10 Must-Have Free Applications for Mac OS X

August 12, 2006 - Reading time: 10 minutes


The following is a list of free applications that greatly enhance Mac OS X at zero cost to the end user. I compiled this list with a few key points in mind.

  • The application has to be free. No shareware allowed. It IS ok if a free application also has a paid version if the paid version has added functionality, similar to AVG Free versus the paid versions in Windows.
  • The application should be relatively easy to use.
  • The application should do a good job at providing some specific functionality.
  • The application gets added points for beauty and elegance. After all, this is OS X.

I want to acknowledge that limiting myself to ten applications was difficult. Therefore, I decided to list a few runners-up at the bottom. I also want to emphasize that the items listed are in random order! All of these applications provide a different functionality, and ordering them by rank is futile and pointless. Finally, this is a subjective list; others will certainly disagree with my choices. I am fine with that. That said, here we go. This is *my* list of ten “must-have” applications for OS X.

—- (In random order) —-

1. Mozilla Firefoxhttps://getfirefox.com

Firefox is a terrific open-source browser that blocks pop-ups and features tabbed browsing. While Safari is also a great browser, Firefox adds a more functional search box, and the availability of themes and extensions greatly enhance its looks and functionality. Want to control iTunes from within Firefox? Done. Want to completely block advertisements (including flash ads)? Done. Firefox also has a slick, “find-as-you-type” search feature.

2. Cyberduckhttps://cyberduck.io/

Cyberduck is a free, open-source FTP client that is also capable of handling sFTP. The “bookmarks” are a nice touch, and it even interfaces smoothly with TextWrangler (see below)!

3. TextWranglerhttp://www.barebones.com/products/textwrangler/index.html

Once a commercial application, TextWrangler is now free. TextWrangler is a “high-performance” text editor whose sole purpose is to produce and change content, and it excels at manipulating generic text files and source code. Not only does it include FTP and sFTP support, it also interfaces seamlessly with Cyberduck and Applescript.

4. NeoOffice/Jhttps://www.neooffice.org/neojava/en/index.php

NeoOffice/J is an aqua port of OpenOffice.org, which includes a word processor, a spreadsheet program, a presentation program, an HTML editor, and more. Because it runs natively in aqua, it uses the same fonts as other OS X applications. While it will not yet suit the needs of those who rely heavily of Macros and scripting, NeoOffice/J will suit the needs of 95% of users. (Aside: I have had a handful of crashes on startup with NeoOffice/J, but it is still impressive enough to make the top ten. This is still “beta” software, and will improve over time at no charge to you, the user.)

5. RsyncXhttps://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/9066/rsyncx

RsyncX is a implementation of rsync (a Unix tool for intelligently backing up files) that has support for HFS+ file systems and also utilizes a GUI. Use this powerful tool to make backups of selected files to another place on your machine or over a network. You can even use RsyncX to “push” a copy of your booted volume to a networked computer, bless it for either OS 9 or OS X, and then reboot the remote machine.

6. VLChttps://www.videolan.org/vlc/

About: VLC (VideoLAN Client) is an open-source, highly-portable multimedia player for various audio and video formats, as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols. It functions well as a stand-alone media player, but you can also use it as a server to stream in unicast or multicast.

7. Audacityhttps://www.audacityteam.org/

Audacity is a free, open-source audio editor. While not yet in the same league as the larger commercial applications, Audacity will easily fit the needs of someone who requires a simple, easy-to-use multi-track waveform editor. Be sure to grab the extra packages, such as Lame (for mp3 exporting), the VST-plugin enabler, and the manual.

8. WhatSizehttps://www.whatsizemac.com/

WhatSize is a neat utility that allows you to quickly calculate the size of a given folder, its subfolders, and all files contained within. While it is calculating, you can open subfolders to browse their contents as well. WhatSize also reports information about hidden files and cache files. (Aside: This is one of those slick little applications that you do not realize how much you need until you try it.)

9. BitTorrenthttps://www.bittorrent.com/

BitTorrent is a tool used for distributed file sharing. It works by “seeding” files and tapping into the unused upload bandwidth of any computer running it. To use it, you have to upload while you download; no “leeching” allowed. While BitTorrent can certainly be used for “illegal” file distribution, there are many perfectly legal uses as well, such as downloading various Linux distributions. Use wisely.

10. Handbrakehttps://handbrake.fr/

Handbrake is an easy-to-use, open-source DVD to MPEG-4 (or AVI) converter. It can encode directly from DVDs or from VIDEO_TS folders. It also supports 2-pass encoding, picture deinterlacing, cropping, and scaling. It encodes audio in either AAC, MP3, or OGG formats.


GIMP – https://gimp.org/

The GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a powerful image editor. Though not quite on the level of Photoshop, the GIMP is a “creme- of-the-crop” open-source application that will easily suit the needs of all but professional graphic artists. The only reason that GIMP did not make the top ten is that it has to run in X11 as there is not (to my knowledge) a native aqua port, and this may cause confusion for people who do not have X11 installed.

Adium X – https://adium.im/

Adium X is an open-souce, multi-protocol instant messaging client that is based on GAIM. It looks similar to iChat, but allows you to connect to different IM services from within one application. It is a “must-have” for those who like to chat. (Aside: I did not include this in the top ten because I do not really like to chat. Yes, it is personal. After all, this is an opinion piece.)

SoundFlower – https://github.com/mattingalls/Soundflower

SoundFlower is an open-source audio system extension that allows you to “pipe” audio from one application to another easily. Once installed, SoundFlower simply shows up as another audio device. One example of a use for SoundFlower is to record streaming audio from iTunes into Audacity. I did not include this package in the top ten simply because most people would not have much of a use for it. Also be sure to check out “soundflowerbed.”

Blender – https://www.blender.org/

Blender is an open-source 3D graphics creation suite that includes modeling, animation, rendering, post-production, realtime interactive 3D, and game creation, all in one package! You have really got to see it to believe it. While extremely impressive, this package did not make it to the top ten because of the rather steep learning curve. There are lots of great tutorials available on the web site though.

3ivx D4 – https://www.3ivx.com/

While 3ivx is more of a codec toolkit than an application per se, it is important enough to include on OS X. Not only does 3ivx allow you to decode most MPEG-4 files, it allows you to encode video MPEG-4 at a higher quality and with higher compression than Apple MPEG-4. 3ivx is completely compatible with Quicktime and Quicktime- compatible encoding applications. The only problem is that it may have some issues playing certain AVI files. Though you can download a separate application from them to fix this playback issue, it is enough to keep it from the top ten.

MacTheRipper – https://www.ripdifferent.com/~mtr/

This is an open-source DVD ripper that has the ability to remove CSS encryption. That said, it is intended for use on DVDs that you actually own. It works perfectly well, but due to speed issues it did not make the top ten, though perhaps that is not fair. Ripping the same DVD on my “less-beefy” PC only took one-third the time, and this may be an optimization issue with OS X or with my Superdrive, and not necessarily with MacTheRipper.

—- Brian Bondari —-
Copyright 2005


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