Jul 24, 2013. The 15 Best Mac Apps to Make Everyday Life Easier Apple's macOS is a good operating system, but it's missing some key ingredients. Try these programs to get the most out of your Mac.
In a previous article where I talked about the 5 best cheap Mac apps under $10, it seems that many of you wanted to know if these apps had any free alternatives. The straight answer is yes, but it is a little bit more complicated than that. As a rule of thumb, you should know that for every paid Mac app, there is a corresponding free app out there. You just have to search for it.
That said, the free apps do have their own limitations. Mostly the limitations have to do with the user interface of the app. The paid apps generally have a more modern and easy to navigate user interface than their free counterparts. The paid apps also bring more features which make the apps more productive. I guess what I am trying to say is that in most cases, you essentially get what you paid for. That’s not to say that there are no good free apps out there. On the contrary, there are a ton of awesome free apps, and if you want to see a lit of them, do let me know in the comments section below.
However, this article is not about the best free Mac apps, it’s about the best-paid macOS apps and their free alternatives. Before we get into the article, one thing I would like to mention is that I have taken a little bit of liberty with the concept of free apps, which you will understand as we get into the article. So, if you don’t think that the paid apps deserve the price that they are asking for, here are the 7 best paid Mac apps and their free alternatives:
Since there are going to be a lot of apps on this list, I am not going to go in-depth for each one of them. Rest assured all the apps that I mention in this list has been thoroughly tested by me. Also, if you like to see an in-depth review of any of the apps mentioned in this list, do let me know by writing in the comments section below. I will make sure to fulfill as many of your requests as I can.
It’s 2018 and if you are not using a password manager today, I am sorry to tell you the truth, but you are a fool (unless you have a Sheldon like memory which allows you to create and remember strong and random passwords). If you take your account safety seriously, you should be using a password manager. A password manager not only allows you to create random and secure passwords but it also makes them easily accessible. All you need to do is remember one master password. As long as you remember that you can use your password anywhere, be it on your Mac, iPhone, or iPad.
1Password according to me is one of the best password managers you can get for yourself. All your data is encrypted using end-to-end AES-256 encryption and PBKDF2 key derivation, which is a technical way to say, that there is no way in hell anyone can get into your account if they don’t know your master password. The service syncs all your password across devices and supports all the major platforms including macOS, iPhone, iPad, Android, and Windows. So, no matter which device you are using, you are covered.
Install:1Password - Free trial ($3.99/month - paid annually - individual plan / $4.99/month - paid annually - family plan up to 5 members)
One of the biggest restrictions that come with using the free version of any password manager software is that the free version doesn’t allow you to sync your password across devices. This is where LastPass wins as the free version of the software allows you to sync your passwords across devices. Remember that I told you that I am going to take a little liberty when it comes to what free app means, that declaration applies here. Although LastPass does have a premium subscription model, it’s free version is enough to fulfill all your individual needs. In fact, I myself use the free version of LastPass and has never felt a need to upgrade to the paid version.
That’s not to say that the paid version doesn’t come with extra features. The paid version brings features like desktop application logins, desktop fingerprint identification, two-factor authentication, and 1GB of encrypted file storage. That said, none of those features are necessary. All the necessary features like password creation, auto-fill and auto-login in browsers, password sync across devices, form filling, secure notes, and more are present in the free version. That’s why I consider, LastPass to be the best free password manager you can use today.
Install: LastPass - Free ($2/month - paid annually - individual plan / $4/month - paid annually - family plan up to 5 members)
One of my favorite features of Mac is its Menu Bar and the apps that it can hold. The Menu Bar not only provides us with a quick way to access important information and give us app specific contextual menus, it also allows us to use Menu Bar apps which are quite nifty applications. However, if you are as obsessed with apps as I am, you will soon find that your Menu Bar has become too crowded and unorganized.
That’s where Bartender comes in as it allows you to organize your menu bar apps, by hiding them, rearranging them, or moving them to the Bartender Items. But that’s not all, Bartender also allows you to quickly search for Menu Bar apps and use keyboard shortcuts to access them. Bartender is a must-have application for anyone who is looking to manage their Menu Bar items.
Install: Bartender 3 - Free trial for 4 weeks - $15
I will be the first one to come out and say that Vanilla is nowhere as powerful as the Bartender app. That said, The app is free and allows you to hide your Menu Bar apps elegantly. When you install the app, you will see a small arrow icon which you can click on to either expand or hide the Menu Bar icons.
Although the app is free forever, it does have a Pro option which adds extra features like keyboard shortcuts and automatic icons hiding. However, if you are not ready to pay, the free version will just serve you right as the app never ever nags you for upgrading.
Install:Vanilla - Free/$3.99
DaisyDisk is one of my most favorite macOS apps and considering how much it helps me, I am more than happy to pay for the service. I have already talked about the app in great detail in the best Mac apps under $10 article, which you can read if you want to. The short version is that the app helps you scan your Mac’s internal storage as well as any other storage devices that are either physically connected to your device or are on your server and helps you find and delete unwanted items to free up storage on your device. DaisyDisk is a prime example of an app which is really useful but that’s not why you are buying it. You are buying it for its extremely beautiful user interface which makes using this app a delight.
Install:DaisyDisk - $9.99
GrandPerspective is the best app for anyone who is looking for an alternative to DaisyDisk. The basic premise of the app is the same as DaisyDisk, that is, it scans your Mac to give you a graphical representation of the disk usage. You can choose to either scan your entire Mac or individual folders. Once you run the scan, the app will show all your files and folders represented by solid colored squares.
The bigger the file size, the bigger is the square. Thus you can easily find out which files and folders take up the most space. The app is free to download from its official website but cost $1.99 on the Mac App Store. But whichever app you download, you are essentially getting the same thing. The paid version is just your way of supporting the developers.
Install: GrandPerspective - (Free from Sourforge / $1.99 from Mac App Store)
Ulysses has garnered a lot of hate after the service decided to go the subscription route, but the thing is, whether you love it or hate it, there is no denying the fact that it’s the best writing app for Mac. In fact, all the article that you see on this website have been researched, drafted, and written on Ulysses. The best part about Ulysses is that it is an extremely powerful and productive writing tool which packs enough features that can handle any writing project irrespective of its size or complexity, and yet it still manages to maintain a simple and distraction-free UI so you can get the work done. I have already published an article detailing all the features of the app which you can go through if you want to make yourself familiar with the app.
Install:Ulysses ($4.99/month or $39.99/year - special student pricing available)
Probably the hardest thing when drafting this article was finding a worthy free alternative for Ulysses, and sadly even after scouring the whole internet, I could not find an app which can replace Ulysses alone. Don’t get me wrong, Typora is a fairly worthy app, however, it’s only free till it’s in beta.
Focus Writer is free but it neither bring the handy markdown editing feature nor the exceptional organizational feature of Ulysses.
Elephant is an open-source alternative to Evernote which also has a built-in markdown editor.
In the end, I still think that iA Writer ($9.99) is the best Ulysses alternative but you can surely check these apps to see if they can help you in replacing Ulysses or not. If you are already using a Ulysses alternative which you think is better than anything mentioned on this list, do help us out by dropping its name in the comments section below.
Install:Typora / Elephant / FocusWriter
I have used a ton of photo editing apps on Mac, however, I have always come back to Affinity Photo. The biggest reason why I prefer Affinity Photo is not just because it packs more features that you will ever need and is regularly updated, it’s because Affinity provides a plethora of resources to help you master the software. I also love the fact that unlike most of the good photo editors out there which uses subscription-based pricing, Affinity photo charges a onetime fee.
One more reason to go for Affinity Photo is its iPad app. Affinity Photo’s iPad app is the most robust photo editing app that you can use on your iPad, period. If you are ready to pay the price, Affinity Photo will provide you with one of the most versatile and extensive suite of tools you will find in any photo editing software.
Install:Affinity Photo - $49.99
Fotor is probably the best free alternative to Affinity Photo which makes this one the best free photo editing app for Mac. The biggest benefit of using Fotor is the way it handles its interface. All the important tools are available right within your reach and you don’t have to dig through various sub-menus to find them. That said, Fotor is not truly free as it offers in-app purchases.
If you are looking for a truly free alternative to Affinity Photo, Gimp is what you should be looking at. Gimp is an open source photo editing tool for Mac. Being an open-source app, it brings all the advantages and disadvantages that come with the domain. What I mean by that Gimp has all the photo editing tools and features that you will find in any pro photo editing tool, however, it also comes with a steep learning curve and you will have to invest a considerable amount of time in learning it.
Install:Fotor / Gimp
If you have ever searched for productivity apps for Mac, I can bet that Alfred was at the top of most of the results. Alfred is such a powerful tool that I will need to dedicate a series of articles if I want to really explain its power. The app not only helps you to quickly find files, apps, and more on your Mac, it also allows you to search the web, execute system level commands, create and execute workflows, assign hotkeys, control your music, automate your workflow, and much more. The possibilities are endless here. With its latest update, Alfred has taken the route of the freemium model where all its basic functions are free but pro functions are hidden behind a paywall, which you will need to buy if you are serious about using Alfred.
Install:Free / ￡19
QuickSilver is an open-source alternative for Alfred. Almost everything that you can do with Alfred, you can do with Quicksilver for free. However, as it is with any open-source application, Quicksilver also comes with a steep learning curve and doesn't have a great UI. That said, if you are ready to invest your time, you will be thoroughly rewarded.
Quicksilver will turn you into a Mac ninja, making you a far more productive than your average Mac user. However, if for some reason you are yet not ready to give up on Spotlight and still want all of Alfred’s power, you might want to check out Flashlight. Flashlight is not an app in itself but a collection of plugins which enhances the features of Spotlight bringing it closer to the likes of Alfred and Quicksilver.
Install:Quicksilver / Flashlight
I understand that everybody has their own system for managing tasks, and there can be no one task management app which is best for everyone. However upon trying multiple apps, I have found that OmniFocus is one of the best if not the best task management app for Mac. OmniFocus uses the “Getting Things Done” principle to help you, well, get things done. I love how OmniFocus not only allows me to create individual tasks, it also allows me to create projects, folders, attach contextual menus, defer tasks, and more. OmniFocus also comes with apps for iPhone,iPad, and Apple Watch, so no matter which Apple device you are using, OmniFocus is always there for you.
Install:OmniFocus - $39.99
While I searched high and low for a free task management for Mac, every app that I found which was worth getting on the list followed a freemium model. Of all those apps, I found Todoist and Wunderlist to be the best of the bunch. I personally prefer Wunderlist more than Todoist, however, Todoist has certain advantages over Wunderlist and most of those advantages have to do with various automation tools which greatly cuts down the time you spent on the app itself and more on the tasks in hand.
However, if you don’t want a freemium app and need something truly free, I think the built-in Reminders apps that come with macOS and iOS is your best hope. The Reminders is not only for creating one-time reminders rather you can also create lists which can act as your projects. The app also allows you to set due dates and share reminders with someone which is a much-needed feature if you work in a collaborative environment. However, the biggest thing that goes in favor of reminders app is the fact that it is deeply integrated with Siri so you can use Apple’s voice assistant to easily create tasks without having to open the app itself.
Install:Todoist / Wunderlist
Since I took this topic on, I realized that while some of the paid Mac apps have worthy alternatives, most of the best paid apps offer features and user interface which cannot be replicated by any free app. Maybe that’s why it’s better to pay for the apps that you are going to use on a daily basis rather looking for their free alternative.
That said, not all of us are lucky enough to afford all the paid Mac apps. Hence, what I feel the best thing to do is to buy the apps which are essential for your workflow (you can look at cheaper alternatives which are much easier to find than free ones) while use the free ones for those which are not that important and will not hamper your productivity in a big way.