Apps for your new Mac: Useful utilities

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New Mac users will find OS X a capable performer by default, but there are a few gaps that are best filled by third-party apps. AppleInsider has rounded up some of the most useful additions to any Mac user's arsenal.

For this roundup, we focused on true utilities: small, often single-purpose apps that plug small holes in the Mac experience. While we usually recommend that new Mac owners work with their computers for a while before diving into the Mac App Store, the apps on this list should find a home on nearly every Mac.




Before Apple introduced Notification Center in OS X Mountain Lion, apps communicated new information to users with Growl. For various reasons, Apple's version has not yet cornered the market —  many popular apps like instant messager Adium and streaming music player Spotify still rely on Growl for notifications.

Growl has some advantages over Notification Center for users as well: notifications can be skinned and resized, for instance, and their contents can be synthesized as speech by OS X's built-in voice synthesis engine. For those who want notifications from the apps that still use Growl but prefer to keep things organized, Growl can now act as a proxy, sending updates to Notification Center.

Formerly a free download, Growl is now available in the Mac App Store as a 6.8-megabyte download.

The Unarchiver

Extract compressed files

The Unarchiver

OS X ships with a built-in compressed file extraction utility aptly named Archive Utility, and while it works well, it has some limitations. Archive Utility's list of supported file formats is slim, and it has been known to suffer performance issues on large zip files or with files created in non-Roman languages.

Enter its equally-aptly-named alternative, The Unarchiver. The Unarchiver is a speedy drop-in replacement for Archive Utility that adds support for nearly 100 older or less popular compressed file formats like 7-Zip and RAR as well as disk image archives like ISO, BIN, and Microsoft's MSI.

The Unarchiver is a free, 5.3-megabyte download from the Mac App Store.


Keyboard shortcuts for everything


Alfred began life as a replacement for Quicksilver, a popular program that helped users to quickly perform system actions like launching apps using only the keyboard. Quicksilver, despite its then-immense popularity, fell into disrepair around the release of Snow Leopard and Alfred rose to Quicksilver's place.

Thanks to its laundry list of plugins and highly scriptable nature, Alfred can be configured to perform nearly any task with a few simple keystrokes. Even if users choose not to take advantage of its more advanced features, Alfred makes it faster and easier to launch applications, find contacts, create new email drafts, and search the web out of the box.

Basic Alfred functionality can be had with a free download from www.alfredapp.com, though a £17 ($28) purchase is required to unlock its more advanced features such as Automator-style worflows.


Completely uninstall apps


Though Mac apps are often distributed as single-file bundles that can be installed by simply dragging-and-dropping them into your Applications folder, uninstalling those apps is not always as easy. Apps can create related files in many locations around OS X, and Apple does not provide a central "uninstaller" for apps that were not purchased from the Mac App Store.

Many third-party "uninstaller" utilities are available, but AppCleaner is the best. It works quickly and easily —  just drag an app onto its window and AppCleaner will find and display all of its related files, then remove them with a singel click.

AppCleaner is a free download from its developer at www.freemacsoft.net/appcleaner/.


Play back nearly any video file


OS X's built-in media player, QuickTime Player, is speedy and well-designed but offers limited support for different types and encodings of media. While some may advocate installing a codec pack that expands QuickTime Player's reach, we recommend usurping QuickTime Player's role entirely with stalwart alternative VLC.

VLC is a cross-platform, open source media player created by the non-profit VideoLAN organization. Put simply, VLC plays absolutely everything you can throw at it —  from 3GP videos recorded on early-2000s camera phones to 4K video streams and even corrupted files, rare is the file that will trip VLC up. If you plan to watch video on your Mac, VLC is the app to use.

VLC is a free download from www.videolan.org/vlc/.