Kira's Mac Essentials

Putting this here for a friend, but if others want to check it out, you’re welcome to. I’ve been a Mac user for the last ~10 years, and here are a series of my favorite Mac programs and some tips for new Mac users.

What I Use

  • Address Book: The built-in Contacts app (
  • Archives: The Unarchiver. Opens just about any kind of archive.
  • Bittorrent: Transmission. Not as full featured as others, but works well enough.
  • Browser: Firefox, with a whole lot of plugins.
  • Calendar: Built in Calendar tool (
  • Chat: Adium. Simply the BEST IM client out there. Although it has largely been supplanted by Slack at my workplace, it’s still an essential part of my workflow.
  • Editor: Sublime Text 3.
  • Email: Built in Mail tool (
  • FTP: Cyberduck. FTP, SFTP, etc.
  • Launcher: Alfred. Alfred is a launcher, but it’s also so much more. So you can Control+Space and type what you want to open, including files and programs all across your Mac. The real power is in the programmable workflows though.
  • Media Player: VLC. Can play pretty much any piece of sound or video. Also, iTunes for Music. But it’s iTunes.
  • Office: The iWork suite (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) is good enough for general use, but I also have Microsoft Office for Mac.
  • Password Management: 1Password. Stores passwords, credit cards and other stuff. Makes surfing super easy.
  • RSS: ReadKit. I use a Feedly account for syncing.
  • Sync: Bittorrent Sync. Use this to keep several directories in Sync betwen my various computers.
  • Terminal: iTerm 2. The best terminal client for Mac. is included with the OS, but this is better.
  • To-Do List: Things.
  • Twitter: TweetBot. Syncs with other Tweetbot versions for iOS.


Install Homebrew. This adds Linux-style package management to OS X. Also install Homebrew Cask and you can install lots of the above from the command line. The Mac comes with a lot of things (php, ruby, python, git, svn, etc.), but I recommend installing versions from Homebrew so you have a single update path. The homebrew versions are usually more up-to-date.

A couple packages I recommend installing from homebrew:

  • The coreutils package will give you the GNU tools (ls, etc.). You can alias them in your .profile.
  • git, subversion, etc. The built-in versions are usually out of date.

Other Stuff

  • Caffeine. Easily turn sleep/screensaver on and off. Sits in the menu bar.
  • ControlPlane. Lets you script actions in response to changes in your computer. So for instance if you arrive at work, you can have it launch programs for you.
  • Dash. API documentation that is super easy to reference.
  • f.lux. Adjusts your screen colors to be less hard on the eyes.
  • Growl. Growl is a messaging system for Mac OS X. Most major apps support it. Not as essential as it once was since the OS now has this built in, but many older programs still retain Grow support.
  • Handbrake. By far the easiest way to rip DVDs.
  • iDentify. Identify fills in metadata (Ratings, Titles, etc) on ripped DVDs.
  • OnyX. Mac system maintenance tool.
  • Paprika. I like to cook. This is what I use to manage my growing recipe collection.
  • Paw. A great tool for interacting with APIs. Useful for work.
  • RadarScope. What I use to watch the weather. :)
  • Scrivener. Maybe one day I’ll finish that novel…
  • Viscosity. I run an OpenVPN server on my router at home. This is what I use to connect home.

Other Suggestions

You can dual-boot Windows or Linux using Bootcamp. You can also emulate a VM on top of OS X. I personally find Parallels to be the best, but VirtualBox is free and is usually good enough. Useful for the occasional piece of old software you can’t do without or when you need to test something in IE.

System Preference = Control Panel on Windows. Can always be reached from the Apple Menu in the upper left. Spend some time exploring in here. The default settings for most thigns are kind of obtuse.

Many things in the Mac can be customized using the defaults program from the command line. Many things are only reachable from here. Some are listed here. There used to be a program called Secrets, but I can’t find it now.

Adjust your mouse/trackpad sensitivity. I personally find the default sensitivity to be way too low.

Use Time Machine. It has saved my bacon so many times. A spare hard drive with the occasional backup will work.

The home and end keys, by default, suck ass and don’t work the way they do in any other OS. Instead of going to the beginning or end of the line, they go to the beginning or end of the document. This drives me crazy. You can fix it by following these directions.

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Kira is an Alabama-based collie dog permanently stuck in 1999. Her hobbies include software, trains, and doting on her wife, daughter and far too many cats. Lover of comfort foods, science fiction, alternative rock and progressive rock. Often wandering around without a clue. Proudly weird, proudly queer. 🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍⚧️

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