How to improve your macOS workstation

There are quite a few tools available to help you to get most out of your macOS workstation. Darwin, the macOS base system, is a BSD on Mach Microkernel and this gives you the possibility to use nearly all of the typical OpenSource applications written for Linux or BSD. Furthermore, a lot of Freeware for macOS is provided by various people. Lastly, you may also opt for commercial applications like MS Office or the Adobe products.

User Applications


LibreOffice is a free office suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. It can replace Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access.

Microsoft Office

If you need Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook,...), you may order it from IDES.

PDF Reader and Writer

Apple's Preview is the standard MacOS application to view and annotate pdf files. If you want to create a PDF file you can do that without additional software using the standard print dialog. If you want you can additionally install Adobe's Acrobat Reader (proprietary, free software) or the complete Acrobat application (proprietary, for ETH use purchase it via IDES)

Skim is a very powerful alternative to view and especially to annotate pdfs.

Web Browser

Aside from Apple's Safari, you can opt for any alternative web browser: Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera


Mozilla Thunderbird can be used as an alternative email client to Apple Mail.


VLC is a versatile video and audio player that knows about a lot of different audio/video formats and can play from files or internet streams. It is a nice addition and complement to Apple's QuickTime and iTunes.


Adium is a instant messaging (one-to-one chat) client that understands more protocols than Apple's iChat. On the other hand it cannot do video chat like iChat does.

IRC Clients

LimeChat, Colloquy


Gimp is a free alternative to Adobe Photoshop, allowing you to work on photos and other graphic files. Use the Gimp port for macOS.

Google Earth

Google Earth allows you to explore the globe of our earth and obtain a wealth of geography related information.


Cyberduck is a front end to transfer files to and from servers, via various protocols.



Developer Tools and Unix Ports

Developer Tools (Xcode)

Apple offers a full set of development tools called Xcode. Even if you don't develop applications, the Developer Tools are needed for MacPorts as they provide compilers and several tools to maintain your system.


MacPorts is an effort to provide the ports of many Linux/BSD tools to the macOS world. Be sure to have the latest updates of macOS and XCode. Have a look at our concise introduction to MacPorts.

Compilers hosts a number of compilers and computation tools for the Mac.


Vim is the most powerful editor of the world. MacVim is a graphical port for macOS.


Emacs is one of the most powerful editors.


iTerm2 is a powerful terminal emulator providing many more features than the standard macOS Terminal.