back to article Ten freeware gems for new Macs

It seems that Mac OS is forever moving further towards a closed computing model, especially with the introduction of Gatekeeper in Mountain Lion. Don’t despair just yet though, Mac users can still take advantage of an abundance of free and open-source applications available in the traditional way. We've put found ten top notch …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The latest version of Carbon Copy Cloner is no longer freeware

    You get a 30-day trial but after that, tough, and older versions aren't qualified for Mountain Lion.

    1. Fink-Nottle

      Re: The latest version of Carbon Copy Cloner is no longer freeware

      Backup+ is an application that performs much the same function but remains donation-ware.

  2. MacRat

    Carbon Copy Cloner

    Carbon Copy Cloner isn't freeware.

    Full on payware.

  3. 45RPM Silver badge

    Dont be so down on GateKeeper

    GateKeeper is awesome. It's not too restrictive - it doesn't get in my way at all, but it'll be a huge help in ensuring that my mother doesn't fill her Mac up with crapware. And we should all be thanking Apple (and any software company for that matter) for any technologies which make malware harder to spread, whilst not restricting the end user.

    1. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Re: Dont be so down on GateKeeper

      It's okay so long as they don't remove the option to disable it in a future release.

      It also has a rather misleading error message when you try to install non-signed apps, saying the file is corrupt.

  4. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    Where's the finder Replacements then?

    Come on El Reg... Finder is the most inadequate bit of software supplied by Apple. You could have at least added one choice to your list of freebies.

    For that you get the WTF? (Where's the Finder...) icon

    1. Jason Hindle

      Re: Where's the finder Replacements then?

      If anyone can recommend a Finder replacement that works well with Windows networks over VPN (i.e, doesn't open another bloody window every time I click on a folder).......

    2. Ilsa Loving

      Re: Where's the finder Replacements then?

      Maybe that's because there arn't any? There are only a handful of finder tools available, and none of them are free. Two I can think of off the top of my head... There is Pathfinder, which is pretty powerful, and there is TotalFinder, which is a plugin to the existing finder.

      1. cozappz

        Re: Where's the finder Replacements then?

        And a payware called Forklift, which is an unlucky clone of Total Commander. But for Mac should be just enough. Or not.

  5. davesag


    VLC is great but Plex is so much better, and also free. What's more Plex has iPhone and iPad versions that will talk to your Plex media server over either local or remote (including 3G) connections and transcode accordingly to suit your bandwidth and device. Check it out at

    1. Richard Cartledge

      Re: Plex

      Plex is better than VLC? That's like saying a banquet is better than a sandwich.

      If you double-click a movie you want to see it BOOM! not wait for the whole cumbersome Plex experience to fire up and cover your whole screen. I think MPlayerX would be a better alternative to the recently over-bloated VLC.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Plex

      How about Perian if you wanted integrated into the system?

      Although I've just checked the site now and it looks like they're calling it a day.

  6. Len
    Thumb Up

    The Unarchiver

    Instead of StuffIt Expander I would recommend The Unarchiver. ( It is free and supports an enormous number of formats, including very obscure or old ones such as ARJ or Amiga disk images:

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: The Unarchiver

      I'd go for Keka.

      I've lost count of the times StuffIt Expander just stuffs it up.

    2. jai

      Re: The Unarchiver

      +1 for TheUnarchiver - best thing, it keeps itself totally out the way too, much like the built in decompression tool.

  7. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    You missed one: geektool

    Geektool is one of those tiny utils that you don't know you need until you have it, and then you cannot do without.

    Geektool allows you to run little programs which output on your desktop. I have seen some positively awesome uses where people have a background and shape data and time onto it, but my needs are much simpler - I mainly have the output of some command line work on screen: one runs every hour or so and puts this months' calendar on screen (basically the out put of "cal"), one works out my current IP address inside and outside and -when available- WiFi IP and SSID in use, and one updates every 10 seconds the top 4 processes on my machine.

    It's just a very handy, slightly quirky tool.

    Apropos Carbon Copy - it's now payable, but it does give you 30 days free use, which means you can focus on recovering a busted disk without having to search for your license key first...

  8. CollyWolly

    best freeware for macs?

    Linux surely?

    1. Medium Dave

      Oh, you didn't just say that...

      Duck and cover!

      1. P. Lee

        Re: Oh, you didn't just say that...

        Fool! Thou shalt incur the Wrath of Fanboi!

        But, if you happen to have a powerpc, Debian is an improvement over an abandoned platform.

        You'll probably need a 3v pci-x sata card as the kit moves from desktop to server roles. 2 sata ports and no additional disk cage on a G5? What was Apple thinking?

        I wanted BSD, but no working mythtv port has foiled me thus far.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Oh, you didn't just say that...

          @P. Lee: I'm in the same situation as you. I acquired a free G5 Mac from work, and after lugging it home on the tube I went through a few operating system choices before settling on Debian Linux. My preferred choice is NetBSD, but it's not fully supported on G5 PowerPC Macs. My preferred choice of Linux is Fedora, but that has sketchy support on PowerPC generally, often skipping releases as developer time waxes and wanes. Debian is excellent though, particularly the testing release which has a decent balance between stability and the latest software versions. Everything's supported, including bluetooth, wireless networking and audio.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Don't you mean.


  9. stu 4


    For better video support, Movist is really nice. It's less clunky than VLC imho - and VLC, with its own drivers being its advantage, can also be a disadvantage in that it tends not to support as good HW video acceleration as quicktime or open source FFDSHOW, etc based stuff like Movist.

    Also, it supports 5.1 out the box with no fanning around, whereas VLC can be a right pain to get 5.1 out to your amp.

    Movist is opensource. BUT there is a newer version also on the app store which is commercial (though only 2.99).

    However, the free one plays everything I chuck at it, including smooth playback stuff like raw .mts 1080p 50fps stuff straight from my Sony HX9v SD card with low cpu use - which VLC cannot do.

    I tend to stick to XMBC for playing back MKVs - it has great low cpu usage, great general support. But for just quickly playing a video, my default app is set to Movist for all video types.


  10. Lord Lien

    Text Wrangler....

    ... love it. Been using it to make terminal scripts since Apple messed up TextEdit. I don't think I'll ever go back to TextEdit unless they drastically improve it.

    Onxy & FontNuke are well handy too.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Text Wrangler....

      If you can't do it with vi it's not worth doing! Real non-qjuiche-eaters use ed of course. There's always emacs, with various LISP extensions, for the desperate. Who on earth wants any kind of editor that tries to second-guess what you want, smears colours all over the place to distract you and requires taking fingers away from the keyboard to click, drag, select, point. paste, move up or down ... Ugh. Learn to type and save hours or go the whole hog and use a touch screen.

  11. OrsonX

    El Reg's list...

    ...reminds of a time when computing was fun, and great pleasure was to be had downloading, ripping, converting etc.

    These days I just can't be faffed!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: El Reg's list...

      Computing stopped being fun around the mid 90s. I have dabbled in both platforms over the years (PC and Mac) at the time was on a WinFW3.11 486. Soon after 1995 everyone started buying Packard Hell Pentiums running Win95 from PeeCee Wurld, then asking silly questions like how to put a picture of their cat as their screen saver (they meant wallpaper) instead of the clouds (which by default appeared in the middle of the screen with a huge border).

      I recall around that time, Windows User magazine had an article about the free tools that came with Win3.1, including how to use Cardfile as an address book. They seemed to be a bit smug that their Mac colleagues didn't have any of these applications (though the infinitely better than MS Write/Terminal/Cardfile/Paint package that was Clarisworks seemed to be standard install on most Macs).

      Now computers are appliances, though it seems that more and more casual users are moving onto tablets, and Linux is like using PCs of old. Command line usage to get drivers to work are reminiscent of building boot disks to get a game to work with max of the 640kb base memory.

      (Diesel cars are the same, they got worse after the late 90s when they got too complicated and everyone started to have one. But I digress....)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Its amazing what they can do with Macs these days..

  13. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. Anonymous Coward

    So much good stuff out there

    ...and the app store just makes trying it all so very addictive.

    I agree with just about all of this. A few others:

    Widgets: iStat Pro (best free all-in-one system monitor there is) and PEMDAS (nice simple scientific calculator)

    Software: BOINC is a chance to do some good through distributed computing (I'm currently supporting protein structure refinement), Evernote is just so good it's not fair on anything else-wish I'd used it as a student. VirtualBox is a why-pay-more VM solution-you can even download pre-customised installations of Ubuntu and Kubuntu if you want to dabble. But change its default of allowing VMs to take 100% of the processor. Wunderlist is good if (like me) you don't need a full-service task-management solution. Quicksilver is amazing as a file-control-and-searching solution if you can take the time to learn it, though I know I'll never master all its features.

    And one dog: if you do anything complex with documents and don't work for a company using it, don't gamble on LibreOffice: it's a recipe for mangling your files. If you can afford a Mac you can afford Office or iWork, and if you're a student look out for discounts on the former. Though as someone who considers the Ribbon to be one of Microsoft's better ideas I'm probably not in the mainstream of opinion on this.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: So much good stuff out there

      And one dog: if you do anything complex with documents and don't work for a company using it, don't gamble on LibreOffice: it's a recipe for mangling your files

      The claim that LibreOffice can open all MS Documents is wrong. I was working with a .docx file, and discovered that LibreOffice only showed me one quarter of the document. The other three quarters it claimed weren't there. It also frustrates me that the importing of .doc/.docx files with complex formating often goes awry.

      The people who write LibreOffice have done a great job of getting to where they are today. But for dealing with real-world documents, it just doesn't cut it.

    2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: So much good stuff out there

      VirtualBox is a why-pay-more VM solution

      I found VirtualBox to be slower and eat more CPU than VMWare Workstation.

    3. Nick Pettefar

      Re: So much good stuff out there

      NeoOffice! It's great!

  15. Antoinette Lacroix

    Some trolls . .

    Why would you put Linux on a Mac ? It's already running Unix, you know . .

    1. a_been

      Re: Some trolls . .

      Don't confuce the hard of thinking.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Some trolls . .

      Why would you put Linux on a Mac ? It's already running Unix, you know .

      I spent a couple of years running OS X on a Macbook Pro, while still running Linux on a desktop machine. I gave up on OS X for a number of reasons. I got sick of Apple effectively orphaning each version as a new one came out, particularly for development purposes - after going through the Tiger, Leopard and Snow Leopard update treadmill I'd had enough. The OS also becomes a mess after a few months, as the package management is non-existant. The ~/Library folder is a bloody mess as well, and while OS X may be Unix-ish under the hood, it's becoming increasingly less so as Apple replace sub-systems with their own oddball alternatives. The result is a half way house that for a developer machine at least is a sod to maintain. I put Fedora Linux on the Macbook, and I've been much happier with it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Some trolls . .

        That's odd. I did the same (most of the LInuxes at work, a couple at home), plus free BSD and came to exactly the opposite conclusion: OS X was so much more complete and reliable, with everything still working without change (bar a short-term glitch with twm support, soon fixed) from Tiger till now. What is really nice: all the LAMP and other tools are already there. Just about the only thing I ever download separately is GPM (oh, and a couple of text-mode web reader programmes).

        As for "Apple replace sub-systems with their ...". Generally, I fear that this is exaggerated by you and many of the changes, such as the complete use of LDAP, are just Apple using the newer methods that long-time UNIX users (like me) must learn. LINUX too has some very odd quirks for a UNIX user and, as for upgrades, I finally abandoned it at thome when the upgrade to Ubuntu would not boot on my old Thinkpad. Packaging? RPM is good do you think? Dear dear. Or perhaps you have in mind one of the numerous alternatives, none of which are as good as the old stuff on many, proper UNIX systems.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Some trolls . .

          I develop in C, C++ and Java rather than a LAMP-like environment, so our experiences may differ considerably based on that. As for package management, I've never had a problem with RPM - I've used CentOS at work for many years, and even third party packages for the likes of PostgreSQL haven't caused issues. The old "dependency hell" problem, which was exaggerated by the RMS worshipping neckbeards back in the day, has been alleviated by things like the yum updater. Your problem may be Ubuntu. A colleague ran it on his desktop machine, and thanks to his insistence on always running the latest release it became a maintenance nightmare for some of the same reasons as OS X - so much changed between versions that it became easier to just reinstall each new version from scratch. At least with Ubuntu you have the choice of an LTS release that isn't effectively orphaned when a newer intermediate release comes out.

  16. mattrules161


    Well, the screenshot is quite clearly not a mac, in fact it looks like ubuntu which comes with it BUNDLED. And it's a lot cheaper...

  17. Semihere


    BatChmod is a great little app to sort out all those permissions that OS X has a habit of completely borking, especially on external drives shared over a network.

    Come to think of it - XBMC is a great FrontRow replacement. VLC isn't actually a media centre app anyway, it's a media player - but it does plug into XBMC along with a whole world of other free third-party add-ons.

  18. Neil Brown

    Caffeine, MagicPrefs, GPGMail, Chicken of the VNC, photorec and more...

    So many great f/Free utilities out there:

    Caffeine: places a coffee cup icon in the menu bar; click, and it changes the power settings to stop the screen from going to sleep. Ideal for presentations.

    MagicPrefs: a (secondhand) Magic Mouse makes a great presentation controller, using MagicPrefs to adjust the functions available by simply tapping the device's surface. (Given there's no IR port on the new MacBook Air, I tried this is a solution a year or so ago, and haven't looked back — it works really well.)

    GPGMail: not yet available for Mountain Lion (although hopefully soon — a donation to oil the wheels of development may help speed it up), but essential if you want to sign or encrypt your email.

    Chicken of the VNC: lightweight and simple VNC client.

    photorec: command line data recovery software. It's worked very well for me so far — recovering files from a trashed Windows HDD, "lost" photos from a camera's SD card and so on.

    MetaZ: once you've used HandBrake, use MetaZ to apply the metadata, to display artwork, actor information and so on.

    I don't appear to have linking privileges yet, so sorry for the bare URLs :)

    (Load owncloud onto a spare server, run the owncloud client on your Mac, and you've got a great (and Free) dropbox alternative, under your control. Else, consider running unison on the server, and using the Mac unison client — great two-way synchronisation.)

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Re: Caffeine, MagicPrefs, GPGMail, Chicken of the VNC, photorec and more...

      With you on GPGMail, although I tend to use Thunderbird which works just fine on OSX 10.8 (OSX Mail doesn't do read receipts and delivery flags which sucks). Thanks for the photorec tip.

      I also like MenuMeters ( and exiftool ( which just had a new release..

  19. Dan 55 Silver badge


    Is a good workaround for the bug which still persists in Snow Leopard (I don't know if they fixed it in any of the Lions), which is if you have another computer connected via SMB and it disconnects, and nothing else has happened in the meantime, the idle time is taken as the time of the connection, not the time of the disconnection.

    Result, watch a film for an hour, pause it on the media player of your choice which is streaming from the Mac, make a cup of tea, come back, try to restart the film, oh noes, my Mac has turned off.

    It just works (sigh).

  20. Tony Barnes

    XBMC > VLC

    XBMC is IMO one of the best bits of free software out there, the Mac version is as good as expected, and makes watching my media PC files a breeze in the office on my Mac. Way more elegant than VLC, and whilst it probably doesn't do some of the weired stuff that VLC offers, it does a lot more with ragards to library/pretifying things.

  21. craigj

    Why is El Reg providing me with links to buy freeware from Amazon?

  22. ColonelClaw
    Thumb Up


    The venerable Windows cleanup tool has recently been released for Mac. You can grab it for free from the App Store.

    Fun trivia: When CCleaner first came out it was called 'Crap Cleaner', but they decided to change the name when it became popular.

  23. TheHappyPenguin


    Alas, Deeper does not have a Mountain lion version yet.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh come on, try harder!

    Thunderbird, Firefox, Chrome, ResizeIt, Opera, iTerm, Chicken of the VNC, XBMC, GIMP, TrueCrypt, to name a few off the top of my head.

    Handbrake command line is a way better for dumping DVDs to vid files than that God-awful HB GUI! Alright you need a little bit of sheel scripting know-how but it's worth the investment. ( "Command line? On a Mac?! After Apple spent all that R&D on the GUI?!! Philistine!!!" )

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