Zit Seng's Blog

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Software for New Mac Users

So you’ve just got a new Mac computer, it’s your first Mac, and you’re wondering about what software to put in your computer. Or, you’ve been using a Mac for some time, but are just curious about what other people put in their Macs. This is one of those questions I’m often asked. Often, it’s those people whom I’ve influenced to try out a Mac who come back to ask, “so now what software do I get”.

I’ve already written a New Mac Users guide previously. But plenty of things have changed. Not just about new operating system versions and new software, but even personal preferences and attitudes change. So my last guide has gotten very out-dated. I find myself disagreeing with many of my recommendations previously. Instead of editing that guide, I’ve decided to just leave it in place and start this new page.

Free or Really Cheap Software

Adium: This is the all-in-one instant messaging app for Mac OS X. It is designed for the Mac, not something ported over from Windows or Linux. It supports a big bunch of instant messaging networks like MSN, Yahoo, Facebook, Google Talk, AIM, ICQ, etc. Just about any instant messaging network imaginable.

iStat pro: This is a dashboard widget that shows a bunch of interesting monitoring status and statistics about your Mac. Things like CPU load, network activity, temperature, fan speed, battery status, etc. A similar program for your menu bar is iStat Menus, which essentially does the same thing in your menu bar (although you’d obviously have less screen real estate in there to display everything).

coconutBattery: Useful utility to find out the status and health of your battery (notebooks of course).

Chrome and Firefox: Apple’s Safari is a wonderful web browser, but sometimes it isn’t enough for one reason or other.

Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive: There are native Mac clients for all three cloud storage providers.

Skype: Skype client for Mac, if you use it.

CyberDuck: A graphical FTP/SFTP/WebDAV program.

iPhoto Library Manager: If you’re new to the Mac, you might not need this right away. The main use of this is for people who use iPhoto extensively to store their photos. At some point, if you decide to split your photo library (such as putting them in different drives or simply not wanting a single library from becoming too big), then iPhoto Library Manager is a convenient tool to help manage multiple iPhoto libraries.

Afloat: This is a plugin that adds a variety of convenient window management functions to Mac OS X, such as to keep windows always-on-top, make transparent, move by dragging any part of the window, etc.

Paid Commercial Software

There are some things where paid commercial software reign supreme. There may be free open source alternatives, but they just aren’t up to the mark.

VMware Fusion: If you need to run Windows, Linux or whatever, get VMware Fusion (currently at version 4). This recommendation deserves a longer answer. I’ll do that further down.

Microsoft Office for Mac: If you want free, there is NeoOffice, the port of OpenOffice to the Mac that’s specifically adapted and enhanced for the Mac. But like might already have realized, there’s nothing like the real deal. Well, there is Office for Mac. The Home and Student Edition isn’t too expensive.


Most people, at one point or other, will find themselves needing Windows. There are several options to do that on the Mac:

  • Use BootCamp: It’s basically having two disk partitions in your Mac, and just like it is on the PC, you can choose to boot from either partition. This means that you either run OS X, or you run Windows. I very much prefer not to have to reboot my Mac to switch from one OS to another OS. In fact, I also much prefer to run both Mac and Windows apps side by side. Hence, I don’t recommend BootCamp.
  • Use a virtualization product. Your Windows, Linux, or whichever other operating system runs within OS X. This is probably the most convenient.

So when you have decided to go with virtualization, then you have a few more choices to make:

  • VirtualBox: This is free. If you don’t want to spend anything for your virtualization software, then this is about the only choice you’ve got. It works, barely. Can’t complain too much if you want free.
  • VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop: Both are great solutions. They are quite comparable in both features and performance. With each release, one will outdo the other in some way or other, only to be beaten back when the other releases its next update. I chose to go with VMware Fusion 4 because when I tested it alongside with Parallels, the former could run Oracle Solaris 11 as a guest while the latter could not.

I would strongly recommend that you try out either VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop. The extra features you get with paying for a commercial product is not just useless bells and whistles. It really gives you a better experience and helps you get your work done, fuss free.

Don’t forget that, legally, you’re supposed to have a licensed copy of Windows if you run it in a virtual machine or even via BootCamp.

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