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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.

System PreferencesSystem Preferences
(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.

Activity MonitorActivity Monitor
(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.

Disk UtilityDisk Utility
(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 ExpanderStuffit Expander
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.

Flip4Mac.com FREE
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.

TextpanderTextpander (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.Sourceforge.net FREE
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.

Blacktree.com FREE
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.

BareBones.com FREE
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...

Interacto.net FREE
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...

Apple.com FREE
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.

TV TrackerTV Tracker
MonkeyBusinessLabs.com FREE
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.

And finally...

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
Dashboard Widgets

I hope this helps. Have fun.

You're welcome! I tought a Switcher's class for a year and the progams which were the most helpful were always the simplest ones. We Mac users have a tendency to forget that Switchers really have no idea where to start. Like driving a stick when you've owned an automatic your whole life - no matter how well you understand cars, you're not going to drive very far without some basic instruction.

Thanks for the guide, this is exactly what I have been looking for. I am planning to switch in the next month or so.

Do you have any good resources (programs/web sites) for web developers. In particular PHP and mysql ?

Very helpful, thanks! I have a few switcher friends that I'll make sure see this.

@le cobr

Good point, I added it to the article.

I think you should add Menuet (www.menuetapp.com) instead of MBeat. Believe me, it is so much better.
But overall a great article :-D

Dude, awesome work.

As an international user, one of the things that irked me when I switched was the way I have to relearn keyboard usage to get accented characters.

So I didn't.

I found the US International keyboard layout, which makes the sequence of keys to get accents in the Mac the same as international users are used to in Windows.


That would make a nice addition.

Great post... great guide!


No love for NeoOffice? It's not as pretty as MS Office MAC or Pages, but it certainly get's the job done. If you're a student (regarding kadis's comments) using NeoOffice instead of MS Office MAC is great on the price point (FREE). You'll find that you can save your work in file formats native to the MS Office world. NeoOffice has many sub-programs (can I call them that?) familiar to MS Office users like Excel, Powerpoint, and others.

Regarding green-e's comments, I suggest using XAMPP for web development. It installs a suite of utilities (Apache, MySQL, PHP, phpMyAdmin, Perl, etc.), free of charge, and makes a localserver control panel for it all.

It's just command+shift+3 (or 4) for screen captures. Not command+control+shift+3.
Also, command+shift+4 then the spacebar lets you take a screen shot of any window you click on.

hey you forgot a program called "Witch".. it's a free program which emulates window's alt-tab, because command-tab in mac only allows you to switch between apps and not between windows.. so for any switcher (like me) Witch is extremely important to have that one good feel about windows: alt-tab

All a switcher needs to know to change between windows within a program is Command-` (above the tab key). Exposé is very useful for this as well (press F10, or F9). Both solutions are out-of-the-box OS X -- no need to install a 3rd party program.

It's the little things in life...
Do I sense a wiki coming on?
Great start.

Thanks for recomending UNO, its great, I'm also giving quicksilver a try, don't know what all the fuss is about but I'm going to give it a week before I decide if I like it or not.

For anyone interested, here's a list of free apps that are great for switchers:

Fanless: The control in that keysequence for screenshots puts it on the clipboard, as opposed to dumping it to the desktop.

Personally, I prefer having it dump to the desktop, as then I can open the file and do whatever manip I need before pasting it into another source, but that's me. :)

Overall, a pretty awesome source of information!


The app you mentioned "Witch" isn't really necessary. You can easily switch between windows within an application by pressing command-~ (tilde, the key right above the tab key). For example, you can command-tab to get to the Finder, then let go and then press command-~ to switch between all open Finder windows. No need to install another app.

Before I bought a first Mac ever, I was annoyed by the fact that Dreamweaver is still not Universal. But given the fact I don't really use WYSIWYG, I realised I just need a decent combination of FTP and text editor capable to do PHP and HTML. I tried some freeware titles and found combination of Cyberduck and Smultron very very usable.

Thank you for that! I've wondered if there was such a short cut (like command+tab) for applications and there it is!

>>>>>The app you mentioned "Witch" isn't really necessary. You can easily switch between windows within an application by pressing command-~ (tilde, the key right above the tab key). For example, you can command-tab to get to the Finder, then let go and then press command-~ to switch between all open Finder windows. No need to install another app.

For those of you who can't afford Adobe and Macromedia products, here are some FREE alternatives:

InkScape - Like Illustrator
Gimp - Like Photoshop
Nvu - Like Dreamweaver

Anybody got anything for Flash?

Don't forget that for many of these FREE apps that work like Photoshop or Illustrator you'll need OS X's X11 extension installed. You can download it here for free or install it from your Mac install DVDs.

Here is another FREE alternative for the switching designer:

Scribus - Like InDesign or QuarkXpress

Aparently Gimp may have some animation tools available. Not sure how it stacks up to Flash. Probably more like a GIF animator.

OpenOffice.org and NeoOffice are the same program from the same open source. In fact they used to be on the same webpage together for downloads. NeoOffice, however, is made specifically for MAC (PowerPC and Intel versions available) and it doesn't require an X11 installation (many switchers may not want to fiddle with Tiger's install DVDs since X11 isn't a part of the out-of-the-box OS X installation). I recommend NeoOffice over OpenOffice.

I came here through a comment from My Blog and coincidentally you're using our KISS Theme/Style.

Thanks for this nice article and personal thanks for using KISS.

European switchers! The key combination to enter the @ sign found in email addresses etc is ALT(Option)-L _NOT_ COMMAND-Q.

Here is the free alternative to Flash:


I'm probably going to switch in a couple of months once MacBook Pros get Core 2 Duos, and I have this post bookmarked for when they do.

I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for this blog. I love the way you simplified it for someone who used Windows since 3.11 and MS Dos before that.
I just got a new Mac Pro and you really helped me out!

A great list of apps!

I'm currently helping (or pestering) some friends with this site for apps and tips after a switch:


Thank you! This page rocks! I've already downloaded acquisition (and 500 or so songs with it, ummm is this legal??!) and quicksilver. this rocks rocks rocccks.

Hey thanks for your post! I've delved in the Mac world for a bit before, but your info def. helped for some things I hadn't known about. way cool.

Fantastic advice. This'll really help me with my Big Switch. By the way, you might want to take a look at the Omni Group's products. They're all pretty neat.


By the way, over here in Australia it's only 4pm, so I'm not sitting up reading this in the wee hours of the morning.


I'll recommend EditGrid (http://www.editgrid.com) on Firefox Mac version as a Excel replacement on Mac. I've just got my dual core 1G RAM Macbook and EditGrid just works like native application!

You should really include a link to iusethis.com - a user-based osx app toplist.

I must say that this was a great post! I ordered my Macbook Pro yesterday and am anxiously awaiting its arrival. I have been a windows user for years and have finally taken the plunge. I know that this is going to be a slow transition but should be well worth it. Once again, great post!

Thank you so much for this post! I too, have just recently purchased a Macbook Pro as my first mac... and I love it to death, but there are many things I don't know how to do on it yet. So thank you for this extremely useful information! :)

Do you know of any good free news clients that I could use for downloding binaries?

By the way...
I think your page is great and very helpful. I have started using a lot of your suggestions.

Thank you

Great site! We try to give the same kind of information for people from The Netherlands on Cupertino.nl.
Link added on our site!

I switched last week - the information here is invaluable!

Thanks very much!

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Great info-packed article which I am sure will be invaluable to many - looks like it already has been.

Taking it one step further, how about a geek song written by a Mac-lover (me!), and loved so much by other Mac users that it has traveled the globe and even been translated and recorded into other languages? Check it out: www.ilovemymacthesong.com
and while you're at it: www.ilovemyipodthesong.com
Enjoy and spread the word ; )

Another nice shortcut that is very useful is:

Shift+Apple+Option+4 release and then hit space.

You'll get a Camera cursor and now you can select any Window or UI control and take a screenshot of it. With it you can screen capture individual icons on the desktop, windows, the desktop itself, the menu bar, menus in the menubar, the dock, dock icons, dashboard widgets, the daskboard itself, various UI controls and more.

Works with the extra ctrl to place it in the clipboard too.

Its really quite nice, and shows how OS X really does its rendering of UI parts. :)

Oh woops, remove the option from that, it should be:



Pages is an awesome application...drag and drop features, especially in the publishing world. I still have to feel it out a bit but so far; I am hooked!

Forget StuffIt Expander - get The Unarchiver! It's free/open-source and handles WAY more formats than StuffIt. http://wakaba.c3.cx/s/apps/unarchiver.html

Thank you SO much for this! I've been trawling the web for something like this for ages. I'm glad I came across it!

This is really cool! Thanks

Bless you young grasshoppa'. This will help on Wednesday when I get my first mac!! :)

Take care

I just switched when my PC crashed, and my Mac won't let me email word .doc files : ( or pick them up intact from an ftp site : (

Will one of these aps you mention handle this issue? I changed to rtf to email, only to discover the .doc file on the ftp goes kazowie (i.e, I get junk and lose my coding and templates).

These comments have been invaluable to me as is this whole site. I thank you for your comment.

I just bought my first mac a few days ago. Originally intended for school only, I purchased a used iBook G4 12.1" 1.33ghz 512ram 40gig notebook since i didnt have a budget that would allow me to get a macbook.
Ive been using my ibook virtually constantly since i took it out of the fedex package and I can tell you something: Mac's the only option for me next time i'm looking for a computer!
Anyway, this post was a fun and helpful read.
Oh and another thing, it seems to me that the mac community is so much more creative and sophisticated than the windows/pc community (as a whole). Another real reason to make the switch to mac.

Shows once again that some of the best software on the Internet is free. I only wish that it was also open-source.

Excelent, I would be lost withut people taking the time and effort to produce real comprehensve help for merre morals...


excellent, Where would we be without people taking the time and effort to produce guides like this


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what an informative guide!
even for myself, a longtime mac user (ever since grade school)

I have heard of most of these apps, and cannot think of any others to add.

I will request that maybe you delete the spam comments

OK, I know this is old but.. you can do what menuet and m-beat do with the itunes plugin of Quicksilver and some triggers. Combine it with Growl and.. wow! :)

Yup, it's so useful, and I think it support my blog then.. hehehe..



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