25 Useful Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Macs

Share Button

About two years ago, I wrote a very popular piece for The Simple Dollar called 30 useful Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Windows. In it, I talked about how I had a new Dell laptop and that I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on additional software for it, so I went hunting. I sought out open source software so that I knew it would be not only free, but the code would be peer-reviewed and it wouldn’t have any bugs or malicious elements in it. And, eventually, I found thirty pieces of software that really met my needs.

Eventually, though, I switched to using a Mac. And, just as with my PC, I wanted to find a lot of open source software to meet my basic computing needs. I didn’t want to shell out the big bucks for Office or other such expensive pieces of software – I’d already spent enough. So I went hunting.

What follows is a list of twenty five pieces of software that are the cream of the crop of open source software for Macs. Not only is every piece of it free, many of them directly replace expensive software packages.

firefox1. Firefox
http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox/
Replaces Internet Explorer and Safari
Safari is a very solid web browser out of the box, but it’s not nearly as extensible or useful as Firefox. With add-ons like Book Burro, FareFirst, and Package Mapping, plus the speed and reliability I’ve come to expect, Firefox is the only web browser for me.

2. Quicksilver
http://www.blacktree.com/
Unique but useful (productivity)
Quicksilver lets you set almost anything you can imagine in Mac OS as a keyboard shortcut. This allows me to do things like start iTunes and have it auto-play a specific podcast with a specific keyboard shortcut (I have one that auto-plays This American Life, for example). It’s a bit complicated at first, but once you get used to it, it makes you feel massively productive and it becomes almost an essential part of the OS.

3. Thunderbird
http://www.mozilla.com/thunderbird/
Replaces Mail
For most purposes, the default Mac OS Mail does the trick, but I find Thunderbird essential because it allows me features like auto-replying to certain kinds of messages and far better IMAP support, and it’s faster, too. Even better – it works identically both on my PC and on my Mac.

4. Sunbird
http://www.mozilla.org/projects/calendar/sunbird/
Replaces iCal
I like iCal, but Mozilla Sunbird does one thing that iCal doesn’t – two-way syncing with Google Calendar. When I’m traveling, I’ll use Google Calendar at any terminal I’m at to print out tomorrow’s schedule, make little changes, and so on. When I get home, it’s just a click of a button and it all syncs up with Sunbird. That’s an amazing feature for me and it makes Sunbird far superior to iCal.

5. AbiWord
http://www.abisource.com/download/
Replaces Microsoft Word
This is, by far, the best open source word processor for Macs. It functionally replaces Microsoft Word for almost every purpose I’ve come across and has a fast and slick interface to boot. This is the word processing program I used to write my book with, in fact.

OpenOffice.org6. OpenOffice
http://www.openoffice.org/
Replaces Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint
Need to make spreadsheets or presentations on your Mac? OpenOffice provides the tools you need for that (as well as word processing, but I prefer AbiWord for that). I often use OpenOffice Spreadsheet for the number calculations you see on The Simple Dollar, as well as using it for tracking my net worth (as in this tutorial I wrote).

7. Seashore
http://seashore.sourceforge.net/
Replaces (for most uses) Adobe Photoshop
This is a fairly simple image editor that takes care of most of the basic uses of Photoshop and is simple enough for most users to pick up. This is a great solution for those who want to do simple image manipulation but don’t want to shell out the big bucks for Photoshop.

8. Scribus
http://www.scribus.net/
Replaces Adobe Pagemaker (desktop publishing)
I’m actually elbow-deep in Scribus right now as I work on a special side project. It’s a very powerful desktop publishing program, giving you tons of freedom to lay out pages however you like. Another use: I’m thinking about making a family newsletter to ship out in the Christmas cards this year.

9. Adium
http://adiumx.com/
Replaces iChat
iChat is pretty slick, allowing me to chat in AIM and GTalk at the same time, but what about all of the other chatting protocols out there. Adium allows you to be on YahooIM, Windows Messenger, AIM, ICQ, and several other messaging services at the same time with the same program.

10. OneButton FTP
http://onebutton.org/
Replaces “command line” FTP
On occasion, I need to FTP some files from one place to another (usually from one computer to another within our home network, when I’m too lazy to use a memory stick). OneButton FTP does the job in the simplest and easiest way possible – much easier than the default “command line” FTP.

11. Audacity
http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
Replaces/supplements GarageBand
Need to make audio recordings of your own? All you need is a microphone of some sort and Audacity – and you can create podcasts, record music, or pretty much anything else you can imagine. I’ve actually considered using it to read aloud some bedtime stories for my kids in advance of any traveling I might do.

12. Cashbox
http://www.fadingred.org/cashbox/
Replaces Quicken
This is a very nice personal finance data manager for Mac OS. It doesn’t have quite all the bells and whistles of Quicken, but it provides a strong feature set and a huge number of different views of your personal finance state. If you’re a Quicken fan but don’t want to drop the cash for a Mac version, look into this one.

13. Vidalia
http://www.vidalia-project.net/
Unique but useful (privacy)
Many people are concerned about online privacy and don’t want their IP address shared with web sites that they visit or file servers that they access. Vidalia easily allows you to use proxy servers for your accessing needs, enabling you to disguise your computer on the internet.

14. Books

http://books.aetherial.net/wordpress/

Unique but useful (book cataloguing)
This one’s just for fun, but I’ve found it very useful. It allows you to catalogue all of your books, create reports, and so forth. I’ve been using it heavily in conjunction with PaperBackSwap to help me as I read through a pretty big pile of classic literature.

15. Bean
http://www.bean-osx.com/
Replaces TextEdit
I use this software for the editing of virtually every post that appears on The Simple Dollar. It’s a slick little editor with features like automatic word counting that really help when you’re trying to keep some semblance of control on the length of your articles.

16. GanttProject
http://ganttproject.biz/
Replaces Microsoft Project
This is an excellent tool if you’re involved in the management of large projects with many staff members, particularly if budgeting is tight (as Project can be expensive). One of my closest friends uses this for mission-critical projects in the workplace.

17. Nvu/BlueGriffon
Now: http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/15699
Soon: http://bluegriffon.org/
Replaces Dreamweaver (HTML editing)
I prefer coding my HTML by hand, but many people prefer the aid of a tool to help them with layout, and that’s what these provide. Nvu is a bit outdated but is still very useful – the creator has moved on to a new project, called BlueGriffon, which should be available soon.

18. Blender
http://www.blender.org/download/get-blender/
Unique but useful (3D graphics creation)
Blender is a magnificent tool if you like tinkering with 3-D graphics creation. It’s perhaps overkill for most people, but if you’re involved in graphic design at all, using and knowing Blender can be invaluable.

19. Colloquy
http://colloquy.info/
Unique but useful (IRC)
If you chat on IRC, Colloquy is essential software. For the uninitiated, IRC is a very large network of chatrooms on various specific topics, often developing their own culture. Colloquy is a wonderful solution for IRC chatters on Macs.

20. FreeMind
http://freemind.sourceforge.net/
Unique but useful (brainstorming)
Whenever I’m struggling to organize my thoughts and ideas, I open up FreeMind. Basically, it’s a tool that lets you toss out your thoughts in an unorganized structure, then build connections between them however you like. I often use it for posts where I have a collection of thoughts and research notes, but I haven’t really decided how to order them or tie them all together. It’s brilliant in any brainstorming setting.

21. Celestia
http://www.shatters.net/celestia/
Unique but useful (planetarium)
If you’re a space buff (like I am), Celestia is incredible software. It’s a great way to create star charts, help you identify good nights for viewing constellations and other stellar objects, and simply stumble around different views of the sky. I simply love looking at the night sky, and Celestia is a wonderful free companion for this hobby.

22. Transmission
http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/19378
Unique but useful (file sharing)
Many people like to upload and swap their own files with other users, such as live recordings of concerts, recordings of their own performances, free application software, and so on. BitTorrent is one of the most popular protocols for doing this, and Transmission is easily the best of the open source Mac clients for swapping them.

23. MacLibre
http://www.maclibre.com/
Supplements Software Update
Many of these software packages are updated fairly regularly by their authors. MacLibre serves as something of a “Software Update” tool for these things, fetching updates for you and helping you to easily install them with just a click or two. It’s a great way of keeping up to date on software updates for open software on a Mac.

24. Aleph One
http://source.bungie.org/get/
Gaming
Like games like Quake and Half-Life? Aleph One is an excellent open source game in this vein, available for the Mac. The graphics are a bit on the simple side, but online play is quite slick and one can’t argue with the cost.

25. Battle for Wesnoth
http://www.wesnoth.org/
Gaming
The final choice on this list is a turn-based strategy game with a fantasy theme. Battle for Wesnoth presents you with a wide array of scenarios that require you to take turns moving pieces around the landscape, thinking about your moves, and engaging in skirmishes. This one ate up a lot of my hours a few years ago!

Share Button
Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...

53 thoughts on “25 Useful Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Macs

  1. This article is extremely relevant to me: in library school, we recently discussed and compared open source and proprietary software. For anyone on a budget, from a library experiencing budgetary cutbacks to an individual trying to live cheaper, open source is so handy to have around. One of the drawbacks is that often, these products come with little to no technical support, and that can be a major problem for some folks.

    But, if you’re willing to learn it yourself, why pay the money for a service? As more people and libraries become more technically savvy, the need for expensive tech support falls away.

  2. Thanks for this! I had been running a Windows w/ a good amount of open-source software, and when I switched to Mac, a good portion of the o.s. software was not compatible with both systems – although certainly are, and I’m not sure you mentioned that in the article.

    I will certainly be checking out some of these programs, thanks!

  3. Don’t forget GIMP (Adobe Photoshop replacement) and inkscape (Adobe Illustrator replacement). Otherwise, great list. I’ve been using most of these open source software myself.

  4. I’m a longtime Mac user always looking for new software, so it’s unusual for anyone to turn up something I haven’t already heard of or tried. But you came up with a couple that intrigue me. Will be checking them out. Thanks.

  5. Thank you for the list. :) Though I’d like to point out Google now supports two syncing with iCal, and I’m able to set it up so it also syncs with my Blackberry calendar automatically. :)

  6. Thank you, Trent. This is an excellent list. I, too, am particularly interested in about three of these programs. I now have a Mac laptop.

    Does anyone use any type of scan for spyware on their Mac? All my friends say it is not necessary, but I don’t know if I can really believe that.

    Thanks again for this list and the brief reviews.

  7. Yes! Mac software!

    It’s hard to come by good open source software for Mac so I’m glad to see this list. Definitely bookmarking it. Thanks!

  8. It’s worth noting that the bulk of these apps are available for Linux as well (and most of them started out as Linux apps, truth be told).
    Great list, Trent – keep up the good work.

  9. If you work for a large company talk to the IT person, sometimes the company gets “deals” with software. My company (500 employees, total) is only charged $25 by Microsoft to purchase the office suite softwear. I got Office 2007 for $25 and that included shipping.

  10. kyle: I use Cyberduck for my SFTP needs. I don’t do anything complicated, but it gets the job done and doesn’t get in my way. It’s an actively maintained open source app.

  11. thanks for the guide. BTW, you can have two way sync between google calendar and iCal. I’m using it!

  12. For sftp and/or other file transfer protocols use cyberduck or fugu (the latter only doing sftp).
    These two are great programs.

    Dont forget TrueCrypt for File encryption

    and MacTex2008 for all your ‘real’ typesetting.
    It includes BibDesk, similar to Books but also nice for Latex stuff.

    Then consider Camino, a real Mac Broswer that is a lot better integrated than FF but lacks some features some may not want to miss.

  13. Trent,

    How do you “use”cashbox? How do you create a budget with it? Do you make a budget “account”?

    Thanks,
    Chad

  14. Great post! Especially for me, a newly converted Mac user! ;-)

    I’ve been putting together a list of my own, plus a list of other top Mac apps as recommended by other Mac users. I’ll be sure to add our list to the latter.

    Keep up the good work!

  15. @kyle: My preferred FTP/SFTP client if Transmit (www.panic.com/transmit), but there are many others.

    @Trent: Great list. Granted, open source software very often suffers from a sub-par user experience (programmers don’t make great UI designers), and so several of those on your list are, IMHO, not elegant enough for common use. But still a good starting point for someone to decide if they can “get by” with the free/OS version.

    That said, the total nerd in me must correct your Aleph One description. It’s not really an “open source game”, it’s an open source game *engine*, created to allow fans of the old (and originally closed-source) Bungie game Marathon (and its two sequels, Durandal and Infinity) to play the games on modern platforms and in true 3D (rather than the Doom-esque “2.5D”). Originally, you had to own the games in order to play them on the Aleph One engine, but Bungie has kindly provided the game files (textures, maps, etc.) for free. You can read a bit of history here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleph_One_(computer_game)

  16. I use firefox with the greasemonkey add-on. Greasemonkey allows me to block specific urls during certain times of the day. For example, if I try to go to a thesimpledollar webpage during business hours (except for lunch), then I get a message that says “get back to work.” This has been helpful while trying to finish my thesis.

  17. Should mention that Aleph One started out as the origonal source code for Marathon, one of the greatest games ever made.

    Nice list! I need to check out some of these other programs.

  18. I tried to go to the developer’s page for Cashbox but got an “500 – Internal Server Error”. The app is available on Versiontracker but I’d like to see the developer page—anyone know why it’s down or if there is another link?

  19. May I also add to the list, the new Google Chrome web browser. I’ve used most of the browsers out there, and this is my personal favorite. It’s straightforward, and doesn’t have many bells and whistles, but it’s sleek, fast, and really gets the job done.

  20. I knew some of these programs already, but you did a great job tying all of them together.

    open source is the best way to go; like you said it is peer reviewed and I find it often works even better than software we pay for.

  21. Is there any free software out there that is the equivalent to Adobe Acrobat? I had Adobe Acrobat with my PC but have switched to Mac. I need to add and subtract PDF pages, combine PDF pages and make occasional changes to the text of PDFs.

    Any suggestions?
    Thank you in advance for any help!

  22. neo-office to me runs so much more mac-like than openoffice… neooffice.org , and gimp does a lot more to replace photoshop to me, but it does require more getting used to.

  23. Thanks for the list. I have a couple items to check out.

    kyle: Transmit is a very good SFTP application for the mac. It’s not free, but it’s a well-liked app.

  24. FareFirst is not available for the current build of FireFox. It hasn’t been updated in several years. If a reader of this page goes ahead and switches to Firefox from Safari (a good decision) that user will not be able to install FareFirst.

  25. thanks for the list I always say that apple is better on my list if I had one it would be 1. apple
    2. mozzila 3. microsoft. Ive found that apple just does what I want and not like microsoft that does whatever it wants

  26. Thanks for the great list! It was helpful to me personally, and I also referred people to it on my blog, Daily Citron, where I talk about various ways to save money without compromising your standard of living.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>