My Five “Desert Island” Mac Apps

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #345

We used to love making “desert island” lists. The rules were simple: If you were stranded on a desert island, which 5 (or 10) record albums would you bring? Never mind electricity, audio equipment, and things you’d probably need a lot more than records and audio gear; the object was to name your top five favorite albums of all time.

I thought it would be interesting to play using Mac apps instead of record albums.  Here’s how it works: You’re stranded on a desert island. You’ve got a brand-new Mac and can add just 5 third-party apps. Which apps would they be and why? Never mind the electricity, Internet, or other logical thoughts—what five apps would you not want to be without?

Which five Mac apps would you choose if you were stranded on a desert island?
Which five Mac apps would you choose if you were stranded on a desert island? Photo by Sergio Jara on Unsplash.

I’ll go first.

  1. Keyboard Maestro

Exactly a year ago in this very column I said:

In closing, I’d like to highlight just three Keyboard Maestro features (out of more than 100) that save me tons of time and effort:

  • Clipboard History: Remembers the last 100 items I’ve cut or copied to the clipboard.
  • App launching/switching: Lets me open or switch to my most-used apps instantly with a keystroke.
  • Remap keys: Example—I never use the Forward Delete or Help/Insert keys, which are adjacent to the backspace key on my keyboard, so I used to press them accidentally until I remapped both to perform a backspace. Problem eliminated.

Those features (plus dozens more) are why Keyboard Maestro sits at the top of my list.

  1. 1Password

I have literally thousands of passwords. Literally.

macOS Keychain Access and iCloud syncing aren’t bad, but for managing a large number of logins, credit cards, and secure notes, 1Password is a must. Plus, it syncs with 1Password for iDevices, which is (in my humble opinion), the only way to manage passwords on an iOS device.

  1. Ulysses

Just last week I told you I prefer to compose words in a text-only program such as Ulysses or BBEdit. It was hard to pick, but Ulysses built-in organizational tools, auto-saving every keystroke, and myriad export options are why it edged out BBEdit, but just by a hair.

  1. Default Folder X

I spend too much time navigating Open and Save dialogs and sheets, so Default Folder X is one of those little gems I’ve grown to depend upon.

macOS rarely points those dialogs or sheets where I want them; Default Folder X gets it right every time. And, it also includes myriad convenient options like drop-down Favorites and Recents menus, keyboard shortcuts for favorite folders, and more.

  1. Affinity Photo

Again, a tough choice between Affinity Photo and Pixelmator Pro. As a former Photoshop user, they both have the features I require. But Affinity Photo is more Photoshop-like (yes, that is a thing) than Pixelmator Pro, so muscle memory tipped the scales.

There is one more thing: I considered naming SetApp as one of my five apps… but decided that would be cheating.

So… those are my 5 desert island apps… but what about you? It’s easy to play—just send your list to [email protected], and I’ll compile ‘em and let you know the results in an upcoming column.

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W. Abdullah Brooks, MD

Bob: I originally started to respond to your 16 August piece on using a text editor rather than a word processor for distraction-free writing. Now that you’ve expanded your theme to 5 apps on the desert island, I’ll expand my response as well. Regarding 1 Password, I originally purchased this app based on TMO’s recommendation. For me, this has been one of the rare misses in terms of TMO recommendations. I have never found 1 Password to work as advertised. I find that it creates more work and therefore consumes more of my time rather than saving me work and… Read more »

Michael Samoylov

Have you tried Sluggard? An app to fight sitting disease.


I’ve always thought the term was “deserted island,” as in it being desolate of interest to anybody; rather than “a desert island.”


Ive heard both.

W. Abdullah Brooks, MD

Quora provides a nice explanation as to why desert and deserted in connection with islands is synonymous.“desert”-or-“deserted”-island

Desert used to mean barren apart from arid.

Personally, I’d be prefer to be stranded on a desserted island. That would be…sweet.


Huh? Somebody doesn’t get the whole point of “desert island”. A Mac comes with a boatload of applications – not “apps” as the iToy writer above would like one to believe a program is.
Further then he picks some weird utlities for why? Dumb. The only real question is What Five Applications would you install on a stripped bare Mac if banished to an island – not counting the OS. 🏝🏝🏝🏝🏝🏝🏝🏝


Pardon me, CudaBoy, but wtf is your problem? People have been calling Mac “programs” or applications “apps” since before there was a Mac App Store built in to Mac OS X over eight years ago. And Bob Levitus should know, since he’s been writing books about MacOS since before it was even called Mac OS (the first time). So let’s not be snide and call him an “iToy writer” just because you didn’t like his choices.


CB is our resident Apple hating troll. Most of us just ignore him.