Many of my friends often ask me for help with their computers, especially their Macs! I’ve been working with Apples since I was young and they are my platform of choice for any computer environment. Because I get so many requests I often end up sending long emails with my recommendations over and over again so I wanted to take the time to write them down in a blog post, both to point to for future reference as well as to educate anyone out there who is buying a Mac for their first time.

First things first, welcome to the Apple community! There are many very dedicated and enthusiastic users out there who actually love their computers! This first article is to illustrate the getting started with commonly used applications for the Mac that are either compatible with or are a replacement for their Windows counterpart. This is to be a brief overview of these features and software applications, not a specific step by step how to. I wanted to write this because the most often question I get from people is “I bought a Mac, now what?”  People buy a Mac understanding they are investing in a great computer but don’t know what to do once they get it.  So first things first, here are the first programs I install on every Mac I get in no specific order:

VLC

Now some of these applications may sound strange to you but each either mimics the functionality you get with a Windows based application or are a free or inexpensive replacement for an Apple product and there are a couple that are just for fun!  Let me explain each one to give you an idea why these made the cut.

Firefox is a great web browser, in my opinion the best one out there and here is why.  You can install it on anything and have a consistent user experience across the board.  No other browser is to this point yet (Google Chrome is a close second but it’s not quite to where I would like it to be).  For Windows users it is a must have application as Internet Explorer is dangerously tied to Windows.  If you hose IE you potentially hose Windows.  This is not as much a concern with a Mac but I still replace it.  And you should consider it too!

iChat does a great job of being a chat client allowing you to communicate with friends and family with quick messages or long, flowing conversations via the keyboard, with a microphone, or with video.  But what to do if everyone uses Yahoo Messenger?  I know there is a Yahoo Messenger for Mac but it’s not as developed as the Windows counterpart and it’s a pain to install a chat client for each service.  This is where Adium steps in and fills the gap.  It works with almost every major IM platform out there.  The only thing it doesn’t do (last I checked) was audio and video (they are working on it!) and this is my plug for Skype.  Most everyone is on Skype and the interface is excellent for video and audio conversations, including to land lines (for a price).

NeoOffice (or OpenOffice) are replacements for Microsoft’s Office suite that really are incredible.  For absolutely nothing in terms of cost you get a fully featured office suite that even opens and saves Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents.  The software is open source and is actively developed.  What I recommend is try it out, there are subtle differences between it and Microsoft’s offering but if you are open minded and give it a try you might find it covers all your needs.  And if you don’t like it, you haven’t paid anything and you can go out and by Microsoft Office for Mac!

Evernote has simply changed my life.  I use it for everything any time, any where. It is a note taking application that I can quickly jot down thoughts idea’s, add photos or audio and find it later.  It works on everything (Mac, PC, web, iPhone, etc.) and simply has begun to take over my note taking world.  Every student needs this, every doctor, every lawyer.  This is the app to download and use!  Best of all the basic version is free and the premium version is rather inexpensive.

Google Earth is just for fun.  You can install it and check out maps and locations around the world including Street View, a sidewalk angle of most major cities. Really neat!

Apple includes by default iTunes and Quicktime players as well as a DVD player.  But wouldn’t it be nice if you could have an app that would play almost any video file under the sun all from one app?  VLC does just that!  This one is another open source offering and it is amazing, playing everything you can throw at it.  I recommend it for when you get a strange video you can’t open any other way you got from one of your Windows buddies!

The next two are system utilities for keeping your Mac ruining in tip top shape. SMART reporter is a program that keeps an eye on your hard drive for any signs of failure.  The icon lives next tot he time/date in the menu bar and changes color if bad things are going to happen.  The next one is Onyx and this one you have to be careful with, it’s really powerful but can also mess up your system very quick so use at your own risk. Onyx will clean up your Mac’s temporary files as well as customize your Mac to your liking.

Finally we have Dropbox, an amazing backup and sharing service that is simply amazing. I haven’t been actively using this app until recently until it saved my rear when it was time for me to do a presentation and needed a file right away.  Dropbox gives you 2 Gb’s of space online to backup your documents and photos and access them from any computer or even your iPhone or iPod Touch.  This is where it helped me out for my presentation.  I had the presentation for the projector but I needed to follow along so I dropped the PowerPoint into my Dropbox folder and pulled it up on my iPhone and was able to present the entire thing without worrying about if what I was saying was the correct slide.

Each of these apps have empowered me in one way or another and are absolutely indispensable for my work flow.  I wanted to add a honorable mention here and that is Google Apps.  If you have a Google account then you already have access to these features but they give you an online workplace that is accessible from anywhere.  The power of these apps are simply astounding and Google continues to improve them.  In fact this post was written from notes in Evernote and Gmail and finally written and posted using Google Docs.  The concern is you are trusting Google with your data so beware legal firms, HIPAA bound individuals, and crime syndicates to be careful how you use these features.

I hope this guides you the right direction in choosing some great apps.  The next post will focus more on dual booting your new Mac (that’s right, your Mac can also run Windows) and then there will be a post about security for both your Mac and a Windows based system.  Questions or comments? Leave them below!

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