The essential Mac OS X freeware list

It’s now official – I’m a Mac user. After flirting with Ubuntu Linux for a year, watching Knut Sætre (my coworker) use his MacBook Pro and reading all the switch stories around the net I decided time had come for a change. So far, I’m definitely not regretting anything. OS X seems to me like Plug ‘n Play the way it was supposed to work. Everything integrates out of the box, and I’ve so far never even SEEN the word “driver”. :D I’ve always meant that my “work computer” should work without fiddling and never need tweaking. This was the reason I waited so long to try Linux, and this is exactly the reason I love OS X.

As those who know me might know, I love researching stuff on the net. In addition to that, I’ve also got a personal policy of always using freeware when it does the job – my own way of avoiding pirated software. It also helps freeware authors get a nice user mass, so I can’t say I feel sorry for NOT buying commercial alternatives.

So one of the first things I did (actually before I received my black new-model MacBook with 2GB ram) was researching for apps I needed. And now, after actually testing them I figured I might publish my findings, so others could benefit from it as well. :) So here it is, my list of Mac OS X “must have” freewares:

0xED
There comes a time in every man’s life where he needs a hex editor. This is it, ’nuff said.
Adium
When first arriving from Windows, a Jabber transport (in iChat) was the only way to view your MSN contacts statusmessages. But since then, Adium (and libpidgin) has received proper MSN protocol support. And this IM is so smooth, it’ll make you go “aaahhhh” every time you start it.
Angry IP Scanner
A graphical IP scanner is nice to have. This is the best one I’ve found so far, but it seems abandoned (1 year since last beta).
AppleJack
AppleJack is a small rescue script, meant to be used from single-user mode. It can do a number of maintenance tasks and rescue operations. I have been able to repair filesystem inconsistencies, which Apples normal Disk utility couldn’t fix and I wasn’t even able to boot my Mac. So install it before it’s too late. Once installed, you will be reminded of its usage every time you login in single-user mode (command-S).
AppTrap
Uninstalling could be as easy as dropping the application in the trash, but there’s always some settings left behind. This application integrates with your trash, so that when you drop application in it, you will be asked if you want to remove other files beloning to the application as well.
Audacity
Easy straight-forward digital audio editor. Wav, MP3, Flac and so on. Great for cropping ringtones and such.
Audio overload
Small player for those obscure mod / NES / Spectrum / whatever files. Some might also require CocoModX.
Boxer
A launcher for DOSBox, a PC emulator for running old games.
Burn
Burn is a CD burning software. It’s not much to say about it, it does what it’s supposed to do.
ClipMenu
Small menubar app that gives me access to the last 20 things on my clipboard.
CocoaPacketAnalyzer
Awesome packet analyzer for that really technical stuff.
CocoASpell
Sadly, OS X doesn’t come with a norwegian spelling dictionary. Installing this gem will take care of it. :)
Cronnix
Graphical crontab editor. Nice for running things on a given time and/or date. :) I actually use this to open hours.txt 15 minutes before my workday ends.
Disk Inventory X
Analyzes a given directory (or disk) and its subfolder to give you a report on disk usage. Nice to find those space hogs on your harddrive.
Dockless
Dockless let you make any app run in the background (no dock icon).
DropBox
DropBox is a universal internet disk service. It has revisions (how did this file look like a month ago?), automatic sync (all your computers has identical files), allows you to share files with other DropBox users, it even let you share pictures in your DropBox as a web gallery. The free account is 2GB, I bought myself a 50GB for all of my projects.
Evom
An extremely easy to use application for converting videos to MP4. Also integrates nicely with iTunes.
Facebook notifier
What can I say, I’m an addict. :) Facebook notifications on your desktop and quick access to your profile.
Flip4Mac
This is a WMV (Windows Media Video) plugin so you can watch online video encoded as such.
Fluid
Fluid is a Site-Specific Browser (SSB) that allows you to create desktop applications out of webapps. I use it for API lookups, Google Reader, GMail and more.
Fraise
Fraise is what is known as a “Notepad replacement” in the Windows world. It does syntax highlighting for most programming languages, and has some very powerful text processing tools available.
FStream
A small netradio app. Handles a lot more types of streams than iTunes.
Google Chrome
This is the best browser, bar none. In the time Firefox uses just to launch, Chrome lets me launch, perform a search, visit the first hit and read it. I have also written a norwegian post with my favorite extensions.
Growl
Gives youy nice bubble notifications from a lot of programs. Very configurable and very pretty. :) Make sure you also install the extra utilities, like HardwareGrowler to get instant statusnotifications on USB devices, network connections and so on.
Handbrake
Video conversion and ripping done simple.
iStumbler
Wireless network scanner, which shows a lot more info than the normal airport menu. Also does Bluetooth and Bonjour.
JustLooking
A good picture preview program. Nice for browsing large collections.
Komodo Edit
Komodo Edit is the freeware (or light if you prefer) version of ActiveState’s Komodo IDE. Even this stripped-down version has more features than any other free alternative out there. It’s also a big bonus that it look and feels identical on Windows, Linux and OS X. Syntax coloring, project management, inline compilation, error checking, autocomplete and much more.
last.fm
I consider the statistics and scrobbling secondary features. What really makes last.fm awesome is the ability to play automatic net radio based on tags or artists.
LogMeIn
Installed everywhere I can. :) Let you remote control any computer without the need for opening ports. Can also require user acknowledgement on a per-computer basis (for sceptical relatives).
MacPorts
The BSD Ports system adapted for Mac. Gives you all those geeky UNIX tools. ;-) Porticus is a nice graphical front-end.
Max
Audio conversion and CD-ripping.
MPEG Streamclip
Video software for conversion, batch processing and more. I use it to convert any video type into DV format so iMovie will use it.
muCommander
A universal filecommander, because most computers need one. This one does several protocols (FTP, SFTP, SMB, NFS, HTTP and Bonjour), several archive formats (ZIP, RAR, TAR, GZip, BZip2, ISO/NRG, AR/Deb and LST) and all the usual operations.
niceplayer
Universal player. Nicer to user than VLC, and does more formats than QuickTime.
Notational Velocity
Note editing and syncing with Simple Notes.
OpenOffice
I guess I don’t really need to describe this one. :)
OWANotifier
Let me keep an eye on my work email when outside of the corporate network.
Perian
Adds support for a ton of additional media formats to QuickTime. Too many to list here.
Remote desktop connection
Because you have to, not because you want to. :)
Renoise
Trackerbased music sequencing software. Mostly for nostalgic reasons.
Sequel-Pro
A desktop client for MySQL. Think of it as phpMyAdmins agile little brother. :)
SIDPlay
For that old C64 feeling! ;)
Skitch
This is the ultimate picture… uhm… faciliator. :-P Inputs from screenshots, files, drag’n'drop. Annotate, draw, edit. Outputs to drag’n'drop, webpublish, file, anywhere. I use this all the time!
Skype
While iChat has very good conference abilities, it’s not cross-platform. For audio/video conferencing with Windows users, this is the only viable alternative.
SlimBatteryMonitor
It has always bugged me that OS X’s battery meter can’t be set to show only when actually on battery (or charging). Luckily, this one can.
SOAP Client
A simple SOAP Web Service client. Nice for debugging. The same author also has a XML-RPC Client.
Spark
Spark lets you create global hotkeys for just about everything. I use it to start Terminal.app, control iTunes and much more.
SpeedCrunch
Incredibly fast and easy “single-line” cross-platform calculator.
Spotify
The program that really changed how I consume my music! Listen to any song, create and share playlists, etc.
Steam
For all your gaming needs. :)
Textual
Simplistic but feature-rich IRC client.
The Unarchiver
For extracting any archive format you throw at it.
Transmission
A simple and effective BitTorrent client. Though the upcoming beta of uTorrent also looks promising.
VICE
Cross-platform Commodore emulator.
VirtualBox
Free, capable desktop virtualization. Can’t see any reason to pay for VMWare, when this is available.
VLC media player
The ugly and cumbersome, but extremely powerful media player. :) I install this on all operating systems. It uses builtin codecs for all media formats you can throw at it. Whenever I encounter a file I can’t play elsewhere, VLC will. It even has conversion abilities.
WineBottler
Sort of Wine for OS X with a lot of tricks up its sleeve! :) Let me preview my sites in Internet Explorer.

And the few programs I actually found worth paying for:

  • Airfoil – Send audio from any app to an Airport Express.
  • Coda – The best web-centric IDE for any platform!
  • Interarchy – Just plain awesome FTP/SFTP client.
  • Mailplane – Standalone GMail “client”.
  • Meerkat – Just plain awesome tunnel handling. SSH tunnels, Bonjour support, Application triggering… This one does it all.
  • NetworkLocation – Dynamically changes system settings (and more, for instance start a Meerkat tunnel) based on your location. Location may be derived from wireless networks, cabled networks, bluetooth and USB devices.
  • Things – GTD-compatible todo list application with its own iPhone companion.

And my screensavers:

I will probably update this entry as I discover new applications (and scrap my old ones), so if you’re a Mac user yourself, feel free to bookmark it. :)

Edited: 11th july 2007, 27th june 2007, 24th september 2007, 24th september 2007, 13th december 2007, 3rd december 2008, 6th december 2008, 7th december 2008, 3rd january 2009, 26th september 2010.

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7 Comments

  1. Et tu, Håvard…? Et tu? ;-)

  2. what about quicksilver?

  3. I never used quicksilver for much more than app launching, and Spotlight does that for me just fine. :)

  4. Mario

     /  1. October, 2010

    I just switched from quicksilver to Alfred to start my application, open folders etc. It has never been easier to open folders on my Mac. I they are still developing even more features.

  5. Craig

     /  6. October, 2010

    Thanks for the great list!

    I use NeoOffice instead of OpenOffice. What’s the difference?

    Agree on AirFoil–awesome app worth the $$.

    PodtoMac is a pay application that I had to buy to transfer all my music from my iPod to my new mac after my old one died. Saved a lot of time not having to reload all the music manually from CDs!

    Any experience with Clean My Mac or Snow Leopard Cache Cleaner?

    Thanks again.

  6. Actually, I’ve considered NeoOffice myself. It’s a fork of OpenOffice, so most of the codebase is the same. But NeoOffice behaves more Mac “native” by the looks of it. http://neowiki.neooffice.org/index.php/NeoOffice_Feature_Comparison lists some of the more important (and some unimportant) differences. The only downside is that it lags behind in version numbering, because new releases of OpenOffice has to be re-imported into the NeoOffice project. There is also a new fork called LibreOffice ( http://www.documentfoundation.org/download/ ) which looks promising.

    When it comes to various “cleaners”, I don’t believe they have any noticeable effect on system performance. The Windows registry becomes slower and slower as it grows in size, but since OS X doesn’t have anything that behaves in a smiliar way, there is no real performance gain there. The same applies to defragmentation. Individual files does not get fragmented on HFS, as long as the drive isn’t full. I have used Onyx from time to time for these kind of maintenance tasks, but more for troubleshooting than actual cleaning.

    I should also mention that I’m trying out Apptivate ( http://www.cocoabeans.se/apptivate ) as an alternative to Spark. It is much nicer on the eye, and Spark seems partly abandoned.

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