My Essential Mac Setup

Post written by Leo Babauta.

Recently I had a geeky talk with my friend Suraj, showing him my favorite Mac apps as he played with his new Macbook Air. There are some programs I find almost indispensable to my workflow, and sharing them with him was fun.

I’ve decided to share them with all of you, also for fun, and in hopes that there might be something useful for you in this list.

Please note that these are essential to my workflow, but everyone’s needs are different. Your mileage will definitely vary.

Essential Mac Apps

These are the programs I find most indispensable:

  1. OmmWriter/Byword: I love these for their distraction-free writing. OmmWriter is my favorite, because it’s so serene and there’s not much to do but write (use with headphones). Byword is great because of its integration with Markdown, a simple way to write for the web. I write all my posts in Markdown these days — it’s great for WordPress (see the WordPress section below).
  2. Launchbar – I use this so often I don’t even remember it’s there. It’s basically an application launcher, though it can do a lot more. For awhile I used the excellent Quicksilver, but when development stopped on that program I switched to the built-in Spotlight to launch apps. I now use Launchbar because it learns your usage better.
  3. Dropbox – this is a pretty popular app, so it won’t surprise anyone, but it’s one of the first things I install on a new computer. Easy syncing and backup of all your important files, easy way to share files and photos with people.
  4. 1Password – I don’t know how I lived without this before. It’s really indispensable. It’s a password manager and more — it remembers and generates secure passwords for all my logins everywhere (there’s a 1Password Chrome extension that I use to autofill my passwords into web login forms), but also remembers software license keys, passport numbers, credit cards, rewards program numbers and more. In the past, I had the same base password for almost everything (modifying it depending on the website I was using), but now I have secure, random passwords for all different sites, ensuring that my bank accounts and email are secure if someone gets one of my passwords. You can back up your keychain in Dropbox, so you have access to it anywhere, even if your computer crashes.
  5. TextExpander – great utility that I use many times a day but forget I’m using it. It will expand a snippet of text that you choose into a larger snippet of text. For example, if there are emails you send routinely, you can have shortcuts for them so you don’t have to retype them. I have shortcuts set up for signatures, my address, my phone number, html or Markdown code that I use often, and so on. I have it set to run in the background — in Preferences, uncheck “Show TextExpander in Menu Bar”, and check “Hide TextExpander icon in Dock” and “Launch at login”.
  6. Notational Velocity – tiny program that’s incredibly well-written and so useful. I use it to store all kinds of notes, random information, ideas, logs, snippets of text, drafts of things I’m writing, lists of all kinds. Any text you want to quickly write, store, or find instantly later. It’s great because creating a new note is instant and removes the naming and saving process you normally have for new text files, and finding a note is also faster than any other program I’ve used.
  7. Transmit – this is the best FTP program I’ved used (Cyberduck is open-sourced and also good). It makes transferring files painless. It also works well with Amazon S3 storage, which I use to put large files for download so it’s not on my web server, and I also use it for backups of my website and computer.
  8. Google Chrome – another program I use all the time, every day. Really by far the best browser, and I’ve tried almost all of them.

Note: I don’t use most of the built-in Mac apps like Mail, iCal, Contacts, Safari. I do use iTunes for music and movies, Preview for viewing PDFs and photos and simple photo cropping/resizing, and Quicktime for recording simple video or screencasts.

Other Mac Utilities

In addition, I use these utilities and find them really useful:

  1. Flycut – I honestly only found this a month or so ago, but already use it all the time. It’s a clipboard manager, which doesn’t sound that useful but really is. You know how you paste the most recent thing you copied to the clipboard with Cmd-V? What if you want to paste something you copied before that? With Flycut, you can easily go back in your clipboard history (up to 40 recent items) and paste it, using Cmd-Shift-V. So good.
  2. Mindful Mynah – tiny utility that rings a mindfulness bell every 20 minutes (or whatever you set it to), to remind you to be mindful, of course. I love it. Here’s the description from the site: “Train your attention, with a gentle repeating reminder, to return to the present moment.” Perfect.
  3. Timeout – great if you want to regularly take breaks. It will start to fade out at a time interval you set, and tell you to take a break. Get up, stretch, walk around, do some exercises.
  4. Anki/Genius – two little apps that help you to learn anything. If you want to memorize things for a test, or learn Spanish vocabulary, or anything … pop it into one of these apps and you’ll learn it quickly.
  5. Low Battery Saver – does your Mac battery die before you remember to plug it in? Not anymore, after you install this nifty little thing. It will warn you before your Mac goes to sleep from lack of battery juice.
  6. Transmission – I don’t often use bit torrent, but if I ever do, this is the program to use.
  7. Handbrake – for converting any kind of video, or saving a DVD to your computer if needed.


This doesn’t fall under Mac apps, but I often get asked about WordPress plugins. I don’t use very many, but here are the ones I find useful:

  1. Backup Buddy – great for backup and restoring your entire WordPress site. Backs up to Amazon S3 (or whatever location you choose), automatically at intervals you set. If your WordPress site is important to you, this is great for peace of mind.
  2. Markdown on Save Improved – basically converts Markdown formatting on the fly, as you publish.
  3. Wishlist – for membership sites, like my Sea Change program.
  4. Simple:Press – simple but good plugin for forums.
  5. SuperCache – makes your site super fast.