Best Free Programs for a Mac?
November 16, 2006 8:31 AM   Subscribe

What Mac applications would make me love a Mac?

For the last year or so I have been using a Apple PowerBook G4 with the lastest OS X version but the problem is I don't have any non-standard software for it. So basically it is a Internet surfing and e-mail expensive toy.

On a PC I typically use Dreamweaver MX for web design and FTP and Photoshop CS for photo editing. Occassionally I use video editing software but my MiniDV camera is not compatible with my PowerBook. I also use Microsoft Power Point and Word for work purposes.

What are some programs that are FREE that would allow me the same type of programs on a Mac? Besides a WYSIWYG, Office Application and Photo Editing software what are some cool programs to use on a Mac? I am a techie yet new to the Mac world, and can't afford Dreamweaver and Photoshop for my Mac.
posted by randomthoughts to Computers & Internet (37 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Standalone apache and mysql server for development. Pretty cool.
BSD style ports system for Mac OS X. Like fink but better.

Nice graphics app. Long time mac support.

Tons more stuff and news at
posted by latexalibi at 8:44 AM on November 16, 2006

Anything made by Panic Software, such as Transmit.
posted by emelenjr at 8:57 AM on November 16, 2006

Since you seem like a power user, check out Quicksilver - I hear great things.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:58 AM on November 16, 2006

Anything made by OmniGroup, specifically OmniOutliner, OmniGraffle, and OmniProject.
posted by SpecialK at 8:58 AM on November 16, 2006

Oops. Sorry, I missed the note about FREE. Mac software generally isn't free, but it's almost always worth paying for.
posted by SpecialK at 8:59 AM on November 16, 2006 [1 favorite]">Quicksilver. It will make sure that you never, ever consider buying a windows computer again.
posted by tylermoody at 9:01 AM on November 16, 2006

Well then. It worked right on preview. Just copy/paste that url.
posted by tylermoody at 9:02 AM on November 16, 2006

scrivener is a writing program that's far superior to word and free. it's in beta right now but check out their full screen option.

I absolutely dig little snitch, a firewall that will essentially speak up every time an application tries phoning home.

paparazzi makes screenshots of websites.

pith helmet is an excellent ad blocker for safari.

panic doesn't only make transmit but also stattoo, which is a cool multiple-timezone clock utility you can have hovering on your desktop. it does, of course, way more.

last but not least: the smack book pro hack (youtube video) is about the coolest thing ever.

this never fails to impress the pc crowd.
posted by krautland at 9:10 AM on November 16, 2006

my MiniDV camera is not compatible with my PowerBook

Really?? What kind is that?


Favorite Software:

Free text editor from Sweden and great representation (I think -- not an engineer here) of the modern Macintosh "unified" interface; where title bar is combined with toolbar to be less distracting. A lot of applications are going this way and I love it.

Free application launcher, heuristic file/feature search tool. Very poorly documented, but it beats having everything in the Dock.

$23.32 USD. Video format converter. It even converts those stupid YouTube Flash Video/FLV files.

Freeware to make reading long text files (i.e. public domain books) more natural and less fatiguing.

File Juicer
$12 USD. Recover media from many kinds of files. Handy when clients insist on sending media embedded in whatever horrible office program they rely on.

$13.95 USD. Another unified GUI app. A calculator that behaves more like a text editor, allowing arbitrary text alongside the numbers.
posted by evil holiday magic at 9:10 AM on November 16, 2006

Quicksilver rocks, but spend some time learning it.

You're question isn't really fair to the mac. You say you are using thousands of dollars of professional applications and you want the mac to do it for free. There are equivilant applications, but keep your windows box if you want those expensive apps.

In the for pay area, the apple office suite (iWork) is pretty slick. The only downside is that it doesn't have a spreadsheet app. For that I use NeoOffice (Openoffice ported to the mac).

For IRC I use Colloquy, but have seen people use Xchat Aqua as well. For RSS reader, I use Shrook, which is free.

Writeroom is a free text program that lets you go fullscreen and not worry about the outside world while you write.
posted by cschneid at 9:13 AM on November 16, 2006

What about Quicksilver makes it so special? I'm in a similar situation as the poster and I have Quicksilver, but it hasn't made a bit of difference to me.
posted by cabingirl at 9:14 AM on November 16, 2006

Fourthing, or whatever, Quicksilver. The only downside is that once you get used to it, using a computer without Quicksilver is incredibly painful.
posted by myeviltwin at 9:14 AM on November 16, 2006

Handbrake - Amazingly easy DVD ripping / video encoding software. I've never found anything for Windows that comes close.

Devonthink - Personal relational database for clipping and notetaking and almost any other information-organizing type of thing you could want to do. Not free, but there's a free demo version, it's really cheap for what it does, and there's nothing comparable on Windows that I know of.
posted by jdunn_entropy at 9:17 AM on November 16, 2006

What about Quicksilver makes it so special?

Blacktree really needs to get it together and stop being too hip for documentation. QS can do some complicated workflows easily if you use the right plugins. Personally, I use it for a few things, but for those things it's proven itself indispensible to me (or is at least sorely missed when I'm without it).

Application launching is ridiculously fast. It provides instant access to folders within my Documents. It also offers its forgiveness of my backwards workflow of dragging a file, then realizing I have nothing to drag it onto in the Dock. I can hold onto that file, invoke QS, type a letter or two to get the app I want, and drop the file right on there.

posted by evil holiday magic at 9:21 AM on November 16, 2006

Another cool free app I've found is Clipper. A really easy, simple, free way to get multiple clipboards (which I think the system should provide at this point, but whatever).
posted by evil holiday magic at 9:24 AM on November 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've tried QuickSilver and don't quite grok it. I use and love the sort of similar LaunchBar
from Objective Development.

See also:

FreeMacWare, a daily blog for Mac freeware

and also spend some time exploring Pure Mac a Yahoo-style Mac software directory.
posted by Scoo at 9:29 AM on November 16, 2006

Quicksilver changes your experience completely.

I've listed some other apps on my blog recently (self link)
posted by kdern at 9:35 AM on November 16, 2006

Open Source for Mac. a simple clean list of free software that is useful.

FFmpegX for all my encoding needs

VirtueDesktops, a virtual desktop manager. There are other ones that may be better...

WhatSize, a simple tool that allows the user to quickly measure the size in bytes of a given folder and all subfolders and files within it.

I find quicksilver extremly useful too, though I couldn't figure out what else I could do with it besides opening applications.

and thanks for the tufo link, evil holiday magic!
posted by kolophon at 9:44 AM on November 16, 2006

Why isn't your MiniDV camera compatible? Doesn't it have a FireWire port? I haven't run across a MiniDv camera that doesn't.
posted by Gungho at 10:12 AM on November 16, 2006

What about Quicksilver makes it so special? I'm in a similar situation as the poster and I have Quicksilver, but it hasn't made a bit of difference to me.

Sorry, didn't see this until after hitting post. I use Quicksilver to:
- launch programs
- switch between apps
- search my address book
- control iTunes

The genius of QS is that with plugins it is extremely extensible. So, for example, if I want to call someone using skype, I bring up QS, type a few letters of their name, use the right arrow to select their primary phone number, type "s" to highlight the "call using skype" action, and hit return. This sounds like a lot of steps, until you actually try it and realize it takes almost no time at all.
posted by myeviltwin at 10:18 AM on November 16, 2006

Seconding the recommendation about anything from Omni. If you're the Cult of David Allen type, kGTD is an excellent GTD implementation in OmniOutliner. The author of kGTD is working with Omni Group to make a dedicated GTD app.

Other stuff:
  • UNO to rid yourself of brushed metal
  • The Unarchiver, a drop-in replacement for Apple's integrated un-zipper. Supports more types of archives and is much much faster.
  • iSquint to convert video into an iPod ready format
  • InquisitorX to make Safari's search more better
  • The iStat Pro dashboard widget.

posted by nathan_teske at 10:33 AM on November 16, 2006

Notational Velocity is the main (but far from the only) reason I continue to use OSX. It borders on being the most perfect application ever written.
posted by majick at 10:55 AM on November 16, 2006

Wow, this whole thread is confusing. You mention windows software that costs hundreds if dollars, then ask for 'free' mac equivalents. The you get a bunch of responses where very few are free.

In short, there is quite a bit of free mac software. You could outfit your mac with everything from a chat client to an rss app and spend no money, so it's out there.

Two of my favorite are imagewell and notational velocity. Check out some of the apps in this thread and visit some of the sites mentioned and you'll find a lot of good free software.
posted by justgary at 10:57 AM on November 16, 2006

Ones I can definitely second on this list:

QuickSilver - and as said before, spend some time with it and learning about it to really get the depth of it.

iSquint - Free and converts from Flash to formats that can be easily used in iMovie (which I did for this little retrospective of last year's butt-numb-a-thon) (selflink).

HandBrake I'll second, and Mac The Ripper for backups and again iMovie movie re-editing.

Transmit I'll also second. It's my favorite FTP application ever.

GraphicConverter is also another fantastic app that I have always had in my collection. (Mentioned above via the lemkesoft link.) If you only do basic stuff in Photoshop, this can easily be what you use instead.

If you really want an Office app, you can always try any of the mentioned OpenOffice ports. I've used several of them and they are all fine.

Yet unmentioned that I have recently come to love is VoodooPad which is like a self-wiki that you can drag anything into and even export it to an iPod as notes.

If you do instant messaging on multiple services, Adium is great and is easily my favorite

What makes me love my Mac are the included apps like iPhoto (lots of plugins available for exporting to any number of online photo galleries), iMovie (for capturing old VHS oddities and editing them), iDVD (for making DVDs out of said captured oddities, like MST3K), and GarageBand (for making fun remixes out of things you already have around. (more selflinks) iWeb... eh, not so much. The other stuff is fun and worthwhile though.

Of course, maybe you can use your Mac for things you don't use your PC for. You might discover some new things you're interested in.

cschneid has a point too, though, that you're asking for free apps to basically emulate commercial apps. Those apps are available for the Mac, after all. And not to condone or suggest anything... in appropriate, but your Dreamweaver install CD has a Mac install on it anyway. (All of the DW CDs have been dual installs for a while now.) Although, if it's MX, I shudder to think you actually want to install it on anything.
posted by smallerdemon at 11:26 AM on November 16, 2006

If you've got the time to invest,, a built-in application in Mac OS, combined with one of the nice Unix shells, like bash or zshell.

Think of it as an old-school -- very old-school -- version of Quicksilver. Does the same sorts of things, with a few more keystrokes -- but command-line completion cuts down on the strokes.

Again, a big time investment. But after having used Quicksilver for a while, I went back to the command line -- it's the more intuitive of the two for me.
posted by Gordion Knott at 11:37 AM on November 16, 2006

For those of you looking for more info about Quicksilver, check out Merlin Mann's intro to it on 43folders. Merlin is addicted to the program, and he has a lot of great ways to use it. The intro will just get you started.

The biggest thing for me was to make a short-cut to open it that made sense. On my Mac, QS logs in on start-up, and then I set it to open up when I hit ctrl+space. If I type Crtl + Space and then "sa" and then hit enter, it opens Safari. "ic" opens iCal. It's learned to open specific documents for me. I can move between programs, documents, minimized windows, everything a LOT faster. And that's just the very basic use of QS.

Though it's annoying because now on every other computer I have to stop myself from hitting ctrl+space...
posted by bibbit at 11:59 AM on November 16, 2006

I just wanted to second Handbrake. That is a sweet little tool. I use it all the time when I'm going to travel, to load up on compressed movies to watch later. I'm sure there's probably some PC equivalent, but I've never seen anything so easy to use.

Also, one of the things I've missed most when I have to use a PC instead of a Mac, is the Terminal. Lots of little stuff, like SSH/SFTP, a decent shell, emacs/vi/pico, sed and grep, which would all require third-party addons under Windows (at least to my knowledge), are built in on a Mac.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:34 PM on November 16, 2006

...but my MiniDV camera is not compatible with my PowerBook.
I'll ask the same thing a couple others have...What model miniDV is it? I've yet to meet a miniDV cam that didn't work perfectly with a Mac.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:16 PM on November 16, 2006

Free, open-source (rough) equivalents:
MS Office ➝ Open Office
Photoshop ➝ Gimp
posted by rob511 at 2:15 PM on November 16, 2006

For me, it was Terminal
posted by spankbot at 3:29 PM on November 16, 2006

For those of you puzzled at how to use Quicksilver, there's a pretty decent manual in the works by some guy. I also recommend the tutorials from Merlin Mann (as mentioned above) and others.

Good list of QS tutorials

Direct link to unofficial QS manual
posted by GS1977 at 3:52 PM on November 16, 2006

I keep my list of critical apps on my iusethis profile. Many of them are free.

evil holiday magic, the problem has been mostly that Quicksilver's development was so rapid that trying to keep the documentation up to date is nearly impossible. I had to revise my first tutorial at least 6 times.
posted by Remy at 7:29 PM on November 16, 2006

Growl notification software , is amazing, especially when paired with a program like sizzlingkeys , an itunes controller that uses keyboard shortcuts(both are free).
Also, writeroom is a great program for writing distraction-free.
And, of course, the award winning unstoppable progress
posted by joshuak at 12:57 AM on November 17, 2006

Oh, and flip4mac is an essential.
posted by joshuak at 1:01 AM on November 17, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the info everyone. My MiniDV Camera is a Sony TRV-22 which seems to be one of the few cameras that do not work with a Mac. Camera and Mac have a firewire port, but according to Sony's Support page, this model is not compatible with the Mac.
posted by randomthoughts at 6:40 AM on November 17, 2006

bibbit: "The biggest thing for me was to make a short-cut to open it that made sense..."
Next time you want to open Safari, invoke and hold S. You've just cut 2 keystrokes out of your flow.
posted by tylermoody at 12:17 PM on November 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

I did a quick search, and found a few pages suggesting the TRV-22 is compatible with the Mac (see Review 27 on this Amazon Page). Sony and Apple were both involved in developing the IEEE 1394 spec but Apple calls it FireWire and Sony calls it iLink. If you have a 4-6 pin FireWire/iLink cable around, you could pop open iMovie and see what happens.
posted by evil holiday magic at 3:58 PM on November 17, 2006

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