My Must-Have macOS Applications
For almost a year now, I have been using an Apple M2 Macbook Pro as a work laptop. It is a beautiful machine that is much faster than it has any right to, and I have heard the fan roughly three times this last year (and it was during the torrid Spanish summer). Reviewing macOS is more challenging. While it is much better than any Linux desktop experience out of the box 1 and provides a competent set of tools, there are still some weirdly sharp corners that you can run into.
This post is a brief recap for all the people coming to macOS for the first time or, as I did, after too many years without a clear view of what’s available.
This first batch of apps are some of the things you should be installing right away. These are the functions that macOS should be in charge of but, for some reason, is not. Down below you can find the opinionated recommendations and substitutes; these are the things that you have to go install right away.
First off, you will need a way to install most of these tools. While the App Store is excellent for commercial and established applications, small projects are usually elsewehere. Homebrew is, as the project describes itself, “the missing package manager for macOS”, but I would call it the de-facto package manager. Chances are that you already knew Homebrew, or you would run into it in your first month of using macOS. It’s just on the list for completion, and to save time by installing it first.
Rectangle is there to help you with the lack of window management options macOS provides. It is the first thing you should install in a brand new macOS computer if you have no alternative to it already in mind. Rectangle offers you with snap-to-edge (similar to Windows) where you can customize each action to your liking, as well as plenty of resizing commands like halves, thirds, fourths, maximize, move to edge, center, etc.
For me, the beauty of Recangle is that using it is just as complex and advanced as you want it to be: you can simply snap-to-edge and click on the toolbar icon for resizing, or you can bind to keys all of the resizing commands. Your choice.
Regarding external displays, macOS has, on one side, great support for arranging, displaying, changing sound outputs, and other different chores of the day to day; but also lacks actual control of third-party displays. MonitorControl will allow you to seamlessly control the volume and brightness of those displays from the toolbar icon or straight from the media keys.
After the first weeks of configuring everything in macOS, you may get overwhelmed by the toolbar icons piling up. Dozer comes to the rescue for that, allowing you to set aside a group of icons in the toolbar to be collapsed (which, in my case, are most of them). It is a beatifully simple app, and one of my essentials.
This one is pretty straightforward: you may want to adjust your webcam settings like saturation, contrast, etc. For that, you will need something like CameraController, since there is no included support for that in macOS.
Installing apps in macOS is usually as easy as downloading a
.dmg and dragging an icon to the Applications folder. Uninstalling it is as easy as moving the same icon from the Applications folder to the Bin… Except it’s not. AppCleaner, despite its bloatware name, is a tiny application that will fuzzy find leftover files and folders when uninstalling an app and removing everything. It’s not perfect, but it should help you keep the cruft at a minimum in your system folders.
Some extra recommendations
So, now that you are more or less equipped, let’s talk about some other applications that are not that essential, but maybe introduce some interesting alternatives.
Karabiner is a ridiculously complex application that will let you rebind and customize your keybindings across the whole system. You may use this to remap Shift + CapsLock to Ctrl or to add Vi-like keybindings everywhere. Your call. You’re going to have to study the documentation, though.
Reminders in macOS is a delightfully simple app, until the simplicity starts getting in your way. Chances are you already have a to-do app of choice (that’s what being an adult in 2023 is), but if you are looking for inspiration, I would say that TickTick offers the most flexible workflow without introducing too much complexity at first and not having too many limitations later on. It is also available in plenty of platforms so you can have your to-dos chasing you everywhere you go. Beware, though, since it includes several keybindings by default across the whole system that may be problematic for you.
This is the most frivolous recommendation, since Safari is a great browser and you probably have strong opinions anyway. Still, I have to say it: Arc is arguably the most thrilling piece of software I have used in recent years. Give it a chance. It works with the Chrome engine, so all the extensions you may need are available. It is, hands down, my favorite browser at the moment.
I, too, have been waiting for too many years for The Year of the Linux Desktop. ↩︎