Be aware that I wrote this list for a friend and figured it would be a good thing to put out on my blog also, so below is simply my own opinions/experiences and should be taken with a grain of salt. Also, grammatically speaking, I geared the entirety of the text towards my friend, so consider the “you”s as universal “you”s.
Quicksilver: This product is starting to finally age, but at the same time, it is one of the greatest productivity apps I have found. I know that you love using the keyboard as your main input device and only go to the mouse as a secondary option. Well when you use Quicksilver, the first thing that you will notice is that it is not only faster, but better than regular Spotlight usage. The guy who made it now works at Google and has been focusing on the Google Desktop (but it isn’t nearly as good sadly :/). Check out all the guys stuff at (I also like Visor but wouldn’t list it as an essential :P): http://www.blacktree.com/
Growl: It’s a wonderful notification tool. It synchronizes with MANY apps on the Mac OS and continues to expand (or so it would seem). It has ALMOST seemed to become a bit of a standard when it comes to internal notifications (but that is just my own opinion on the matter). Either way, it is extremely useful and is synchronized with the majority of my apps that run in the background, including a Gmail app and an RSS feed app that both get updates (hence the need for notifications :P). The app can be found here: http://growl.info/
iStat Menus and Dashboard Widget: When it comes to keeping tabs on a Mac’s internals and checking in on the status of the hardware, I have not found a better set of tools than the iSlayer apps. iStat Menus will give you customized menus in the top menu bar and the dashboard widget (I use iStat Pro) will let you know EVERYTHING that is going on with your computer including fan speed and temperature and battery health. I also was just glancing at their website and noticed a new widget they have made called Organized which I will be checking out. Looks pretty good and very useful. The apps can be found here: http://www.islayer.com/apps/
Postbox: In my very brief usage of it, Postbox seems to have all the things I want and use from Gmail. I still use an app called Mailplane which I got back when it was in beta (and now it is a pay app so I got a serious discount on it), so I would suggest Mailplane normally for Gmail usage, but am really impressed, once again my usage of it has been very limited so far, with Postbox and would suggest at least trying it. The number one thing it has is a conversation view which is by far my favorite thing about Gmail! Can be found here: http://postbox-inc.com/
Flip4Mac: A necessity for being able to run wmvs on the Mac. It is essentially a plugin for Quicktime to be able to run .wmv video files. Basically a must have in the still dominating Windows environment of today. Site is here (get the free version, it is all I have): http://www.telestream.net/flip4mac-wmv/overview.htm
Handbrake: This is THE necessity for anyone that is going to EVER rip a DVD. Get it, I am not kidding. This + VLC == greatest video duo ever created (need VLC for the video codecs)! Can be found here: http://handbrake.fr/
VLC: Get it for running any and all multimedia (iTunes is still best for your music though): http://www.videolan.org/vlc/
RSS reader: I am yet to find an RSS feed reader that I REALLY like at this point. The one I am using right now is called Eventbox which I got a free version off of a Mac package that I purchased not so long ago which I could send your way if you would like to give it a shot. It won’t ever get updated though, so I have started considering a new option. My pull towards it at the time was that it was both an RSS feed reader AND it got the news feeds from Twitter and Facebook for me (not that I care about Facebook anymore). There are actually a bunch of RSS feed readers already out there, and I really can’t knock Google Reader, but the latest that I have seen which looks good is NetNewsWire which can be found here: http://www.newsgator.com/INDIVIDUALS/NETNEWSWIRE/
FTP client: For simple, easy FTP usage, I would go with OneButton FTP (http://onebutton.org/). For more complex FTP setups, I would use Fugu (http://rsug.itd.umich.edu/software/fugu/). For just connecting to a regular server, you can use the command+k shortcut to open up a connect to window where you can type in the server information, etc. Very, very useful for most server connections.
Adium: iChat is pretty good, but it doesn’t provide EXACTLY what I want when it comes to tabbed browsing. For that, I use Adium. Adium allows a keyboard shortcut to bring it to the front, keyboard shortcuts for switching between tabs, and some very slick theming of the buddy list and the chat window. It is basically Pidgin for the Mac (runs on the same libraries so it also has the same downfalls of poor file transfer and the like). Can be found here: http://adium.im/
Espresso vs jEdit: I got lucky enough to snag a free copy of a program called Espresso. It is a very clean and good editor for project based coding. Overall, I really like it, but it is hard to beat a freebie like jEdit. I will leave this one completely up to you :P
Disk Inventory X: Very good for visually seeing what is taking up large chunks of your hard drive should you ever need to make some room on it. Wonderful app! http://www.derlien.com/
Firefox vs. Safari vs. other: So there are naturally a bunch of options for web browsers when it comes to the Mac OS X. There is Opera, Firefox, Safari, Camino (a Mozilla project also), and a bunch of others that I have seen or played with but they stuck out so well from the rest that I don’t remember their names. Well, for me, the real debate is between using Firefox or Safari as your main browser. I personally am presently with Safari and have been so since they released Safari 4, but at the same time I have been using Firefox 3.5 at work and have been just as happy with that as ever. There are a few things that make one stand out from the other (i.e. features the other hasn’t implemented yet). Safari 4 has a wonderful top sites, is very slick, is speedy, and the tabs are separate threads (I believe). Firefox 3.5 is slick (with the add-ons, can’t really beat them for development), since their update it has gotten back on par with Safari’s Java engine, and there are a large number of keyboard shortcuts for switching between tabs and the like. As I said, Safari is my present choice but Firefox 3.5 is still more than just used sometimes on my computer. This one I TOTALLY leave up to you. Opera is still a pretty good browser, but even though I used it as my main browser in my Freshman year (almost 3 years ago now), it really didn’t compare when it comes to compatibility… though it had some wonderful features of its own like custom searches including me figuring out at one point how to get it to automatically fill in all the LAWN auth information minus a single character. To each their own here, you know?
As for virtualization of multiple OS’s, I haven’t made a decision between VMware and Parallels yet. ?Boot Camp is a wonderful alternative, but at the same time, it doesn’t support 64-bit XP, only 64-bit Vista (32-bit XP is supported though) and requires a reboot to switch between OSes. Unfortunately I haven’t had ample opportunity yet to really test any one of these but plan to start delving into this in the near future.
Other than that, here is a LifeHacker article that I stumbled across which covers the items I have little to no experience with: http://lifehacker.com/5291841/lifehacker-pack-2009-our-list-of-essential-free-mac-downloads
Lastly, a tidbit that I found somewhere else and haven’t thoroughly tested out myself quite yet:
Various scripts and tools for keeping your Mac running smoothly are sprinkled around the system. MainMenu enables you to access them from a convenient centralised location. The app also provides ‘hidden’ Finder options (force-empty Trash, toggle invisibles, relaunch) and a handy ‘batch’ tool for quickfire activation of multiple scripts.
The extremely configurable Butler enables you to populate your menu bar with all manner of items, including running apps, menus for accessing addresses, bookmarks and volumes, recent pasteboards and more. Items can have triggers (hot-keys/hot corners/abbreviations) and alternate icons applied, and Butler also includes a Quicksilver-like ‘intelligent’ abbreviations-based launcher window