For Macworld editors, the end of the calendar year means more than just holiday vacations and the passing of yet another end-of-the-world prediction. It’s also the season of awards. Over the past couple weeks, we’ve given you our 2012 Editors’ Choice Awards for the best Mac products of the year and our 2012 App Gems Awards for the best iOS apps of the year. Here at Mac Gems HQ, we have no official awards with fancy trophies, but I look back and pick my favorite Mac Gems of the previous 12 months—the best inexpensive-but-good apps we covered over the just-completed year.
Unlike the Eddies and the App Gems Awards, the “Mac Gems of the Year,” if you will, aren’t chosen by committee. Rather, I hand-pick them from among the over 100 Gems we mined at Macworld during 2012. (To qualify for Mac Gems, a product must be priced at $35 or less and must earn a 3.5-mouse rating or higher.) The ones recognized here aren’t necessarily the Mac Gems that earned the highest ratings from our reviewers. Instead, they’re the apps that I felt did something innovative; offered exceptional value; improved productivity above and beyond other apps; or ended up being used—by me or a fellow Macworld editor—over and over. These inexpensive applications and add-ons will help you get the most out of your Mac without blowing your budget.
It’s not uncommon for a standout Gem to receive an Editors’ Choice (Eddy) Award from the Macworld editorial staff, as well. This year, there was one such Gem:
(NetSpot 2, another Mac Gem, also received an Eddy award this year. However, we reviewed NetSpot in late November 2011—and whereas the Eddy awards are based on a November-to-November year, my best-Gems-of-the-year list is based on the calendar year, so NetSpot earned a place on my Favorite Mac Gems of 2011 list.)
Of the 100+ other Gems we reviewed this past year, these 11 also counted among my dozen favorites.
Clarify (; $30): If you ever need to create how-to documentation or instructions, Clarify makes it easy to take a sequence of screenshots and turn them into an annotated document. Clarify is dramatically superior to Word, Pages, or TextEdit for creating comparable images and documents: It’s easier, it’s faster, and it produces better-looking results.
FreeSpace (; $1): An early version of this menu-bar utility received an honorable mention in last year’s list of favorite Gems; but thanks to a number of recent updates, it has earned a solid place on my 2012 list. FreeSpace’s systemwide menu shows all mounted volumes along with the available free space on each; if you want to monitor a particular volume, you can choose to have that volume’s free space displayed right in the menu bar. FreeSpace also makes it easy to open or eject any volume—features I use dozens of times each day—and the utility can notify you whenever any volume’s free space drops below a specified threshold.
Lion DiskMaker (; payment requested; website): I first covered this little AppleScript-based utility back in May, before the release of OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion. At the time, it offered a simple way to make a bootable Lion (OS X 10.7) install drive from the original Lion installer. Since then, Lion DiskMaker has received a number of updates, and it can now make a bootable Mountain Lion install drive from the Mountain Lion installer. It’s also gained a cleaner interface, a new progress bar, improved compatibility with various OS X installer packages and disk images, and better support for DVDs (for those who, against all advice, insist on creating a bootable installer DVD). The interface still feels a bit clunky, but for sheer usefulness—the number of people who’ve used our bootable-installer articles is flabbergasting, so clearly there’s demand for this type of utility—Lion DiskMaker stands out.
MailTags 3 (; $30; website): If you use Mail a lot, MailTags can dramatically improve your email productivity. This Mail add-on lets you assign tags (keywords) to individual messages; you can use those tags in searches and with rules to find filed mail and to process incoming messages more easily. MailTags also lets you assign project names, colors, priorities, and reminders to any email message, and you can even attach notes to messages. Most significantly, MailTags integrates elegantly with Mail—once it’s installed, you forget that its features aren’t just a normal part of Mail.
Mashduo (; free; website): Some Gems you’ll likely use only once—but that one time, you’ll thank the stars that it exists. Mashduo is just such an app: It quickly compares two iTunes libraries and shows you which tracks are unique to each library. Mashduo lets you scan new music that a friend or family member has acquired for items that you might want to sample yourself (you can jump directly to a track’s entry on the iTunes Store); and it’s also great for reconciling differences between iTunes libraries on your own computers, and for recovering tracks from a failed data migration from, say, a Windows PC to a Mac. (Senior writer Lex Friedman claims Mashduo saved his marriage in just such a circumstance.)
A few other Gems didn’t quite make the “favorites” cut but are still worth calling out. Various Macworld editors use these apps every day.
Due (; $10; website): Phocus’s Due for iOS is a nifty timer/reminder app, and the company successfully brought the app to the Mac in 2012. Due for Mac retains the simplicity of the original app while effectively transitioning to the Mac’s point-and-click environment.
QuickRes (; free; website): Like Display Menu, QuickRes gives you a systemwide menu for switching your display resolution. But QuickRes is optimized for Retina-display Macs, as it lets you choose any resolution that your Retina display supports—even the super-high-res native resolutions that the Displays pane of System Preferences doesn’t offer as options. You can also designate your favorite resolutions and then cycle through them with a keyboard shortcut or mouse click.