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TUAW's Holiday Gift Guide: 10 must-have apps for a new Mac


Welcome to the TUAW Holiday Gift Guide! We've sorted the treasure from the junk and are serving up suggestions to make your holiday gift-giving a little easier.

Once the gift-giving holidays arrive, the lucky among us will find new Macs among our haul. Part of the fun of owning a Mac is acquiring some goodies to go with it. In this post, we'll focus on software. Specifically, the 10 apps you'll absolutely want on your new machine. WIthout further delay, here's our list (all prices are USD).

1. Quicksilver (free)

[The Quicksilver page appears to be down, here's an alternate. - Ed]
This is absolutely, positively the first piece of software I install on every new Mac. In fact, I dislike using a Mac without it. Quicksilver is a utility which, at first, appears to be a launcher. That is the most popular way to use it. Assign a hotkey combination to elicit its minimal window (there are several designs to choose from), type the first few letters of your target app, hit return and presto! Your app launches. This also works with URLs, contact names and phone numbers...on and on. Plus, the more you use it, the smarter it becomes. Now I can just hit "Command-Space-T" to open TUAW, even if a browser isn't running. It's a huge time-saver.

Of course, that's barely the beginning of what Quicksilver can do. A huge number of other apps offer Quicksilver support. For instance, you can upload files via FTP with Transmit, launch AppleScripts, move files, compose email messages and more, all with a few keystrokes that will get so finely sewn into your muscle memory that conscious thought will be removed from the process.

Not a bad start; our first gift suggestion is supremely useful and free! Now, on to number two.

2. 1Password ($39.95)

Our digital lives require us to generate and remember a huge number of passwords. This spawns two problems. First, we tend to re-use easily-guessed passwords and secondly, we often forget them in the first place. What if you only needed to remember one password while peace of mind stood between your accounts and ne'er do wells?

That's what 1Password offers. To use it, create a master password. Then, as you browse the net, use the supplied plugin (for Safari, Chrome and Firefox) to generate super-secure passwords for sites that require a login. They're stored in the 1Password database, and supplied by the app when needed. For example, use 1Password to generate secure passwords for Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and your bank. The next time you visit those sites, you only need to supply the single master password you created. It's very handy.

You can also use it to store contact information, secure notes, software licenses and even financial information. It's very useful and inexpensive for the benefit provided.

3. NetNewsWire (free with ads, $14.95 for a license)

Most Internet users will quickly acquire a number of favorite websites. Eventually, visiting them one by one in a browser becomes tiresome. To avoid that drudgery, subscribe to RSS feeds and read them with NetNewsWire.

This feed reader from Newsgator is full-featured. Once you've subscribed to a number of feeds, you can neatly organize them into folders. Or, let the app do the work and set up a bunch of smart folders ("Apple news" for example). It uses a tidy three-pane interface with your feeds on the left, the posts on the top right and the full content below (additional views are available if that doesn't float your boat).

NetNewsWire will sync with Google Reader or act as a stand-alone reader. Of course, it wouldn't make our list if it simply read feeds. You can use NNW to send articles to Instapaper or OmniFocus. You can send tweets to Twitterrific or write your own AppleScripts. There's also a built-in browser with a great tabbed interface that lets you open many articles at once without getting lost. As far as news readers go, this is the one you want.

4. Alarms ($15)

How does the idea of "productive procrastination" sound? Alarms (here's our recent review) is a simple utility that lives in your menu bar. Click its icon to produce a drop-down calendar. Use it to create timed reminders for all of the riveting things you've got to do.

When an item is due, the menu bar item pulses to get your attention. You can click it to mark your task as complete, or bump it up a bit to put things off. While Alarms won't replace a full-on task manager, it's perfect for those who need a nudge to complete those pesky little tasks that never seem to go away.

5. Dropbox (free for 2GB of storage, $99/year for 50GB and $199/year for 100GB)

When Dropbox isn't busy demoralizing iDisk, it can be found doing everything else. This online storage solution integrates so beautifully with Mac OS X that you'll assume its a native part of the OS. Once you sign up and install Dropbox, a small icon will appear in your menu bar and an icon will be added to your Finder windows. From there, it acts as any local folder but of course stores everything remotely.

Many people use it for backup purposes but I use it as my Documents folder. Everything goes into Dropbox. That way, if my Mac were to croak, I'd have all those important files ready to go from any other Internet-enabled computer. Dropbox also gets support from a number of iOS apps, making sync and backups a snap. Plus, you can easily share files or entire folders with others. It's quick and nearly ubiquitous (local copies of your files are saved for offline work), so why not install it?

6. iPhoto '11 ($49 as a part of Apple's iLife '11 suite, free with every new Mac)

Here's the good news: If you did receive a new Mac this holiday, iPhoto '11 is already installed. For most users, iPhoto '11 will meet their digital photography needs. Chances are it will recognize your camera or memory card out of the box and offer to import your images upon being connected. From there, you can easily organize shots by date, event, keyword, faces...on and on. Sharing is simple via email or the web, especially if you use MobileMe, Facebook or Flickr.

There are more powerful image managers/editors in the world, but most people will be quite happy with iPhoto.

7. Yojimbo ($39 for an individual license)

Shawn Blanc's favorite "everything bucket" allows you to collect URLs, notes, photos and more in one place. Once installed, Yojimbo puts a tab on the edge of your screen. Click to slide it open, revealing quick links to URLs, notes, images, etc. that you've recently added (with a drag-and-drop). You can also set up folders, called "collections," for grouping related data.

It's true that adding information is very easy. You can copy text and have Yojimbo create a record for you or drop stuff in manually. Use tags to group related data. There's also a print-to-PDF feature. When you open the Print Dialog box in the Finder, you'll see a new Save PDF to Yojimbo button. Select it and your document is saved. You may now delete the original.

There's much more to it, and we find it tremendously useful.

8. Textexpander ($34.95)

This Mac OS X typing utility will save you huge amounts of time. Here's how it works. You create a short bit of text to represent something much larger. When you type that text, the larger bit will appear. For example, writing "tuawr" could insert "TUAW rocks my socks!" where ever your cursor happens to be, in any application. It's useful for boilerplate text, oft-used bits of code, etc. Try it out and soon you'll be saying, "Oh, Textexpander! You complete me!"

9. Adium (Free)

Adium is a full-featured chat client for the Mac. It goes way beyond iChat, letting you talk with friends using AIM, MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger and 12 more, plus Twitter and IRC. It also features Address Book integration, themes and file transfer. With Adium, you're sure to be able to chat with all of your friends, no matter what service they're using.

10. Steam (pricing set on a game-by-game basis)

It's true that Steam is a store, not an app, but that's OK. You've got to have some fun, right? Steam is the world's largest gaming platform and came to the Mac in May. There are many extremely enjoyable games available, most of them very low cost. Check out hits like Plants vs. Zombies Game of the Year Edition and of course, Torchlight.

There you have it, ten apps that deserve a place on your new Mac (or your old one for that matter). There's a great big world of software out there, so don't feel bad if we left out your favorites. Let us know in the comments what you love. Now get downloading!

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