Don’t commit yourself! Here are solid alternatives for Apple’s weaker software

One of the best things about Apple’s Macintosh computers is that they come with a full suite of apps to get you productive out of the box. These are full-featured programs, not trialware titles that nag you pay to keep using them.

But what if you don’t particularly like what Apple has to offer? While most longtime Mac users tend to stick with Apple’s own software, newcomers or those not satisfied with the usual suspects will find better alternatives.

For example, I’ve never been a big fan of Mail, Apple’s e-mail program, nor do I like Safari, the web browser. I’ve spotted a couple of excellent apps that take their place, and this week I’ll point them out to you.

And as a bonus, for those on Windows who are Apple Music users — or who have a library of songs you downloaded from iTunes — I’ve found a promising replacement for the maligned iTunes for Windows.

Spark by Readdle

Free, sparkmailapp.com

I lost access to Microsoft Office for Mac when I retired because I had been using it at the mercy of my corporate overlords. I’m not a fan of macOS Mail and, dare I say it? – I really like Outlook. But I’d rather not pay for it.

This sent me on a quest to find a decent free app; I found it in Spark, an email client for macOS, iOS, and Android, with Windows and web-based versions in the works. Spark is designed from the ground up as a cross-platform application, and the Ukraine-based developers have done a good job of making it easy to use on desktop and mobile devices.

When you install the app, you’ll be prompted to set up a Spark account and then start adding your email accounts. Once you’ve installed and configured Spark on one platform, setting it up for another simply involves logging into your Spark account. All your email accounts and settings will be transferred to your new device, and you’re good to go.

Spark follows Outlook’s design style, with inboxes and folders on the left, an email list in the middle, and a reading pane on the right. The app pushes you to use a unified inbox, but if you prefer to manage them individually (and I do!), you can view each account’s inbox in the left column. You can set up your accounts with smart inboxes where Spark’s artificial intelligence sorts and prioritizes for you, or you can go for a standard view-everything approach.

There are many other great features including a built-in calendar, granular control over notifications, delayed sending, follow-up reminders, and more. Best of all, it’s fast and responsive. I’ve never had a ban, which I can’t say for Apple’s Mail app or even Outlook.

It’s free, but Spark has a paid version with team collaboration features.

Edge by Microsoft

Free, microsoft.com/en-us/edge

I know some of you Mac users balk when I recommend a Microsoft web browser, but listen to me. Many people with Macs use Chrome because it works on multiple platforms. And Edge is built on the same code foundation called Chromium, with versions for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android. For me, Edge is superior to Chrome and Apple’s Safari for two reasons.

First, Edge gives you greater control over tracking prevention with three different settings: Basic, Balanced, and Strict. You can also apply these strict settings if you’re using Edge’s InPrivate Browsing (most other browsers’ private mode doesn’t prevent tracking). There’s a similar Balance/Strict security setting that gives you extra protection against drive-by malware and poisoned websites.

And all privacy and security settings – including clearing cookies and web caches – are in one place.

The second feature is my favorite thing about Edge. It allows you to view your different browser tabs vertically on the left side of the page rather than horizontally. If you have many horizontal tabs open at the same time, you know that the tabs will eventually shrink in size until you can no longer read their titles. But arranged vertically, you can always see the names of the pages.

Even if you’re a die-hard Safari or Chrome user, it’s worth giving Edge a try to experience the joy of vertical tabs. Multiple browsers easily coexist on the Mac, so Edge doesn’t replace your default web app. But I bet you will be tempted.

Free from Github, $1 from Microsoft Store, cider.sh

In this polarized era, we can all agree: iTunes for Windows is the best. worst. Slow, crash-prone, and in dire need of an overhaul, it’s a necessary evil for those with a Windows computer who are Apple Music subscribers or manage a music collection purchased from iTunes.

Apple ditched iTunes on Macs in favor of the Music app some time ago; Windows users weren’t so lucky. But an open-source project called Cider brings much-needed relief. Available for Macs and iOS devices, the app offers a sleek interface for both your existing music library and your Apple Music streaming account. One big caveat though: This is very early alpha software, so bugs and crashes are guaranteed. Nevertheless, the potential is huge.

Cider focuses on music and doesn’t try to be a swiss army knife of all media like iTunes does. It also doesn’t allow you to sync, backup or update your iPhone or iPad. But its music focus makes it clean and intuitive, offering access to both your own library and Apple Music’s components, including Radio 1, streaming music, custom radio stations, and podcasts.

Dive deep into the settings and you’ll see intriguing features, not all of which work properly yet, but provide some insight into Cider’s goals. For example, the app can tweak its sound to emulate high-end audio devices or the “warm” tones of analog stereo systems. If you install the mobile beta app for iOS or Android, you can send the current state of your cider app to the mobile version, so you can pick up right where you left off.

I would recommend buying cider from Microsoft store for a money which keeps the app up to date. As it develops, it seems to be a real successor to iTunes.

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About Willie Ash

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