Third party tools that work better than some default MacOS apps

I’m a big fan of some of the default Mac OS apps, but like everything else online, there are software tools and apps that can do MacOS tasks better, faster, and more efficiently. We would be extremely remiss if we didn’t point them out to you.

Compared to some of the bloatware that Windows packs on their operating system, the MacOS equivalents are really good. My wife recently bought a new Windows laptop and we have done a great job uninstalling Avira antivirus from it. You don’t have these problems with a Mac.

The Mac’s default apps for things like Mail, Calendar, Notes, and so on are snappy and do the job for most people. But someone somewhere will always find a missing feature that he badly needs.

If so, here are some alternatives to consider. However, you can’t uninstall default apps, so put them in a folder and forget them if you don’t plan on using them.

Replace mail with Mozilla Thunderbird

Thunderbird mail app window

I haven’t used an email client for many years, preferring instead the portability and flexibility of web-based email. But if you’d rather download your email to your computer anyway, you’d better use Mozilla Thunderbird.

Thunderbird gives you everything Mail does, plus support for reading RSS feeds and instant messaging over Jabber (XMPP). You can also set up mailing lists and events and encrypt your messages.

Replace the calendar with ItsyCal

ItsyCal window on the iPhone screen

I briefly mentioned ItsyCal in a recent article, so I’m not going to increase my word count by reworking everything again. I refer you to the other article. But ever since I started using ItsyCal, I have never required to use Apple’s default calendar.

Simply add your events to Google Calendar online, then ItsyCal syncs with Google Calendar and displays all your events and appointments in the handy lightweight widget next to your clock.

Replace books with Kindle

Kindle app window

The entire iBooks recently underwent some paint job, but in my opinion Apple has completely turned the whole thing into a dog’s dinner. Now you can’t hide iCloud books and the whole interface is just awful.

Which is good news for Amazon because anyone who feels like me and hates Apple’s new books can switch to Amazon’s macOS Kindle app instead. The Kindle app is more relaxing on the eyes, has a more minimalist design, and easily syncs with the Kindle app on iOS devices.

It is really annoying if you have bought a lot of ePUB books on Apple, which are incompatible on Kindle …

Replace FaceTime with Skype

Skype app windows

FaceTime does the job and is really useful if your iPhone is in the other room – you can answer your calls on your Mac with FaceTime instead. But in terms of features, FaceTime is a bit lackluster. That’s why I tend to look elsewhere for a better video conferencing app.

Until recently, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Zoom as an alternative. But then came the bombshell that the company was running a secret web server on users’ Macs without their permission. This means my loyalty is back with Skype. Kiss the sacred ring, Skype.

Replace Safari with Mozilla Firefox

Mac laptop with Mozilla Firefox browser

I suppose this is more of a personal preference thing as there are a lot of diehard Safari fans out there. I prefer Mozilla Firefox more for its large selection of extensions, and I generally find Firefox to be faster and more privacy-focused than Safari.

But hey, if Safari floats your boat more, then keep it. My wife adores Safari.

Replace messages with WhatsApp

WhatsApp chat window

I never understood the attraction of Messages, except to send free SMS messages to other users of Mac and iOS devices. I prefer a cross-platform solution where I can send messages to everyone, regardless of their computer and phone’s operating system.

For my paranoid friends who wear tinfoil hats, that solution is Signal, which I’ve already referred to many times. For the others, who indignantly proclaim “I have nothing to hide!”, the one to use is WhatsApp, which has a desktop version. Signal also has a desktop version.

Replace pages with LibreOffice

LibreOffice app window

Apple’s suite of office apps, driven by Pages, was something I never really froze with. Maybe I was too used to using Microsoft Office or maybe when I got my first Mac, I was too mesmerized by using LibreOffice.

For the incredible total price of free, LibreOffice gives you pretty much everything Apple’s office suite does. It is also lighter and faster to run.

You can also open Microsoft Office and Apple Office documents with LibreOffice and save them in the same formats.

Replace Quicktime with VLC Player

Image of a red Cadillac in VLC Player

I’m actually a huge QuickTime fan, but its big Achilles heel is that it doesn’t play all kinds of media out there. Two examples are AVI and MKV files. This makes QuickTime rather limited in its usefulness.

Therefore I am forced to run VLC Player on the Mac as well, which can take over when QuickTime stumbles. VLC is the granddaddy of running media files where other apps can’t.

The ones I haven’t bothered to suggest replacements for

  • iTunes – Starting with MacOS Catalina (due out in the next couple of months), iTunes in its current form will officially cease to exist for Mac.
  • Image acquisition – for scanning documents, Image Capture works surprisingly well. You can also access your scanner via Preview or through the Printers and scanners option inside System Preferences. So there is no need to reinvent the wheel here.
  • Photos – Not long ago, I would have advocated using Google Picasa, but since it’s now been killed off by Google, Apple’s Photos app is just as good.
  • Notes – you could use Evernote or Microsoft OneNote, but they’re not free. Plus, Apple has really improved its Notes app.
  • Memorandum – this used to be very simple, but with iOS 13, Reminders is now an absolute beast with reminder popups when texting a particular person.
  • Time Machine – I honestly don’t know anything that can improve Time Machine in the backup department.
  • Actions And Voice memos – who uses them honestly?

Obviously “the best” is a very subjective term, so what I think is the best may not match your opinion. But hopefully this article has made you aware of some of the other options available.

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