15 Best Freeware Apps for Mac Users

Below are 15 essential free applications for OS X. Keep these apps handy on a CD or DVD for the next time you do a clean install—they’re that good. Where possible, we’ve checked for Leopard compliance. For more resources, make sure to check out the Mac shareware category.

1. Quicksilver

This single key launch application creates a catalog of frequently performed searches and tasks. Assign shortcut keys to frequently performed actions and frequently opened files, folders and applications. It’s more than Spotlight (the live search feature built into OS X since 10.4) on steroids. It’s like a mini-Finder and Spotlight in one.

Some users even report that it works faster than Spotlight. A December 2007 Lifehacker interview revealed that the current developer does not have plans to take Quicksilver much further, but since the program is open source, anyone can ride to the rescue. For now though, you can head to Blacktree, and download the latest version.

2. Adium 

iChat is a great way for Mac users to use AIM, but iChat gets a little hairier to use with Google Talk, MSN Messenger or other chat networks. Adium is the best IM tool available. Enabling iChat for non-AIM protocols generally requires registering for a free account at open source chat provider Jabber.org. Adium connects to AIM as well as Google Talk, MSN, Yahoo Messenger, Jabber and many other protocols. Its all-in-one interface allows for tabbed chats in one window, smooth screename switching capabilities and skinned chatting. Currently, iChat’s primary advantage over Adium is its well-integrated video chatting, but a video chatting plug-in has recently been introduced for Adium as well. If you're not convinced, check the instant messaging category - you are sure to find one that suits your needs.

3. Flip4Mac WMV Player (Quicktime Codec)

Plenty of thoughtless, backward media creators still build their content in Windows-only formats like WMV and WMA. Officially supported by Microsoft, Flip4Mac WMV Player lets Apple QuickTime play those formats. However, if you want to convert from those file formats to something more Mac-friendly, you’ll need to spring for Flip4Mac Player Pro ($29) or Studio ($49). Player Pro allows WMAs and WMVs to be imported into QuickTime so that they can be converted, while Studio has a built-in converter.

4. TextWrangler

If you ever do any coding of any kind, check out TextWrangler. The baby brother of pro text editor BBEdit, TextWrangler checks your code as you type in languages including ANSI C, C++, HTML/XHTML, Fortran, Java, JavaScript, Object Pascal, Objective-C, Perl, PHP, Python, Rez, Tcl, TeX, Unix shell scripts, and XML.

5. Gimp

The open source app Gimp allows both single image retouching a la Photoshop and batch image processing a la Photoshop Elements. The full-featured interface, which supports tablet input devices and saves in a variety of formats, offers a compelling alternative to the Adobe products. Plug-ins abound, and the user community is active and vocal.

6. Firefox

Sorry, Safari—Firefox is the best browser out there, with myriad extensions allowing for endless customization. Apple user support for Internet Explorer is virtually non-existent and Safari is still getting its sea legs, while Firefox has climbed to about 17 percent of the browser market share, according to the New York Times. Firefox extensions like Greasemonkey, which allows a user to run JavaScript on any page, and Stylish, which adds custom CSS support, make Firefox truly the browser of power users.

7. Azureus

Among BitTorrent clients, Azureus’s JavaScript-based interface offers the greatest versatility for Mac users. Azureus’s documentation offers in-depth info on maximizing connection speed, and its advanced settings allow users to customize their network settings. With a rich Wiki and active user community, Azureus beats the BitTorrent application hands down. And of course, you’re only trading legal P2P materials, right? Right!

8. StuffIt Expander

StuffIt Expander is often pre-installed on new Macs, so it’s easy to forget that it’s not actually part of OS X. The Mac equivalent of WinZip, StuffIt Expander extracts .zip, .rar, and .sit files. The app is essential for opening downloaded files, which are usually compressed.

9. iSquint

Convert video files into an iPod or TV-friendly format with iSquint, a free alternative to QuickTime Pro. This drag-and-drop mini-app works with various video formats including .mov, .mp4, .avi, .mpg, .wmv, .flv, and .m4v. Help documentation is nonexistent, but the simple application is unlikely to confuse.

10. Carbon Copy Cloner

Before Time Machine, there was Carbon Copy Cloner, a donation-ware backup utility. For creating bootable backups, Carbon Copy Cloner still rules; Time Machine lacks that crucial ability. Time Machine may someday get the bootable backup feature, but for now, take the advice of user First Magus in the Apple Support forums: “I still use CCC to make a main back up once a month that is stored off site. For day to day I use Time Machine.”

11. GeekTool

GeekTool embeds file content, web text and web images in the desktop. To select content, open the GeekTool pane in System Preferences, and specify update frequency. GeekTool also embeds shell-command output in the desktop; For n00bs out there, that means that you can keep Terminal commands running in the background at all times directly on the desktop wallpaper. As Macworld explains, “As events occur on your Mac, the system log will update live on your desktop.” The screenshot below demonstrates live updating of web traffic stats embedded on the desktop.

12. MenuMeters

MenuMeters keeps system stats like CPU, memory, network and disk activity in the upper-righthand system menu. Click the menu bar stats for a fuller report in a drop-down menu. Below is a sample of a fully loaded MenuMeters bar. Grab a copy here.

13. Burn

OS X’s built-in disk burning utility does the trick for basic system files, and iTunes handles mp3 and audio CDs. For fancier options, like VCD, SVCD, DVD and DivX disks, try Burn. With its simple drag-and-drop interface, Burn is a great freeware alternative to Roxio Toast. Note: Burn’s release notes say, “for 10.3.9 or later.” We had no trouble encoding and burning a DVD in Leopard.

14. Neo Office

Use Neo Office if you don’t want to shell out for word processing software, or if you’re inclined to think of Microsoft as an evil empire. Neo Office incorporates native OS X features like the spell-checking dictionary to enhance the open source Open Office software that it’s built on. Neo Office Opens Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, and runs Excel macros, just to name a few features.

15. VLC

What can you play with cross-platform multimedia player VLC? What CAN’T you play is the better question. Long popular as a choice for video geeks due to its versatility, VLC won’t play RealAudio or Video files on any of its six (six!) platforms, and won’t accept DVB input in any system but Linux. With few exceptions, if it exists, VLC will play it.

You can find all of these and more Mac resources at BOTW's Mac OS category. In addition, you can find a vast collection of programming, software, hardware and internet resources. If you're looking for it, we've got you covered.

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