Top 9 Essential Mac Apps, Tricks & Settings

This website is largely written and composed on a Mac and while I don’t consider myself an Apple fanboy (swearing on my xiaomi phone!) I do like my MacBook and the accompanying OS / X and Apple Mac applications. Since a friend of mine now just got a MacBook and seems to struggle quite a bit I figured I could give some brief pointers in order to make the start into the MacBoook adventure a bit smoother.

Look here – and forget everything you know about how operating systems work.

10 essential mac apps

The typical mistake by new Mac OS/X users is that they try to copy their windows behavior and take it over to their apple experience. “That’s not how it works on windows” is one complaint that comes up regularly. And yes, let me say it loud and clear: It works not like on windows. That’s why you switch from Windows to another product, right? It’s like Neo being freed from the Matrix and then complaining that the real world is so different to what he’s used to from the Matrix. So be happy about the change, stay open minded, and let the fun begin.

Just like Neo in his new surrounding it obviously does not hurt to have some pointers, guidelines and helpers to support you in your adventures. And that’s when those neat little programs and tricks come into play that I’ll show you now. Let’s go. Down the rabbit hole.

1. Active Screen Corners

hot corners mac

This nifty little feature is found in your ‘mission control’ – that’s where you find your ‘settings’ (yeah, it sounds so much cooler on a Mac). You can assign behaviors to every corner of your screen so that when you move the curser into that corner some action will be triggered. That’s quite handy when you always have lots of windows and programs open. Try it!

2. Alfred

alfred app

I LOVE this app. I can’t emphasize how much! You can open it with a simple shortcut and then it lets you open all your apps by just typing a few letters in. It saves so much time. If you don’t have it yet, get it. Now.

3. Keynote


It hurts me say the following but in order to make you understand better I simply use this comparison. Apple Keynote is similar to Microsoft PowerPoint. And now I have to wash my mouth with some hardcore sanitizer…

Back! to Apple Keynote. It’s much better than PowerPoint – in my opinion. Easier to understand, straight forward, with lots of really good features, effects, styling options, noting options, and so on. I tried lots of presentation software over the years. From PowerPoint to Prezi but I’m always coming back to Keynote. Long story short: Use the software that comes along with your new MacBook (Keynote = PowerPoint, Numbers = Excel, Pages = Word) and stay away from MS Office for OS/X.

4. Skitch

skitch for mac

Skitch is far and above the best screen shot tool around. Open it via shortcut (or Alfred, see above), take a screenshot, capture an area of your screen or take a timed capture and edit it right away. You can even connect skitch to your Evernote account and sync your screenshot with your account there. Lots of hearts for this app!

5. Affinity Photo

affinity photo macbook

I’ve never been a big Photoshop fan. I simply don’t have the patience to become really good in it but when Affinity came out I thought that’s my chance. A new program with new approaches that doesn’t require me to know photoshop (it doesn’t hurt if you do!). So I gave it a try and really started to enjoy it. I was a bit disappointed when the free beta version stopped and they started to sell it commercially (but well…it had to happen of course) but I still enjoy it and like the clean interface and overall usability. For me it’s more intuitive than photoshop.

6. Smultron

smultron mac

Smultron is one of the sleeker editors out there that supports you with all your programming joy. HTML, CSS or whatever else you feel like coding, smultron is there for you. It’s quite small, still comes with the feature to highlight classes, scripts, etc. and hence makes it a neat addition to your coding arsenal.

7. CyberDuck

cyberduck apple mac

If you’re, like me, are in the need to upload and download files to your servers you are quite likely looking for a FTP program. My go to program for a few years now is CyberDuck. Not only because of its funny name but because it’s straight forward and very small and easy set up. Most hosting providers even provide ready made files to download in order to set up cyberduck. That’s sweet if you don’t really know how to do it.

8. Handbrake

handbrake mac apple

This program is usually one of the first programs I download when setting up new MacBooks. Handbrake is, just like most of the programs I mentioned here, quite small and doesn’t need much space to have an impact. It gives you a hands on interface that lets you select a video that you want to convert and then shows you possible destination file types. Select, hit enter. Bam. There you go. You can even add videos to the queue so you don’t need to wait in front of the program until it’s done with all your videos. Hey ya!

9. iMovie

imovie apple mac

I wasn’t sure if I should mention that since it’s another program that essentially comes with your MacBook. However when asking my friends about their favorite programs they all mentioned iMovie at some point. It’s a super easy to use movie editor with pre-edited themes and easily customizable trailers which will turn you into a new Steven Spielberg in no time. It’s even that good that some TV news shows here in Thailand use it for their commercial shows. No kidding. If you feel like you need something more professional you could always give Final Cut Pro a try – but iMovie is certainly a very good program to start with.

Oh and, since I heard this question A LOT: left click: bottom of your track pad, right click: control + track pad

Did I forget something? What’s your favorite program for Mac? Do you have questions regarding your transition to the bright side? Shout out in the comments! 

Sascha Funk

Founder / Editor at
Sascha is the publisher of and switched from an online marketing agency life in Europe to a teaching and education life in Thailand. He also writes about Teaching & Technology.

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