12 Fantastic Windows Alternatives to Mac & iLife Apps

Up until a few years ago, Windows was deemed a big, meandering beast — one that was weighed down by the myriad applications bundled with the operating system. Thankfully, this isn’t the case today, and Windows 7 represented a major step away from “bundled bloat”.

Today, I’d like you to introduce you to a few applications that are equivalent to those bundled to much acclaim with Apple’s OS X. There’s a wealth of software available for Windows, and these picks will give you a fantastic basic series of apps to start out with.

Is Bundling a Good Thing?

The idea of bundling applications with the operating system always divides people. Some people prefer everything “lean and mean”, while others like their operating systems loaded with goodies. You’d think that, arguably, there is no right or wrong approach here. But there have been plenty of lawsuits regarding these very issues. We’ll go into it a bit later!

But right now, is bundling right or wrong? Let’s take a look at some pros and cons from each perspective.

The Case for Bundled Apps

Ease of Getting Started

Bundling applications that are essential to a typical user makes it that much easier for anyone to get started, out of the box. Otherwise, you’ll have to hunt for appropriate apps to get even basic work done — bringing down the entire experience of using a computer.

Adding Value

Modern operating systems are expensive affairs — I had sticker shock when I attempted to buy Win 7 Ultimate. Asking a typical user to plonk down additional cash and/or spend additional time and money to acquire software that most users deem basic is not a great idea.

Tighter Integration

There’s also a hidden advantage — better integration. Look at the apps on OS X. They’re sleek, intuitive and filled with eye candy, similar to the OS itself thus streamlining the entire user experience, at least with most non-specialized tasks. Bundling apps that bear your style is very helpful when you’re trying to streamline everything.

The Case Against Bundled Apps

Bloat

The primary issue is bloat, and a slower system. When you start bundling a bunch of apps, the user experience suffers since there’s a very good chance the entire machine is going to slow down.

Difficult to Remove

Internet Explorer is an absolute pain. Almost everyone will attest to that, and many people reading this would want to remove it from the machine. But not so fast! In a stroke of utter genius, in most versions of Windows, bundled applications can’t be simply uninstalled — at least not easily…

Nothing irks the user more than relinquishing control, especially when it comes to misbehaving software.

Antitrust Issues

Microsoft has been in hot water regarding this very issue. Lawsuits about the legality of Microsoft bundling Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer with the operating system have called them major problems!

The Windows 7 Way

One of the changes in perspective from Microsoft moving forward from Vista to 7 was how bundled applications were handled. A lot of applications with little use were removed from the OS while the majority of the other useful applications were spun off into Windows Live Essentials, a suite which contains Movie Maker and Photo Gallery, among others.

This suite of apps doesn’t technically ship with the OS, but are easy to acquire and act like native parts of the operating system. As expected, these can installed and uninstalled at will, thus making the line between bundled and integrated applications that much more blurry.

I’m going to assume you already know about the software that’s integrated with the Windows ecosystem, and so we’re going to look elsewhere for alternatives in this mini-roundup.

OS X, My Friends and the Point of this Roundup

I have plenty of friends who use OS X and one of the primary reasons they seem to glow when talking about their chosen OS is the range of bundled applications — how they can get started, right out of the box, with minimal effort and fuss.

Today, I thought I’d take a look at some alternatives for the Windows platform that cater to the same functionality!

As I mentioned above, I’m quite aware some of these functionalites are covered by Windows Live Essentials. I’m choosing to ignore those apps in this quest to find software that reaches feature parity at very little cost.

Widget Engine » Yahoo Widgets

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The Dashboard on OS X is quite handy. In fact, when I’m on a Mac I make constant use of it, especially if there is a sports event going on somewhere. The Windows equivalent, Sidebar, is lackluster, at best. It just feels uninteresting to most users and rightly so.

A very strong replacement for both these widget engines is Yahoo Widgets, previously called Konfabulator. Developers can create widgets for the engine in a cinch since it relies on JavaScript to get things done.

One of the strong suits of this engine is the sheer number of widgets available. One of my oft used widgets is Informer, which can literally act as your command center once properly configured.

Price: Free

DVD Player » VLC Player

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The default DVD player on OS X is extremely simple and laughably neurotic when it comes to enforcing copyright laws. The Windows equivalent fares much, much better. Even so, your machine probably isn’t fully capable of playing all video formats thrown its way.

This is where the famous VLC player comes in. Just get it installed and you can let out a sigh knowing that you can now consume pretty much any content since it ships with a massive number of encoding and decoding libraries.

It’s also fully portable, highly scriptable and completely skinnable. One of the first bits of software that gets installed whichever computer I’m using.

Price: Free

Front Row » XBMC

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Front Row does a rather excellent job when you want to create a media center computer. It has a very slick interface that’s eminently usable, especially at a distance, and integrates nicely with iTunes and iPhoto.

A big drawback would be the overtly simple nature of the software. Once you go beyond basic needs, it really doesn’t stack up.

The Windows equivalent, Windows Media Center, is filled with tons of useful features and does have a nice UI. If you’re looking for more, let me introduce you to XBMC.

The app’s strength lies in its ability to morph itself into anything one would want. It can scrape textual or AV content from the web, act as an application launcher and has very strong codec support.

Visually each and every part of the interface can be customized. There’s a burgeoning extensions and plugins scene, if you’re interested.

Price: Free

Dock » ObjectDock

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The Dock is one of the most recognizable parts of OS X. Any user will attest to how it’s a core part of his workflow when interacting with the OS. Many, like me, want to replicate this functionality under Windows too.

ObjectDock is a nifty little utility that adds a Mac-inspired dock to the Windows experience. It seeks to be an application launcher and a replacement for the Windows taskbar, if you choose to run it this way.

There are plenty of dock applications vying for one’s attention but there are few other like this. It doesn’t try too many things: it does a few things and executes them splendidly.

For those who like eye candy, it really reels them in with smooth animations, pristine typography and usage of high res icons.

Price: Free [Paid option available]

iTunes » Songbird

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iTunes is a great, if utterly bloated, piece of software, and makes managing your media that much easier. While Windows Media Player does come with some media management capabilities, it really lags behind in the features provided.

Songbird is your answer. It’s a cross platform, fully featured, media management application. And in tune with current times, it syncs with your smartphone/gadget of choice and gets along well with Fairplay and Windows media DRMed content.

The slew of features Songbird brings to the table is what sets it apart from most competitors. The fact that it doesn’t feel sluggish while doing so is definitely a plus. Last.FM integration? Comprehensive codec support? iOS/other device supprt? Check, check and check.

Price: Free

iPhoto » Picasa

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iPhoto takes care of all your photography related work — organizing, editing and sharing. Windows Live Gallery is an excellent alternative on the Windows side.

If you’re looking for something a little different, Picasa is highly recommended. Currently owned by the Google bigwigs, it offers feature parity when compared to the other major offerings including geotagging and facial recognition.

It also integrates nicely with the Picasa website letting you publish your photographs and albums quite easily. It’s a great way to manage and share your photos.

Price: Free

iMovie » Movie Edit

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iMovie, a part of iLife, is a video editing application that, in my circle at least, has the most people gushing about it. It lets you import content from another device, edit the clips, add music, transitions and titles and do some basic editing like color correction.

When you’re a home user, specially if you’re looking to put together a birthday video, this adds incredible value to your purchase.

Even though it’s not free, Movie Edit comes packed to the brim with incredible features, even ones you probably have no idea about but definitely like seeing on the package. Chrome keying? Keyframing? Scrubbing? Everything is covered.

If you’re semi serious about producing video content, this comes highly recommended since it’s rather inexpensive compared to most video editing programs — even the higher end version tops out at $79.99.

Price: $59.99

iChat » Digsby

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iChat is an ubiquitous IM application that ships with OS X. It’s slick, simple and gets the job done. It’s also compatible with the different IM services available.

A great alternative to it would be Digsby. Like iChat, Digsby is multiprotocol — you can use a single client to chat with your pals across different networks. And in a sublime move, it also integrates with different social networks such as Facebook or Twitter to provides access to newsfeeds and alerts.

Price: Free

Time Machine » CrashPlan

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Time Machine is a backup utility that has saved my life more times than I’d like to admit. The difference between this and most other backup utilities is that it lets you browse through the different versions of files instead of merely archiving it.

Sadly, there is no perfect equivalent for the Windows platform but fret not! CrashPlan is a feature laden option that lacks some features of TimeMachine but makes up for it by proving a bunch of others. Just like TimeMachine, it silently backs up your files, even with support for offsite copies. Definitely a must try!

Price: Free for local hard drives

Spaces » Dexpot

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Virtual desktops are a boon if you’re a power user. Nothing can beat having a multi-monitor setup, of course, but virtual desktops come a close second. Since 2007, OS X has provided Spaces to implement this functionality while Windows has been surprisingly devoid of any such feature.

If you’re looking to add this aspect to your workflow, check out Dexspot. It’s lightweight, sleek, extremely easy to get started with, and is very extensible using plugins. One of the cooler features is how it provides Exposé-like feature for individual desktops and desktop rules which define which programs exist on which desktop. An extra-ordinary piece of freeware.

Price: Free

Terminal » PuTTY

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OS X ships with Terminal as a shell emulator while Windows ships with the Win32 console. Both are fairly stable and let you interact with the operating system through the command line.

If you aren’t a typical user and want more than what the default options offer you, go with PuTTY. It’s filled to the brim with features — SSH, SCP, SFTP support, portability, IPv6 support and public key auth support are just a few of the features on offer. Give it a go even if you’re just a casual user learning to work with the command line.

Price: Free

Devs Tools » RailsInstaller and XAMPP

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OS X ships with a ton of languages and developer tools preinstalled which is a boon for any developer. Most of the heavyweights including Ruby, Python, PERL and PHP. Even SQLIte is installed for you!

While nothing beats getting these installed right off the bat, there are a number of options to get these languages and tools installed in a much less intrusive manner than hunting their executables and installing them.

Packagers such as RailsInstaller and XAMPP make installing a collection of tools a much easier task. XAMPP installs PHP, PERL and mySQL, while Rails installer installs the entire Rails stack which includes Ruby, Rails, Git, SQLite and Devkit.

Quite handy when you’ve just reinstalled the OS and want to get started ASAP.

Price: Free

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  • David Garbacz

    I’ll take iTunes on Windows over Songbird. After the countless times I’ve installed it it’s always disappointed.

    Don’t fix what ain’t broken.

    • Oz

      Could not agree more.

      I would love to see SongBird as a decent bit of competition for good old iTunes.

      Sadly, it’s just a totally dog.

      I imagine it would get more love if iTunes wasn’t free… rephrase that… “free”.

    • Leonick

      While iTunes have a few problems like no easy way to queue up a few songs to play, for example, in WMP (and many others) you always have the playlist creator to the right of the library so it’s easy to create a playlist without having to save it. Another problem is how it doesn’t monitor your library, you have to add new albums or such yourself, it also rips to a very stupid place. It also doesn’t play videos, or well it does, of one specific format bought in iTunes or something, but not AVI or such that one might have.

      That said, iTunes is the one player that can always properly read my songs metadata, it can easily fill in any missing metadata if there is, it doesn’t fill my music folders with different sizes of the same album art like WMP, it is fast, it has a built in store, it manages my iOS devices…
      It’s great despite the flaws named above, though if they would fix that it would be completely awesome.

  • Ull

    Were is the Alternative of GarageBand? :(

  • http://ashish.bogawat.com Ashish Bogawat

    Microsoft also has the Windows Live Essentials suite, which contains some pretty good apps, especially Live Writer and Movie Maker.

    • Tash

      Moviemaker Rocks!!!!

  • http://joshmmiller.com DPRVig

    Would love to see more alternatives for backup solutions. Right now I’ve been using some random program that I have to manually start. Would be great to find one that does continuous backup without the need/required payment per month for an online backup.

  • http://twitter.com/yakimvanzuijlen Yakim van Zuijlen
  • http://gamedev.michaeljameswilliams.com/ MichaelJW

    Songbird looks great. I’d love to see more iTunes replacements reviewed when the site launches :)

    • Daniel

      imo the Zune Player is the best one of all, try it!

  • Terry

    Thanks for this. I’ve been searching for video editing options – perhaps I’ve finally found something…

  • Jules Fox

    “Virtual desktops are a boon if you’re a power user. Nothing can beat having a multi-monitor setup, of course, but virtual desktops come a close second. Since 2007, OS X has provided Spaces to implement this functionality while Windows has been surprisingly devoid of any such feature.”

    Oh dear. Are you really saying that virtual desktops have not been available on Windows? Where have you been the last 15 years? Agriculture? Now that you moved from potatoes to ‘puters, maybe check a bit of computing history. Start with 1995 and Microsoft Powertoys.

    • http://www.ssiddharth.com/ Siddharth

      Haha. Well put. :)

      You must admit, the implementations are definitely world’s apart. And for most users, if it’s not user friendly, it’s unusable. Dexpot is definitely ahead of other offerings based on this criteria.

  • http://urbngeek.blogspot.com/ UrbnGeek

    You can also make your Windows 7 or Vista Look like Mac OSX – http://goo.gl/z4fIR and then these 12 fantastic windows alternatives will look cooler with the new interface!

  • http://www.espace.mk Zlate

    When will you release Windows.AppStorm? You just have released iPad.AppStorm so quickly, but with Windows it takes so long… Not fair :P

  • http://www.ThatGuyJohn.com Johnathan

    Not necessarily Mac style replacements for windows, but SystemInternals Suite is pretty nifty. One thing included is Virtual Desktops and many other liitle single purpose apps.

    http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb842062

  • slivinn

    In my opinion RocketDock much better then ObjectDock, It is a fact that RocketDock use less resources and much faster in general. You really should check it some time, i’m sure you will find it much better alternative to Mac’s Dock. :)

  • Joshua

    One thing I just don’t get is why people want a dock in Windows 7. I just don’t understand it. The Windows task bar is not only native, its infinitely more useful, showing window previews, application states, progress bars, allowing Aero peek etc. A dock just sits there and looks pretty, neglecting usability. It dynamically shifts your icons to the middle of your screen, which I have always hated. Applications also often ignore the dock when they go full screen, so the dock ends up getting in the way of applications.

    Why? That’s what I want to know. An honest question: can anyone tell me why they would prefer a dock over the Windows 7 task bar? I think Mac OS X has many fine points and usually excels in usability, but the dock is not an example of that. It seems to be single-mindedly designed to look pretty in Apple stores.

    • http://better-internet-english.blogspot.com/ Mama

      Totally agreed! I’ve been saying that for years (since the Windows 7 taskbar), and finally someone who agrees.

      The OSX dock takes up screen space. Totally annoying.

  • Tony

    For Time Machine try Altaro Software Oops Backup.

  • Sigilist

    It’s rather interesting that about half or more of these exist in both the OSX and Windows world. VLC is probably one well known unit that exist on all platforms that I know of. But there is one app in the Windows world that leaves all similar stuff for OSX in the dust… LiveWriter.

    Personally, I prefer the XP edition, as the ribbon in the Win7 version just slows me down. That said, I always have a Win environment virtualized in any machine if for no other reason that to run LiveWriter. OSX blogware just sucks compare to LW’s publishing and cross-publishing capability.

    Another app I find most useful for doing a wide variety of video transfer and backup is DVDFab. I’ve found nothing the OSX that has its versatility and balance of ease of use with plenty of room for error free customization… in the same price range of course.

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  • http://portfolio.szsza.info SzSza

    I would like to comment on the Spaces / Dexpot apps. I haven’t used any of those, but I was able to manage my desktop space very nicely with Fences ( http://www.stardock.com/products/fences/ ). One of the things I liked the most is the double-click option on the screen which makes everything disappear from the screen, just like that… and of course the little “fences” that I can use to group my icons.

    I’m not sure if this uses more resources than the other 2 mentioned in the article, but I would say it’s a good alternative as well (maybe it’s not from the same category, but the benefits are almost the same).

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  • emrah atilkan

    Fences should be here, it is used on pics.

  • shumingliu001

    This post is the most useful one i have ever seen :) Thank you and continue to find more alternatives :D

  • swati

    this is amazing! I especially loved Object Dock and the replacement for iMovie :)
    please put up more :)

  • Mr.Awesome

    I think that for dashboard you should use xiwdget, it’s completely light weight.

  • Oliver

    I prefer Zune over Itunes for Windows. It’s amazingly smooth going while being very stylish.

  • Matt

    VLC is the only good recommendation here. I really wish Apple would put their great apps on windows. Look at iTune’s success

  • Ethan

    If your missing Garageband, Mixcraft is almost identical and works great on windows. http://www.acoustica.com/mixcraft/

  • Onald Mj

    Ical???

  • Me

    Magix Movie Edit pro is not very similar to iMovie. And it’s hard to use.

  • Me

    Video player: VLC and BSPlayer
    Backup: Acronis True Image Home

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  • Gettoxp

    the equal software to apple garage band in windows, try guitar rig pro 5.
    it works perfectly the same as garageband but you cant get music lessons or lessons from artist.

  • Megadino

    Have found recently another alternative to iPhoto for PC – Phototheca ( http://lunarship.com )
    Used it and it works very well, have imported near 10 000 photos into this app, there was no problem. There are features to organize photos as events or albums, like iPhoto and handle keywords too. That app can search for duplicates in imported photos, I found this quite useful it let me to cleanup unnecessary files. Phototheca is for free, has no time limitation or something else, so I decided to work with it a little more and give a chance.

  • Naterz

    Bad list. Seemingly looking for redundant applications where it isn’t needed. For Windows 8:

    iPhoto: Windows Photo Gallery
    iMovie: Windows Movie Maker
    iChat: Skype
    Widgets: Find a Metro App with Live Tile (Many Preloaded ones cover the Basics)
    iTunes, QuickTime: Windows Media Player
    Media Center (Apple doesn’t have one): Windows Media Center
    Terminal: Windows PowerShell
    OSX Dock: Windows Taskbar (Jump Lists, Previews, Badges, Pinned Apps/Sites, etc.)
    DVD Player: Windows Media Player/Center
    Time Machine: Previous Versions (& System Restore – There’s also Windows Backup)
    Remote Access: Remote Desktop Connection

    ^- All of this software is either built-in to the OS, or available from Microsoft themselves or a company they literally own (as in the case of Skype).

    All of it has been available for Windows 7 basically in the same way since release, pretty much literally.

    There is no Virtual Desktops for Windows 8, and I don’t see why the average user would want that.

    Two issues I have with the OP: For one, a lot of the MS software is already installed in the OS (at least in the US), so much of those applications are completely redundant (seriously format support? Windows supports QT and WM formats in addition to popular ones like MP3, H.264, etc. – many others have WM/DS CODECs for download, you don’t need a new media player to play Xvid or DIVX, for example… Secondly, a lot of the Microsoft-developed software gets updated through Windows Update which makes keeping them up to date extremely simple. They also integrate into your Microsoft account and much better into the OS and each other. You can open a Video in Photo Gallery to Movie Maker, edit it and then email or export it straight from that application, for example. Using separate apps like Movie Edit and Picasa those types of trivial workflow examples are not there…

    Also, the OP should know that software like Picasa integrates with literally no service but Google’s own, so exporting a photo from Picasa to Facebook – Good Luck…

    Everything I stated applied at the time this was published…

  • Erik

    Time Machine for Windows

    http://ax64.com/

  • orlandodal

    Try to use Photodali Photo Manager for Windows, http://www.photodali.com it’s similar like IPhoto

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