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Best alternatives to your default apps on Mac

5 min read

Your Mac is smart – it has an app for each of your actions. Clicking on a text doc will open Pages and playing media content will take you to QuickTime. But what if you could make it even smarter by choosing the apps responsible for all actions? Well, you can.

How to change default programs on a Mac

To customize defaults for specific files:

  1. Right-click on a file.
  2. Select Get Info > Open with.
  3. Click on  Change All to make the selected app default.

Similarly, you can replace defaults for other utilities on a Mac. To pick a custom email client, go to Mail Preferences, select Default Mail Reader and click on the app in the drop-down menu.

Setapp apps that replace Mac’s defaults

Change default application, replacing them with more cutting-edge alternatives and see how your casual Mac environment evolves into an incredible space for productive work. Here’s an ideal app switching plan:

Simplified activity monitoring with iStat Menus

So here’s the truth about Activity Monitor – it’s just too complicated. You have to sit and scroll through tons of data to figure out why your Mac is misbehaving or how to optimize battery use. In contrast, iStat Menus is a minimalist app that adds only 9 icons to your menu bar. And guess what, they give you all the insights about Mac’s performance in seconds. Look no further.

istat menus vs activity monitor

QuickTime alternative: Elmedia Player – take better care of your media content

The default media player on Mac is called QuickTime – a simple, free solution that handles Apple’s preferred media formats seamlessly. So when you get a new Mac and want to play any content, QuickTime would be the program that opens your media file – in case the file is supported.

If you’re already thinking about an alternative that supports all types of files, including AVI and WMV, we don’t judge you. In fact, we have a good suggestion. Elmedia Player supports virtually any type of media content as well as allows you to watch online videos without ads.

Elmedia Player on Setapp

A custom dock on a Mac with uBar

Dock is big. Of course, this part of your screen is super important, but not exactly functional. Look at your Dock right now. Do you need all the items you see there? Most likely, 10% of the Dock apps are those you used yesterday and forgot to hide. uBar makes your Dock shrink, adding lots of precious space to Mac’s screen. Customize the look of your custom dock once, enjoy an improved Mac environment always.

ubar dock replacement

Finder alternative: Enhance file management with ForkLift and DCommander

Your starting point to everything on a Mac. That’s how you can describe Finder. It could seem you're so used to Mac’s native file manager, there’s no chance you ever betray it. But with extra features at stake, think twice.

The beauty of ForkLift, an alternative file manager app for Mac, is that it’s pretty similar to Finder in terms of the flow. Only with extra capabilities. You can customize file visibility, compare files right from the toolbar, and create presets for renaming files.

Another alternative to the old good Finder is DCommander. If you’re looking for a pro-level file manager with superior batching capabilities, this is the one. From checksums to HEX viewer, the app gives you all the details about your files. The interface might look overwhelming for a beginner, but it’s worth mastering.

Personal assistance on a Mac in human terms

Lacona is basically an ideal version of Siri – faster, more accurate, and customizable. Unlike Mac’s default virtual assistant, Lacona has excellent natural language processing capabilities. This means you can ask anything in plain language –from launching an app to reminding you about someone’s birthday – and get an answer instantly. Ensure your Mac gives you the best assistance possible.

lacona siri alternative

BusyCal, a better version of Mac’s Calendar

A superb substitute for Apple’s native Calendar, BusyCal adds all the perks you’ve been missing in the default app. Integrate live weather forecast, fully customize the feel and look of a calendar, add graphics and to-dos.

While BusyCal clearly wins in functionality,  it’s also pretty expensive if you buy a single app – $49.99. There’s an option to test the calendar with a free 30-day trial or get it as a part of Setapp’s subscription.

Apple Mail alternative: Replace your default email client with Canary Mail

Half the workday. That’s an average estimate of how much time people spend in their email apps. If you think about it, your productivity pretty much depends on your email flow and the tools supporting this flow. Apple’s default email client does a good job in case you’re not bombarded with emails every day. If you have to act on most of the emails though, you might want to change the default. And get Canary Mail.

The app aligns your inbox with daily tasks – a get-things-done solution. You can drag emails right from the inbox into a to-do list or follow-ups, as well as track read activity. Integration with Dropbox, Google Drive, and iCloud makes it easy to transfer data. To accelerate your email workflow even more, you can store ready-to-use templates and signatures in the app. 

canary mail inbox to do

CleanShot for clean screenshots

If you’re a Mac user, Command-Shift-4 is the extension of your hand. Keyboard shortcuts for taking screenshots in macOS are relatively easy to keep in mind. So you don’t have to puzzle about how to capture a portion of the screen, a menu, or a window.

But that’s just a fraction of what you can do with screen recording software. From annotations to custom wallpaper, there are tons of other goodies to benefit from. CleanShot is a small app that has most of them. Apart from the basic screen recording toolkit, CleanShot adds a special superpower to your menu bar – you can toggle desktop icons and set any background for your screenshots. The app also has a Quick Access Overlay menu, which allows you to edit, save, and share your captures right away.

Archive Utility alternative: Create, split, and protect archives with Archiver

Just in case you didn’t know, there’s Archive Utility on your Mac – a small hidden tool that allows to create and expand archives. But more importantly, there’s a world-class app that does way more. Here’s what you get with Archiver if you use it instead of the default utility:

  • RAR, Stuflt, Zip, and many more archive formats available in one click.
  • Preview archives and selectively unzip specific files.
  • Create split archives.
  • Protect sensitive data by encrypting your archives.
  • Unpack multiple archives simultaneously.

archiver default alternative

Alternative to Time Machine: Get Backup Pro to backup like a pro

Launch Time Machine, click to backup, hope your data is safe. That’s how we’re used to protecting files on a Mac. Bad news: If you rely on the default utility only, your data might be in danger. It’s always better to use at least two tools, so that when you’re backing up to an external drive with Time Machine, there’s also a utility for running regular backups. Or, you can use Get Backup Pro. The app allows to decide which units to backup as well as runs scheduled procedures – two birds with one stone.

Apple Notes alternative: Distraction-free text editing with Ulysses

Like most word processing programs, Apple’s native Pages have one drawback – they fail to get a creative into the right flow. Writing is a fragile process and requires a perfect environment. The things like font customization, distractive menus, and folders kill all the vibe. Ulysses helps you get rid of the problem by switching to a plain text editor that’s all about you and your creation. Write non-stop, format, and publish right from the app.

ulysses notes

From a Mac file opener to a ZIP reader,  the choice of replacements for Apple’s defaults is huge. The curated collection we’ve brought to you in this article is a great place to start if you want to upgrade your Mac’s capabilities – get the whole pack with a Setapp subscription or test specific apps for free.

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