The Moment
by Nathan Walker

Mac Essentials

Everyone has those essential programs that they install as soon as they get a new computer. Here are a dozen or so apps that everyone needs to install on their Mac laptop as soon as they take it out of the box.

The Mac already comes with plenty of great applications, but there are some bits that definitely could be supplemented here and there.

These are my essential apps. If there's anything that you think is missing, feel free to tell me about it in the comments section.

Cloud Syncing

Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, and iCloud Drive logos

First up are the cloud syncing apps. This is probably the first kind of program that I install on all my computers. It is so convenient to have all of your documents automatically sync across all of your devices. You'll almost never find yourself having to shuttle different versions of documents across flash drives ever again.

A lot of different companies offer these services. My personal favorite is Dropbox, but that's probably just because they were the first major player in the market and the first one that I used. Microsoft, Google, and even now Apple offer a service for file syncing. All of these services offer a free plan and allow you to pay for more storage if you need it. If you're just using it for papers and presentations though, you'll probably never need to pay. I'll give you a brief comparison of the choices below and let you decide.


VLC Media Player screenshot

VLC is one of the most handy and underlooked tools on the Mac and on computers in general. QuickTime Player and iTunes great for playing most audio and video files, but every once in a while, you come across a media file that they just don't recognize. This is especially true on older websites using outdated media formats like Windows Media and RealVideo.

But if you ever come across these types of files, do not fret! VLC can play virtually any media file. With VLC and QuickTime on my Mac, I don't think that I've ever come across a media file that I couldn't play. And the best thing is that VLC is free for OS X (and Windows/Linux if you use those too).


You're not still writing your passwords down on a sticky note, are you? Or using one password for every single site? Well, if you are, what you might not know is that method of password management is extremely insecure. If someone ever gets that one password that you use, you could lose access to your email, online banking, and other accounts.

LastPass takes care of this for you. LastPass is an extension that goes into your web browser and manages all of your passwords for you. LastPass will even generate secure passwords for you for each individual site, so even if one site gets compromised, all of your other sites are still secure.

Leo Laporte of TWiT did a great introduction video to LastPass that I recommend watching if you've never used a password manager before:



Note: Mac OS X also includes a password manager called iCloud Keychain. I don't particularly recommend this, because it only works with Safari on iOS and OS X. If you think that you might ever want to use a different browser or a PC (odds are you will someday), iCloud Keychain probably isn't the best choice. However, you should still set it up on all of your Apple devices, because it will automatically sync Wi-Fi networks and their passwords for you. Always handy!


If you've used a Mac before recently, you can skip this section. But if you're new to the Mac, then you might not know about all of the free software that you get with the Mac.

Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iMovie, and GarageBand should all come pre-installed on your Mac in the Applications folder/Launchpad, but if it isn't installed yet, you can download some or all of these apps from the Mac App Store.

Although these apps are all pre-loaded on the Mac, people new to the Mac might not know exactly what they're capable of. So, let's go through a brief summary of all of these apps.


[caption id="attachment_357" align="alignnone" width="500"]iWork for Mac screenshots Screenshot credit: Apple[/caption]

Unlike Microsoft Office which most people have to separately with their PCs, Apple includes productivity apps for free with their Macs.


The first application in the iWork Suite is called Pages. Pages is primarily a competitor to Microsoft Word, but it also offers advanced layout features that you might get from Microsoft Publisher or light use of Adobe InDesign.

Pages does not have the powerful version control or editing features that Microsoft Word has, but for basic usage, Pages will be fine. I still prefer Microsoft Word for academic papers, but for most other things, I prefer Pages.


The second application in iWork is called Numbers. Numbers is a spreadsheet application like Microsoft Excel, but it is more focused on presenting data, compared to Excel which is primarily focused on calculations.

I would still recommend Excel for most serious work, but if you want to make your data look nice, Numbers is a nice tool. I keep both installed on my Mac.


I saved the best one for last here. Keynote is the oldest application in the iWork suite, and in my opinion the best. Keynote is a presentation application that competes with alternatives like PowerPoint.

Keynote blows PowerPoint out of the water. I can't personally think of any situation where I would prefer using PowerPoint over Keynote. The story is that Steve Jobs had a team develop Keynote for his noted presentations when he returned to Apple. If it's good enough for Apple's noted keynotes, it's probably good enough for you too.


[caption id="attachment_356" align="alignnone" width="500"]iLife for Mac screenshots Screenshot credit: Apple[/caption]

iLife is Apple's group of applications that allow you to work with multimedia projects. iLife used to be a much larger collection of 5 apps, but over time, it has been scaled back to just 2 programs: iMovie and GarageBand.

What about iPhoto?

Starting in 2015, Apple will be replacing iPhoto for the Mac with their new Photos app. As a result, I've decided that iPhoto probably isn't worth mentioning at this point. I did write a quick guide to getting started with iPhoto in 2012.


iMovie is the Mac program for editing videos. iMovie is actually very impressive for the price (free). iMovie even offers a number of advanced editing features like title overlays, picture-in-picture, and green screen effects.


GarageBand is Apple's music creation app. You can play virtual instruments and add pre-recorded sound loops. GarageBand will even teach you how to play instruments like the piano and guitar. If you are interested in podcasting, GarageBand also includes a few podcast editing features as well.


Alfred 2

All of the apps so far have been tools that pretty much appeal to a general audience. Alfred is not one of those apps. Most people prefer to navigate their apps using primarily the mouse or trackpad. However, some people, including me, prefer to keep their hands on the keyboard as much as possible, only using the mouse when absolutely necessary.

Simply put, Alfred is an app that allows you to launch apps by pressing a hotkey on the keyboard and typing in the app's name.

Most of you probably won't want to use this, but it is something that I use several times every day, and I couldn't live without.


Caffeine is a very simple tool that you could get a lot of use out of. It always seems that in every computer's lifetime there is at least one time where you want to watch a movie or something on it, and the screen keeps putting itself to sleep. Caffeine simply stops your Mac's screen from going to sleep when you have it open, and you can set it for different time intervals so you don't forget to turn it off.



Everyone should have a place on their computer to store all of their notes apart from the rest of their documents. You could store a bunch of text files or Word documents in a folder, but I think that it's best to have a special place just for quick notes.

Microsoft OneNote and Evernote both offer pretty good note taking applications. Each app has its own better use cases, but both are excellent overall. I feel that Evernote is best for plain text notes, and OneNote is better for formatted text. However, if you are taking a lot of picture-based notes, Evernote is definitely the better option. If you are working frequently with Windows or Microsoft Office, then OneNote is probably the better choice, considering that OneNote is part of Office.

To be honest, both of the apps are fairly similar for most use cases, and they both offer apps for Windows, OS X, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and the web. Both are free for most use cases, but you can get a premium version of either to get more storage.

Fortunately, you can try both out for free from the App Store and decide which app is best for you.


Using a computer for several hours a day can be pretty harsh on the eyes, especially at night. In fact, computer use late at night has been found to cause difficulty sleeping. This is due to computers generally emitting a cool-blue light. F.lux slowly changes the computer's display as night approaches to emit more of an orange tinted light, which is easier on the eyes.

You probably will barely notice it, but you might even sleep better. Trust me, it's worth it.


Well, that's a quick wrap-up of all the essentials that I install first on my new Mac. You could use this site to install a number of these apps at once, but if they are in the App Store, I recommend going that way, because the Mac App Store makes your apps much easier to update.

If there are any apps that you think I've missed, be sure to mention them in the comments section.

by Nathan Walker

Tagged: apple, apps, mac, mac-os-x, opinion, os-x, recommendations