macOS has a¬†vibrant ecosystem of¬†apps you won‚Äôt find anywhere else. Most of¬†them are pretty solid software, making life easier in¬†some way‚Ķ but¬†some are real gems. Over the¬†years I‚Äôve found a¬†handful of¬†those ‚Äď tools that I¬†now find indispensable. There‚Äôs no¬†reason to¬†keep this collection to¬†myself, so¬†here‚Äôs my top¬†10 as¬†of¬†2023, in¬†no particular order:

1. IINA

Free and open-source.

Screenshot of IINA playing Sky.mp4

IMHO the¬†best video player ever built. It‚Äôs extremely versatile in¬†terms of¬†media formats supported¬†‚Äď quite like VLC¬†‚Äď but¬†also sports a¬†sleek macOS-native design ‚Äď unlike the¬†traffic cone player. It‚Äôs completely free, both as¬†in¬†beer and¬†as¬†in¬†speech. To¬†me, it‚Äôs a¬†demonstration of¬†what free software can look like in¬†combination with Apple‚Äôs ‚ÄúIt just works‚ÄĚ ethos.

Official website ‚ÄĘ GitHub repository

2. Rectangle

Free and open-source.

If I¬†could bring just one feature of¬†Windows into macOS, it‚Äôd be window snapping, without a¬†doubt. It‚Äôs baffling why that still isn‚Äôt built-in, while somehow the¬†half-baked Stage Manager is. Maybe that‚Äôs the ‚ÄúThink different‚ÄĚ ethos at¬†play. Fortunately, there are many good solutions to¬†this problem, all thanks to¬†independent developers, and¬†Rectangle is¬†my favorite. It¬†introduces sizing and¬†positioning of¬†windows by dragging them to¬†the¬†edges of the¬†screen - as¬†seen on¬†TV in¬†Windows.

Just a couple years ago I would have recommended the paid Magnet here instead, but now Rectangle does the exact same job for free (and open-source!)

Official website ‚ÄĘ GitHub repository

3. Swish

$16, adjusted to cost of living. Time-limited trial available.

Just like Rectangle, Swish brings effortless window snapping to¬†macOS. What‚Äôs the¬†difference? This solution is¬†based on¬†trackpad gestures: Swipe up with two fingers on¬†a¬†window‚Äôs titlebar, and¬†the¬†window will be maximized. Swipe right, and¬†it¬†will take up the¬†right half of the¬†screen. Double-tap, and¬†it¬†will go back to its¬†original size, while also being centered. That‚Äôs just a¬†few of¬†the¬†possibilities ‚Äď there are also gestures for¬†moving windows between spaces, minimizing, tiling into quarters or¬†sixths, and¬†more. It‚Äôs a¬†surprisingly intuitive workflow if you use the¬†trackpad often, and¬†honestly I¬†now prefer it¬†over Windows-style dragging to¬†edges. This is¬†quicker and more powerful.

Official website

4. UnnaturalScrollWheels

Free and open-source.

Screenshot of UnnaturalScrollWheels settings

Swish was all about the¬†trackpad, UnnaturalScrollWheels is¬†all about the¬†mouse. In¬†particular, it¬†fixes two annoying ‚Äúfeatures‚ÄĚ of¬†macOS:

  1. When using a¬†mouse, you traditionally move down the¬†page by scrolling down physically ‚Äď while when using a¬†trackpad, it‚Äôs more natural to¬†move down the¬†page by swiping up (like on¬†a¬†touch screen). Apple has made this impossible - it‚Äôs either ‚Äúall movement down scrolls down‚ÄĚ, or¬†the¬†opposite.
  2. Mouse acceleration can’t be disabled. Acceleration makes a whole lot of sense on the relatively small trackpad, but limited sense with a whole desk to work with. I much prefer my mouse movement to be reflected 1:1 on the screen.

This app provides the settings to make your mouse work exactly the way you’d expect.

GitHub repository

5. Dato

$8. Unlimited trial available.

Screenshot of the Dato calendar

‚ÄúWe live in¬†a¬†twilight world‚ÄĚ was the¬†phrase used throughout Tenet, the¬†2020 movie by Christopher Nolan. This certainly referred to¬†the¬†fact that in¬†2020 it¬†suddenly was twilight before you managed to¬†finish all the¬†Zoom meetings for¬†the¬†day, not having worked even a¬†single productive hour.

Now 2020 is¬†water under the¬†bridge, but¬†the¬†Zoom meetings have stayed with us (and hopefully they‚Äôre actually useful). Dato helps you manage all of¬†them by putting the¬†day‚Äôs schedule in¬†the¬†menu bar, along with a¬†handy calendar. Anything planned for¬†the¬†next three hours? One click to¬†find out! What about March 17 ‚Äď what day is¬†that even? Click ‚ÄúNext month‚ÄĚ within the¬†same menu - Calendar.app begone! Got a¬†meeting just about to¬†start? Use the¬†instant ‚ÄúJoin‚ÄĚ button, no¬†need to¬†fish for¬†links!

The cherry on top is that you can make Dato a drop-in replacement for the built-in date+time menu bar item, which is what I’ve done above. Looks exactly the same as the system indicator, except it’s useful when you click it!

By the way, Dato is a tool by Sindre Sorhus, whose code you’re certainly using already! He’s extremely prolific as a developer and has authored many useful macOS apps, but also dozens of popular packages used by other software.

Official website ‚ÄĘ App Store page

6. Hand Mirror

Free. Paid upgrade available.

Screenshot of Hand Mirror settings

On the topic of meetings… Those first five seconds of every call are the worst. Your face is either weirdly small or all-encompassing, and you realize you forgot to switch the lights on. What if you could just get a quick preview beforehand? With Hand Mirror you can, any time. It’s a mirror in your menu bar, simple as that.

The $5 Hand Mirror Plus upgrade comes with a few extra customization options (window positioning, choice of menu bar icon) but I love one in particular: Click behind the MacBook notch for the mirror to pop up! Neat AND intuitive.

Official website ‚ÄĘ App Store page

7. ImageOptim

Free and open-source.

Screenshot of ImageOptim settings

Whether making a¬†website or¬†sending over photos from vacation, sending needlessly large image files is¬†a¬†crappy thing to¬†do. Then, there are always those services which put a¬†strict limit on¬†the¬†size of¬†uploads ‚Äď Discord is¬†NOT letting that 8001 kilobyte shitpost through. Powerful CLIs exist to¬†compress all sorts of¬†files and¬†there are even online equivalents, but¬†why learn all those command-line options or¬†send your data to¬†strangers? What happens in¬†Vegas stays on¬†disk.

ImageOptim is¬†brilliant for¬†this task. It compresses JPEGs, PNGs, and¬†GIFs with no¬†fuss, which covers all my needs. Just right-click on¬†an¬†image in¬†Finder and ‚ÄúImageOptimize‚ÄĚ in¬†one click. My preference is¬†for lossless compression of¬†PNGs, and¬†slightly lossy (~95%) of¬†JPEGs and¬†GIFs, but¬†this is¬†completely up to¬†you.

Official website ‚ÄĘ GitHub repository

8. Gifox

$15. Feature-limited trial available.

Screenshot of a Gifox frame

I work in software, so I often find myself recording the screen to share some software in action. Loom is handy when I want to also record myself talking, but that’s overkill most of the time. Meanwhile, the built-in Screenshot.app only records QuickTime MOVs, which lack universal support. A simple GIF is usually all that’s needed.

Gifox is¬†a¬†screen recording tool that reliably delivers ‚Äď you‚Äôll never guess ‚Äď GIFs. It‚Äôs really handy, although its¬†unique advantage is¬†compression. GIFs are notoriously large as¬†a¬†trade-off for¬†compatibility, but¬†Gifox‚Äôs outputs as¬†optimized as¬†a GIF can get, far surpassing even what ImageOptim can do!

Official website ‚ÄĘ App Store page

9. Secretive

Free and open-source.

Screenshot of Secretive

As a¬†developer, I¬†also sometimes find myself logging into remote servers. Ah, good old public key authentication, powering SSH for so¬†long ‚Ästyou‚Äôd think the¬†classic workflow using ssh-keygen to¬†create a¬†key pair for ~/.ssh/ would never get old. But¬†that‚Äôd be false.

Secretive is an elegant weapon for a more civilized age, or more precisely, an SSH identity agent that stores your keys in the Secure Enclave. The Secure Enclave is a dedicated secure subsystem (in Apple’s words) embedded in Apple chips, which is designed to handle cryptographic operations safely even if the rest of the device is compromised. In the SSH use case, this means that:

  • It‚Äôs impossible to¬†read the¬†private key ‚Äď so¬†even an¬†attacker with full file system access would not be able to¬†snatch it. ;) The¬†key never gets out because authentication fully happens inside the¬†Secure Enclave.
  • It‚Äôs impossible to¬†read the¬†private key - so you‚Äôll need to¬†authorize a¬†new public key if you switch devices, instead of reusing the private key. :( That‚Äôs a different paradigm from old-school plain text keys.

As a bonus, Secretive makes it possible to require user authentication before the key can be used. With Touch ID this is a no-brainer.

GitHub repository

10. Transmission

Free and open-source.

Screenshot of Transmission

The BitTorrent protocol is world-famous for its widespread use in the Linux community, where installation images are shared left-and-right completely in line with copyright law. Mysteriously, it seems like a significant drop in peer-to-peer activity coincided with the rise of streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify… I consider myself part of the trend, yet occasionally there’s still some content (those niche distros) that remains very hard to find outside of torrents.

This is¬†where Transmission, the¬†BitTorrent client, comes in. The¬†app was first released for OS X 10.4 in¬†2005 and¬†almost 18 years later the¬†open-source project is¬†still going strong. As¬†opposed to¬†the¬†closed-source őľTorrent, Transmission is¬†free of¬†ads and¬†cryptocurrency miners, and its¬†streamlined UI reigns supreme over qBittorrent‚Äôs clunky experience. Since 2005 the¬†app has gone multi-platform, but its¬†UI and¬†messaging clearly is¬†still macOS-first, so¬†I‚Äôm happy to¬†include¬†it¬†here.

Official website ‚ÄĘ GitHub repository