My Must Have OS X Apps for Business

Application Icons - Copyright their respective owners

While I’m in the process of changing machines I’m going to document many of the apps and plugins that are on my “Must Have” list. I love a fresh start and given my proclivity for demo software and beta apps it’s positively refreshing to start with a clean Applications folder.

I’ve also collected my System Tweaks for OS X if you’re interested.

Productivity Apps


I plan to write a post with all of my must-have UX components, which will include many OG resources, so I won’t go into those here.

Microsoft Office

I use Pages, Numbers and Keynote on my personal machine, but their integration and support of the de facto workplace standard just aren’t good enough, so Microsoft Office is the suite of the day for work. Specifically, I use:

  • Word
  • Excel
  • PowerPoint
  • Entourage –’s support for Exchange is pretty decent, but the calendar integration is sorely lacking when you want to book a room or see your coworkers’ availability,
  • Entourage 2008 for Mac Web Services Edition – a free update to the Entourage client which adds some very useful functionality

Design and Development Applications

Adobe’s Creative Suite is indispensable. I spend a lot of my creative time in Photoshop and Illustrator, while others swear by Fireworks. I’ve tried many of the smaller, independent image editors, but I’m accustomed to the power and features of these pro tools.

Coda is one of many Web development applications that I’ve tried since switching to the Mac. While I used TextMate for a few years, Coda has replaced it with a combination of efficiency and beauty. It feels much more oriented to front-end development and flow than the spartan TextMate, and feels “right” to me. The built-in support for multiple sites, FTP, terminal, Subversion, preview capabilities and code snippets integrate with the code editor beautifully for a great experience. The only thing that it lacks from my point of view is code-folding, which is quite likely the most-requested feature, so I hope they’ll add it in the next release. For me, the benefits easily outweigh that one negative.

Versions is a beautiful and easy to use Subversion client, which says a lot as most SVN clients, even on OS X are convoluted and not much of a step-up from doing everything at the command line. While I have used the command line in the past, I really like having a graphical UI for interacting with version control.

MAMP stands for Mac, Apache, MySQL, PHP. It’s a self-contained install of those server technologies that I’ve found easier to configure and run than the native OS X installs. That said, I haven’t tried the pre-installed versions since 10.4, so it’s possible that my use of this app is purely out of habit.

General Utilities

LaunchBar is quite possibly the most used utility on my system. The app speeds the launching of other applications. With a simple keyboard shortcut, I open LaunchBar type a couple of letters and hit Enter to launch an application, start or stop music, find a file or even run a quick calculation (without the calculator app). It also has a setting that will keep track of multiple clipboard items, so I don’t have to run a dedicated utility for that functionality.

Evernote is my note-taking application of choice as it quickly and quietly syncs content between computers, the Web and my iPhone, guaranteeing access to information where and when I need it. The fact that I can easily add photos is killer, especially as Evernote will index the text inside the photos so it’s searchable.

Adium is a great instant messaging client that unifies the various networks, ensuring that I can communicate with anyone that I need to regardless if they are on AIM, Yahoo!, MSN or Jabber.

Things is one of countless to-do and GTD applications available for the Mac, but for me, it stands above the rest. I love its structure and the ability toe create projects, which can be grouped into areas. Additionally, being able to assign dates – both specific and general (“Someday”) – allows me to get ideas out of my head without being oppressed by an overwhelming task list.

Dropbox syncs files between computers, both Macs and PCs as well as my iPhone and does it seamlessly. Dropbox is elegant, powerful and amazingly enough, it’s free unless you need a very large amount of space. Many apps that lack their own ability to sync information can use Dropbox to add information sharing. For example, I use Dropbox to store my Things database, ensuring that both my work and home computers have the same list of tasks, without my needing to do anything extra to keep each up to date.

If you sign up, please use this referral link as we’ll both get an extra 250mb of space for free.

Skitch is one of the many screen capture apps released in the last year or two. It’s a great app that just works, making it easy to take a snapshot of part of the screen and annotate it if I need. Additionally, it makes it easy to upload the capture to online services, which is how I typically add interesting bits to my Web Detritus set on Flickr.

1Password is one of those applications that causes me to wonder how I worked without it. It is the best password manager I have ever worked with, hands-down. 1Password guarantees that I can use very complex passwords without risk of forgetting them, nor worry that they’re sitting around for someone to steal.


In addition to Safari, I install Google Chrome and Firefox, which are currently battling for supremacy in my daily workflow.

Fluid is another browser I use regularly, though it has a key difference. Instead of acting as a general Web browser, it turns Web sites into desktop applications, complete with icons in the Applications folder and on your dock. My most common use for this is for Google Reader, but I have also tapped it for Web-based mail and to-do lists.

And More…

For Preference Panes, please see my post about System Tweaks for OS X.

Back in 2006, I wrote Software for a Switcher.

What are the Apps You Can’t Live Without?

Please expand this list by adding your recommendations in the comments.


  1. says

    Great list, Alex!

    I’m surprised by your use of Entourage, though admittedly I rarely need to book rooms or view colleague’s availability.

    Also, what make you use LaunchBar over QuickSilver? QuickSilver is definitely the most used utility on my machine. So much so that I find myself ‘crippled’ when I have to quickly take over someone else’s machine and they don’t have a launcher!

    • says

      Yeah, it was not a fun shift from to Entourage, but the latter’s integration with Exchange is key, both in terms of company directories and the calendaring and booking systems.

      • Chris Hunter says

        If you haven’t tried it recently, the support for Exchange Server (I believe it has to be at least 2007) in and iCal under Snow Leopard is a huge improvement over older versions.

        I actually find it to be even better than Entourage. I can check and book rooms for example.

      • says

        Hey Chris, I tried to use and iCal with Exchange 2007 and while it did all technically work, it felt clunky. That said, it’s possible that I didn’t configure it as well as I could have or that our Exchange server could be better configured for integration. is definitely a better app than Entourage, so I’d use it exclusively if the calendaring system was smoother.

      • says

        I find using google apps for email and calendar the most useful of all. I’ve had gmail since the beginning, and just recently within the last few years have started embracing their calendar system. At first it wasn’t all that easy, but once my coworker and I got our bosses on board, we’ve now changed out entire office from using M$ products to using all google. Granted they still have Windows machines, but now they’re not stuck to getting their mail only on that machine and google calendar enables everyone to know when anyone is busy and what meetings are coming up.

        As far as Coda over TextMate, I’ve used both and I’m a huge TextMate fan. There were little things that coda did that I didn’t like, but I love their FTP program Transmit. So for me, it’s TextMate + Transmit over Coda.

  2. says

    I may have answered my own question above:

    “I’m inclined to encourage users to move over to the more stable and well supported alternatives like LaunchBar”

    Nicholas Jitkoff, Developer of Quicksilver

    • says

      That’s exactly it. Quicksilver was a great app, but it became less stable with each revision of OS X. Launchbar has proven itself an excellent replacement for Quicksilver – it’s stable, extensible and provides all the features I rely on. I also find that it indexes new files and apps faster, though that could be how I set it up.

      I tried Google’s Quick Search Box, which Jitkoff has been working on, but I wasn’t impressed, due in large part to the fact that it’s a very young app. I expect it’ll improve to the point that it rivals Launchbar and similar apps..
      The $35 for Launchbar was money well spent.

  3. says

    Love posts like this. Ran a series like this a year ago, with an update a few weeks ago: (Earlier posts are linked from there.

    In short, I have several of the same needs, but we differ on several apps. I use Yojimbo over Evernote, OmniFocus over Things, and Espresso over Coda. (And thankfully, I rarely need to open Office…it feels cumbersome compared to Pages.) Bottom line…there are so many great apps available thanks to indie developers.

      • says

        Thanks! It’s hard to resist the temptation to continue messing with it, but overall I’m quite happy with it.

    • says

      Great post John, thanks for pointing it out. The differences in apps are minor. I tried the very early versions of Espresso, and while I liked a lot about it, I needed an app that felt a bit more finished. I love that we have so many great options available to us.

      Yojimbo looks great, though I must admit I like the fact that Evernote is not only free, but available on all of my devices and the Web, which I don’t believe is the case with Yojimbo. Please correct me if I’m wrong on that.

      I haven’t tried Omnifocus, though I’ve used Omnioutliner off-and-on for a couple of years and OmniGraffle is a core app for my success. I’ll give it a try when I have some time.

      Pages definitely feels lighter than Word, but sadly there are too many small issues when it converts Word docs for me to use it in a corporate environment, so I’m stuck using Office.

      Thanks for the comment and adding your favored apps!

      • says

        Yojimbo can sync via MobileMe, but it’s spotty. No iPhone availability. I was already deep into Yojimbo when Evernote came out. Considered the switch, but still like the UI of Yojimbo better…and the scripts available from a great user community.

        Same story with OmniFocus…was deep into it before Things came out, though I still think I prefer OmniFocus. In this case, it does have better sync capabilities than Things.

      • says

        I can’t wait for Things to get proper syncing built in. Right now I sync it through Dropbox, so I have to ensure that I don’t run it on two machines at once by accident given the risk of it corrupting or overwriting the db.

  4. says

    Jolly’s Fast VNC for screensharing — fast, robust, lets you view and control remote computers even over latent connections or having screens much larger than your current resolution.

    On the remote side, go to System Preferences / Sharing; click ‘screen sharing’ and then “computer settings” — tick both boxes and set a strong password. You may also need to poke a hole through your router if you’re at home (forward ports 5800 and 5900 I believe).

    The main beneficial effect of this is that when my mom calls from Maryland to say “I can’t send mail but I can see it I just can’t do anything” I can log in remotely and click “View / Show Toolbar”. But I also use it often to remote control my work computer from home or even California.

    * GrandCentral for finding out where my diskspace is going
    * I use Mozy free version for backup. Part of this is that you should not use dropbox to sync anything that is also versioned — but I for sure want those files backed up. So I use dropbox for sync and mozy for remote backup.
    * Perian and Flip4Mac (no relation) to enable the full spectrum of video-playing codecs.
    * Photoshop yes but for simple quickie edits I use either Acorn or actually Preview. (The select/”instant alpha” is awesome magic). Audacity is my corresponding quickie edit app for audio files
    * I know I’m skewing off-demographic but if you ever have need to do *good* data visualization check out Tableau and Data-Applied. Screw you, Excel. Seriously.
    * Sequel Pro is just AWESOME if you use MySQL or any other SQL DB.

    • says

      Once again you come through with a wealth of suggestions, thanks flip! I’ll have to dig into some of these – Sequel Pro sounds really useful. Thanks!

  5. says

    I’ve abandoned MS Office for I love having a Microsoft-free machine :)

    I’m a big Skitch fan too. Not only is it perfect for quick screen grabs, I’ve found it’s a great app for folks who need minimal graphics capabilities (e.g., images for blog posts) and are intimidated by “real” graphics apps.

    I use Fireworks more than any other app in CS4. And although I don’t use them often, I wouldn’t want to be without InDesign or Bridge.

    • says

      Yeah, it’d be great to not need Office. But such is life in the work-a-day corporate world. ;)

      I’ve barely touched Bridge as I found it cumbersome in its early days and haven’t messed with it since it moved bast the 1.x release. Perhaps now is a good time for me to dig into it once more. Thanks for the reminder Julie!

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