The Switcher's Application Guide

…a pragmatic follow-up to my HOWTO on switching to the Mac, updated for 2017 because many of the original suggestions don’t make sense anymore.

This page holds a list of Applications and activities to help people switching to macOS, 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 macOS 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 macOS 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 all-time favorite, since it now lets you access Azure and S3 storage as well), Fugu, or Transmit (commercial). Another alternative that lets you mount remote filesystems as local volumes is ExpanDrive, which I also recommend.
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. I currently use Textastic for most things and Visual Studio Code for development.
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 (which is what I use on my desktop machine) or SuperDuper). I also have some generic resources that might be useful for the techie crowd.
Launchy, AppRocket, etc. These have largely fallen out of favor as Spotlight improved over the years, but If you want the best keyboard-based application launcher in the Universe, get Quicksilver (it was last updated in 2016, but still works). Some people like Alfred. Realistically, though, Spotlight will work just fine.
Microsoft OneNote This is also available for the Mac (for free). Popular alternatives are Evernote, VoodooPad, etc. (mind you, OneNote file formats are proprietary, and have changed between Office 2003 and 2007, but there are public APIs for it.)
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 macOS has built-in Exchange integration, which ties into Mail and iCal, but there is a version of Outlook that ships with Office for the Mac. Neither, however, have exactly the same feature set as Windows 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 need 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 @[email protected] 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, and am currently playing around with the Affinity suite, which works well on iOS as well.
Illustrator I’ve adopted Sketch as my vector editing app of choice. Your mileage may vary.
Photography Every Mac ships with Photos, which can do pretty much everything the average user needs to do with their photos (and more), and there are a number of alternatives, like Lightroom. I personally use Darktable, which can do most of what Lightroom provides.
Skype There are native versions of Skype and Skype for Business now, but if you’re stuck in H.323 territory,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.
IRC I personally prefer Colloquy, although lots of people like X-Chat Aqua.
Windows Media Player Yeah, that used to be a thing. Just use VLC.
WinRAR UnRarX will unpack those for you, but I prefer The Unarchiver. But there’s no real point in using RAR files these days, no matter what people say.
VNC, Remote Desktop macOS 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). There’s also CoRD, but I now use Jump Desktop instead.

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: