10 iMac Applications for Your Must-Have List

By Mark L. Chambers

Mac applications make the world go around! And although Mavericks gets much of the glory for its elegant design and power, you can’t really do much, productivity-wise, from your Desktop without a snappy application.

Read on to get acquainted with ten iMac applications you can’t do without. Even if you don’t use one or two of these great tools now, you’ll likely realize that you need and want them in the future.

Some of these applications are built in to OS X — read that as free — whilst others you must buy. You’ll see here which is which, along with a ballpark price for the commercial stuff.

DVDs and CDs on your iMac

If your iMac has an internal SuperDrive (or you’ve added an external USB optical drive to your iMac), come explore the best two DVD applications around for your Mavericks machine.

Watching DVD movies with aplomb

Face it — that gorgeous widescreen 21.5” or 27” flat-panel monitor on your iMac is perfect for watching DVD movies. Thanks to the good people in Cupertino, you’ll find that the Mavericks DVD Player does a great job at screening all your favorite DVD films:

  • You can display your movie in a window or use the entire screen (especially nice for widescreen titles).

  • If your movie includes different audio tracks, subtitles, and camera angles, you can control them all from the spiffy remote control that appears onscreen whenever you move your mouse.

  • You can step through the video frame by frame or in slow motion to see the martial arts action that you missed in the theater.

By default, DVD Player runs automatically when you load a DVD, including those that you create yourself.

There’s even a feature that remembers whether you viewed a disc already and also gives you the opportunity to restart the film where you left off.

Yes, they really named it Toast

Need to record audio and data CDs or DVD-Vs on your iMac? The Cadillac of recording software for the Mac was, is, and will likely always be the unlikely named Toast, from Roxio. The latest version is Toast 11 Titanium, available online for about $80.

The built-in audio recording features in iTunes are certainly fine, and the discs that it produces are compatible with any audio CD player or DVD player that you’re likely to find. You can also burn files to data CDs and DVDs without a separate application. However, you’ll need Toast to record specialized formats like

  • Video CDs

  • Super Video CDs

  • Mac volumes

  • Hybrid PC/Mac discs

  • ISO 9660 discs

  • Multisession discs

  • CD Extra discs

Management and communication with an iMac

Both Calendar and Apple Mail are mighty applications, bent on organizing things: your time, calendar, and/or your Internet e-mail traffic. (They do a great job, too.) Apple provides both in OS X, so you can keep your credit card in your pocket or purse.

Staying on top of things with Calendar

Calendar is one of those oddities in the computer world. Unlike iTunes or iMovie, it’s not particularly sexy (in a multimedia way), and it doesn’t get oodles of coverage in the glossy Macintosh magazines. Still, everybody eventually ends up using it. Sooner or later, every Mac owner appreciates Calendar as an unsung hero. (And a free unsung hero to boot.)

Unfortunately, Calendar can’t enter events for you. The Data Elves aren’t going to show up and magically type for you, so you have to create events manually. After they’re in the Calendar database, however, you can

  • Set alarms for specific events.

  • Add notes for each event.

  • Print a calendar.

  • Import some data automatically from other Mavericks applications.

  • Set repeating events on a regular schedule.

By default, Calendar includes two calendars — Home and Work — but you can set up as many separate calendars as you like, for scheduling everything from soccer seasons to DVD releases.

One doggone good e-mail application

Ask yourself this question: “Am I taking my e-mail application for granted?” Sure, e-mail might not take center stage in the computer magazines these days, but consider what your life would be like with a substandard, whip-and-buggy e-mail application — almost as bad as no e-mail at all.

The best e-mail applications (like Apple Mail) have powerful, trainable spam filters that improve automatically as you manually check your junk mail. A first-class performer (like Apple Mail) offers fully automated scripting for common tasks, snazzy backgrounds, fonts and colors, and the ability to create HTML-format messages with embedded images and objects. Are you seeing a pattern here?

One great feature in Apple Mail is the ability to organize your messages by threads. (In plain English, a thread groups replies so that they can be read as an actual discussion.) Anyone who frequents Usenet newsgroups or web discussion sites recognizes a threaded view as easier to read than a traditional sequential display, especially when your mail is heavy on replies and includes ongoing conversations with several folks involved.

It’s free, it’s fun, and it’s fashionable — go, Apple Mail, go!

iMacs and productivity

Sooner or later, you’re going to need the ability to create flashy, professional-looking documents from your iMac, or you might need to run an absolutely-gotta-have-it application that’s not available for Macs. This section covers two productivity applications — Parallels Desktop and iWork — and the serious stuff they can do.

Windows 7 or 8 on your iMac without rebooting

Okay, there are fewer applications available to Macs than PCs running Windows, and practically every Mac owner on the planet has one or two PC programs that make life easier. Sure, you can use the Mavericks Boot Camp feature to set up a Windows system on your iMac, but you have to reboot to use Windows, and it’s very difficult to share Mac data with your Windows applications (even though they’re actually on the same computer).

More information on Boot Camp is always available from the OS X Help system, but you can start the ball rolling by double-clicking the Boot Camp Assistant icon in your Utilities folder (which is tucked inside your Applications folder). The Assistant provides step-by-step onscreen instructions. Just make sure that you have your Windows 7 or Windows 8 installation discs handy.

What if you don’t want to reboot, and you want to share data easily between your Mac and Windows applications? Luckily, Parallels offers a solution: Parallels Desktop for Mac. The program sells for about $80, but this doesn’t include a licensed copy of Windows. (Yeah, you have to provide your own.) However, this nifty program can easily run virtually all Windows XP, Vista, and Seven programs — without rebooting your iMac — complete with support for external USB devices, Ethernet networks, the Internet, and your iMac printer.

Parallels Desktop simulates everything necessary for you to get the full functionality out of Windows. For example, this jewel automatically (and transparently) handles your Windows Internet connection, network tasks, and CD and DVD access. You can run full screen or run Windows in a window (pun joyfully intended).

As if that weren’t enough, you can also run multiple operating systems. So if you need Red Hat Linux, Ubuntu, or Windows 2000 along with your Windows 8 system, no problem — all it takes is the install disc for those operating systems and the hard drive space to hold’em. Outstanding!

Naturally, performance is an issue — and, to be honest, Parallels Desktop isn’t for the PC gamer, even with the newest Macs and their super-duper GeForce and Radeon video cards. Because today’s most demanding PC games push an actual PC to the limit, they just run too sluggishly on a Mac emulating a PC — they do run, just slowly. (Also, virtually all of today’s blockbuster PC games are also being ported to OS X, so why not just run the Mac version?)

If you must run a Windows game on your iMac, consider using Boot Camp to boot directly into Windows, which will allows your system to devote all its resources to the game at hand.

The more memory installed in your iMac, the better Parallels Desktop will run!

You can install

  • More than one version of Windows

  • Almost any other operating system that’s ever been produced for the PC

Parallels Desktop for Mac makes it easy to shut down a simulated computer — akin to a laptop computer going into hibernation — while keeping your open documents intact. When you reload your “virtual” Windows machine, you’re right back at the exact same point when you shut down.

iWork Suite

Some say that the Macintosh version of Office should be an automatic purchase at the moment you buy your computer — it’s that indispensable to every Mac owner. The applications that make up Office may be superb, but every owner of a brand-new iMac should try the three free iWork suite applications before jumping onto the Microsoft productivity bandwagon. (Note that owners of older iMacs will still have to buy the iWork applications from the App Store.)

Most computer owners simply don’t use or need all the features and hoo-hah that’s built into the Mac Office applications! For example, if all you produce on paper are simple letters, typical schoolwork, or brochures for your home business, Word might be an expensive case of overkill. Plus, the three iWork applications produce documents that are as good-looking as anything from the Office suite!

You can exchange Word documents with others who use the Pages word processing application, which is part of the iWork suite. The same goes for Excel and PowerPoint. Respectively, Numbers and Keynote are powerful alternatives to their Microsoft counterparts. In fact, all iWork applications offer the same ease-of-use and simplicity you’ve come to expect from OS X Mavericks and iLife favorites such as iPhoto, iTunes, and GarageBand.

iWork applications offer templates and assistants that are similar to those in Office, so creating all sorts of specialized business and personal documents is easy. New templates and clip art are always available online as well.

System stuff to consider with your iMac

The utilities in this section help keep your hardware, software, and files in tip-top shape.

Maintenance

The following two applications are indispensable utility tools that every Mac owner should master (no matter what type of Mac you’re using).

If you’re not already using Disk Utility, you should. On a regular basis. Really.

Most Mac owners think of Disk Utility only for checking internal and external hard drives. But don’t forget the most important function that Disk Utility offers: the ability to fix file and folder permission problems. Launch Disk Utility and check your OS X startup drive on a weekly basis. Permission problems can cause your applications to act like they’re on mind-altering drugs or even lock you out of using those applications altogether!

Of course, there’s more to Disk Utility, but you’re not likely to use heavy-duty functions very often, such as partitioning or RAID management. These are advanced features that one typically uses only when initializing a new hard drive.

Protecting your iMac from viral infection should be a top priority. Get yourself an antivirus application — one that automatically checks the discs that you load as well as the stuff that you download. Check out VirusBarrier 2013 or the excellent freeware application ClamXav 2. Set your antivirus application to automatically download the latest virus definition files from the Internet and scan your entire system once monthly.

Files

Care to compress a folder full of files to save space on your hard drive or maybe send them via e-mail? Perhaps you’d like to use the keyboard and the power of Unix to perform file manipulation miracles that are practically impossible by using the mouse. Either way, the following applications have you covered.

In the Windows universe, the WinZip archive file is king, followed by WinRAR and a host of other archiving formats. Mavericks has built-in support for compressing and decompressing Zip archives.

Mavericks can unarchive a Zip file when necessary — just double-click the archive icon — and you can right-click a file or folder and then choose Compress from the menu to create a Zip archive.

However, there is another archive format that’s popular among the Mac set — the Stuffit format, which is handled StuffIt Deluxe, from Smith Micro Software. The application will set you back $50, but it’s worth every penny for the convenience and flexibility that archives bring to your Desktop:

  • Smaller archive file sizes than comparable Zip archives

  • Industrial-strength data encryption to secure your archives

  • Support for files that normally don’t compress well, like JPEG images

  • Archive browsing without actually expanding (a real timesaver)

  • Direct burn of archived data to CD or DVD

If you’re interested in doing the command-lines dance, know how this must-have application is a little different from the others: You have to type your commands manually, and there are no icons or fancy graphics. You’re in the character-based Twilight Zone, and only the bravest of Mac novices will venture there.

However, when you launch the Terminal application, you open a window into the Unix core that lies underneath OS X. Suddenly you can do wondrous things that you can’t do from the Finder menu:

  • You can manipulate hidden and hard-to-reach files, like preference files.

  • You can work with Unix applications such as File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and the Apache Web server.

  • If you’re familiar with wildcards and the command-line hieroglyphics that make up Unix, you can manage your files with a speed that no graphical user interface (GUI) can match.