Apps for your first Mac

Any time someone switches from Windows to a Mac they end up posting some top 10 app list. The problem is that most of these people are what we call power users and the apps they list don’t really help normal users get there work done. For awhile now I have been thinking about posting what would really help someone like my mom if she ever got a Mac. So if you are a power user or have been using Mac’s for awhile this might not be for you but if your not, keep reading.

The first thing to clear up is the wording. I hear people all the time say “Mac” when they mean “Apple”. So everyone knows Microsoft and the operating system (OS) they make is called Windows. The newest version of Windows is “7”. Apple is the name of the company and the operating system they make is called Mac OS X (pronounced /mæk oʊ ɛs tɛn/ mak oh es ten). Apple numbers the release of each OS and the current version is Mac OS 10.6. They also name each version of there OS after cats so to quote Wikipedia, “Releases of Mac OS X are named after big cats: for example, Mac OS X v10.6 is usually referred to by Apple and users as “Snow Leopard” 10.5 is called Leopard, 10.4 Tiger, and 10.3 Panther.

Now that we have that cleared up we can move to the correct usage of “Mac”. The term Mac is short for Macintosh, the first personal computer that Apple made. Since then they have used “Mac” in the naming of there hardware. For example, the name of there laptops are the MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air. There desktop system is called the iMac and there workstation-level tower is called the Mac Pro.

I am not going to get into the full in and outs of Mac OS X because I think that one of the fun things about getting a Mac is learning. At its core it is the same as Windows. There are still user accounts and user folders and system setting you can change. One of the first things you are going to want to know is how to install programs. In Windows you would download a .exe or .msi file, run it and click thru the menus and it would install the program. Mac OS X makes things easier, somewhat. To use Firefox as a example, you get a file called Firefox 3.6.dmg Files with the .dmg extension are like .exe files in Windows. Just double click on them and do what it says to do. Sometimes might download a file with the extension of .app. There is nothing to install here because the file you downloaded is the program itself. If you double click on it, it would just run so what you want to do is drag the .app file into your Applications folder.

Now that you know how to install stuff, what do you install? There are a few that I wish I knew about from day one of get my MacBook but now that I know about them I can tell you. The first is by far the most used app on my Mac other then the web browser. It is called 1Password and it is a password and identity manager. Password and identity managers are not that big in the Windows world but after using it for almost two years now I will never have a Mac without it.

Any time you log into a website or signup, 1Password will ask if you want to save it so you will never have to do it again. The best feature is the Strong Password Generator that will do just as it says and make strong passwords that will be very hard to crack. 1Password will also save any software licensees for apps you buy, save your banking, credit card, and personal info so that you can add them anytime you need to with just one click. 1Password is $39.95 (there is a free to try version) right now and there is also a version for the iPhone and iPad that will sync with the version on the Mac. It is just full of awesomeness.


The next app that I find that I can not live without is called LaunchBar. It is what called a productivity application. You make a keyboard shortcut to bring up the app and then start typing the name of the whatever you are tring to find. Say that you want to launch iMovie and it is not in your dock. Hit the keyboard shortcut (in my case I have it set as Command+Spacebar), then start typing, i+m+o. With each letter you type the list will get shorter till you get to the file or app your looking for. If you just type i+m and iMovie is 2nd or 3rd one down, just arrow down to it and hit enter. The next time you want to launch iMovie and type i+m it will remember and be the first one in the list. If you would like to know more you should really check out this podcast by Mac Power Users. They do a really good job of covering what Launchbar can do.

There are three productivity applications that you should know about. Of these three apps, LaunchBar is in the middle when it come to everything that you can do with it and it is the only one that you have to pay for ($35.00 at the time of this post). The next is Google’s own Desktop. It is the least powerful but it is also free.


The third is called Quicksilver. Someone once said that Quicksilver can destroy nations and launch the Space Shuttle. It is by far the most powerful productivity app but the learning curve for the really powerful features can be steep. But there is good and bad side to using Quicksilver. The bad is that the devloper, Nicholas Jitkoff, stopped working on it and went to work for Google to make Google Desktop. The good is that before he left for Google he open source the code and the Mac community has picked it up. Its also good that it is free. So if you want to get deep into Quicksliver you better set some time to check out the follow links but first you can get the latest version from here.

Howard Melman’s wonderful user guide for Quicksilver (PDF file)

Lifehacker’s post having to do with Quicksliver

A Beginner’s Guide to Quicksliver

A great list from Merlin Mann of 43 Folders

Just as a side note, there is another productivity app that you might want to try and it is called Alfred. I just saw a post about it but have never used it but it is free and in beta.


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