back to article Ten Mac freeware apps for your new Apple baby

One saving grace of buying a shiny new Mac over a PC is certainly the lack of factory-installed bloatware. However, while Mac OS X is far from featureless, many users will find themselves headed straight to the Mac App Store or elsewhere to supplement their experience. Since not everyone wants to wade through endless lists of …

  1. Longrod_von_Hugendong
    Thumb Up

    Missing App...

    Macs fan control, I find the built in cpu fan control is way to conservative on my mac book pro and it will not speed up the fan until its on fire this leads to bad performance and a burnt gentleman area. With Macs fan control the cpu fan is spun up much quicker leading to less heat build up. This might be better on new mac books so YMMV, for me I wouldn't be without it.

  2. JDX Gold badge


    My wife has something similar (maybe the same thing) on a Vista Laptop. It's quite weird just how red it goes in the evening.

    1. Paul Webb

      Re: F.Lux

      I've got so used to using this that when I needed to turn it off I was blinded by the shock of blue light! I wish it would work with a light sensor rather than taking a 'best guess' approach with no regard to the actual physical environment.

      1. pacmantoo

        Re: F.Lux

        If your laptop has a webcam it probably will adapt to ambient lighting anyway?

    2. jai

      Re: F.Lux

      is there any issue with adjusting the gamma of the screen so much so constantly?

      it's a novel app, but i was concerned that it seems to change the value a huge amount in the evenings.

      i'm guessing the lcd's in our laptops weren't envisaged as running at those settings, so are we confident there's no risk of damage?

      1. mccp

        Re: F.Lux @ Jai

        If you considered the way your screen works for a moment you would realise that there is no problem with this.

        LCD panels have a white backlight that is usually fixed at one level of intensity, or varied in intensity according to the ambient light. Colour is added by shining the white light through an array of red, green and blue filters. The LCD part of your screen simply blocks or unblocks the light emerging from any one particular filter.

        The LCD doesn't care about the screen colour, the filters are passive and the backlight only varies its intensity to adjust for ambient light levels.

    3. MD Rackham

      Re: F.Lux

      No risk of any damage, but just don't do any color correction work while it's on. The result will be spectacularly bad on computers not running F.lux.

      Color correction work should always be done with the monitor set to D65 white, preferably also with the use of a good hardware color calibrator.

      (Yes, there are other valid white points for specialized situations, but D65 is most common.)

      1. SeanDinfo

        Re: F.Lux

        I have been a long time user of F.lux, in most cases it's use is highly beneficial in reducing eye strain and reminding me it is probably time to sleep (I actually start to feel tired not bathed in bright blue).

        Anyway as MD Rackham says do not do anything that relies on color correction, I know that most people who know about CC will know about that but I have found instances where just in normal work you need to hit the Disable .. for an hour (or until sunrise) menu options. These include working on mail threads where people have used color coding to identify their comments. All of those subtle colors look very similar with such a big shift in gamma.

        (OK so that was freaky as I typed the last sentence I could feel my world changing as my screen slowly reddened as it must be an hour ago since I disabled F.lux as I worked my way through a large color coded mail thread).

        So what about QS? Almost the first thing I install after the OS. I know that Alfred can do some of what it does bit it is the best launcher available for OS X.

  3. JDX Gold badge

    MSPaint equivalent?

    Is there one bundled with OSX I've never spotted? If not, is there a de fact standard really basic tool for quick & dirty image editing?

    I love the screenshot options in OSX - like Windows Snipping Tool but built in and better - but not being able to paste that directly into something is a PITA.

    Suggestions? And yes I know Gimp is available but it's way overkill ;)

    1. melt

      Re: MSPaint equivalent?

      Seashore -

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. jai

      Re: MSPaint equivalent?

      Well, the built-in equivalent is Preview, it'll be there in your Applications folder.

      It's fine for pasting in a screenshot and resizing it, or compiling a group of images and savingn as a multi-page pdf or similar.

      But if you're looking to edit/change picutres, in a photoshop type way without the bulk of photoshop, then i like Pixelmator, but i don't think it's free.

      There was also Acorn, which i think was either free or very cheap. It wasn't too featured, but perfectly fine for quick editing. The latest version looks to have most features you'd expect, but i'm not sure what the price is.

    4. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Re: MSPaint equivalent?

      There isn't really an explicit separate program bundled, basic image editors are more hidden in other things like Preview and iPhoto (I think Keystone also has a few mods).

      I installed Pixelmator. Not only does that have quite good editing resources, it also has a (somewhat too well hidden) vector mode. It's a good example of Mac software that beats the bejeezus out of far more expensive packages (and it's able to handle some Photoshop resources).

      If you occasionally need to go beyond the basics but don't really need full blown Photoshop I'd recommend Pixelmator - also because you can properly try before you buy. It's IMHO worth the money.

      If you want it free I concur with another commentard: Seashore will do you fine. I just stopped using it after I installed the above :).

      1. Neil Brown

        Re: MSPaint equivalent?

        Seconded (thirded?) for Pixelmator, although I do still find I use the unfortunatley-named The GIMP now and again, having got used to it in my Linux-only days.

      2. James O'Shea

        Re: MSPaint equivalent?

        You might also have a look at Graphic Converter. It's primarily aimed at, well, converting graphic files from one format to another (duh...) but it is also quite a capable little mini-Photoshop. And if there's a graphic format it doesn't handle, wait a bit and Mr. Lemke will add it. I've used it for nearly 20 years now. It's beautiful, it actually does some things faster than Photoshop. And it's both try-before-you-buy shareware (remember that?) and cheap; when I first got it, it was $15-20 or so (it's been 20 years, I can't remember exactly) with an upgrade fee of around $10. The price has inched up to $40, $25 for upgrades. You only pay for _major_ upgrades, so I've shelled out the upgrade fee maybe three-four times. That means that I've paid less than two months worth of Creative Cloud (for which I will never, ever, pay, my copy of Creative Suite 5.5 still works and I have an older system carefully preserved to ensure that it I will have a machine to run it on for years to come) for 20 years of service. And Mr. Lemke provides excellent customer service, something I can't say about Adobe. I'm _happy_ to pay him so that he can keep his products available.

    5. Peter.Stessel

      Re: MSPaint equivalent?

      - - I love the screenshot options in OSX - like Windows Snipping Tool but built in and better - but not being able to paste that directly into something is a PITA. - -

      You should try pressing ctrl in addition to cmd+shift+4. That way you transfer it to temp memory and you can paste it immediately after.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: MSPaint equivalent?

        You should try pressing ctrl in addition to cmd+shift+4. That way you transfer it to temp memory and you can paste it immediately after.

        I don't know about you, but I sometimes feel that I'm running out of fingers with some of these key combinations..

        1. Michael Thibault
          Thumb Down

          Re: MSPaint equivalent?

          Too few fingers?

        2. JDX Gold badge

          Re: You should try pressing ctrl in addition to cmd+shift+4

          Yes that is what I generally do. But then you need a program ready to paste into... hence my question :)

          1. ThomH Silver badge

            Re: You should try pressing ctrl in addition to cmd+shift+4 @JDX

            Command+shift+control+4 and select an area.

            Open Preview and the command+n File menu will have become "New from Clipboard". So select that or hit command+n for an atomic create+paste.

      2. Neil Brown

        Re: MSPaint equivalent?

        Great tip — thanks.

    6. Kar98

      Re: MSPaint equivalent?

      Paintbrush for Mac.

  4. Stuart 39

    Lots of other good products....

    Sophos do a Mac version of their AV product... Free for home use! (

    Virtualbox is also invaluable for when you need to spin up Windows boxes as we all do from time to time

    TextWrangler.... Free highly customisable and flexible editor

    MAMP - Instant setup of an Apache PHP MySQL with gui management built in.. stack

    Loads of good stuff to be honest!

    1. jai

      Re: Lots of other good products....

      +1 for Sophos recommendation

      Also for TextWrangler, i'm a bit fan of it, although a lot of people also prefer BBEdit for their text file bothering.

      1. Joe 48

        Re: Lots of other good products....

        Another vote for TexWrangler.

        Dare I say it, I quite like OneNote and MS Remote Desktop on the Mac.

        Caffeine is a good tool for keeping the Mac awake when you want.

        For a bit of Fun check out VirtualDJ Home.

        1. Neil Brown

          Re: Lots of other good products....

          +1 TextWrangler

          1. Frankee Llonnygog

            Re: Lots of other good products....

            Also for TextWrangler

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lots of other good products....

      The only problem with Sophos is that it requires Administrator password to run!

      1. Joe 48

        Re: Lots of other good products....

        Wouldn't that be needed though? Else how can it scan protected files a normal user can't access.

    3. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Re: Lots of other good products....

      +1 for VirtualBox, although I'm toying with installing Parallels because I can set up virtual OSX machines with that, and I like its ability to make windows of other apps appear native.

      1. Joe 48

        Re: Lots of other good products....

        Check out fusion if you're ok with paid software. Equally as good as Parallels imo. I've stuck with fusion as I get a free licence with my VMware licences.

        1. Wensleydale Cheese

          Re: Lots of other good products....

          For owners of more than one Mac, VMware Fusion currently beats Parallels on pricing because one licence covers multiple systems (for personal use anyway).

          Parallels not only spams you to death while you are doing an evaluation but pops up a "Buy now" window every time you fire up a VM, which quickly gets tiresome.

          1. Gannettt

            Re: Lots of other good products....

            And while Parallels is a great program, it isn't a perpetual license - when a new version of OS x comes out, Parallels stops running and you're forced to buy the latest version. It's a shame they treat paying customers like this, it's a great piece of software.

      2. Neil Brown

        Re: Lots of other good products....

        +1 for VirtualBox.

        If you want your VM to start when the host Mac boots, rather than needing manual intervention in the VirtualBox GUI, a simple .plist file in /Library/LaunchDaemons/, run launchctl load, and you are away :)

    4. svim

      Re: Lots of other good products....

      I've tried both ClamXav and Sophos and prefer ClamXav. Just my opinion but it's less intrusive on the operating system and uses less resources.

    5. pacmantoo

      Re: Lots of other good products....

      NOD also good for Mac! Not free though!

  5. jai

    Spotlight / Alfred

    The current version of Spotlight in Yosemite has the majority of the same features as you describe for Alfred. It's much advanced on where it was a year or two ago.

    The leader in this class of tool I believe is Quicksilver, although i can't speak to why that is the case as Spotlight has always done all i need it to - i'm not the target demographic for these search-for-anything-anywhere utilities.

  6. cupperty

    Some more ...

    ... Menumeters (system status), Pathfinder, Hazel (keep folders organised - not free), Superduper (backups / disk cloning), CoRD (RDP), Handbrake

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Some more ...

      I thought SuperDuper isn't free either?

      1. cupperty

        Re: Some more ...

        The basic version is free - paying gives you scheduled backups and 'smart' backups IIRC

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Some more ...

      Path Finder most certainly is NOT free - $40 for a file manager. Finder itself is terrible, I'll grant you, but I spruce it up with XtraFinder, which is freeware. Granted, it's not as comprehensive as Path Finder, but it gets the job done.

  7. jai

    The Unarchiver

    +1 for the Unarchiver!!

    in the pre-OS X days, Stuffit Expander was always the first 3rd party utility that i'd install on my mac. But now, it's The Unarchiver that's the first.

  8. Neil Brown

    And some more:

    GPGMail / GPGTools: GPG implementation for Mac, including email signing + encryption. Beta for Yosemite currently, but reasonably stable. (I believe it is changing to requiring a payment, though)

    Handbrake: for ripping DVDs / converting videos (potentially requires VNC too; I can't remember)

    Chicken of the VNC: VNC client

    Isolator: for keeping just one window in focus, without using full screen mode

    MacTheRipper: DVD ripper

    photorec: Unix command line recovery tool, great for recovering photos, documents etc. from USB or memory sticks

    Telephone: nice SIP client with address book integration, but does not support encryption :(

    Transmission: BitTorrent client, for downloading those Linux distributions

    1. Neil Brown

      Re: And some more:

      Handbrake reference should have been "potentially requires V*L*C", not V*N*C. Oops.

      1. Kar98

        Re: And some more:

        Either way, Handbrake requires neither VLC nor VNC. But it helps if you have the Perian codecs installed even though development of the latter has stopped years ago.

        1. Neil Brown

          Re: And some more:

          Thanks. For some reason, I had a recollection that VLC was used for the DVD decryption needed to feed the DVD contents into HandBrake.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And some more:

      I used Transmission, but I changed to uTorrent because it allows me to schedule downloads. I don't really want a Linux ISO download to get in my way of daily Internet use :).

  9. The_Una_Bummer

    Word Processor

    I've been a big fan of Bean for about three years on OS X. Light weight, simple word processor that doesn't crash. Lacks more complex functionality, but if you just want to bang some words out, it's lovely.

  10. Neil Brown

    Caffeine, MagicPrefs

    Caffeine: a coffee cup icon which sits in the taskbar. Click it to prevent the screen from going to sleep — great for presentations.

    MagicPrefs: small utility for giving more functionality to trackpads or mice. I use it to turn an Apple Magic Mouse into a very good presentation controller, with taps on the top for moving slides forward, backwards and for blanking the screen.

  11. Neil Brown

    I don't know how often it is updated, but, when I switched to Mac, I have a feeling I spent quite a bit of time trying various bits and pieces referenced here:

  12. markowen58

    Karabiner - key remapper

    Karabiner -

    I use it to remap the keys. Although only two, F5 to put the display to sleep when I want and changing the eject button (Largely redundant now) to the 'delete' key. Although that button doesn't have a repeat on it, but it's better than an awkward key combo. There's plenty more available to suit your workflow though.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Karabiner - key remapper

      It can also make the F4 key call up Dashboard instead of Launchpad on newer keyboards which is what I use it for. Well, until 10.11 or 10.12 when in all probability it'll be knocked on the head for something else new and shiny.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Some more: Geektool

    I also like Geektool.

    I have the impression it's no longer actively maintained, but it allows you to run shell scripts and project the output in locations on your screen. I have 3 separate scripts running: one that gives me a calendar, one that gives me the IP addresses for WiFi, LAN, VPN and what that is externally, and one that shows me the top 4 programs in terms of system utilisation (the "top" program with some parameters), but my use is pretty tame by what I have seen some other people do - heaps of scripts around to experiment with.

    Count me in for a +1 for menu meters too, btw.

    As for the recommendations:

    Alfred: looked at it, but couldn't get on with it. Worse, spotlight is now working the same, it lost the austere interface I liked and turned into major screen overload. If you're looking for a local file, you're now quicker using the search in Finder.

    Brackets: a bit late to the party, it's Adobe and it hints at sharing cloudy things. I'll stay with TextWrangler instead.

    CrashPlan: umm, cloudy so not really my thing. It does enable people to at least do some backing up, but my money (literally) is on a paid product Carbon Copy Cloner as it gives me bare metal restore as I can boot up for that backup. Strangely enough, I have managed the same with ChronoSync, but that was because it was a challenge :).

    F.lux: umm, OK, but I tend to get nervous around people that see no problem in advising people to jailbreak their devices without telling them about the security implications (which they do for the iOS version)

    LibreOffice: a must. And a prime reason to question paying for MS Office (the main remaining reason is called Outlook). About the only weird thing I never got rid of was that it opened Draw when I drag an image into a document instead of dropping it into the document I'm working on, which is *very* irritating as I never use Draw (I use Pixelmator and Omnigraffle).

    MplayerX: confusing as there is something that seems similar, but I prefer it over VLC (which isn't bad either, but especially mkv files seem to work better on MplayerX). It just really, really dislikes switching from dual screen to single screen - VLC has no problem with that.

  14. Frankee Llonnygog


    A website link checker

    AudioSwitcher - because I can't be bothered to alt-click the volume icon in the menubar

    SmartReporter - a menubar icon that goes red if your hard disk is failing

    Microsoft One Drive - lots of free space and the app uses less resources than Google Drive or DropBox

    Wunderlist - great for keeping to do lists in sync cross platform

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    FileZilla is one of those tools that you can't live without if you ever go near a website. It also supports SFTP, so you can upload without worrying about plaintext passwords.

    1. Neil Brown

      Re: FileZilla

      I think I used to use CyberDuck to do much the same. And with a comparably good name too...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: FileZilla

        I've got both installed. I like Cyberduck's approach to webdav as the built-in OSX webdav sucks (although I haven't checked on Yosemite), but I recall that Cyberduck needed some form of payment.

  16. Phuq Witt

    Albert vs. Quicksilver –discuss

    Long-time user of the excellent <a href="">Quicksilver</a> here. I keep seeing mentions of this young upstart Albert. From cursory reading, both apps seem pretty similar. Anybody used both and got a comparison?

  17. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Keka - another decompresser.

    Sublime Text 2 - a nice text editor.

    SMART Utility - check the SMART status of external USB drives.

    XMenu - simple Apps menu in the corner.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Some command line stuff..

    exiftool: allows you to work with image EXIF information in great detail.

    Image Magick: a tool that most Linux users are likely to be familiar with for image manipulation.

    I also use nmap, but that's more for specialists :)

  19. I_am_Chris


    " with almost perfect compatibility with Microsoft Office."

    ha ha ha ha! oh my aching sides. You've never had to try and get impress presentations working in PowerPoint, have you? They look terrible, line wrapping fails and forget any animations. I've spent almost as long fixing presentations as my children have spent making them.

    I desperately tried to make open/neo/libre office work seamlessly with my work colleagues and at home, but there are just too many incompatibilities.

    in my experience it's only good for reading Office documents not writing them. Forget about collaborative working.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: libreoffice

      in my experience it's only good for reading Office documents not writing them for Microsoft Office

      There, FTFY.

      Impress is IMHO the weak spot of LibreOffice, but you must add that especially files in the abomination that is MSOOXML tend to be horribly botched. However, that even happens between different versions of MS Office - a problem that I have as yet to encounter with any version of Libre/OpenOffice.

      We tend to use Keynote: it's extremely efficient to get a good presentation together and it encourages a degree of austerity - plain slides work better.

    2. James O'Shea

      Re: libreoffice

      It's not quite that bad. You can round-trip documents which use only basic (and I mean _basic_) features. Use any features more advanced than, say, borders, and you're begging for trouble. Worse, LibreOffice (andOpenOffice) don't handle fonts the way MS Office does (or, in fact, the way the other free suite does). This means that if you have a long document there _will_ be differences in layout. It doesn't matter if you're just reviewing it, but if you're printing... oy, vey.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: libreoffice

      Also, it wants me to run an old version of Java which I'm not inclined to do. Shame.

  20. JLV

    Clam XAV - (took Sophos out for hogging)

    Tesseract - command line OCR coming from Linux

    Picasa pix mgr (from Google)

    Dash - (freemium) offline IT documentation browser

    Macports - to install more goodies (see also Homebrew)


    Not free:

    Sublime Text editor


    Affinity Designer - vector graphics

  21. psi101

    Some more

    XLD - accurate CD ripper / burner (free)

    for the PC there is dbpoweramp (not free)

    LTspice - circuit simulator with gui (free, very frequent component lib updates)

    (also for PC)

    Adium - chat/IM client

    iTerm - terminal emulator

  22. pacmantoo
    Paris Hilton

    f.lux on Windys Top 10 freebies list too?

    Just wondering why f.lux only mentioned on the Mac top 10 freebies list but not the windys one? Run it on 7 and love it.

  23. DerekCurrie

    ClamXav Does Offer Real-Time Protection...

    ...If you download the free version available from the ClamXav website (linked in the article). Only the Apple App Store version does not have real-time protection.

    The feature is called 'Sentry' and is available via the ClamXav Preferences. You can add any folder to the Sentry monitoring list. You an have Sentry scan any disk as it is connected to your Mac. You can have Sentry automatically start when you log into your Mac. It can detect and quarantine infected files. I use Sentry to automatically scan any file that arrives into my Downloads folder.

    ClamXav can also be set to automatically scan your email content for both malware and phishing attempts.

  24. alama

    Microsoft Office on Mac

    I think I might question the claim that "Microsoft Office is the bane of a Mac users existence" in the article. Actually I think that Office 2011 is an excellent software suite on Mac and actually superior to Office 2010 on Windows (haven't used Office 2013 on Win yet so can't comment). Office 2011 on Mac has every feature that Office 2010 on Windows offers *plus menus and toolbars*. No Ribbon! (well there is one, but you can collapse it and just use menus and toolbars instead if you want.) I think Microsoft is not allowed by Apple to do away with menus on Mac because they are so fundamental to the design of OS X. I hope MS doesn't delete menus and toolbars in Office 2015 for Mac.

  25. stu 4

    here's my pick:

    RSS Menu

    Carbon Cloner



    Find Any File


    QuickRes (easy access to retina resolutions)

    Grand Perspective


    Progress Downloader


  26. Nigel Whitfield.

    Although not free after the trial ...

    Two add-ons for Mail that I find invaluable are LetterOpener Pro, which decodes pesky winmail.dat files, and MailHub, which learns where you're likely to want to file messages, and suggests the correct folder. Makes it much easier to keep on top of things. $30 for the former and $20 for the latter. Well worth it in the amount of time saved.

    Free stuff:

    For fan control I use smcFanControl, though I am still on Snow Leopard and a 2008 MacBook Pro.

    PeakHour is useful for keeping an eye on the throughput on the network via SNMP

    For database fettling, I use a MySQL client called Sequel Pro

    For checking wireless stuff, and what's being advertised via Bonjour, iStumbler

    LastPass (I have the premium version, to sync with the Android phone, and allow Yubikey auth)

    Dolphin plugin for Firefox, makes it easy to push tabs from the tablet or phone to/from the Mac

    I second the votes for Graphic Converter too; got me out of many a tight spot. Also adds some useful options to the right click menu in the Finder, like 'Set file date to EXIF date'

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