Seven must-have Mac OS apps for Windows developers

Every once in a blue moon I find myself needing to do some development work on the Mac. The tools I use vary depending on the job at hand, but there are a few Mac OS apps that this Windows developer can’t live without.

Alfred (Free/£15 with Powerpack)

The Mac OS X app Alfred running the foreground with a letter 'a' entered in its search box
Among its many flaws, the Dock isn’t a very efficient way of launching programs, especially if one is used to the simplicity of hitting the Windows key, typing a few letters. and then hitting enter. The Spotlight feature comes close to emulating that functionality, but it’s rather limited in what it can do and it doesn’t seem to prioritize the results based on usage history. Fortunately there’s no shortage of excellent application launchers for the Mac OS,  from the ultra simple Chuck on one end of the spectrum to Quicksilver, the granddaddy of launchers, on the other. But I personally prefer the simplicity and speed of Alfred, especially with the all the nice extras included in its powerpack.

Witch ($14)

The Mac OS X app Witch showing a selection of eight application shortcuts with the seventh option selected
One of the things that I found disorienting when I first started using OS X was the application switching behavior. In the Mac OS world, any running application can have zero or more windows, and the default application switcher is only able to switch between applications, not individual windows within an application. So no matter how many instances of Google Chrome I have open, the switcher will show them as a single item named “Google Chrome.” And if I wanted to navigate to a certain windows within an application, I would have to first switch to that application, then user the application-specific shortcuts to switch between its active windows.

Witch restores some sanity in that department. It’s a replacement for the default application switcher, and it lists windows grouped by application. It also has a handy feature that allows removing applications from the list based on their name, which is useful for hiding windowless, background apps that shouldn’t be listed their in the first place. I should add that I contacted the developer with a feature suggestion and found his reply prompt, friendly, and very helpful.

Divvy ($14 for Mac, $21 for Mac and Windows)

The Mac OS X app Divvy running in the foreground with its icon visible in the upper-right corner of the screen
Window snapping isn’t something that I use often, but I surely missed it on the Mac. There are  several little apps that simulate this feature, but I was most impressed with Divvy. It displays a little grid with tiles that map to locations on the screen, and selecting any of those tiles will have Divvy take whatever window that is in the foreground and fit to the corresponding location on the screen. I have since started using it on Windows as well.

Path Finder ($40)

The Mac OS X app Path Finder showing the contents of two folders side by side
Path Finder is almost a full replacement for Finder, the Mac equivalent of Windows Explorer, and it adds a lot of great features like dual pane view, quick editing, modifying permissions, and many other. But the real reason I prefer Path Finder to plain old Finder is that it just feels right. I know that sounds vague, but just trust me and give it a try. Chances are you’ll become a convert.

AppCleaner (Free)

The Mac OS X app AppCleaner showing the main window with the caption 'Drop App Here'
Another aspect that Windows users are likely to find jarring on the Mac is that it doesn’t require applications to have uninstallers. Programs are installed and uninstalled by placing them in and removing them from a special “Applications” folder, which is a great concept in theory, but it doesn’t work that well in many instances since a lot of applications will leave files lying around the file system.

Some applications provide their own removal programs, but for everything else I use AppCleaner, which is a simple utility that will do its best to scan for any files an application has scattered around the file system and give the user the option to remove them.

KeyRemap4MacBook (Free)

The configuration windows for the Mac OS X app KeyRemap4MacBook
Most of the keyboard shortcuts that I’m used to on Windows either have a different meaning on the Mac or they simply don’t work at all. For example, The Home and End keys no longer move the cursor to the beginning and end of the line. The Mac shortcuts aren’t hard to learn, but doing so isn’t the most productive thing to do since Windows is still the operating system I use most of the time.

KeyRemap4MacBookPro makes it possible to redefine the keyboard behavior so it’s more familiar to Windows users. It comes with what must be hundreds of predefined remappings, including one that changes the Numpad to act like arrow keys, which is my favorite. 

iPartition (£29.95)

iPartition displaying a pie chart showing two file system partisions
I have added iPartition to this list for two reasons: First, to round the number of items on this list to a more biblically appropriate seven. But also because, if your experience is anything like mine, you will be using Boot Camp, and you will allocate too little space to the Windows partition. There are a few programs out there that allows you to resize paritions without losing data, but I found iPartition to work best, despite being slightly more expensive than the competition.

I hope you’ll find this list useful. And if you can think of other must-have Mac OS apps, then please feel free to suggest them in the comments below.

Happy coding!

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