Must-have Mac apps pt. 2

I hope you are enjoying all of the apps that I listed back in part 1 because surely you’ve already read that post and downloaded those life-changing gems. This set of apps is a mixed bag of goodies that I think you will find useful. The theme today is free–something I don’t think anyone will complain about. So get your download button ready. Here we go…

6. Dropbox (free*)

dropboxDropbox is a web service that integrates with your Mac seamlessly. It walks the line between being (1) file sync, (2) file sharing, and (3) cloud storage/backup. Basically, once you sign up for your free account you have 2 GB of space on Dropbox’s servers. Install the Dropbox app on your Mac and you will see a little icon in your menubar and a new folder called “Dropbox” in the sidebar of your Finder windows. All you have to do is drop a file into that Dropbox folder and it will immediately sync up with your online account. Why? Once that file is online you can access it from anywhere through the Dropbox website. Just login and you will see a copy of every file you put in that folder.

But it doesn’t stop there. Dropbox comes with a folder called Public. Just put a file in this Public folder, right-click on it, then choose “Dropbox -> Copy Public Link.” Now paste that link (URL) into an email or chat window and the person at the other end can download that file. This is the super-easy way to share that large Photoshop file, zipped folder of images, or whatever you need to send to someone else.

It also has a Photos folder allowing you to upload pictures that will automatically become a photo album.

If you have someone you always share files with, or if you have two machines (maybe a desktop and a notebook) you can create a shared folder with any other Dropbox user. Anything you put in the folder will automatically appear in their copy of that folder as well.

Dropbox’s web interface shows you every file you (or anyone you are sharing with) have added, deleted, etc. so you can easily keep up with what’s happening to your files. It also works great in Safari on the iPhone. Dropbox is free with 2 GB of storage (*or you can upgrade your account to 50 GB for just $9.99/month or $99/year). It works on Macs, Windows, and Linux.

7. Skype (free*)

We all know iChat has video capabilities. However, iChat is not always smart enough to get through pesky firewalls in places like hotels, schools, or conference centers. So how is a person expected to keep in touch with loved ones at home while out on the road? Why, Skype of course.

skypeSkype is an online communication tool. It allows a user to easily video chat, audio chat, text chat, and even send files to any other Skype user for free. Any user can also purchase Skype Out credits allowing that user to place calls to regular land-line phones. You can even buy a Skype In number allowing other people to call your Skype account using a standard 10-digit phone number (and local phone rates no matter where you are in the world).

While no tool like this is perfect, Skype generally performs well and is most definitely worth setting up on your Mac. You can even communicate with your non-Mac friends via Skype and use it on your iPhone (via WiFi). Make sure to check out the security preferences after you install. Skype gives you control over how public or private your information is, it’s up to you to actually use that power.

Skype is free for computer to computer calls (*Skype Out and Skype In are resonably priced if you need them) and is availabel for Mac, Windows, Linux, iPhone, and a handful of other devices.

8.Handbrake (free)

handbrakeEver want to rip a copy of that non-commercial DVD you just picked up onto your Mac so you can watch it without having to keep up with the bulky DVD case or risk scratching the disk? That’s exactly what Handbrake was designed to do. Handbrake allows a user to insert a DVD and rip it to the hard disk in a variety of formats and quality levels. It even includes several presets that keep you from having to know the right settings to get that perfect rip for your iPhone, AppleTV, or HDTV.

In the most recent version Handbrake has been expanded to allow conversion of video files. So, if your cousin sends you a video file in some crazy Windows video format you can just load it into Handbrake and make iTunes happy by converting it to the right Quicktime format. (For another video conversion option–it never hurts to have options–try Video Monkey for free.)

Handbrake is free but remember you should only use it for legal purposes. With great power comes great responsibility.

9. The Unarchiver (free)


The Unarchiver is one of those utilities that everyone should have in their arsenal but most people will never even know it’s there. It makes unarchiving any compressed file you find yourself downloading from the internet an automatic process. I like utilities that keep me from having to think and that’s exactly what this is. Trust me, you should download it and forget it. But trust that it’s there making your life a little less stressful.

10. iStat Menus and iStat Nano (both free)

istat menus

If you like to keep an eye on how your Mac is performing you need an iStat product (or two). I always keep my memory and CPU usage in my menubar with iStat Menus. If I feel my Mac getting a little sluggish I can just glance up at my menubar and see exactly what’s going on. It even provides easy access to Activity Monitor so I can keep an eye on any applications that are hogging more memory or CPU cycles than they should.

But iStat Menus doesn’t stop there. If you want more Date & Time information than Apple allows in the Date & Time Preferences you can have iStat Menus show you that as well. You can set your own date/time format and even show multiple time zones. You can actually see just about any information possible about the state of your Mac such as temperature, fan speed, drives, network traffic, etc.

istat-nanoIf you’re not sure you want all of that information taking up precious space in your menubar, then maybe the iStat Nano dashboard widget is for you. In a small footprint on your dashboard, this widget be default shows a brief overview of your system with things like CPU usage, memory usage, hard drive space, temperature, fan speed(s), network traffic, and uptime (time since last restart). However, just hover over the widget and a smorgasboard of information is immediately at your fingertip. You can get detailed information about anything listed above as well as things like battery life and current running processes.

Even if these aren’t things that you want to see now, consider that one day your machine might be running a little slow and you may want to try to figure out why. At any rate, both iStat Menus and iStat Nano are free, functional, and pretty.


Well, that’s it for another round of great, must-have Mac applications. I hope you enjoy each of these as much as I do. If you’ve got other apps that you just can’t live without I would love to hear about them in the comments.