Top 10 lists are not as easy to make as it might seem. My list is in order, starting from #20, which is useful, but not necessary, and moving all the way down to #1 which is an absolute requirement.
Your Mac comes with so much great software that the challenge in any Top 20 or Top 10 list is knowing what has the most value, and not including those with dubious value to the most number of Mac users.
#10 – VLC
This is the utility you’ve probably never heard, and when you find out what it does, you might wonder why it’s on the list since your Mac has a similar app already.
You already know that there are umpteen gazillion video and audio file formats floating around computerdom. Apple gives you QuickTime Player, which, of course plays QuickTime movie files, and a few other formats.
What QuickTime doesn’t do is play Windows Media Video or Flash video. VLC is the little utility that can. It plays almost everything else.
It’ll play the standard H.264 video files, yes, and AAC/MP4, but also Ogg, DivX, MPEG-2, TS, and a bunch of others. VLC also converts video files from one format to another. The list of features, files, formats is staggering for an open source app (check out the audio features list).
Even better, VLC is available for Mac, Windows PC, and Linux PC users. I’m including VLC in the Top 10 because it needs more attention from Mac users.
#9 – CyberDuck
If you don’t know how to spell FTP then you won’t need CyberDuck. But, if you plan to move files from your Mac to a remote server somewhere else in the world, then you need CyberDuck and you’ll love the price tag.
CyberDuck is an FTP client, which means it uses the File Transfer Protocol to move files from your Mac to someplace else. However, CyberDuck understands other protocols, too.
It does sFTP (for secure transfers), the WebDAV protocol to upload to web sites, and even the Amazon S3 system for mass storage backup. In typical Mac fashion, CyberDuck is easy to set up and use, even if you don’t know what all those crazy acronyms mean.
It can remember your login IDs and passwords (stored in the Mac’s keychain), and can browse around folder structures on remote servers with ease. Highly recommended.
#8 – Tie: TextWrangler & Bean
You knew there would be a tie somewhere on the list, right? Think of it as a bonus.
Your Mac comes with TextEdit, which is mostly a bare bones word processor that doubles as a very cheap text editor. Sure, you could buy iWork and get Pages, but that sort of defeats the whole idea of free, right?
Bean is a small, fast, lightweight (uncluttered) word processor which does just the basics. No footnotes. No stylesheets. Buy Microsoft Word for that. But if you want more you get more without paying more. For example, a live word count, date-stamped backups, autosaving, page layout, alternate colors, and the basic word processor stuff like indents, paragraphs, fonts, and so on.
# 7 – Handbrake
Our Macs are a good place to view movies. Plunk in a DVD and watch until your eyelids curl. Or, cough up the cash and click around in iTunes for movies and TV shows until your credit card gets rejected.
Or, use Handbrake to rip your unencrypted movie and TV shows DVDs to your Mac so they can be parked into iTunes which can then sync them to your iPod or iPhone.
Add a couple of utilities and almost any DVD can be ripped and copied to your Mac. Almost. Handbrake ranks high because sooooo many Mac users want to get DVD videos on to their machines. Handbrake is simple but not elegant. It can even be scary to use, seemingly slow, but, amazingly, it works.
# 6 – Dropbox
Backing up your Mac’s files online is all the rage in the 21st century. Bandwidth is cheap(er). Storage is cheap(er). So, a number of commercial back up systems are available for the Mac, and most have a free option.
But what if you want to send a very large file to someone else? Email doesn’t work (file size limits). FTP is too cumbersome and not everyone has access to FTP servers. What can you do?
Dropbox. Sure, it’s an online back up system which syncs a specific folder on your Mac for auto back ups. Dropbox also has a nifty file sharing feature which lets you move very large files from your Mac to someone else using Dropbox like a, well, a drop box. Set up shared folders for friends and co-workers to collaborate; even control access to files, and create a Public folder that links directly to files in Dropbox.
Depending on how much storage you need will determine whether Dropbox is free, but the free version provides ample storage and works well for most Mac users.
On to Part 4.