10 great apps too powerful for the Mac app store

10 great apps too powerful for the Mac app store

Summary: Many of the most interesting and useful apps are not available via the Mac App Store or are available only as reduced capability versions. In this gallery, we look at ten we use regularly.


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  • More power!

    Over the last few years, the Mac App Store has turned out to be a far less overwhelming presence than we originally thought it might become. It was not, in fact, an Armageddon for traditional Mac developers.

    I even thought the Mac App Store might inspire others (say, Microsoft) to develop their own app stores, which I said gave me "the willies". And, in fact, Microsoft has created its own app store for the Metro (what they call the Windows Store Interface) side of Windows 8 and 8.1. Since there's been so little adoption of Metro apps, and the Windows ecosystem is churning along with regular desktop apps, that threat has not manifested itself, pretty much at all. Yay, that.

    Ever since I started using my monster 4-screen iMac, I've been loading and buying Mac applications and utilities to augment my Windows applications that I use in Parallels Coherence mode. One thing I've noticed is that many of the more interesting and useful apps (from my perspective as a power user/tinkerer) are not available via the Mac App Store or are available only as reduced capability versions.

    The reason for this is that the Mac App Store requires apps to limit certain functionality, to avoid mucking with certain low-level aspects of system functioning. For Mac Muggles, this is a great security feature, but for a techie, it's just frustrating. In that context, here are 10 great apps I've found that are just too powerful for the sandboxing limitations of the Mac App Store

  • Keyboard Maestro

    While there are a ton of keyboard macro programs on Windows, I've found that I really groove on the Mac's Keyboard Maestro program, written by Peter Lewis down under in Perth Australia. While it's interactive-based programming language is certainly a bit funky, I like funky languages. More to the point, for almost every occasion when I've thought, "Gee I wish I could make this darned machine do xxx," I could use Keyboard Maestro to do it.

    Keyboard Maestro had an older version in the Mac App Store, but as of version 6, if you want Keyboard Maestro, it will set you back US$36 and you can't get it in the Mac App Store.

Topic: Apple


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • I offer one example that throws a monkey wrench into your article's premise

    That premise, implied or not, is that certain applications by their very nature CAN'T exist without breaking Apple's sandboxing security measures - hence their exclusion from Apple's App store. However, as most ZDNet readers know, OS X provides a manual override of Apple's sandboxing security guidelines (found in System Preferences) that allows David's applications like these the ability to be side-loaded from third party locations and to co-exist peacefully under OS X.

    I offer one program that disputes this implied premise. That program is called "BetterSnapTool", an application that mimics AND extends certain Windows 7 and 8 functions that can resize open desktop windows to predefined sizes and locations. For example, in Windows 7, a user can "snap" a desktop window to full screen size by dragging the an application window to the top of the screen. (Of course, the cursor that is dragging the window must "touch" the top of the screen as well)

    Before Apple put their App Store Sandboxing policies into place, this OS X utility was offered free by it's author but with the provision that it MIGHT not be offered in the App Store due to those security "sandboxing" restrictions.

    However, lo and behold, BetterSnapTool did find it's way into the App Store and has become a rather popular utility. What changed?

    I suspect that their are two reasons that OS X applications are NOT available in Apple's App Store and those reasons have very little to do with adhering to "sandboxing" security restrictions.

    1. A political reason. Authors do not wish to pay Apple's thirty percent charge of each app sale.

    2. Some developers simply find it too tedious (or difficult) to rewrite their application code to conform to Apple's sandboxing security guidelines.

    In the BetterSnapTool's case, the author found a way to rewrite his code over his own prior grave misgivings. I suspect that even in the mother of all "we bypass the sandbox" applications, Parallels Desktop 9, that creating a version of Parallels Desktop adhering to those sandboxing policies COULD be done but it would take far too long (economically speaking) to be worth the effort.
    • "1. A political reason."

      Commercial reason.........
    • Questionable.

      "I suspect that even in the mother of all "we bypass the sandbox" applications, Parallels Desktop 9, that creating a version of Parallels Desktop adhering to those sandboxing policies COULD be done but it would take far too long (economically speaking) to be worth the effort."

      A questionable claim.

      Emulating or virtualizing an environment where any OS can run requires low level hardware access, especially since the OS you are running assumes it has low level access to the hardware. A sandbox may not provide adequate access to the hardware.

      "BetterSnapTool" sounds like it only requires access to OS APIs, which is not quite the same as the requirements for Parallels.
      • Virtualization technology requires preemptive miltitasking and NO "sandbox"

        A "sandbox" is a sandbox. No writing outside your sandbox. That's how PC DOS worked back in the day. At least unntil the hardware could manage individual segments in a larger address space. Whatever it is, the maximum size of the "sandbox" cannot be exceeded without an OS that can manage virtual memory.

        No tablet today can do this unless it is a Windows tablet running X86/x64.
        M Wagner
        • Agreed.

        • This has nothing to do with tablet apps

    • And coming from a third party "store"...

      Is not USING "the Mac App Store"...

      different subject.
    • BetterSnapTool rocks

      I use it every day. But it's not screwing with drivers like, say, SoundFlower. At least as far as I know.
      David Gewirtz
  • We are now on the third update of Mavericks

    Are you maintaining that SMB and USB 3 is still broken in your particular situation, or have you just not been bothered to try again?
  • the windows app store

    Allows desktop apps as well, not just WinRT apps. The only requirement is that the install program has to be signed properly. Once that sole requirement is met the apps are 'published' and basically redirect you to the vendors own download page for the app.

    They appear alongside WinRT apps and in the listings just say 'desktop app' where the price would be shown.

    The idea is that it can then be a one stop shop for all your application needs on Windows 8.
    • This is true but those desktop apps are restricted to x86/x64. They ...

      ... will NOT install on ARM devices.
      M Wagner
  • No surprise here, David! Not all operating systems are created equal.

    The Mac App Store was designed with iPods/iPhones/iPads in mind. Programs for the masses. Not for power users. Not for "tinkerers" as you portray yourself.

    Apple has always had a great deal of control over their platform and its environment - certainly far more control than Microsoft has ever had over the environment they are expected to support.

    In the end, consumers encounter fewer problems but also have fewer choices and premium price-points. This is neither good nor bad. Just different.

    Of course, this "app store" problem is not unique to Apple. It is the same with Android and even Microsoft's own "app store".

    They are all limited by the environment they are trying to support - mostly ARM, no preemptive multitasking, no multi-user (except Windows 8.x/RT 8.x) severely limited keyboard/mouse support (mostly onscreen).

    Until developers can find their way around these limitations using a touch-only interface, things are not going to get any better for David.

    Frankly, I think it is more likely that their will always be a gulf between consumption devices (traditional tablets) and hybrid devices for content creation. As the technology advances, I expect that we will see more hybrids (tablet-sized, with keyboard/mouse options) running preemptive multitasking operating systems (such as Windows, MacOSX, and even Linux).
    M Wagner
  • Microsoft App Store

    If I enter the Microsoft App store on my daughter's Surface RT it only shows me ARM compatible apps even under my own account. On my Surface Pro, same account, it shows both. Since it is possible to have similar needs betwixt an ARM app and a x32/x64 app(lication) you do need to read the descriptions when accessing the site with a Pro system in order to ensure you don't get the reduced function touch-oriented application rather than the full-featured application you desired. Not a big problem.
    The Heretic
  • Mac

    This new Mac features are cool and great. Even though I had a Apple mac book power book
    G4 before, I still miss my Apple OS software. And I'm glad to see these awesome addition and tools that could help the Mac OS X more fun and easy to use. And hope to upgrade my Mac to this or get a new one :)