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The Great Mac Software Hunt

Our resident Windows expert has recently switched to the Mac and is on a quest to root out the very best Mac software. Is he making the right choices?

March 12, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - There are a lot of misconceptions about the Mac. What's absolutely the worst one, though, is that there's no software for it.

Before I bought a Mac mini in 2005 (the first step in my current Mac odyssey), I hadn't used a Mac since 1996, when I owned several Macs and Windows machines. The five years at the center of the last decade were a bleak time for Apple Inc. and the Mac. Windows 95 caught up with and surpassed the Macintosh system software in 1995. Apple wasn't doing well in general, and Macintosh software creation was at an all-time low.

But Steve Jobs' return to the company in 1997, the release of innovative new Macs throughout the rest of the decade and especially the release of OS X in 2001 began to pique my interest again. When Apple offered its Intel-based Macs early in 2006, I was drawn almost involuntarily to purchasing a Core Duo MacBook Pro 15.

 
Windows expert Scot Finnie recently gave the Mac a three-month trial as his primary machine for work and home use. Now he's hooked. Read about his experiences in Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of his "Mac trial" series.

 

The first thing I realized as I began to explore the Mac world in earnest was just how much more Mac software there is than the last time I used the Mac. The Mac shareware/freeware marketplace, while not as gargantuan as that for Windows, is filled with a rich selection of largely well-done products. There are many small commercial Mac software companies.

At the same time that Windows development companies appear to be consolidating, you have the sense of a renaissance among Mac software makers. The Mac market was reborn with OS X.

Introducing the A-List of Mac Software

That's the backdrop for my decision to create a continually updated list of the best applications for the Mac, called the A-List of Mac Software. Throughout my "Mac trial" series of articles, I kept a list of Macintosh apps that I had tried and approved. That list of Mac software is the one aspect of the series that has prompted the most e-mails and comments from readers.

The A-List will change as I continue to research new software. I welcome the input of others. I'm willing to reverse my decisions, try new versions, even reassess my needs. My goals are to point out the best software products, improve the software available to Mac users and to make it easier for other new Mac users to locate solutions that will work for them. If you'd like to point out something to me, send me a message. Please reference new products with URLs, and tell me why you like them.

Now, on to the products I've most recently evaluated.

Browsing Options

Over the last month, Safari has become my default browser. As previously noted, I don't love it. But it's less annoying than all the other options, and I hope that the browser improves in the near future with the release of OS X 10.5. I'm also assessing two products related to Safari that might improve the experience.

 Saft

 
Saft brings additional options to Safari.

The first of those is Saft, a Safari plug-in that offers a long list of improvements for Apple's browser. Surprisingly, I'm underwhelmed by Saft so far. There's nothing wrong with it, but I don't find it to be of huge value either. My favorite Saft feature is undocumented. It lets you double-click anywhere on a blank area of the tab bar to open a new tab. A Firefox extension called Tab Clicking Options does the same thing.

Showing a bit more promise but in need of more finishing is a product called Shiira, a browser based on the same open-source Web-rendering engine as Safari: WebKit. Shiira offers an elegant and intriguing user interface with lots of nice touches. But too many things aren't working in the beta 2 version for Tiger for me to make it my default browser.



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