A Guide to OS X Software for Switchers
I HAVE YET TO SEE a Switcher's Guide that actually focuses on the Switcher. Most seem more concerned with listing a few personal favorite programs or touting some of the wonderful features of OS X itself. My goal is to simply outline those applications that are not only the most useful, but have direct bearing on the life of those who have recently made the jump from Windows. I will also include links to several Mac-friendly websites as well a few extremely helpful keystrokes.
If you have recently switched, let me say welcome to the world of Mac. I hope this list will help you discover the inner workings of your new machine. If you're planning on a switch, I hope this article will be a useful informational resource. If you are a long-time user, please feel free to comment below to add your own favorite applications.
Let's start with the basics. These first few are already on your computer.
(In Your Applications Folder)
That's right, I said System Preferences. Most of us Mac users are so familiar with System Preferences that we simply neglect to mention it. Over the next year, you will tweak, configure, and adjust your settings until your computer is uniquely you. You will immediately change things like your Desktop & Screen Saver, but eventually you'll take advantage of more detailed settings like Network and Sharing. There are even add-ons (some of which I will mention below) that will add additional features. Put simply, nothing will be more beneficial to your switching process than familiarizing yourself with your System Preferences.
(In Your Utilities Folder)
There is no better way to see what's going on. So helpful, in fact, that I keep one click away at all times. I started making it a habit back when I only had 256 MB of RAM, but would be trying to simultaneously run Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, and Safari (still my favorite browser, but what a memory hog!). More than being interesting to watch which programs are eating away at your resources, you can also force-quit any program that is giving you fits or that you are simply not using. Pay attention and you'll see some programs and even some badly written widgets draining your CPU.
(In Your Utilities Folder)
Windows users are so used to spending the time fixing their computer that the lack of disk-fixing utilities on a Mac can be a little frustrating. (This is usually where you would read a diatribe on how stable Apple computers are and how much Windows sucks. Well, that's dumb and I'm not going to do it.) Disk Utility to the rescue. As your computer gets older, you'll probably "Repair Disk Permissions" a few times and may even have to "Repair Disk." In any case, this is the basic disk-fixum program. There are more complete programs out there, but you'll find those in time.
(In Your Utilities Folder)
That's right, boys and girls, OS X is a UNIX-based operating system. "What?!?," you say. "Why haven't I heard this before?" I know, I know, it's a shock. Well, this one might be a duh, but it's important to point out. If, after making the switch, you find yourself missing the command-prompt, don't forget that it's always accessible through the Terminal.
Now on to the downloads...
Stuffit.com, FREE (Deluxe Version $29.99)
This should probably be your first download. You will have learned this the hard way if you've already switched. For years, .sit has been the file-compression of choice for a huge amount of companies who write software for the Mac. I don't actually know why. Personally, I prefer .zip to .sit and would much rather see a .dmg file than either. But that doesn't change the fact that someday soon, you're going to download a .sit and have no way to open it.
The only way to watch WMV files online. I don't mean that figuratively. I mean, this really is the only way to watch WMV files online. Since Microsoft has officially stopped updating Media Player for the Mac, this Quicktime plugin has now become a necessity. Unfortunately, as of the writing of this article, the Universal version that will work with an Intel Mac is still in beta testing, which means you can't get it unless you, ahem, know somebody.
Adiumx.com FREE (Please Donate)
This is one of my favorite programs and is certainly one of my most used. Adium is an instant messaging application. Unlike iChat, Adium supports AIM, ICQ, Jabber, Google Talk, Yahoo!, Gadu Gadu, and more. It's also skinable and customizable - there are literally hundreds of add-ons available and more are added every day. Here are a couple of my favorite to get you started: Here and Here.
Alternatives: Proteus, Fire, Psi (Jabber only)
Acquisitionx.com FREE with Limited Restrictions (Single User $17.99, Family Pack $25.99)
A must. The best P2P program written for the Mac and probably the best P2P program on Earth. You can see the features for yourself on the website, but of particular note is the insanely well done iTunes integration and support for BitTorrent files. Best of all, no spam, spyware, or generally annoying behavior so prevalent in P2P programs.
Alternatives: Poisoned, iSwipe
Apple.com $79 (Includes Keynote - Free 30 Day Trial)
This may seem like a shameless plug for Apple, but I assure you it is not. To be honest, I didn't want to use Pages. I'd been using Microsoft Word for so many years that learning a new program just seemed like a waste of time (unlike many, I see nothing morally wrong with using Microsoft products). One day, on a whim, I tried Pages on a new project. I was hooked within minutes. I cannot stress enough how much better this program is designed than Word. My wife had a similar experience and it took no time at all to wean ourselves almost entirely of Office (we have no need for spreadsheets in my house). If you want to experience Apple software design at its best, use Pages. Trust me.
Panic.com $29.95 (Free to Use With Restrictions)
Hands down, the best FTP program ever designed by anyone. Period. I don't know what else to say. Worth every penny.
Alternatives: Fetch, Cyberduck
Making OS X even easier to use...
Greg.Vario.us FREE (Please Donate)
I don't know how I got along before CornerClick. Simply put, CornerClick allows you to assign specific commands to each corner of the screen. For example, if I command-click my lower right corner, Acquisition starts up, but if I right click down there, Transmit starts up. I can shift-click my lower left corner to start a batch-upload. With Corner Click, the Dock becomes an afterthought. It's one of those add-ons that is so well designed, it makes you wonder why Apple didn't build it directly into OS X to begin with.
Textpander (now TextExpander)
SmileOnMyMac.com FREE... er... I mean $29.95
I couldn't work without Textpander. It automatically pastes snippets of text when you enter certain keystrokes. It's totally customizable and lives up in the menu bar. I use it constantly when writing in HTML, which requires a lot of mundane retyping. Textpander used to be free (actually, "Donationware"), but was recently bought by SmileOnMyMac.com who are now charging $30. So I continue to use the now unsupported Textpander (I like the old icon better anyway).
Jumpcut is an active history of your clipboard. It saves the last several copied items and lives in the menu bar. Jumpcut comes in extremely handy, especially if you copy and paste a lot of text. It should be noted that Quicksilver (below) can accomplish the same thing, but it does so with more keystrokes.
The best and most beautiful program that is totally impossible to describe. At first, it acts like a simple (albeit gorgeous) launcher program. But Quicksilver is much more than that. It is designed to make everything you do easier and more fluid. It is also highly addictive. I highly recommend it.
Text Editors... Since those of us who use text editors, especially for programming, have such wildly different tastes, I will include details for some of the major editors available...
Macromates.com €39 (30 Day Trial)
By far my favorite text editor. In fact, I'm writing this entry in TextMate right now. TextMate is designed with multi-file projects in mind, but is clean and streamlined enough to work on a single file.
CodingMonkeys.de $35 (30 Day Trial)
Probably the smartest editor in the list. While SubEthaEdit can be used as a simple text editor, it is made specifically for collaborative projects. Several people can work simultaneously on the same file without interrupting workflow for any individual user. It's genius. If I were a collaborative programmer, I would probably use this app exclusively.
The ugliest of the bunch, but don't let that fool you. TextWrangler is so insanely filled with options and features that it constantly impresses. This is probably the most widely used full-featured text editor for the Mac. I used it exclusively until fell in love with TextMate. And free is the best price possible.
Smultron.Sourceforge.net FREE (Please Donate)
My favorite free text editor, mostly because it has the best icon on the planet. I keep this one handy because it supports tabs (several files open in a single window). It's small, opens quickly, and doesn't require a lot of system resources to run. I love it.
Just for fun...
This was literally the first thing I installed when we bought our new computer. UNO changes the look and feel of OS X so that every program looks "Aqua." Since some programs are "Brushed Metal," and some are "Aqua," UNO comes to the rescue by unifying all of them. I even went so far as to add the UNO theme to Adium.
TheLittleAppFactory.com FREE ($10 for a License)
While still yet to be released as a Universal Binary, there just isn't a better companion for iTunes. Use single keystrokes to Play/Pause, display info and album cover when the song changes, completely customize the menu bar display, and more. Several other programs can accomplish any one of these features (SizzlingKeys, hotTunes, Synergy, etc.), but M-Beat is the prettiest, smallest, and easiest to use.
In the comments below, Fernando Lucas points us to Menuet. After using it briefly, I may be a convert. It's $12.95, so M-Beat is still a great free alternative, but Menuet seems to be the real deal. I'll test it for a few days and may edit the article accordingly - which will mean adding Growl as well (which I should probably do anyway). Anyway, thanks Fernando!
Panic.com $12.95 (Free Trial)
Now that you have the most beautiful operating system, you might as well start having fun with it. CandyBar lets you change almost any icon you can find and supports iContainers, which can change system icons universally. Currently, I've replaced all of my default icons with the beautiful Agua series created by David Lanham.
IconFactory.com $18.95 (Free Trial)
The perfect companion to CandyBar, Pixadex is to icons what iTunes is to music. When you start collecting those icons from all over the internet, you better have a way to organize them.
I couldn't survive without these Widgets...
Exactly what the Dashboard is designed to do. This little widget grabs the movie listings and times from every theatre near you. This is so much easier than looking it up in the Newspaper or calling and waiting through a recording.
A TV Guide at your finger tips. We use this widget constantly. You have total freedom to choose which channels are displayed so you aren't bothered by what's happening on the Gameshow Network, because, really, who cares?
WidgetMachine.com $7.95 (Free 10 Day Trial)
One of the few widgets that actually cost, this thing is indispensable. It is designed better than most notepad applications, but since it lives on the Dashboard, it stays out of the way and automatically saves your notes.
Parallels.com $49.99 (Free Trial)
Last, but most certainly not least, I give you Parallels. If there is a Windows program that you simply must have, this is your answer. Parallels is a virtual desktop for the Mac that can run Windows applications. Between this and Boot Camp (which is free, though a bit more clunky), you really have no more excuses. Get out there and get yourself a Mac!
This is by no means a complete list of every program you will need as you start your journey into your Mac, nor will you likely use each and every one of these apps. This isn't even a complete list of the programs I use most. No, this is a stepping stone. Enjoy your new computer and explore for yourself. You will find your own favorite applications in no time.
As promised, here are a few must-know keystrokes (please remember that your "Apple" key is actually called a "Command" key):
Switch Programs: command+Tab (hold command, click Tab to cycle)
Send to Trash: command+backspace (called the "delete" key)
Force Quit: command+option+Esc (basically the same as alt+ctrl+del)
Screen Capture: command+control+shift+4 (sends to the clipboard)
Screen Capture (Whole Screen): command+control+shift+3 (sends to the clipboard)
Bullet Character "•": option+8
And a list of wonderful Mac-centric websites:
Mac OS X Hints
Cool OS X Apps
I hope this helps. Have fun.