Well, aren't you lucky to get a new computer for the holidays! New Apple computers come with a fair mix of writing, photo editing, and music creation tools — and of course you'll want to grab essentials like Skype, Twitter, and GrabBox — but we decided to put together a list of apps, tools, and utilities that we always put on a fresh install. And these aren't just for new computers, either. While you're playing tech support at home and cleaning up the family's machine, install a couple of these and walk the family through how to use them.
Bring the glories of the command line — and the ability to search the web from any app — back to your Mac with the free Alfred launcher (additional features come with the £15 Powerpack). Push the mouse aside and embrace your keyboard for quick access to everything from Google and Wikipedia searches to a deep Clipboard history and keyboard shortcuts. Once you get used to Alfred, you'll never be able to work without it again.
While Mountain Lion now has built-in notifications via Notification Center, the $3.99 Growl is still the gold standard for desktop notifications. Plug in Dropbox, Adium, Twitter, Google reader, and countless other apps to Growl to get live-updating, customizable, pop-up notifications in the screen corner of your choosing. Let the notifications wash over you! It might not be the best for staying fully focused, but how else are you going to get alerts to a new Maru video?
Dropbox / SkyDrive
It’s hard to imagine going back to a pre-Dropbox and SkyDrive world. The free versions of the cloud-based backup service offer 2GB and 7GB of storage, respectively, which makes moving files between computers, friends, and coworkers far easier than dragging down email with endless attachments. Plus, many apps work directly with Dropbox, which makes syncing your stuff across multiple computers and mobile devices a breeze.
Ah, the to-do list. There are thousands of options out there, but Wunderlist’s not a bad place to start. It's simple and easy to use, and the latest 2.0 update brings an even better version of the app to iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, and even on the web. While it might not have some of the fancier features of apps like Things and Remember the Milk, its cross-platform compatibility and a very nice price of free are tough to beat.
Sure, you could drop hundreds of dollars on Adobe’s Photoshop, but face it — you’re only using it for lasso’ing your friends onto corgi pictures or make quick post-processing tweaks on photos. Save the money and grab the full-featured Acorn image editor for just $49.99. (Or, get an older, slightly more limited version for free.)
Even if you’re not insane about saving everything you see online like some of the people on The Verge's staff, Evernote’s a fantastic tool for keeping track of notes, images, recipes, and basically anything else you can think of. It’s free with a healthy monthly upload limit, and rates for upgrading aren’t bad at all.
You could pull a Jonathan Franzen and glue your ethernet port shut in order to avoid the distractions of the internet, but that’s a little… drastic. Instead, try out the handy little $10 utility Freedom (you can get a free trial if you want to test it out), which simply cuts off your internet connection for a specified period of time, so you have no choice but to focus. If you have to give in, quitting the app won’t help — a simple guilty restart will revive your much-needed connection.
Once you start using a window manager, it’s impossible to go back. Stay with us here — instead of dragging and resizing windows by hand, the $14.00 Divvy app (free trial available) and its brethren let you define key commands for automatically resizing windows. If you’re scrolling a tiny browser window, just hit a key or two and auto-resize to full-screen, 4/5 of the screen, or even 2/3 of the screen. It’s indispensable for any kind of multitasking.
What’s your usual process for adding things to your calendar? Fire up your calendar app, click new task, toggle with switches and wheels, and submit. With Fantastical, a Mac and iOS calendar app, simply hitting a key command brings up a text field that recognizes natural text input, so typing “Dinner with friends tomorrow at 7pm /social” creates an entry of “Dinner with friends” tomorrow at 7pm-8pm on your social calendar. Yes, it's $14.99, but it's the best tool out there for quickly dealing with everything you have to do.
Want to set up a separate window specifically for Gmail? Or for Pandora? Or for Reddit? Fluid lets you quickly create special, customized browser instances that look and feel just like regular apps. The free download is fully functional, and there’s a paid upgrade that will get you additional support for scripts, styles, and more.
Chances are you spend way too many hours a day in front of a computer, and f.lux is here to help. The app automatically adjusts the color temperature of your screen throughout the day, making it increasingly warmer as night approaches to save your eyes the stress of the glaring white monitor. Not ideal for anyone working directly with color adjustments or design, but much-needed help if you’re glaring at spreadsheets and text documents deep into the night. f.lux is a free download.