The Switcher's Application Guide


…a pragmatic follow-up to my HOWTO on “switching to the Mac”:HOWTO/Switch.

This page holds a list of Applications and activities to help people switching to Mac OS X, in a way similar to (and inspired by) Rich Burridge’s great Linux application list.

As such, most of the application listed here will be freeware (I will eventually re-structure the list to clearly differentiate between free and commercial software).

Application Mac OS X Replacement(s)
Audio editing GarageBand comes pre-installed on new Macs and can do basic audio editing, but Audacity is the one application that you ought to go out and grab. It has some kinks (adding MP3 support might be a bit fiddly, depending on the version), but it is an excellent general-purpose audio editor that can do just about anything.
Adobe Acrobat Mac OS X ships with the ability to print anything to PDF and view and annotate PDF files in Preview, and there are several tools to manipulate them, like PDFLab. But you can install Adobe’s own reader. If you really, really want to. Also, bear in mind that Google Chrome has a built-in PDF viewer that is surprisingly useful.
Ahead Nero There are plenty of options beyond learning to use the Finder “burn folders” or Disk Utility to burn ISO files, but here are two that I have used at one time or another: Burn (straightforward and to the point), FireStarter FX (known to be able to handle CUE, BIN files and overburning). On the flip side, if you want to do heavy-duty ripping/encoding, grab HandBrake. You can’t go wrong.
File Transfer (FTP and SFTP) Besides the (rather lacking) FTP support in the Finder), you can try Cyberduck (my current favorite), Fugu, or Transmit (commercial). If you need to mount remote filesystems via SSH, I really recommend ExpanDrive.
BitTorrent I get asked about this a lot, so here goes: Transmission. You can’t beat its feature set, which now includes a web UI for remote control from your iPod or iPhone.
Notepad This one depends on what you really need a text editor for: TextEdit is built in, and works fine, BBEdit has a legion of followers, TextMate is probably the most sophisticated programmers’ editor out there, and VoodooPad will do a lot more than just text editing.
Backup, Norton Ghost, etc. Time Machine comes built-in, but some people prefer straight-up disk cloning (which you can do via apps like Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper). I also have some generic resources that might be useful for the techie crowd.
Launchy, AppRocket, etc. If you want the best keyboard-based application launcher in the Universe, get Quicksilver. Some people like Alfred. Realistically, though, Spotlight will work just fine.
Microsoft OneNote There is no direct replacement, even though Word had a “notebook” view of sorts that tries to emulate it on the Mac. Try Evernote, VoodooPad, FreeMind, etc. (mind you, OneNote file formats are proprietary, and have changed between Office 2003 and 2007)
Microsoft Office Besides iWork (which is very good value for money and works very well in iOS as well), you can buy Office for the Mac. If you are looking for a (nearly) free alternative, NeoOffice or OpenOffice mostly work. Of course, there will always be minor issues when converting Windows metafiles and other Windows-specific formats – not unlike moving documents between two different versions of Office or between machines with different sets of fonts installed.
Microsoft Outlook Try the built-in Exchange integration, which ties into Mail and iCal, or go for the nearest analogue – there is a version of Outlook that ships with Office for the Mac. Neither, however, have exactly the same feature set as “normal” Outlook – they’ll both work fine in a corporate setting, but you may have to resort to a PC or Exchange webmail if you really want to use some of the more obscure features (there are several utilities to migrate Outlook data in my Outlook page.)
Microsoft PowerPoint Keynote (from the iWork suite) will be a more than adequate replacement for just about any purpose (and will handle PowerPoint files, with a few limitations). You can, of course, just use Office.
Microsoft Project There are several options, by no particular order: GanttProject is a free cross-platform Java application that imports .mpx files, but Merlin is rumored to be the best at importing and exporting Project .mpx files flawlessly (search for reviews to confirm this). Then you have OmniPlan and Project X, which has a built-in web server for team members to file progress reports directly.
Microsoft Word Pages (from the iWork suite) will be a more than adequate replacement for most purposes (and will handle Word .doc and @.rtf@ files, with very few limitations).
Microsoft Excel Numbers (from the iWork suite) will be a more than adequate replacement for most purposes (although it has some limitations in terms of formulae and no macro compatibility)
Microsoft Visio The utterly brilliant OmniGraffle can import Visio files in XML format (the Pro edition can deal with them directly) and it is the closest (and most say best) possible alternative. But if your diagramming needs are light, I’ve proven to my own satisfaction that PowerPoint has “good enough” tools for vector art, even though it can be a little frustrating at times.
Photoshop or Fireworks Yes, there are native versions for the Mac. But there are lighter, cheaper alternatives. For instance, I have of late adopted Pixelmator for all my image editing. If you want a GIMP replacement, there’s Seashore, which is free and better than the official GIMP port (even if development appears to be slow).
Illustrator I’ve adopted Sketch as my vector editing app of choice. Your mileage may vary.
Photography Every Mac ships with iPhoto, the photo management part of the iLife suite – it can do pretty much everything the average user needs to do with their photos (and more), and there are a number of alternatives, from similar entry-level apps like Picasa (which you may already be using on your PC) to stupendously powerful applications like Aperture or Lightroom.
Microsoft Messenger, Yahoo, etc. Since I only use Jabber compatible services these days, I’ve given up on using anything but the built-in Messages app, but there are a number of alternatives: Adium is most likely the only IM client you’ll ever really need, and supports all popular IM services. There’s also Psi if you need something bordering on the arcane.
Microsoft NetMeeting or Office Communicator There are Lync and Office Communicator versions available, but, again, there are plenty of alternatives: The official Microsoft Messenger client for the Mac can do both MSN and corporate IM with video and audio, XMeeting is able to talk to corporate H.323 videoconferencing equipment (your mileage may vary, of course), FaceTime is still proprietary, but works better between Macs. And Skype works just as well as any other platforms.
IRC I personally prefer Colloquy, although lots of people like X-Chat Aqua.
Windows Media Player In terms of media support, there are many Quicktime plugins and standalone players to enable you to view pretty much anything out there without installing any new media players. Here are my favorites: Flip4Mac will enable you to play most popular Windows Media formats, Perian will add support for a lot more formats (including DivX), and VLC is a great standalone player for just about anything you throw at it.
WinRAR UnRarX will unpack those for you. But there’s no real point in using RAR files these days, no matter what people say.
VNC, Remote Desktop Mac OS X ships with a working VNC server (and a pretty decent client). I have several VNC clients and an alternate server listed on my VNC page, and a Remote Destkop page (Microsoft has a Mac RDP client for download). I prefer CoRD for connecting to PCs, though.

The list will be updated at somewhat irregular intervals, but I will try to keep it in sync with some of my HOWTOs.


See Also:

SSH