Five Mac Apps to Watch in 2011

2010 was the year I fell in love with apps all over again. I got a Macbook Pro near the end of 2009, giving me a chance to finally pull the plug on my dying iMac G5, and start from scratch with an almost empty Applications folder. While hype in 2010 may have been dominated by iOS apps and HTML5, Mac OS X app development continued as usual. It was as good a year as any to re-discover the beauty of the desktop app. With the launch of the Mac App Store coming tomorrow, 2011 will be off to a good start, and it’s likely to be an even better year than the last for Mac OS X. The Mac App Store will likely bring a new round of apps and a new wave of eager developers, but I’ll be just as interested in watching some of my favorite apps improve as I will be in discovering new ones. With that in mind, here are five apps for which 2011 should be a significant year.

LibreOffice
In September 2010, The Document Foundation was announced, to foster a truly open and independent alternative to Microsoft Office. LibreOffice was simultaneously released, and while in its current form it’s basically a re-branding of OpenOffice.org, The Document Foundation promises an exciting future with a focus on content and the document itself. “The Document Foundation founders foresee a completely different future for the office suite paradigm,” read an e-mail from November, “each single module of LibreOffice will be undergoing an extensive rewrite… Most of the new features are either meant to maintain compatibility with the market leading office suite or will introduce radical innovations.” LibreOffice is the logical evolution of OpenOffice.org. While a lot of progress has already been made in the past few months, 2011 will be the year that The Document Foundation finds its footing, and LibreOffice gets a chance to fulfill its potential as a re-invigorated and truly independent alternative to Microsoft Office.

Plex
2010 saw the release of Plex/Nine, a long-awaited update featuring a restructured library system allowing for advanced features and greater control, as well as more independence from XBMC, Plex’s original source. Apps for the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad were also released. I’ve already said that Plex is the best media manager out there, and with the developers now working on it full time, a deal with LG Electronics, and an upcoming Windows version, 2011 should be a good year for Plex. I won’t be surprised if this is the year it finally reaches 1.0.

Sparrow
Mail client Sparrow has only been out for three months, but it’s already been downloaded over 150,000 times and become one of my most used apps. Development has been quick (it’s on beta 7), the developers are very responsive to feedback (on Get Satisfaction), and Sparrow continues to improve with each beta. Sparrow is one of the first apps in what will surely become a trend: an iOS-inspired interface for a desktop app (see also: Reeder, below). The developers have promised support for IMAP in 2011, making Sparrow not just an incredible Gmail app but a viable replacement for other mail clients.

Reeder (beta for Mac OS X)
The beta for the frequently lauded iPhone/iPad app Reeder was recently released for Mac OS X, to near universally positive reception. Reeder is another app that seems built for iOS but nonetheless right at home on Mac OS X. Considering the excitement surrounding even such an early beta, expect Reeder’s popularity to increase in 2011, especially with the Mac App Store and a more complete release.

Bodega
An official Mac App Store might seem like a death sentence to an independent one, but I think Bodega can survive. That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy: Apple has the marketing dollars and exposure to get attention, the dominance to attract developers and users (which populate the reviews, making it more valuable for discovery), a powerful position of interest to bloggers and others in the media (there have already been more stories about the Mac App Store, even before it’s released, than Bodega, which has been around for over a year), and with the Mac App Store coming pre-installed with Lion, a guaranteed user base. However, I see the Mac App Store as an opportunity for Bodega. Bodega provides an open alternative to Apple’s restrictive policies, as well as a much more fair revenue split with developers (Bodega keeps only 7%). Aside from illegal and highly offensive apps, Bodega will accept everything, a stark contrast to Apple’s Mac App Store. A list of benefits for developers appears on Bodega’s site, and it’s easy to see why it would be more attractive than the official store. The most important factor is potential customers, of which Apple will absolutely provide more, but there will also certainly be demand for an alternative Mac App Store, and Bodega will be there to fill the void. Increased publicity around Mac OS X apps and App Stores is good for everyone involved, including — and especially — Bodega. “Bodega is not going anywhere,” Bodega’s Phil Letourneau told The Loop, “It will continue to grow in terms of developers and customers coming into Bodega.” I’m very excited to see what this next year holds for the original “corner store for Mac apps.”

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