An application program, more commonly and simply known as an application, lets you open, modify or create documents that are used in the real world. A utility is a different kind of application, usually performing special tasks or dealing with particular problems on your computer.

Applications and Operating Systems

All modern Mac OS applications are designed for Mac OS X, which is itself based on the Unix operating system. Older versions of the system, such as Mac OS 9.x, are generically known as the Classic Mac OS and the applications that work in them known as Classic applications.

Carbon and Cocoa

A Carbonized application, which can often be used in pre-OS X systems as well, employs a reduced set of application programming interfaces (APIs) known as Carbon, as built into Mac OS X. These programs support some Mac OS X features but not others: they can’t, for example, always exploit the abilities of Quartz, as used for creating anti-aliased text.


Applications in Mac OS X consist of either a single file or are up of several files stored inside an application program package (APP), both of which have a filename extension of .app.

When you double-click on a package the Carbon or Cocoa application that it contains is launched.

  Installing an Application

Applications for Mac OS X are often supplied in Apple’s own disc image format or as an installer application, although some arrive as a Unix archive of the .tar, .gz or .tgz variety.

Disc Images

A Mac OS X application can be provided as a disk image file, which is identified by a .dmg filename extension. You can simply click on such a file and a ‘disk’ will magically appear on your desktop: you can then run the installer application or drag the required files from this disk onto your drive.

Using an Installer Application

Some software is supplied by means of an installer application. This kind of program, when launched, places the new software and its support files onto your hard disk in the appropriate places. Since things can often go horribly wrong, you should always make a copy of the installation software before starting. And if you’re really nervous you can also back up all your other files as well.

There are several types of installer application, the most common being InstallerVISE (MindVision) and StuffIt Installer Maker (Aladdin Systems), as well as Apple’s own Installer application.

Running an installer can be risky, especially if it blindly add files to your drive that your version of the Mac OS doesn’t like, or it replaces a later version of a file with an outdated document.

Some installers let you specify the drive or folder onto which the installation is to be made. Once the installation is complete, the appropriate folder should appear at the required location, hopefully complete with the application, documentation and support files. Some installers also place extra files in various other locations. Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid renaming any of these files.

Copy Protection

The most common protection schemes involve passwords and registration numbers. In some instances the registration or authentication process is done online or over the telephone. The activation of software may employ random numbers or, much worse, numbers derived from components in your computer. Once activated, you can usually make a specified number of installations, although this doesn’t work with machine-based activation if you buy a new computer. In addition, some applications require an annual authentication. As a rule, steer clear of software that needs machine-based activation.

Application Types

Mac OS X applications can be divided into three basic types:-

  Standard Application

This is the kind of application you’re most familiar with. It lets you edit existing material or create something of your own, which you can save as a document. Larger applications frequently require support files as well, some of which may be kept at various other locations.

  Information Provider

This type of application automatically updates one or more data files whenever changes are made. The files are usually in the same folder as the application.

  Document Viewer

This kind of application lets you double-click on a particular type of document and read its contents. Nothing is gained by launching the application on its own. Programs of this type include Adobe Reader (Adobe) and Palm Reader (Palm), as well as Web browsers, such as Internet Explorer (Microsoft) and Netscape (Netscape Communications Corp) and Safari (Apple).

Application Support Files

Major applications often come with support files that are put in their correct locations by an installer application. Such an installer usually creates a folder for these files inside the application’s own folder or package, and sometimes in other locations. Common varieties of support file include:-


This frequently comes in one of the forms listed below. The information, or material generated by the application itself, can usually be reached via the application’s Help menu.

TextEdit Files

These come in .txt (plain text) or .rtf (Rich Text Format styled text) varieties, as well as in .rtfd packages, the latter containing both .rtf files and .tiff images.

Portable Document File (PDF)

You can open this type of file using Preview (Apple) or Adobe Reader (Adobe).

Web Pages (HTML)

These .html or .htm files, which can also appear under the Help menu or in the Help Center window, can be viewed using the system’s help mechanism or your Web browser.

If possible, don’t delete, relocate or rename documentation files, as this can cause things to go astray.


Many applications provide HTML files, usually of the Help Viewer variety, or other kinds of documents that can be reached from the Help menu when the application is active.

In many Carbon and Cocoa applications, the HTML files that provide the help information are buried deep within the .app package of the application itself. Here’s the path to the help file for PandoCalendar (Panda Systems):- Help/PandoCalendar Help.html

Things get even more complicated with applications that support more than one language, as in Toast Titanium (Roxio):-

Toast Help/Toast Help.htm

Similarly, general information about your computer can be found at the following location:-


where is also a package.


Preferences files contain the overall settings for an application. They are normally kept in /Library/Preferences/ (for all users) or in ~/Library/Preferences/ (for the current user), the latter being at at the top level of the user’s home folder.


A plug-in, which is sometimes known as an extension, can be used to add extra features to one or more applications. Different programs use different forms of plug-in: QuarkXpress, for example, uses a type known as an Xtension.

Plug-ins are usually stored in a designated folder alongside the application itself, although you may initially be asked for a location for the plug-ins, which is memorised for future use.

Software Review

The list below includes includes various software elements that can enhance your Mac OS X experience. The author hasn’t included some major applications, such as those produced by Adobe or Microsoft, since these products already have sufficient publicity.

Special applications are given a rating of between * and *****, although no marks are shown for programs that haven’t been checked. + indicates software usually supplied a part of Mac OS X. The latter may be supplied on a Developer Tools CD-ROM or provided as an installer in your /Applications/Installers folder, often as DeveloperTools.pkg. The software that makes up the Developer Tools suite is also known as XCode Tools in Mac OS 10.3 (Panther) and later systems.

Activity Monitor (Apple) +

This utility, supplied with Mac OS X 10.3, supersedes the Process Monitor and CPU Monitor applications used in older systems. It shows a list of the active application processes and the amount of processor time used by each one.

Address Book (Apple) +

This program works with Mail and other Mac OS X applications, saving each address as a vCard.

You can easily add images for your existing contacts. First, create the TIFF picture files, naming each one to match the contact’s e-mail address, so that, for example, the image for is named Now put all the image files into a new folder called People and place that in a new folder called Images. The latter should then be dragged into the /Library folder (for all users) or ~/Library folder (for the current user), as appropriate.

Acrobat Distiller (Adobe) *

This creates Portable Document Format (PDF) files that can be viewed on virtually any kind of computer. To see them on a Mac you’ll need the Preview application, which is provided with Mac OS X, although those involved in publishing may prefer to use Adobe Reader, formerly known as Acrobat Reader.

AirPort Admin Utility (Apple) +

AirPort Setup Assistant (Apple) +

Two utilities that can be used to set up your AirPort (Wi-Fi) communications. Note that the second application doesn’t have to be used to set up the software version of a Base Station.

AppleScript Studio (Apple) +

Supplied with the system, this collection of software lets you create AppleScript-based applications. It includes Project Builder, Interface Builder and Script Editor.

  AppleWorks (Apple) *****

Formerly ClarisWorks, this application can be successfully used for word processing, spreadsheet, databases, drawing and painting. Note that the Claris XTND System and its communications mode, as provided in older Classic Mac OS versions of the application, aren’t available in Mac OS X.

Applet Launcher (Apple) +

For launching Java applets.

AudioMIDI Setup (Apple) +

A utility for setting up the Core MIDI and Core Audio features that are built into Mac OS X.


A free utility for dealing with files, similar to Super Get Info (see below) but not quite as elegant.

  BBEdit (Bare Bones Software) *****

A powerful text editor with extensive options, including support for HTML creation. Particularly suitable for programmers or anyone who needs to work on really big text files.

Bluetooth File Exchange (Apple) +

A utility for transferring data to and from any wireless devices that use Bluetooth technology.

Calculator (Apple) +

This latest version of Apple’s simple calculator has gained several new features.

Classic (Apple) +

Lets you run older applications designed for Mac OS 9.x and earlier systems. However, some programs of this kind don’t work in Classic, requiring you to restart in Mac OS 9.x, assuming you have an older machine where this be possible.

You should also be aware that many Mac OS 9.x drivers, extensions and control panels don’t work from within Classic. However, many older applications seem to run faster in this environment, despite the assertion that Classic is limited to a total memory allocation of only 128 MB.

The original Classic files installed by the Mac OS X Installer are located at:-

/System/Library/CoreServices/Classic Forks/

These can be used, if required to replace any damaged or deleted system files. Note however, that this folder is invisible in Mac OS X 10.3 or higher, although you can get to it in any case by selecting Go To Folder in the Finder.

Cocktail (Kristofer Szymanski)

A multi-purpose utility that, amongst other things, deletes corrupt cache files, forces the Trash to empty, makes invisible items visible and runs maintenance scripts.

ColorSync Utility (Apple) +

Lets you set up ColorSync profiles for devices that reproduce colour images.

Console (Apple) +

A rather specialised application that monitors the messages sent by Unix processes.

CronniX (Dan Frakes)

Provides easy access to the cron mechanism, which is part of Mac OS X and Unix, allowing you to launch applications or tasks at predetermined times.

  Desktop Secure Delete (Aladdin) **

This application, supplied with certain Aladdin products, totally destroys the selected files on a disk by overwriting them. Very useful if security is important.

Data Recycler X (Prosoft)

This retrieves deleted files, such as those put in the Trash, which is then emptied.

Data Rescue X (Prosoft)

Recovers files from a damaged disk that are otherwise lost forever.

Dent du Midi (Bery Rinaldo)

This free utility converts a standard MIDI file (SMF) into loops for use with GarageBand. The resultant AIFF files can be dragged into a new project window in GarageBand, whilst the Report.txt file tells you the required tempo.

  DigitalColor Meter (Apple) +***

Provides numerical values for colours that are displayed on your computer screen.

Directory Access (Apple) +

Lets you set up login authentication, directory and network functions.

  Disk Copy (Apple) +

This application is replaced by the Disk Utility application in Mac OS X 10.3 or higher (see below). It allows you to copy disks or store disk images on your hard disk.

In older versions of Mac OS X that don’t include the FileVault security system or a modern version of Disk Utility, you can use Disk Copy to create an encrypted disk image of a folder. Simply drag the folder onto Disk Copy, select AES-128 from the Encryption menu in the Image Folder dialogue and click on Save. Then in the New Passphrase dialogue enter your required password (entering it again to verify it) and click on OK after checking that Remember Password (Add to Keychain) isn’t selected.

Disk Utility (Apple) +***

Supplied with Mac OS X 10.3, this replaces the older Disk Copy and Software Restore applications (the latter for restoring the contents of a drive from a disc image). Disk Utility can be used to format, erase or test any type of disk or disk drive.

Disk Utility can also be used to repair the permissions on a hard disk. If this doesn’t work properly you may have to start up from your Mac OS X Installer CD and run Disk Utility from there.

The following procedure can be used to copy your Mac OS X Installer CDs:-

  1. Launch Disk Utility.
  2. Insert the Installer CD and select it in the left-hand side of Disk Utility.
  3. Click on New Image, name the file and select DVD/CD from the Image pop-up, ensuring Encryption is set to None.
  4. Click on Save and wait for the disk image to be created.
  5. Select the image, click on the Burn button and then insert a blank CD.

Disk Utility can also create disk images of encrypted folders or files. First, click on the New Image icon, enter a name and set a location for the new disk image file. Then set Size to the required size, set Format to Read/Write Disk Image and set Encryption to AES-128. Next, you’ll have to enter a password, but don’t select Remember Password. Disk Utility then creates the image file and mounts it as a disk on the desktop. You can then copy the required folders or files onto this ‘disk’. Finally, when you’re happy with the content, you can unmount the disk and the information will be retained in encrypted form in the image file.

DiskWarrior (Alsoft)

This is application better than most for repairing damaged disks.

Display Calibrator (Apple) +

Lets you calibrate your display screen and create a matching ColorSync colour profile.

Dock (Apple) +

An integral part of Mac OS X that provides a line of icons along one edge of the screen, giving quick access to your usual applications and documents, as well as all running applications.

If you employ special software you may prefer to disable the Dock. To do this, proceed as follows:-

  1. Move the file to the Applications folder by opening the Terminal and entering the following two lines:-


    sudo mv /Applications/

  2. Add to Login Items: you have to do this for the desktop to appear at startup.
  3. Create a script containing the line tell application "Dock" to quit and add it in Login Items after the file.

  DropStuff (Aladdin) ***

This application, which compresses any files that are dropped onto it, is supplied as part of the StuffIt Deluxe package and with other Aladdin products. Later versions can create StuffIt X files, with a .sitx extension, requiring a newer version of StuffIt Expander for unstuffing.

  DropZip (Aladdin) ***

Any file dropped onto this application is compressed into a Zip document, which is a popular PC format. Registered users of DropStuff can also use this program.

DVD Player (Apple) +

Supplied with the Mac OS, this simple application lets you control the viewing of DVD movie discs. Recent versions also support the 5.1 form of surround sound.


A utility for copying DVD material from your hard disc onto a blank 4.7 GB DVD-Video disc with selected options. Can be particularly useful when used with DVDBackup (see below).


Lets you copy the content of a DVD onto your hard disk drive, if necessary modifying the DVD region and disabling copyright protection. You can do this if you want a backup of a disc, but only if you actually own the disc.

Eject Me!

A free script that forces a CD or DVD out of its drive, should the eject key fail to work.

  Excalibur (Medieval Ventures) *

A neat spelling checker that can be used with many applications.

FileMaker Pro (FileMaker) +

The definitive relational database application, available in various versions. Note that FileMaker 7, which supports multiple tables, uses a different file format to earlier versions. FileMaker Server also allows FileMaker Pro database solutions to be shared by groups over a network. FileMaker Server Advanced extends this to Web publishing by means of ODBC, JDBC and XML.

FileVault (Apple) +

This program automatically encrypts the data in your home directory or selected folder using the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and 128-bit keys. It also incorporates a Secure Erase Trash feature that overwrites unwanted material with random data. Note that some earlier versions of FileVault have been known to cause a loss of information. If you don’t want to encrypt an entire directory or prefer to avoid FileVault you can use Disk Utility to encrypt a chosen folder (see above).

Final Cut Pro (Apple)

This, the definitive application for video editing and processing, forms the centrepiece of Apple’s collection of multimedia applications, which include DVDStudio Pro, Logic Pro, Motion, Shake and Soundtrack


A command-line software management system that gives you Internet access to a huge amount of Unix software, much of which will operate in Mac OS X, especially if you have X11 for Mac OS installed (see below). The application shows lists of software packages, lets you download them and then automatically installs the required files. It also enables the fink command in Apple’s Terminal application.


This is an Aqua-based front end for Fink, as described above. During installation, you’ll be asked if you want to install the .cshrc file in your home directory, following which you should press Y followed by Return. Failing this, launch the Terminal application, enter:-

echo -n source/sw/bin/init.csh > ~/.cshrc

and press Return.

FinkCommander’s main window shows the available applications, although some that appear in the X11 category aren’t suitable for Mac OS X, whilst further X11 software can be found in other categories. You can find out more about an item by selecting it and pressing -I, or you can download it by clicking on the appropriate button or by choosing Binary ➡ Install.

Font Book

As supplied in later versions of Mac OS X, allowing you to work on the kerning, spacing, fraction characters, swashes and other features of each of your fonts. You can also search for fonts by name or group various effects with fonts to create new styles. In addition, you can preview a font in Font Book by simply double-clicking on the font’s file.


A very useful utility that lets you convert fonts from TrueType to PostScript or vice versa. You can also modify the shape of individual characters as required.


Causes menus to snap-in, rather than fade, so making them faster.

FunKeys X (Rampell Software)

A low-cost utility that lets you open Web sites, type text, open applications and files or run AppleScript scripts by simply pressing specified key combinations.

GarageBand (Apple)

This application, included in the expanded iLife package, lets you create music using the supplied sound samples and special effects. The results can be exported to an audio CD or saved as an MP3 or AAC file.

Get Info for App

Provides information about applications, indicating whether they consist of a single file or a package and whether they contain Carbon or Cocoa code.

  Ghostscript **

A free application for viewing PostScript files and converting them into PICT or TIFF images.

Gimp (Sourceforge)

A free but powerful X11-based application for working with graphics. You can install this via Fink, although the pre-packaged file is easier. Either way, you’ll need to install the X11 software first (see below).

Grab (Apple) +

A useful utility for taking ‘screen shots’ from parts of the image shown on your monitor. The results are in the form of TIFF image files.

  GraphicConverter (Thorsten Lemke) *****

A very impressive application that can open, modify and save virtually any graphics file, whatever computer it came from.

  HexEdit (Jim Bumgardner and Lane Roathe)

Useful application that can be used to inspect both the data and resource fork of any file. Unlike ResEdit, the resource fork is shown as a continuous list of codes, rather than as resource types.

HTML.Edit (Apple) +

A special application for creating HTML-based Web pages.


A useful application for converting WMA sound files into MP3 or WAV files.

iCal (Apple) +

A useful calender application that requires OS X 10.2 or higher.

The contents of your iCal application can be published over the Internet by selecting Calendar ➡ Publish and choosing On a WebDAV Server from the Publish Calendar pop-up menu. You must then enter, where username is your user name. This gives a calendar located at Note, however, that this form of publishing is a serious security risk, as it requires you to release your user name and password.

ICeCoffEE (Nicholas Riley)

This adds a Services item to your menubar, giving you direct access to the useful services provided by other applications. Without this you have to choose, for example, TextEdit ➡ Services.

iChat (Apple) +

For online messaging via the Internet, communicating with other users of iChat or AOL Instant Messaging (AIM). The more recent iChatAV also incorporates video conferencing and uses Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology for high quality speech. iChatAV can be used with Apple’s iSight camera, which also has a built-in microphone.

Image Capture (Apple) +

Lets you transfer images from a camera or scanner, usually connected via USB. The program uses its own special driver format known as a Capture Module. However, if you want to use TWAIN, which provides a greater range of adjustments, just select Use Twain Software Wherever Possible.

iMovie (Apple) +

A simple but powerful application for editing movies: it can also be used to record and share audio material.

InDesign (Adobe)

This is the main contender for desktop publishing (DTP). Recent versions also include plug-ins that replicate many of the functions provided in Adobe’s older PageMaker application.

Installer (Apple) +

Used for software updates, usually from Apple, as supplied in .pkg package files.


Formerly known as Anarchie, this is the traditional FTP client application for use on the Internet.

Internet Connect (Apple) +

A simple utility for logging onto the Internet via PPP (for a dial up connection), PPPoE (PPP over Ethernet, as used with some ADSL connections), AirPort or Bluetooth. It also lets you add the appropriate status menu in the menubar.

  Internet Explorer (Microsoft) *****

A comprehensive and intuitive Web browser with Java support. It also lets you copy styled text from a Web window into other applications, unlike older versions of Netscape.

InVisibles (Mac4Ever)

A free utility that lets you see files that have been made invisible by the system.

iSync (Apple) +

Provides synchronisation of data between a Mac OS computer running OS X 10.2 and other devices, including Bluetooth-equipped GPRS mobile phones, Palm OS organisers and Apple’s iPod music player. Also works in conjunction with Apple’s iCal calendar and Address Book applications.

  iTunes (Apple) +

This versatile and impeccably-designed application for playing MP3 tracks, audio CDs, MIDI tracks and other audio files can also convert QuickTime-compatible files to MP3s. It can also be used ‘burn’ the material to CDs in a variety of formats.

Java Web Start (Apple) +

This program downloads a Java application from a Web page link and converts it into a ‘clickable’ application that appears on your desktop. You can double-click this new file, although it may have a non-standard appearance and may not behave in the same way as other Mac OS applications.

K Desktop Environment

An X11-based windows environment that can work alongside the Aqua environment of Mac OS X. It includes a Dock-like feature known as the Kicker, giving access to four virtual desktops and the Konsole, KDE’s equivalent of the Terminal.

Key Caps (Apple) +

A useful application that helps you determine what keys to press for certain characters.

Keyboard Maestro **

Provides keyboard control of defined functions.

Keychain Access (Apple) +

This application provides access to passwords or other secure information that you keep in one or more keychains. You can create a new keychain (as used for a particular category of information) by selecting File ➡ New Keychain. Each keychain can have its own password, although the default keychain, called login and automatically opened at login, is protected by your normal login password. Fortunately, you can change the password of the current keychain from the Edit menu.

Keynote (Apple)

A special XML-based application designed for creating presentations. It can also import or export Microsoft PowerPoint files or export material to a QuickTime movie or PDF document.

Labels X (Unsanity) **

Lets you provide files with a ‘label’, in a similar way to Mac OS 9, although this isn’t required in Mac OS X 10.3 or later.

LiteSwitch X

A free utility for switching applications or other functions from the keyboard. Application switching is achieved using Tab in combination with other keys, such as , Option or Control.

Little Snitch (Objective Development)

This warns you whenever an application tries to communicate via the Internet without you having initiated the process, allowing you to prevent similar communications in the future.

Logic Pro (Apple)

This advanced musical sequencing and audio recording application has a timing accuracy of 960 pulses per quarter note (PPQN). In the Pro version you can create up to 128 audio tracks at sample rates of up to 192 kHz and then mix them down into a 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound recording.


Not really an application, but a special Internet service provided by Apple that’s fully integrated with Mac OS X. It replaces the original iTools facility, also giving email addresses ending in

MacDraft Personal Edition (Microspot)

This low-cost version of the full MacDraft product provides many useful drawing features.

MacJanitor (Brian Hill) ***

A very useful and free utility that forces the Unix engine of Mac OS X to perform its routine tasks at any convenient time, rather than at the default period of between 3 and 5 in the morning. Regular use of these routines, which remove excess Unix logs and scripts, can improve performance.

Mail (Apple) +

An elegant e-mail application that can create messages in plain text or as Rich Text, the latter not to be confused with RTF. Rich Text can also be viewed in Outlook Express, Eudora and other programs.


A handy utility that lets you view the Unix manuals that are built into Mac OS X.

  MacLinkPlus (DataViz) ****

Provides a huge number of file translators, allowing you to create files for applications that you lack.


A free application that removes any system files that are used for unwanted languages. This amounts to about 300 MB of disk space for a user that only wants to work in English.

Motion (Apple)

A special application for animating text, graphics and video.

NetInfo Manager (Apple) +

A rather ‘geeky’ utility that fixes problems with networking and the underlying system. By logging-on as a root user you can create directories and do other strange things. You can also, for example, change your home folder to another location, such as an alternative disk drive. To do this, first click on the padlock icon in the utility and enter your password. You must then change the Value entry for the Property called home, log out and then log in again.

Network Utility (Apple) +

This lets you see what’s happening on your network.

  Netscape (Netscape) **

Latest in a long line of Netscape products for browsing the Web. As expected, it’s a comprehensive application, with full support for e-mail and more. It also includes Netscape Composer, which lets you create your own Web pages.

ODBC Administrator (Apple) +

Only needed if you have applications that use Microsoft’s Open Database Connectivity (ODBC).

Office (Microsoft)

A widely-used but rather cumbersome package that includes Entourage (for email, calendar and contacts information), Excel (a spreadsheet application), PowerPoint (for presentations), and Word (for word processing). Note that some versions of Office 2003 (but not the Mac OS version) can use Microsoft’s Information Rights Management (IRM) system to prevent unauthorised opening, copying or emailing of files.

OpenMenu (Artman 21)

Lets you open files and URLs from contextual menus in the Finder.

  Outlook Express (Microsoft) ****

A neatly packaged e-mail and Internet news application, formerly supplied with Internet Explorer.


Extracts individual files from a .pkg installer package, so you can replace them without installing the entire package.

PackageMaker (Apple) +

Supplied with the system software, this lets you create .pkg installer packages.

Panther Cache Cleaner

Clears cache, virtual memory swap files, system logs and other files.

Pixie (Apple) +

Also supplied with the system software, this application is for pixel viewing and editing of images.

  Photoshop (Adobe) **

The standard application for editing bitmap images.

PopChar Pro (UNI Software Plus) *****

An excellent system addition that creates a menu of all current font characters in your menu bar at any time. Just select the one you want, without worrying about key combinations.

Preview (Apple) +

A very fast application for viewing PDF documents. The latest version has a ‘find text’ feature, which you can use by just typing in the box. You can also easily copy sections of text from a document onto the clipboard.

Printer Setup Repair (Laurent Muller)

This can be used to fix printing problems and to delete or install printer drivers.

Printer Setup Utility (Apple) +

Lets you monitor and control the progress of printing with any kind of printer. This application replaces the Chooser, as found in the Classic Mac OS, as well as the Print Center application, which is employed in Mac OS X 10.2 and earlier systems.

Process Viewer (Apple) +

Provides information about all your running applications and other processes.

Property List Editor (Apple) +

This application, which is supplied with the system, lets you modify files containing a property list in XML form. These files, which normally have a filename extension of .plist, are usually found in the ~/Library/Preferences folder. Those that are invisible must be made visible first, which you can do with TinkerTool (see below) by choosing Finder ➡ Show Hidden and System Files. Remember to make a copy of the original files before modifying them.

You can normally open a file of this kind, such as ~/Library/Preferences/ by double-clicking on it. Then click on the Root triangle in the Property List Editor’s window to reveal items such as IEFavoritesWereImported, along with a Value, such as Yes or No. If this doesn’t work, you can examine the file in a text editor, where you’ll see corresponding lines, such as:-



The following procedure lets you start up with the Terminal application instead of the Finder. First, you must open ~/Library/Preferences/, click on the Root triangle and then on the New Child button. Now rename New Item as Finder, double-click the Value column and enter, for example, /Applications/Utilities/ Finally, save the file, then log out your machine and log in again.

QuicKeys X

A powerful utility that lets you perform tasks or undertake a sequence of operations that are triggered by pressing a combination of keys. Although not as good as the Mac OS 9.x version, there’s very little else in Mac OS X that can beat it.

  QuickTime Player (Apple) +*****

This application, formerly known as MoviePlayer, is a deceptively simple but powerful QuickTime movie player. You’ll need to register QuickTime Pro to use all its available features.

Safari (Apple)

A free and fast Web browser that supports a wide range of open standards. The version supplied with Mac OS X 10.4 also supports Really Simple Syndication (RSS), avoiding the need for a separate headline-viewing application.

  Script Editor (Apple) +***

Supplied with the Mac OS as part of AppleScript, this application lets you edit your own scripts. The results can be saved as stand-alone applications.


This disables window ‘shadows’, speeding up disk operation.

Shake (Apple)

A special application that provides morphing and warping effects for video.

  Sherlock (Apple) +***

A useful application that lets you search the Internet by means of several search engines.

  SimpleText (Apple) +**

This application, supplied in modern form on the Developer Toolkit CD-ROM, lets you read styled text in TEXT or ttro (read-only) Classic Mac OS documents, as well PICT image files.

Sketch (Apple) +

A Java-based drawing application, as supplied with the system.

Snapz Pro X 2 (Ambrosia Software)

This lets you extract images from your computer screen, in a similar way to Apple’s Grab application, but with expanded options.

Software Update (Apple) +

This is launched whenever you select Software Update in System Preferences. It checks for any software updates over the Internet and offers you the opportunity to install them directly into your system.

By default, the package file used for each update, which has a .pkg filename extension, isn’t kept on your computer. However, if you think you’ll need to re-install a particular update in the future, just click on the appropriate update and select Update ➡ Install and Keep Package. A copy of the original package is then placed in the /Library/Packages/ directory.

Sound Studio (Apple)

A useful ‘destructive’ stereo sound file editor, as supplied with some Apple machines.

Soundtrack (Apple)

This application lets you create music using the supplied sound loops or other samples. Also supports Audio Units plug-ins.

Soundtrack Loop Utility (Apple)

A free utility that converts normal AIFF sound files into the Apple loop format, as used for applications such as Soundtrack and GarageBand.

StuffIt (Aladdin) ***

A widely used file compression application, available in various versions. However, most users will only need the freeware StuffIt Expander (see below), although DropStuff is also very useful. Note that newer versions of StuffIt can also create files in the Mac OS X format. These files have a .sitx extension and can’t be opened by older StuffIt applications.

  StuffIt Expander (Aladdin) ****

This freeware application can decompress any standard compressed files that are dropped onto it. It’s supplied as part of StuffIt Deluxe and is also provided with other Aladdin products. Version 7 or higher is required for unstuffing StuffIt X files, which are identified by a .sitx extension.

Super Get Info (Bare Bones Software)

A shareware application, integrated with the BBEdit text editor, which provides information about your files and lets you change the settings for their user, groups or read and write privileges. You can also move items that are locked or for which you don’t have privileges to the Trash.

SuperCard (Solutions Etcetera) *

This powerful card-based system replaces HyperCard, Apple’s original Classic Mac OS application, and employs SuperTalk, a language that’s 80% compatible with HyperCard’s HyperTalk. The package also includes a utility for converting old HyperCard files into the new format.

  System Profiler +***

Formerly known as Apple System Profiler, this application gives details about your hardware and software, as required when you ask for technical assistance.

Terminal (Apple) +

Lets you send commands or shell scripts directly to the Unix heart of Mac OS X. You can also run Unix applications, such as the pine, which is a text-based e-mail program, or mmap, which is used for scanning the IP addresses of open ports. To be used with care!

TextEdit (Apple) +

A small but capable word-processing (WP) application that handles .txt and .rtf files.


An excellent ‘haxie’ that gives access to huge number of hidden system options. It lets you control the rectangle zoom effect, lets you see invisible files or add Quit to the Finder menu. It can set the number of label lines, change the layout of your desktop picture or alter the appearance of the Dock, allowing the latter to employ transparent icons for hidden applications. You can also adjust the placement of scroll arrows, play audio or video tracks automatically or set the screen shot format. In addition, you can set the system and application fonts or change font smoothing and terminal settings.

Trash It!

A free script that gets rid of files that get stuck in the Trash.

Trojan Defuser (OpenOSX)

A useful program that makes suspected Trojan-horse files harmless.

TypeIt4Me (Riccardo Ettore) *****

Truly wonderful system addition that lets you type abbreviations that are automatically converted into whole words. You really can’t do without this.

ViaVoice (IBM)

Highly acclaimed and low-cost speech dictation system.

Virex (Network Associates)

An elegant virus diagnosis and repair application, also supported by regular updates.

Virtual PC with Windows (Microsoft/Connectix)

PC emulation software, said by some to be easier to use than Isignia’s SoftWindows.

WinTel (OpenOSX)

An open-source Aqua-based GUI that controls the Bochs Windows emulation software. This lets you use Windows 95, 98 and NT, although the use of Windows 2000 or XP isn’t recommended due to speed considerations.

VLC (VideoLan)

A free application that plays movies that QuickTime refuses, such as MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, AVI (including the DivX codec) and Windows Media files, as well as OGG Vorbis audio recordings. It can also extract video material from a DVD or VCD.

WorldText (Apple) +

An international text editor, as supplied with the system.

X11 for Mac OS X (Apple) +

A free package, incorporated in Mac OS X 10.3, that lets you use Unix applications based on the X11 graphics mechanism, also known as the X Window System or X, giving you access to a huge amount of software, such as the GIMP, as well as xMySQLadmin for MySQL. Apple’s offering is based on the XFree86 display server for Unix, although XDarwin is also available.

To set up the preferences, run the X11 application in your Applications folder and choose X11 ➡ Preferences. You should choose Emulate Three Button Mouse, which lets you use Option-click to actuate the right-hand button (indicated as Ctrl-Click or C-Click in X11 application menus) and -click to operate the middle button (shown as Meta-Click or M-Click in menus).

Under normal circumstances you have to click on X11 windows twice in order to activate them. To avoid this complication, run the Terminal application and enter:-

defaults write wm_ffm true

and then restart the X11 application.

Applications can be added to X11’s Application menu by selecting Applications ➡ Customise, entering the program name in the Name box and typing into the Command field something of the form:-


where filename is the filename of the program itself, which can be determined by exploring the folder that contains it. Files downloaded using FinkCommander (see above) are located in the bin folder which is inside the sw folder.

XCode (Apple) +

A powerful integrated development environment (IDE) provided with Mac OS X 10.3. This lets you create applications using programming languages such as C, C++, Objective C, Java or AppleScript and includes Apple’s AppleScript Studio. It effectively replaces Apple’s older Project Builder application, although the latter is also supplied with Mac OS X 10.3, and it can import both Project Builder and CodeWarrior projects.

Youpi Key **

Useful system addition that provides keyboard access to a range of predefined actions.


MacWorld magazine (UK), IDG Communications, 2003-2004

©Ray White 2004.