“This app is so mega awesome, it should come with every Mac!” is a favorite phrase of many tech writers. Most the folks I help tend to be non-nerds, so I don’t always agree with those comments. The soccer mom does not need to have Photoshop, Twitter drives grandma mad, OmniFocus overwhelms most users, Reeder serves no purpose for folks who still use the newspaper, and as crucial to my workflow Evernote is, I’m not convinced my Mom needs it either. Sure, we can think of ways to shoehorn those apps into their lives, but for the person who clicks the Mac power button for the first time, they might not be ready. To make my list, these apps need to do two things. First, the app must provide daily functionality for every Mac user. As you’ll see, most of the “daily functionality” from the apps below is upkeep. Which is still important, right? Next, they have to be ridiculously easy to use. High learning curves lead to quick abandonment. First up, Alfred. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Wait, Rick. You said easy to use and daily functionality. This is an app launcher! How complicated can you get?” Here me out. I’ve installed Alfred on non-nerds’ Macs, and they stinking love it. Unlike Spotlight, it appears in the center of your screen and it’s big. Alfred will respond to web addresses, Google searches, and Address Book contacts. That alone combines 80% of what normal people use their computer for. “Whenever you need to find anything,” I tell my clients, “use Alfred.” And they do. In my opinion, Dropbox should be used to store all documents rather than the built-in Documents folder. Not for collaboration, or even for syncing to another Mac. That’s not something most people are interested in. Backup is my main reason. If someone has an iPhone or iPad, swell, but having that automatic cloud backup is simply golden. What about iCloud? You might be saying. Well, we still don’t know how iCloud will work on the Mac. Yes, Documents in the Cloud is a feature, but what is it going to look like? Also, iCloud isn’t out, so it’s not helping anyone, yet. Dropbox is here, and it’s proven to be awesome. Now, I was on the fence about this next one, which is 1Password. I’m sure if you’re a geek like me, you twitch nervously until you see that lovely “1P” in Safari’s toolbar. I simply cannot work without it. Not only login passwords are stored here, but secure notes, wallet items, and software licenses, too. I need it. The reason why I hesitate to add it to this list is because 1Password has a high learning curve for the normal person. It also requires quite a bit of trust. Creating hard-to-remember passwords for your most important websites can be an uncomfortable thought to someone who uses the same password for every site. But it is worth it! Identity theft and account hijacking is rampant. (In fact, I just got a spam DM from a friend on Twitter this morning!) 1Password is the best line of defense for every Mac user. CleanMyMac is a new favorite of mine. You might have a similar app. I choose CMM because of its cute factor. It is a good looking app! Give it a run and watch it scan your Mac for junk files, useless builds, cache folders, ancient iOS backups, and other little data hogs. Laptop owners with tiny hard drives especially love this app, as it keeps their trashcan slim, and when you move an app to the trash, CMM will hunt for any related files and trash them as well. Last is Hazel. No, I don’t think normal people should configure it. It is a tool that should only be wielded by certified Mac black belts. If indeed you are the family IT man or woman, you can use Hazel to delete duplicate files in the downloads folder and old DMG files. If you’re not keen on CleanMyMac, Hazel can monitor the size of your trashcan as well. This is a preventative measure against the “My Mac just told me it’s running out of hard drive space!” phone call. Did I forget anything? Give me a shout on Twitter. I’d love to hear your suggested additions or any qualms with my picks.
I am an Apple Certified Support Professional with over a decade of experience supporting families, schools, and businesses. Tech has always captured my imagination, but it's not my only passion. I'm an ordained Anglican minister; Aeropress is a daily ritual of mine; I've driven across Mongolia; and I'm the father of three girls. I hope to provide for you a balanced and realistic perspective into the practicality of technology.