10 Most Beautiful Mac Applications (for Non-Geeks)

January 21, 2008  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

One of the things that has drawn me to Macintosh computers is that there are so many beautiful applications. Many Mac applications look good simply because the basic window elements in OS X are attractive. There are a few Mac applications, though, that raise the bar. After being particularly impressed with a recent new application, I decided to list my top 10 most beautiful Mac applications.

I didn’t want to include just any beautiful application, though – I also wanted the list to be useful to my readers. In addition to being a lawyer, I am also a web developer and graphic designer. Many of the applications I use regularly wouldn’t be interesting to most lawyers or business owners. Therefore, I decided to limit the list to personal and business applications – no web-geek or design-geek stuff allowed! Here then, in (mostly) no particular order, is my list of the 10 most beautiful (non-geek) applications for Mac OS X:

1. iTunes

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Almost everyone in the civilized world probably recognizes iTunes as Apple’s music, TV, and movie catalog and player. Since the very first release, iTunes has been ahead of the interface curve. Design elements introduced in iTunes have slowly made their way to the rest of OS X. It’s easy to see why. iTunes is functional and very pleasing to the eye.

Delicious Library

2. Delicious Library

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Delicious Library isn’t just beautiful, it’s also very innovative (I am not the only one who thinks so – they have an impressive list of awards at the bottom of their home page). Delicious Library is a book, movie, and video game catalog application. Titles in your library can be displayed in a list or in bookshelf mode. List mode is quite functional, but it is bookshelf mode where Delicious Library really shines. The book, movie, and game covers – downloaded automatically from the internet ‐ and wood bookshelf are very attractive. I just wish there was a choice of wood for the bookshelf.

3. Things

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Things was actually one of the applications that prompted me to create this list (even the disk image looked pretty nice). Cultured Code’s other application – Xyle Scope – is also quite comely, but it doesn’t make this list because it is a tool for website designers. Things is the latest entry into a very crowded space, the GTD / notebook software. It’s an attractive entry too – and, although not reflected in the screenshot here, looks better and better as you enter more data.


4. iStat Pro

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iStat started small, as a series of Dashboard widgets. Those widgets grew into iStat Pro, a single combo widget, and iStat 2.0, a desktop version. iStat Pro gives me one place to look to see the current status of my computer – RAM and processor usage, free disk space, uptime, and much more. It’s also quite attractive – iStat Pro is minimalist, yet stylish.

5. CandyBar

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CandyBar is a beautiful application in two ways – it’s quite attractive by itself, but it also allows you to make the rest of your computer more beautiful. CandyBar allows you to easily change your system icons and modify the appearance of the dock. Until recently, there was a separate application, called Pixadex, for maintaining your library of icons. With version 3 of CandyBar, the Pixadex and CandyBar functionality have been incorporated into one application.


6. OmniWeb

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OmniWeb is a great-looking application. But I’ll be honest, OmniWeb is only on this list because I thought there should be a browser representative. Of the browsers I have used – Safari, OmniWeb, Shiira, Firefox, Camino, and Opera – OmniWeb is the best looking.

7. Pixelmator

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Pixelmator is one of several new full-featured image editing programs that take advantage of the Core Image technology built into OS X. Everything in Pixelmator looks like a palette from one of Apple’s Pro applications (think: Final Cut, Motion). That ‘Pro’ theme has worked its way into Mac OS X via the Quickview feature in Leopard. But Pixelmator isn’t all beauty, it has some brains too. Coming in at under $60, Pixelmator is viewed by many as a cost-effective alternative to Adobe Photoshop for people who need to do a little editing, but don’t make their living at it.

Midnight Inbox

8. Midnight Inbox

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Midnight Inbox is one of many GTD applications for Mac OS X. Unlike many GTD applications, which are essentially enhanced TO-DO lists, Inbox seems to be designed from beginning to implement the Getting Things Done workflow that David Allen describes in his book. While Inbox may be practical and useful, the reason it’s on this list is because it’s stunning to look at. If someone had told me that they planned to use lots of wood trim in the design of their Mac application, I would have laughed. Inbox has made me a believer.

p.s. Yes, I haven’t bought Inbox yet. It’s possible that using Inbox would make my life 10 times easier and make me 10 times more effective. I just don’t have the time to devote to learning a whole new way of doing things. That, at least, is the benefit of an “enhanced TO-DO list” – you can improve your processes, you don’t have to learn entirely new ones.

9. NewsLife

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NewsLife debuted last summer in an attempt to dethrone NetNewsWire, the reining RSS champion for Mac OS X. Recently, Ranchero upped the ante by reducing the price for NetNewsWire to $0. NetNewsWire is the price king, and possibly the feature king (it certainly is in the minds of some), but Newslife is still better looking.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

10. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

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Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is primarily for photographers (amateur or professional). I have to concede that photography falls a little outside the declared boundaries for the list (no design geek software!). Lightroom is just too good to leave off, though. It exemplifies all that is good and pure about the Apple ‘Pro’ style.


You might be looking at some of my choices and thinking, “it’s a nice piece of software, but it’s not exactly beautiful.” So what criteria did I use in choosing these 10? I am glad you asked. Overall appearance was, understandably, the largest factor. Looks alone weren’t enough, though. I also factored in usability and genre. The type of software is relevant because some kinds of applications are more difficult to make beautiful than others.

Finally, I also restricted each software publisher to one entry in the top 10. The publishers who lost out on account of this rule were Panic, The Omni Group, and Cultured Code (Cultured Code also lost out due to the non-geek requirement).


  1. Delicious Library, which you turned me on to with your blog, is …. well, just delicious! It looks beautiful and works beautifully. In addition to cataloging the books I own, I’ve started tracking books I take out of the library. The “similars” list is fantastic. Now when my husband says he’s going to the library and what do I want him to get for me, I’ll have a list all ready. Being able to keep track of books I give/lend to others is terrific. Best $39.95 I’ve spent in a long time.

  2. Great list, I really like all these apps. My one question thought is which GTD application do you prefer?

    I came to the website looking at reviews of Things, but then found Midnight Inbox. Now I don’t know which to choose- which one would you recommend?

  3. I’ll be doing an entire post soon on the tools we’re using. But we’ve recently switched from Things to OmniFocus. The rationale behind that was twofold:

    1) We each have more than one computer. Things is limited to one computer plus iPhone/iPad. It became too restricting to only have a task list on one computer.

    2) We decided we needed a more powerful tool (scheduling, task groups, deep hierarchies, etc). OmniFocus was that tool.

    The Omni Group projected an iPad version of OmniFocus for June, but I haven’t heard anything recently about it.

    Midnight Inbox was a little too conceptual and rigidly GTD for my liking (collect, process, organize, etc). I wanted something a little more freeform so MI left the equation pretty quickly for me.

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