackers.
f.lux came long before Night Shift and works in the same manner, though it offers users a more customizable experience which is better for power users.
Use one mouse and keyboard to control a whole army of Macs, perfect if you have a MacBook and iMac or Mac Pro to deal with.