Sometimes the most useful software is not the biggest, feature-packed, expensive one. From tools for customizing desktop layouts to clearing out junk files, you’ll find numerous smaller utilities on both Windows and macOS that will sure end up being indispensable to your workflow.
These little apps can make you more productive, but also keep your computer running faster for longer.
Utilities for Windows
Take back control of your volume levels with the help of EarTrumpet. This app sits down in the notification area in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, alongside the standard Windows volume button, and lets you control volume levels for apps independently. This can be useful if you like your music quiet but your movies loud, for example. The program is also able to manage multiple audio inputs and outputs for you.
All of this functionality is handled well, and you’ll soon come to rely on EarTrumpet more than you might have expected. The way it’s been laid out and designed, it feels like a built-in Windows feature.
EarTrumpet is free to download.
The familiar Start menu is a staple of the Windows operating system, but it’s not necessarily the best way to launch programs. Hain is a speedy, lightweight alternative that works in a similar way to Spotlight on macOS.
Hit Alt+Space to launch Hain and then type the name of the program you want to open. From the interface you can also run simple calculations, look up words in the dictionary, open websites, browse to folders, and easily copy items to the clipboard with one click. It supports a variety of plug-ins as well—for loading up GIFs or showing your Trello boards, for example.
This app is slick and speedy too, so once you get the hang of how it works and some of the custom commands you can set up, Hain can give your productivity a significant boost.
Hain is free to download.
When you’re skipping through files in a folder, you sometimes want to quickly preview their contents without having to open an application. This feature exists on macOS, but Windows still hasn’t added it.
Seer takes care of that: with a tap on the space bar you’ll be able to see images, videos, PDFs, folder contents, and other types of files without waiting for a program to open. And as an extra useful trick, Seer offers the ability to copy images or video frames to the Windows clipboard.
You can use an older version of Seer for free or pay $12.18 to support the app’s future development. Other than some slight changes in the interface’s design and some minor add ons, there’s no difference in the key functionality between the two versions.
You can download Seer for free, or as a paid version with a free trial.
If you have Windows running on a multi-monitor setup, DisplayFusion is a must-have. It has an impressively long list of features, wrapped up in an accessible interface designed to let you focus on what you’re doing.
The app will add a taskbar to multiple monitors, stretch your wallpaper image across all your displays, and save the position of the open windows on your screen so you can load the exact setup again later. DisplayFusion can also dim one of your monitors when it’s not in use, give you access to advanced monitor settings, and even run custom scripts based on system events, so a specific window opens up as soon as Windows starts, for example. And that’s just a selection of the features—you can see a complete list here.
A full DisplayFusion license will set you back $29, but you can try the full version for free for 30 days. If you don’t want to pay, you can carry on using the app after the trial period is over, but you’ll only have access to a limited set of features.
DisplayFusion is available to download for free (limited version) or for $29 (full version with a 30-day free trial).
PowerToys is a suite of handy utilities developed by Microsoft that includes functionalities such as a custom window layout editor (so you can get your programs just where you want them), a tool for setting up your own keyboard shortcuts, and the ability to rename files in bulk.
You’ll also get a quick and handy guide of the built-in Windows keyboard shortcuts and a tool for quickly resizing batches of images—which is incredibly handy if you do any sort of web publishing. The suite also includes an extension for File Explorer (similar to Mac’s Quick Preview) that lets you preview files in an extended window without pushing a button.
Since Microsoft first brought out PowerToys, it has continued to add new features and tools, so it’s likely there’s plenty more to come from this bunch of utilities as well. Even if you only use half of the tools here, it’s worth installing.
PowerToys is free to download.
Utilities for macOS
Uninstalling applications isn’t a particularly smooth or straightforward process on macOS—there are several ways to do it, and programs can leave behind bits and pieces even after you’ve removed them.
AppCleaner makes the process much simpler. All you need to do is drag the program you want to delete onto the AppCleaner window, and the app takes care of the rest. It’ll automatically find all the files linked to the unwanted program and list them before you confirm their removal.
If you don’t want to take the drag-and-drop approach, the program can list everything currently installed on your system, too. You might discover applications gathering digital dust and taking up space on your hard drive.
AppCleaner is free to download.
At $32, Hazel certainly isn’t cheap, but you’re likely to get so much use out of it that you’ll ultimately consider it a bargain. It essentially automates file-moving tasks on your Mac, keeping folders organized and tidy in the background while you get on with more important and exciting tasks like, well, anything else.
Hazel will watch the folders you tell it to, and then move files based on date, type, name, origin, and several other criteria. Files can also be archived, tagged, and renamed, and it’s possible to build up some fairly complex rules for automatic file management—think smart playlists for your files.
For example, you could get Hazel to move files off the desktop once they’ve been there for a certain period of time, or to move images out of the Downloads folder after you’ve saved them to the web. You can also have it move PDF files into their own specific folder, or add a specific tag to all the movies inside a certain folder.
If this all sounds good but $32 still seems a bit steep, be sure to make use of the 14-day free trial to see if the program is useful for you before buying it.
Hazel is available to download for $32 with a 14-day free trial available.
By default, a MacBook will shut down when you close the lid, which is annoying if you’re still streaming music from it or using it with an external display. Amphetamine fixes this by keeping your laptop awake even when closed.
The utility sits in the menu bar, and you can launch “sessions” (where your MacBook stays awake) manually or whenever you start up your computer. Amphetamine also has plenty of customization options available—you can adjust everything from how long particular sessions last, to the icon that represents the program on the menu bar.
Amphetamine is also able to keep Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections up and running, if needed, and can stop the internal hard drive from going to sleep too—it’s almost as if your Macbook is open when it isn’t.
If this is something you might find useful, be aware that keeping everything awake and active for a long period of time may have a negative impact on battery life.
Amphetamine is free to download.
Covering everything from desktop alarms to file compression, Parallels Toolbox comes packed with a whole host of functionalities and utilities that will surely make day-to-day life with your Mac a lot easier. It will set you back $20 a year after a seven-day trial, but we think it’s worth the investment.
Whether you want to record screen activity, create your own GIFs, clear out junk data from your system, or find duplicate files, this app can lend a hand. It can also free up system RAM, customize the menu bar, put your computer to sleep at a certain time, or enable an airplane mode on your Mac.
All of the utilities included in the suite are intuitive and simple to use, and even with the attached price tag, you might end up wondering how you ever managed without them.
Parallels Toolbox is $20 a year, with a seven-day free trial available.
Windows lets you “snap” open programs to the sides or the corners of the display, making it easy to get all your windows neatly organized on screen. Unfortunately, macOS offers no such functionality, which is where Magnet comes in.
The app sits discreetly in the menu bar and lets you dock application windows to the sides or the corners of the screen with a couple of clicks or the right keyboard shortcut. If you prefer, you can also drag open programs to the edges of your display and Magnet will dock them.
Magnet is even able to split your display into thirds, which comes in handy if you’re working on an ultra-wide monitor. It feels like a native Mac application, and there’s really no higher praise than that.
Magnet is available for download for $2.