Operating System (OS) installation, upgrades, and configuration (Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10 and Mac OS X) -Software Installation and training -PC repair, upgrades, and troubleshooting. The best Mac repair disk software may well be a paid one depending on your exact needs, and I’ve shown you my pick for the best of those too. Summary of Disk Repair Mac: Excellent Mac disk repair software is provided above, for you to consider and try if you like.
There are a bunch of great apps you can install on your Mac—no question there. Separating amazing apps from must-have apps is the hard part, and we don’t want you to spend hours analyzing the Mac App Store (or scouring the web) to find the very best and most useful apps. We’ve made a list of champions across four categories: productivity; Internet and communications; music, photos, and video; and utilities.
The Lifehacker Pack is an annual snapshot of our favorite, essential applications for each of our favorite platforms. For our always-updating directory of all the best apps, be sure to bookmark our App Directory, where we profile amazing apps for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS each week—browser extensions, too.
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You can do a lot with Spotlight in macOS, but Alfred is still our favorite application launcher for yourMac. This easy-to-use tool can do so much more than pull up apps, files, and and keyword-driven automation. Plunk down £19 for the Powerpack, and you’ll get a clipboard history, access to workflows (that you can use to combine different actions, hotkeys, and keywords to do even more), hotkeys, 1Password integration, and even text expansion. In other words, paying for Alfred covers a number of activities that you’d have to download separate apps for—some featured in this very Lifehacker Pack. If you’re a new Alfred buyer and feeling little overwhelmed, be sure to check out our beginner’s guide to the app to get a handle on all the amazing things you can do with it.
If you don’t want to pay anything for an app launcher that has similar (but fewer) features under the hood, check out LaunchBar 6: free, if you don’t mind a little bother here and there. That, or consider tricking out Spotlight.
This cutely named app is one of the best note-taking apps you can get, with one small caveat—to synchronize notes between your devices or use custom themes, you’ll need to pony up $15/year for the app’s subscription. Otherwise, Bear is completely free to use (and looks great).
Within the app, you organize your notes by hashtags rather than unwieldy folders. You can also link notes to one another, which makes it a lot easier to chain together related thoughts instead of having to dump everything into one giant Super Note or remember that you had a few things to say, split into different notes, about a particular topic. Install Bear’s browser extension for Safari, Chrome, or Firefox, and you’ll be able to create new notes from whatever portion of a webpage you select. Also, Bear makes it easy to import notes from other services, including Apple Notes, so you really have no reason to not give it a spin.
If you need to sync notes and don’t feel like paying for it, consider apps like OneNote, Google Keep, or Simplenote—all good choices, but none that can beat our Bear for usability and looks.
Who would have thought that text expansion, otherwise known as typing shortcuts, would be so expensive? While it’s true that you can create these kinds of shortcuts yourself directly within macOS, a full-fledged text expansion app is going to save you a lot of time and trouble. We like aText if for nothing else than its price—$5—given that much-loved alternatives like Textexpander ($3.33/mo on an annual plan; $45 for an older standalone) and TypeIt4Me 6 ($20) are anywhere from a bit to a lot more expensive.
As for aText, using it is simple. You set it up so that whenever you enter little words or phrases, the app drops in something else. So, you can finally correct that annoying “ducking” issue forevermore,
Text expansion, also known as typing shortcuts, can save you hours of typing each day. You type a small word or combination of characters and it’ll expand into full, complex sentences that you often use. We love aText because it offers so many great features and only costs $5. If you haven’t yet jumped on the text expansion train, it’s time.
For simple note-taking and note-organizing, you can’t go wrong with Todoist. The app is completely free—unless you want to pay $39/yearly for more advanced features like automatic reminders, backups, themes, and an activity overview, to name a few features. Otherwise, the basics are great. It’s easy to create and synchronize tasks (and subtasks) across all of your Todoist-using devices, and browser extensions (including a Gmail addon) will help you make Todoist, and your growing task list, an ever-present part of your daily life. You won’t have that same kind of experience with plain ol’ Notes, especially if you’re trying to access your items on multiple platforms.
If you’re a big Google fan, we also love Google Tasks, which you’ll find directly integrated into the latest version of Gmail (and as a direct app for iOS and Android). You can also add to-do items into our note-taking app, Bear. The app Things 3 is a super-comprehensive task manager, but it costs quite a bit: $50 for Mac, $10 for iPhone, and $20 for your iPad. If the first item on your to-do list is “rob a bank,” however, it’s a gorgeous, fully featured app. And if you want to harass yourself about things you have to get done on your Mac, consider giving the quicky Effortless a try—which drops a countdown timer for your tasks directly into your Mac’s menu bar.
Google Drive and Office Online (free)
We don’t really have to introduce Google Drive, because Google’s offerings should be pretty well-known by everyone at this point. Docs and Sheets are great, free tools for creating and collaborating on documents and spreadsheets (of course), so much so, that a number of businesses solely rely on Google’s offerings instead of anything fancier or pricier.
If you’re a Microsoft convert, or you really love Word and Excel, you can access basic, online versions of both programs directly from Microsoft—no Office 365 subscription needed. If you’d rather work offline, Apple’s Pages and Numbers are the obvious, free choices, and LibreOffice is still the best open-source office app around.
If you really don’t feel like fussing around with Mail, which is fine enough for most macOS users, consider giving Airmail a try. It’s been our favorite third-party mail app for some time given its low price and ample customization. It also hooks into a ton of other third-party apps and services, including Trello, Evernote, your favorite cloud storage service, and Apple’s mighty Workflow app (on iOS, that is).
If you don’t need power options and want easy, simple email, the free Spark is definitely worth checking out—especially since it can help you automatically sort your inbox to make it feel less like an ever-growing pile of things you’ll never read. Boxy 2 is great if you’re a Gmail user who wants the powers of its Inbox app on your desktop (and don’t mind paying $5 for it), and Mailplane 4 ($30) is a solid app if you prefer an interface that looks like the regular ol’ Gmail. Power users might want to investigate Wavebox ($20/year), which lets you access Gmail, Inbox, Outlook, and all sorts of other amazing web apps directly from one, easy-to-use interface.
Internet and Communications
Google Chrome and Firefox Quantum (free)
The browser you use is likely going to be dictated by the browser you’ve been using. In other words, if you’re a Google Chrome loyalist, it’ll probably take a lot to get you to switch over to Firefox Quantum (if you’re at all intrigued). And if you’ve been with Firefox from day one, you’re probably a lot less likely to want to move all of your bookmarks, extensions, and other settings over to Chrome.
So, which browser is best? It’s not so much that one excels over the other; it’s more important to say that both, finally, are pretty competitive. Depending on the benchmarks you look at—here are a bunch from ZDNet, for example—the browsers appear evenly matched for speed. I haven’t gone through and assessed the most-recent version of each, but I have used both Firefox Quantum and Google Chrome, and they both feel, well, fast. That said, Chrome still feels a bit like a hog when you’re trying to load a ton of tabs at once, but it’s pretty good about using less of your CPU and memory than other browsers.
If you don’t like either, Opera is a viable alternative that’s actually pretty speedy in its own right—and we can’t complain about its built-in VPN, either, nor its awesome integration of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram directly into an easy-to-launch sidebar.
Goofy and Franz (free)
Years ago, it felt like everyone used one chat client to cover a bunch of services (ICQ, AIM, IRC, Jabber, et cetera). Most people nowadays probably have their favorites locked in: Messages for texting, Facebook Messenger for everything else, WhatsApp for sending government secrets or expiring pictures of your booty, Discord for any and all things gaming, Slack for all things not-gaming, et cetera. So, rather than go into detail with all the more obvious apps, we’ll highlight two unique ones.
Facebook Messenger, as you know, requires you to be on Facebook to use it. If I’m correct, you used to be able to essentially connect Facebook’s service to Messages itself, so you could send and receive your Facebook chats without having to have your browser open all the time. And if I’m right (again), you can no longer do that. Instead, you’ll want an app like Goofy, which basically drops the Facebook Messenger interface into a simple application that you can access from your desktop.
We’re also fans of Franz, which offers the same treatment for a variety of other services (as well as Facebook Messenger). If you don’t want to keep 20 programs open to chat with people, Franz lets you access apps like Slack, WeChat, WhatsApp, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Facebook Messenger all from one, single interface.
Everyone also probably has a video chat app they love to use. And there are plenty to pick from: FaceTime, which comes baked into macOS by default; the aforementioned WhatsApp; Google Hangouts; Houseparty; and even good ol’ Facebook Messenger itself.
If you’re looking for a standalone messaging app that can do it all—for personal and business use, too—we still recommend Skype, which Microsoft recently overhauled. Its interface feels cleaner (and comes with a dark mode), it’s still as easy as ever to send text messages, video messages, and files to contacts, and you can even @ message your friends to get their attention.
That said, we live in an time where most messaging apps have some kind of video or calling component—or so it feels. So if you need that human contact beyond simple texting and emoji, odds are good that you can already do it in the chat app you love.
Music, Photos, and Video
VLC is the best media player you can put on your Mac, period. It works perfectly with minimal fuss once you install it, and it can play almost any file you throw at it. If you’re a power user, it has a sea of options that would take the entire rest of this article to describe to you.
We enjoy all the improvements VideoLAN tosses VLC’s way, including its new support for 10-bit color depth and HDR, 360 videos, and improved decoding that allows less-powerful systems to play full 4K videos—even if that’s overkill for your Mac’s display resolution. You can drop a number of plug-ins and extensions into VLC to extend its functionality, and you can even use the app to stream videos to your Chromecast, if you’ve allowed Google to get a foothold into your Apple-only household.
HandBrake is a free video conversion tool that, when coupled with an app like MakeMKV, will turn you into a ripping and converting powerhouse. HandBrake is pretty easy to use, but there are still plenty of settings that might give you a little anxiety when you first load the app. We have a guide to help out with that. Once you’ve mastered the basics, queuing up multiple videos and converting them to all kinds of different formats will feel second-nature. Also, don’t forget to grab VLC, mentioned above, so you can actually watch all of your creations.
Adobe Bridge CC, digiKam, and Google Backup and Sync (free)
Apple’s standard Photos app does a pretty decent job organizing your sprawling photo, thanks to collections, tags, and the ability to view photos by when (and where) they were taken. You can even do a little light editing, too.
If you need a little more organizational oomph, consider Adobe Bridge CC—completely free to use, even though you might have assumed it was a paid app. You can’t do a lot of editing in Bridge (well, any retouching, really), but what it lacks in tools, it makes up for in data. You can easily see all sorts of compelling metadata about the images you’ve taken, and organizing them via ratings, keywords, and labels is easy. Well, setting it up is easy. Actually organizing your sprawling photo library might take a little time, but it’ll be worth it in the end, trust me.
Best Paid Software For Optimizing And Repairing Mac Os X
The open-source app digiKam has organizing, editing, and a UI that’s fairly similar to what you’d find in Adobe Bridge CC. If you’re not used apps like Adobe’s Lightroom, digiKam might feel a bit advanced—possibly even overkill for your needs—but it’s a powerful app for pro users that would rather spend their cash on camera hardware than more software.
Google Backup and Sync isn’t a photo organizing app itself, but it’s what you’ll want to use to get your photos uploaded into Google Photos—a great online tool and compelling alternative to iCloud as a result of the unlimited storage space you get for photos. It’s easy to create collections and share photos with others (Google will even make suggestions for you based around where and when you’ve taken your shots). And we also like that you can get pretty creative with your searches when sorting and organizing your sprawling photo library.
Spotify ($10) and Amazon Music Unlimited ($8)
Which music streaming service you pick is largely a matter of preference: one might carry your favorite band, one might have an app interface you greatly prefer, one might have all your friends on it. If you aren’t into Apple Music for these, or any other valid reasons, Spotify is the next obvious choice (sorry Tidal). It has a huge library, its social features are great, and we love the thought it puts into its playlists—human-curated and automatically generated.
If you’re already an Amazon Prime subscriber, you should also consider checking out the company’s Amazon Music Unlimited service. You’ll have to pay $8 on top of your Prime subscription, but that still makes it slightly cheaper than an Apple Music ($10) or Spotify Premium ($10).
Pixelmator ($30) and Affinity Photo ($50)
Pixelmator is one of the best image editors on the Mac, but it’s no longer the only game in town. Though its $30 asking price might seem high, it’s a bargain considering all the incredible editing tools you get to play with—rivaling more comprehensive apps like Adobe’s Photoshop CC for a fraction of the price. (And if you want features like Touch Bar support, automatic color adjustments, and advanced compression—as well as HEIF exporting—you’ll want to pick up the pricier Pixelmator Pro for $60)
Affinity Photo is a compelling, albeit costlier alternative to Pixelmator that’ll set you back $50 for a professional-grade suite of tools, including full RAW editing and a UI that looks a lot like the Photoshop you might prefer (but don’t want to pay a subscription to get). That includes support for “Personas,” which mimics Photoshop’s Workspaces feature by allowing you to set your screen’s many options and buttons based on whatever it is you’re working on—if you prefer one set of tools for a simple editing and another set of tools for something more complex, like pre-processing images for print.
If you’re looking for basic image editing and your Mac’s built-in Photos app isn’t enough, you can always give the open-source app GIMP a try. What it lacks in polish, it makes up for in price.
Dropbox, Google Drive, and Mega (free-ish)
These cloud storage services should all be household names at this point. We’ve covered their costs, and their peers’ pricing models, pretty extensively. Which one you go with depends on your budget, preferences, and needs. Dropbox is a great, all-encompassing solution for cloud storage, but you’ll need to get creative to get more than 2GB of free space with the service. Google Drive is a no-brainer, since you get 15GB of space and can easily synchronize files to your laptop or desktop to work on them offline.
With Mega, you get 50GB of free cloud storage to play with and a handy app (MEGAsync) that you can use across your Windows and Mac computers. Mega does have an annoying transfer quota of around 1GB or so in a 24-hour time span, but that’s a small price to pay for a free 50 gigs. Take that, thumbdrives
qBittorrent or Deluge (free)
Ever since Transmission had all those malware issues some time ago, and uTorrent filled its installer full of crap and cryptocurrency miners, we’ve been on the hunt for a simple BitTorrent app, and we’ve settled on qBittorrent. It’s an open-source downloading tool that should look pretty familiar for anyone who has used an app like uTorrent or Transmission previously. No big surprises with qBittorrent’s UI or features. We like that the app is ad- and crap-free, is completely open source, and can automatically quit or shut down your PC when your download is done. Deluge is a good BitTorrent app alternative, but the app hasn’t been updated since May of 2017 (when we wrote this), and we prefer something with more active development.
If you want to keep your important files on the cloud, rather than a Time Machine backup, that’s fine—you might not have spare storage sitting around, after all. Backblaze is our new top pick for backup services, since it costs half the price of Crashplan (previously great) and does all the same things. Install the app, pick the files and folders you want to back up (encrypted, no less), and hope you never have to use the service’s restoration features.
The Unarchiver (free)
If you have file archives that your Mac can’t open, give The Unarchiver a shot at them. It’s free, it’s quick, and it does a good job of opening that which your Mac cannot open itself. It also works directly out of Finder, so you won’t have to (annoyingly) open up a separate app before you take a crack at your archives.
A good alternative is Keka, which is also free, also opens a bunch of different archive formats, and can even be faster than The Unarchiver depending on the archive format and size. If you have issues with one app, try the other, and you might find that it does a better job extracting your files.
(This story originally ran in July 2016, written by Alan Henry. It was updated in July 2018 by David Murphy.)
Macs may be a far less tempting target for malware and viruses, but they’re not immune from attack. Even if you don’t care about adware or being used as a means to infect users on other platforms, it’s still possible to fall victim to ransomware, password theft, or stolen iPhone backups.
Accordingly, good antivirus software will protect your Mac on all of these fronts. It’ll catch malware that’s still spreading or in circulation; block ransomware; protect older systems with out-of-date software from security vulnerabilities; prevent your Mac from acting as a carrier for malware aimed at other operating systems; and keep infected files off of any virtual machines you’re running.
Antivirus for Mac cheat sheet
Our quick-hit recommendations:
- Best paid antivirus for Mac:Sophos Home Premium for Mac[sophos.com]
- Best free antivirus for Mac:Avast Free Mac Security[avast.com]
Many antivirus suites provide a decent level of protection, but a few rise above all others by providing the very best in performance. Our top contenders dominate by posting perfect (or virtually near perfect) scores from security research labs, passing our own malware detection tests with flying colors, offering well-designed interfaces, and even throwing in extra features like a firewall or password manager.
Updated 08/15/19: Added our review of Avira Free Antivirus, a worthy free option that’s easy to use and effective.
Looking for Windows antivirus recommendations? You can read about the best antivirus suites for PC on our sister site, PCWorld.
Best overall antivirus software
Sophos Home Premium has the most extensive and up-to-date approach to fighting malware at an unbeatable price.
Sophos Home Premium has it all: Effective malware protection, ransomware monitoring, protection against potentially-unwanted-apps, and additional features that often require separately licensed software. Its cloud-based configuration and generous licensing (up to 10 Macs and PCs) also make it easy to shield friends and family from threats, no matter where they live. (Full details available in our review.)
Best free antivirus software
Though Sophos does offer a good free version of its software, Avast Free Mac Security edges it out as the best free antivirus software for macOS. In security lab tests, Avast detected 99.9 percent of macOS malware, and 100 percent of Windows malware. However, if you want more advanced protection (like ransomware detection), you’ll need to upgrade to paid software.
What to look for in antivirus software
By our reckoning, antivirus software should be able to neutralize a threat before it can begin wreaking havoc. That means preventing the download, installation, or execution of malicious software.
Since you can encounter threats by visiting compromised or malicious websites, receiving virus-laden attachments, or accessing USB drives with malware, good AV software should scan on a continuous basis unless you configure it otherwise. And ideally, files identified as malicious should be quarantined into a special storage area managed by the AV software, with the option to automatically delete files known to be malware or repair normal documents that also carry devious payloads.
Great AV suites also will monitor the filesystem for certain kinds of changes. Ransomware—which is malware that will rapidly encrypt user files like documents and mailboxes and then delete the originals—has become a huge moneymaker on other platforms. As a prime opportunity for attackers, it’s the greatest danger Mac users likely face as a category.
Detecting this pattern and halting it before any files are unavailable should be possible without an anti-malware system knowing the specific innards of a ransomware virus. Sophos, our top pick, includes this feature in the Home Premium version of its 2018 update. Other vendors, like Avast and Trend Micro Antivirus, offer an alternative feature that allows you to whitelist programs allowed to manipulate files in specific directories. So if this particular type of attack becomes rapidly popular, you’ll be protected.
Good antivirus software should also use minimal computational resources. That’s especially the case these days—AV monitoring hasn’t become much more complicated than when it first became available, and faster, multi-core CPUs can easily handle the demands of running AV software in the background without disturbing your active work.
Beyond these primary features, an easy-to-navigate interface and extra features are worth factoring into your decision. Some AV software are full-fledged suites that offer additional options like backup service for essential files, a password manager, parental controls, anti-tracking and privacy modes or options, a more advanced firewall, and the blocking of Potentially Unwanted Applications (PUAs).
How we test
Each software package is evaluated creating a clean installation of macOS Mojave, cloning it for each AV product, and then booting separately into each one to install a different package. This was to ensure that previous app installations didn’t interfere with new ones—sometimes AV software treats other AV software as an infection.
In addition to visiting malicious websites, downloading known malicious software, and even running said malware, we also reference the most recent reports from two labs that regularly cover macOS malware: AV Comparatives and AV-TEST. These laboratories test AV software against sets of known malware as well as products that are grouped as potentially unwanted applications (like adware).
The latter doesn’t damage or expose your computer or its files but may consume power and CPU cycles. Because the testing effectively looks at a combination of virus databases and behavior, they remain good gauges even after many months. When an antivirus software package lacks a rating from a known security research lab, we do more extensive testing with real malware.
Finally, while we gave props for a lot of different features and behaviors, we marked products down if they lacked any or all of the following:
- A nearly perfect score on macOS malware detection
- Ransomware monitoring
- Native browser plug-in or system-level Web proxy
- A high score on Windows malware detection
Using an anti-virus product, especially any that includes tools to also improve your online privacy, may lull you into believing you’re safe from personal and private information leaking out. That’s not quite the case. While there’s no reason to panic, you should consider a few reasonable issues.
First, an antivirus product may upload the complete text of files flagged to the cloud, where it can be analyzed by separate tools hosted there. This practice is normal and sensible: Some malware can detect when a running process may examine it, and will then engage in subterfuge. Antivirus software makers also can access their massive databases to examine files with characteristics that trigger their algorithms—certain elements that match known malware. As a result, security researchers discover new viruses, worms, Trojans horses, and the like.
Second, this software may also rely partly or entirely on cloud-based checks of URLs, malware, and the like. Accordingly, an AV package might upload every URL you visit, metadata about files, signatures of files, information about your computer’s hardware, a list of running or installed applications, and more. Companies vary on their disclosure of such policies, and may not let you opt out of this kind of sharing. We note issues in each review as available.
Third, anti-virus software makers also get a sense of what behavior is happening on your computer that’s being monitored or blocked, and may use that information for their own purposes. In some cases, you can opt out of this information gathering.
All of our antivirus for Mac reviews
If you have specific requirements or just wish to see other options, below is a list of all the antivirus software we’ve reviewed. We’ll keep evaluating new and refreshed software on a regular basis, so be sure to come back to see what else we’ve put through the ringer.