What to Install on a Macintosh Computer


On Sunday, my Macbook hard drive died. Died. Fortunately I didn’t lose much data (perform regular back-ups, people!). I pulled out the dead HD, stuck in a working one, and got busy loading it up. Since I’m occasionally asked “what should I install on my new Mac?”, here’s what I put on it.

Apps I Can’t Live Without – my machine feels broken until these are installed

  • Quicksilver is the one piece of software I cannot live without. Some people categorize it as an Application Launcher, but it does a lot more. Free.
  • Textexpander lets you set customized abbreviations for your frequently-used text strings and images. I type “jjpb” for “jonathanpberger”, “,a” to make an anchor tag, and “ddate” for the current date (e.g. “080214”). Also fixes typos. Brilliant. $30. Worth it.

More after the jump…

Useful Apps that are Free (as in Beer)

For Civilians

  • Firefox is an open source web browser. Its standards-compliant, secure, and has a ton of groovy add-ons that’ll make your life better. Seriously, there’re so many of them that I broke them out into their own section. (See below).
  • Google Earth “combines the power of Google Search with satellite imagery, maps, terrain and 3D buildings to put the world’s geographic information at your fingertips.” It’s pretty rad.
  • Neooffice is a Mac-native port of Open Office. It replaces Microsoft Office.
  • VLC plays pretty much any sort of media. Way less annoying than Apple’s DVD player.
  • Skype is VOIP software that lets you make phone calls from your computer – free to other people on Skype, and for a fee to regular phones.

For Nerds

  • Colloquy is an IRC (Internet Rely Chat) client. It’s IM for geeks.
  • Cyberduck is an open source FTP and SFTP client.
  • MAMP stands for “Mac, Apache, MySQL, & PHP”. If you know what that means, you probably know that MAMP is useful for developing web sites on a local machine.
  • Sketchup is software that you can use to create, modify and share 3D models. Google owns it now.
  • Snitter is an AIR-powered Twitter client.
  • Textwrangler is a pretty awesome text editor.
  • Transmission is a BitTorrent client.
  • Xcode are the Apple Developer tools. Don’t be scared, there’s lots of fun stuff in here.

I Don’t Want to Nag; Just Install these two.

  • Super Duper create bootable backups. Not sure how I’ll integrate Time Machine into my backup regime; for now, I’m sticking with SD. Free version will get the job done, but it’s worth it to pay Dave for all his work.
  • Timeout reminds you to take breaks from the computer so you don’t wreck your body. Do it before your eyes start to hurt. While you’re at it learn Dvorak before you hurt your wrists.

Apps Which Cost Dinero

  • Adobe Creative Suite edits graphics.
  • Adobe Lightroom does a stellar job of managing large numbers of photos.
  • Final Cut Pro edits moving pictures.
  • Little Snitch controls Internet traffic out of your computer.
  • Snaps Pro screenshot utility that records video. There’re a few competitors out there, and I’ve heard some ok things, but I got this as part of the MacHeist bundle.
  • Textmate is an AWESOME text editor. For a free alternative that’s almost as good, see Textwrangler
  • VMware Fusion lets me run other operating systems (Linux, Windows) without restarting.
  • Slife tells you what the hell you’ve been doing all day. Background time-tracking software. For extra fun, install it on the machines of your friends, family and employees.

No-brainers – free, unobtrusive, and useful.

Most of these live in the Menu Bar or System Preferences.

  • Apptrap tracks extra files; when you drag an application to the trash, a dialog window will pop up, asking if you want to delete the associated system files too.
  • Google Notifier
    keeps me abreast of new email and gCal appointments. More importantly, it lets me set gMail as my “default mail app”, even though I don’t use a mail client.
  • Growl is a notification system; it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s way less distracting to have notices (“new email”, “upload complete”, whatever) come in through a standard interface instead of all over the place.
  • iStat Menus lets you monitor your system from the menu bar. Keep an eye on CPU, temp, network traffic, etc.
  • Perian adds a bunch of video formats to QuickTime. I’ll probably need Flip4Mac to view Windows Media, but honestly I haven’t really seen many WMVs for awhile. Maybe I didn’t notice because I already had Flip4Mac installed, or maybe the Beast from Redmond is really dead.
  • Smart Reporter keeps an eye on the physical condition of your hard disk so you can back up and replace them before catastrophe strikes.

Firefox Add-ons

  • Adblock Filterset.G Updater keeps Adblock current.
  • Adblock Plus: couldn’t live without it.
  • Better Gmail has a load of useful gMail enhancements.
  • Colorzilla puts an eyedropper in the browser to sample colors.
  • del.icio.us Bookmarks links your networked bookmarks to the browser.
  • Download Statusbar gets the DL window out of the way.
  • Firebug integrates with Firefox to put a wealth of development tools at your fingertips while you browse. It also has a bunch of nasty memory leaks. Useful, but use at your own risk.
  • Goog Browser Sync is an extension that continuously synchronizes your browser settings – including bookmarks, history, persistent cookies, and saved passwords – across your computers. It also allows you to restore open tabs and windows across different machines and browser sessions.
  • Goog Gears provides offline functionality.
  • Greasemonkey allows you to customize the way a webpage displays using small bits of JavaScript.
  • Measureit puts a ruler in the browser to measure dimensions.
  • Torbutton provides a button to easily enable or disable the browser’s use of Tor, an Internet traffic anonymizer.
  • Video DownloadHelper – trying this one out for the first time.
  • Web Developer adds a menu and a toolbar with various web developer tools. An awesome menu.


These didn’t make the cut for my laptop, but I’d definitely install them on a desktop.

  • Ejector Ejector adds an Eject icon to the Mac OS X menu bar. From it you can eject any disks, e.g. an iPod, a CD, a USB Key, etc.
  • Sound Source switches your audio input (e.g. from speakers to headphones) with a single click.


There’re a host of other apps I find useful, but these are the ones I put in on a fresh install. Maybe I’ll write about the others at some later date; here’s a short list:

  • Camino
  • Coda
  • CSSedit
  • FFmpegX
  • Frets On Fire
  • Gawker
  • Handbrake
  • I used to use Adium, but Leopard’s iChat is better.
  • iStumbler isn’t really up to date, but its functionality is essential for a laptop. Gotta find a replacement.
  • MaxMSP
  • MPEG Streamclip
  • Nestopia
  • oh god, the terminal: Mac Ports and Fink
  • Processing
  • Renamer4Mac
  • SubEthaEdit
  • The Gimp
  • Writeroom

3 responses to “What to Install on a Macintosh Computer

  1. As I write this, I’m listening to you, Daniel Levitin and Nick Bromell speaking on NPR (Aurora Forum). Decided to look you all up, and stymbled across your helpful post.

    Sorry your HD crashed, but glad it prompted you to reconsider your software options and write. Guess it’s time to give Quicksilver a whirl, and check out VLC and SuperDuper. Thanks!

  2. Hah! Found the forum–I’ll have to check it out–but that’s a different Jonathan Berger.

  3. Pingback: LIVEdigitally » Blog Archive » How-to: Automatic URL Shortening with Bit.ly and TextExpander

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