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Macintosh macOS Resources and other handy things

The Mac macOS software world is pretty stable these days (compared to the innovation still appearing on iOS, say), but the resources below are web sites or software that I have found useful.

This page details shareware and freeware items I have found. (This is necessarily a non-comprehensive list, as I cannot compete with a site such as MacUpdate. This is one person's survey of the landscape.)

First of all, some general web sites:

Finding New Software
MacUpdate This is by far the best site for finding the latest versions of software for the Mac. It has user reviews and more, dowload links, and more. Good search engine. This site will give you information about what applications are compatible with particular major operating sytem releases. (This is especially valuable in the first few months after an OS release.)
UNIX & X11
MacPorts ASD's preferred porting engine for UNIX open source software, handling dependencies and "variants" for OS X. (Other options: Homebrew and Fink.)
CUPS CUPS, the Common UNIX Printing System is now Apple's basis for its printing environment, starting with 10.2.
XQuartz (X11) X Window System server for OS X.
Audio & Sound
Audacity Free audio recording application.
Sound Studio Shareware program for CD-quality audio recording (from mic input or from sound-in).
GraphicConverter The standard. Reads about 190 formats, writes out in about 75 (including unusual ones). Has many image editing functions as well. Also has image browser ("Open Folder") function.
the GIMP the Gnu Image Manipulation Program, another excellent photo editor
Hugin Excellent panorama stitcher
VueScan Superb scanner driver (for OS X, Windows, and Linux). Supports many old scanners, including ones which manufacturers no longer support or provide drivers.

It was originally designed for dedicated film scanners, not flatbeds. It's main claim to fame is high color fidelity and retention of shadow and highlight detail. The developer is very responsive, sometimes fixing bugs and adding features multiple times per week. You can try it out before you buy, although the images will have a watermark overlaid on them. (If the interface looks non-Mac-like, that is because this is a cross-platform product, written using wxWidgets.)

VueScan can now do OCR (optical character recognition), too! (This allows you to scan a text document and turn it into editable text, not just an image of text.)

Text Processing
Adobe Reader Be aware that macOS supports native creation of PDF files in all applications. (Select Print, then go to the Output Options pop-up menu (click and hold "Copies & Pages")
BBEdit A very good text editor (far better than what Apple provides, especially for programming). Has free mode or paid mode.
TeXShop A very nice LaTeX development environment, with a color-syntax highlighting editor and a Typeset button that brings up a PDF of one's rendered document. Can download free-standing or as part of MacTeX (below).
MacTex (TeXlive) While one can certainly build a complete TeX/LaTeX setup with MacPorts, this is a very complete and convenient package, which includes TeXshop. Updated every spring, usually in May.
LibreOffice This is a free office suite designed to be interoperable with MS Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint).
LibreOffice is a fork of OpenOffice. Open OfficeOpen Office Differences and history are discussed here.
iWork (Keynote, Pages, Numbers) Keynote is Apple's Powerpoint competitor (which has a gorgeous look to it, both the application and its resulting files) while Pages is Apple's word processor, and Numbers is the spreadsheet application. Now available for free in the App Store.
emacs for Mac or
Very nice Aqua (Mac-native) versions of Emacs text editor. (It is also possible to build X11 versions with MacPorts if you prefer.) But using native macOS cut-copy-paste with these two is far nicer.
MacVim Very nice Aqua (Mac-native) versions of VIM (Vi IMproved) text editor. Like the emacs choices above, gives you native cut-and-paste. (One can build comamnd-line "vim" or X11 graphical "gvim" with MacPorts.)
Thunderbird Mozilla Project POP and IMAP email client. Very highly regarded. (Not currently allowed with NASA Office365 email unless one uses DavMail to handle OAUTH-2 authentication.)
File Synchronization
Dropbox A folder on your Mac which can store anything (and sync with other Macs and mobile devices) (Not currently allowed on NASA computers because it is not FIPS 140-2 compliant. Consider Box or Microsoft OneDrive as government-approved alternatives (NAMS required).) Dropbox is still a great tool for personal use.
SFTP & FTP clients
Fugu A free and simple graphical SFTP client, from the Univ. of Michigan. You will need to get the 'preview' release under the "Lion Support" section of this Sourceforge page. (You need an Intel x86_64 build, which this provides.) Don't click on the default green download button.
Transmit A very nice shareware SFTP/FTP client Has a two-pane "Your stuff -- their stuff" window arrangement. Option-click on Date column header to toggle to Size (and vice versa).
CyberDuck Another nice FTP/SFTP free client.
ncftp This is an outstanding compiled shell around FTP that can be run from It has bookmarks, progress meters, displayed path, and much more. It can be built with MacPorts (no longer included with OS X, as it was with earlier macOS versions.) Also, there are several tools you can use to download a file or URL in one command from the shell, without needing a browser. Try ncftpget, ncftpput, or the similar programs curl or wget.
Web Browsers
Firefox A really good browser from the Mozilla Project, and a direct descendent of Mosaic → Netscape → Mozilla → Firefox. Gives you essentially the identical browsing experience on Mac, Windows, and UNIX (Linux, Solaris, etc).
Chrome The browser from Google.
Opera Another browser with its devotees.
Other Utilities
DefaultFolder X A long-time favorite of mine (I registered in 1994!), this system preference allows you to more easily navigate the standard Open and Save dialog boxes. It keeps track of the last ten folders you used, rebounds to the last file you accessed, allows you to specify preferred folders (even on a per-application basis), and much more.
TinkerTool This system preference gives you control over a number of parameters of the Dock and the Finder. There are shell commands to do some or all of these things (some of which are documented at Mac OS X Hints, mentioned above).
iStat Menus Outstanding menu bar add-on for showing everything from CPU and RAM usage to temperatures and fan speeds for your computer. Not free, but really worthwhile.
MenuMeters Uses the menu bar to display CPU, RAM, and other system usage. Not as comprehensive as iStat Menus, but free, equally unobtrusive, and really useful. The original site for MenuMeters said it would not work past OS X 10.10, but the link at left is a fix to this issue.
USB Overdrive This is a third-part shareware driver for USB input devices (trackballs, mice (including multi-button and scroll-wheel models), gamepads, and more. It gives more control over how the device operates. Can be quite handy if you are not pleased with the choices the mouse (or other device) vendor provided.
Backup Loupe Useful tool to inspect what was backed up in a given Time Machine backup (because otherwise the star-field interface shows you your complete disk, not just the incremental changes). $5 shareware.
Disk Warrior This has been my primary disk repair tool since roughly 1998 (predating OS X). It is regularly able to fix problems that Apple's own Disk Utility cannot. This is $100 commercial software, but an essential tool.
Data Rescue A tool of last resort, but invaluable for getting data off a disk that nothing else can read. It is the last step before sending a drive to DriveSavers!
Grand Perspective A free tool to show, graphically, how your disk space is used for a given volume or folder. (Another application with a similar function but a very different graphical look is the $10 shareware DaisyDisk.)
Launching Applications
You should endeavor to find a way to conveniently launch applications, without having to paw through an overall Applications folder which has extra folders, README files, etc. Here are some ideas for achieving that, representing very different approaches.
Dock icons If you only use a small number of applications, you can consider leaving them permanently in the Dock. (The little triangle underneath them will tell you whether they are running or not.) To set this up, click and hold on the Dock icon of a running application and select "Keep in Dock".
Folder in Dock You can create a folder and populate it with aliases of your applications. Then you can drag that folder to the Dock (to the right of the vertical dividing line) and it will be available to you in the future. Click on that Dock folder icon, and the folder will open in the Finder. Alternately you can click and hold, and select the desired item. (You can have sub-folders, too, if you like).
Alfred or QuickSilver These free applications allow you to launch applications without removing your hands from the keyboard, just by typing the first few letters of its name. (This is akin to what you do from the Spotlight window in the upper right, but there are additional tricks these two can do.)
David Friedlander
1 March 2002 (original document)
14 April 2020 (latest revision)