What do you do with a brand new, slick and shiny Mac? First, you sleep better at night. Second, you load it up with the best Mac software. But not necessarily in that order.
As part of my Friday special for the next few weeks I will list the absolute best Mac software utilities every new Mac must have. First, this week, the commercial tools. Then, next week, the freebies (for Mac users on a budget). What do they have in common? Your Mac needs these tools.
Skipping The Obvious Choices
To make it easier to choose, I’ve skipped over the obvious software that every Mac user should know about, but may not absolutely, positively need.
That includes iLife, since it comes with every new Mac anyway (the rest of us pay the Apple upgrade tax).
Also excluded are any applications from Microsoft or Adobe.** Everyone knows the value of Microsoft Office for Mac, and it diminishes day-by-day as iWork becomes more mainstream and more capable.
Adobe’s suite of Mac applications? **Sorry, I had to put one on my list because the value is substantial.
The Basic Criteria For Selection To The List
First, all these utilities are commercial versions. None cost over $100, most are much less, many are absolute must haves simply to protect your Mac’s files.
Second, all the utilities are on my Mac. I use them. I recommend them. How can the resident Mac360 Value Vixen™ recommend software with a price tag?
Value comes in multiple flavors. Sometimes what’s free isn’t worth the price. Sometimes a tool you pay for is absolutely priceless. Besides, after three kids in four years, I deserve a break for my tradition lapse (I’ll pick it up next week with the top free Mac utilities).
Finally, these utilities are special, both in value for what you pay, as well as how important they are to you and your Mac life, as well as what they can do to maintain and safeguard your Mac’s files.
#12 – DragThing
Despite the wide screen Macs of the 21st century, the Dock can get very crowded. Add all your utilities, applications, games, and documents, and no Dock is safe from the madding crowdedness.
Enter DragThing, the ultimate file, document, utility, application launcher. Use it correctly and you’ll never need the Dock, and maybe not the Finder.
Simply put, DragThing is a floating, highly customizable palette which gives you one click access to almost anything and anywhere on your Mac. That’s right. One click. Here’s what mine looks like.
DragThing can be as simple as you want. Simply drag and drop your most used application or utility icons to the floating palette and you’re done. But there’s much more. DragThing can drill down to any location on your Mac with a click. Multiple pages store more documents and apps.
It can also be very complex to configure with more preference settings than the US government has deficits. Once you use DragThing long enough to figure out the value, you’re hooked forever.
#11 – Cocktail
There is a lot of activity going on under the hood of your Mac. Some activities and options are secret, others are geeky, still others are useful. Cocktail is one of those special, general purpose utilities that simplifies Mac OS X’s inherent complexity.
Cocktail checks your Mac’s disk drives, repairs permissions, enables this or that, runs maintenance scripts (which, strangely enough, are scheduled to run while your Mac is usually asleep or turned off), and enables a bunch of secret little functions and features you never new you had.
If you’re like me, then you like to see a handy utility with plenty of preferences. My father said I should have been a mechanic, a girly grease monkey, because I like to tinker. Look at all you can tinker around with.
That’s just a single preference tab. There’s more. Clear clogged caches, clear trojan horses and worms (not viruses, of course), unlock hidden files and folders, even set or disable features you didn’t know you had, all from one simple utility—Cocktail.
#10 – GraphicConverter or Photoshop Elements
No list of must have Mac applications is complete without at least one tie. If you can have only one graphic application on your Mac, and you’re a little bit geeky, get GraphicConverter.
There are more tools to manipulate images than you ever thought imaginable.
GraphicConverter is often called a poor man’s Photoshop, and with good reason.
There isn’t much an average Mac user can do with Photoshop that can’t be done with GraphicConverter. But all that power comes with a price. It’s not the price tag. It’s the complexity. GraphicConverter, for all it can do, does it with as messy an interface as exists in Mac digitaldom.
For that reason alone, there’s a tie. If complexity is not what you’re after, then Adobe’s Photoshop to the rescue. No, not the Photoshop that requires a second mortgage on your house, or an auction of your offspring, or the two years of night school to master. It’s the point and click and do cool stuff Photoshop, known as Photoshop Elements 8 for the Mac.
As much as I hate to say it, because I don’t really care for Adobe products, Photoshop Elements is a very good value for Mac users who want to step beyond iPhoto image enhancing, but don’t need a degree in new media.
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If you’re planning to take my expert advice on the top Mac utilities, that means you’re willing to try apps beyond what Apple gives you. Good for you. It also means you might throw some apps away. What’s the best way to clean your Mac of unwanted files?
#9 – CleanApp
Dragging an unwanted Mac app or utility to the trash is one way to discard that which you no longer need. But it doesn’t get rid of all the app’s offending files (usually scattered all over your Mac’s innards).
CleanApp does just what it says. It cleans and rids your Mac of files you don’t need.
How does it do that? Surprisingly cool. CleanApp monitors your Mac all the time. Each time you download and install a Mac app or utility, CleanApp notes and remembers where all the files go.
Clean up is usually just drag and drop. Drag the app’s icon to CleanApp and immediately it shows all the related files than can safely be trashed.
I use CleanApp because I’m constantly trying out new Mac software. This allows me to do it without compromising my Mac and cluttering it up with unneeded files and apps.
#8 – Tweetie
When it comes to social media I’m more of an observer than a participant. So it is with Twitter. What I use for myself and for Mac360 is Tweetie.
Tweetie lets Mac users do more than the basics (Mac or iPhone).
You can have multiple Twitter accounts, click to compose a tweet in any account, double click a tweet to view the entire history up to that point, even search for hot topics and trends with a single click.
Tweetie has a tear off search function that is to die for, though decidedly more for the experienced Twitter user. If you’re into Twitter beyond using it on Safari or Firefox, Tweetie is the one and only.
#7 – ShoveBox
I collect stuff on my Mac. Stuff? Everything. Notes. Bookmarks. Photos. Images. Links. Email. Text clippings. You name it, I’m a click away from keeping it.
ShoveBox does just enough and adds one feature the others do not have. It’s drag and drop your items direct to the Menubar. Items can be stored and sorted into folders, searched, and double-clicked (as in the bookmarks).
Why is ShoveBox a better value? There’s an iPhone version that synchronizes with the Mac version. ‘Nuff said.
#6 – Things
The Mac is not feeling a shortage of utilities to manage our To-Do lists. More complex project and task management utilities abound.
What we want is a project and task management app that does a lot but is easy to use, yet can grow and become more useful over time. That’s what Things does.
First, Things is task management. Remember, a To-Do item is just a task. On Things, tasks are easy to set up and just a click away.
String a few related tasks together and you’ve got a project, so Things quickly becomes a project manager. Set your To-Do items to repeat. Set them to start on a certain date and have a due date. Add notes and tags.
Things even syncs to the iCal To-Do list. As your knowledge grows in how to use Things for simple tasks to more complex projects, Things lets you delegate To-Do items to others. Tracking a task or a project is a click away. The Things Dock badge alerts you to items that are coming up.
And, importantly for the modern Mac user, there’s a Things version for the iPhone which synchronizes with your Mac. Powerful, but simple. Things is a must-have utility.
Not one of these Top 12 Mac utilities will break the bank. They’re affordable, well integrated, and help you get done what you need with a minimum of fuss, and a modest learning curve. What separates the Top 5 from the others? On toward Page 3 and the Top 5 Tools Your Mac Must Have.
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