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


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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