Miscellaneous Ramblings

Charles Moore's Top 10 Freeware List for Mac OS X

Charles Moore - 2008.05.19 - Tip Jar

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Mac 360's Alexis Kayhill has posted a list of her top ten free Mac software applications, which are:

  • NeoOffice:
  • Flip4Mac: (Windows Media Player alternative)
  • TextWrangler (serious text editor)
  • Firefox & Thunderbird
  • CyberDuck (FTP and SFTP client)
  • Adium: (multi-service chat client)
  • ImageTricks (sue with OS X Tiger's Core Image filters)
  • MAMP (server software)
  • iBackup (free backup software)
  • Vienna (RSS and Atom reader

Okaaaayy. I'm sure these are all excellent and useful applications - but it's not the list I would pick for the cream of the crop in Mac software freebies

NeoOffice - No argument there, but I would also include OpenOffice.

TextWrangler is great and has to be one of the most useful and powerful among the several free text editors available - it really is the contemporary BBEdit Lite, although I rely on the shareware Tex-Edit Plus for most of my word-crunching, largely because of its speed, superb implementation of AppleScript, and ability to handle styled text, but when I need a true plain text editor, TextWrangler is the one I use.

Firefox - an excellent browser, especially in version 3, which is currently out in its Release Candidate 1 build with a much-improved interface for the Mac version. However, My favorite free browser is Opera. FireFox-based Camino and SeaMonkey, and Safari Webkit-based Shiira have their devotees as well. iCab is nice too, but the free version has an annoying nagware dialog.

Thunderbird - not my favorite email client, but arguably the best of the currently developed free alternatives to OS X Mail, although I anticipate the Open Source Thunderbird-clone Eudora will be more to my liking when it's ready. However, neither holds a candle to real Eudora, the last version (6.2.4) of which can still be downloaded for free. It's still so far superior to anything else in Mac email clients that it remains my mainstay email app, although performance and stability have been degraded by OS X 10.5 "Leopard".

I expect to migrate to the new Odysseus email client, which is designed to offer a classic Eudora-like feature set and user experience when it's ready, but it won't be free. Note that Opera also has a pretty decent email client module in its free Web browser, and SeaMonkey a serviceable one.

As for the rest of Alexis' picks, I haven't used any of them, so I can't comment critically on those programs, However, my own list of top ten favorite free Mac software applications would also include:

ToyViewer Image Viewer/Editor

ToyViewer is one of the core tools in my production applications suite, and far and away my most-used graphics program. On a typical workday, I probably use ToyViewer a couple of dozen times - mostly for relatively small and short-duration chores like resizing pictures and changing file types, but also quick image correction, which it can do amazingly well with a couple of mouse clicks. I don't know what I would do without it.

ToyViewer also supports a slate of other surprisingly sophisticated image editing functions converting filter services to other applications. With ToyViewer is installed in your Mac, you can read and display image files in tiff, gif, bmp, png, jpg, jbig(bie), pcx, pcd, pict, pnm (ppm, pbm, or pgm), xbm, mag, SUN Rasterfile, JPEG2000(jp2, jpc, j2k), and other formats supported by Mac OS X. Displayed images can be saved in following formats: tiff, pdf, gif, bmp, png, jpg, JPEG2000, jbig(bie), pnm, or xbm.

PTHPasteboard Multiple Clipboard Utility

PTHPasteboard is another free Mac OS X utility that I wonder how I ever got along without. It saves me from frustration and task-repetition several times in a typical day and also can substantially enhance workflow efficiency.

How often have you copied something only to find that you need it a few minutes later but you've already copied another item over it on the Mac Clipboard? PTHPasteboard watches you while you work and keeps a copy of any items that you have copied to your Clipboard (you can specify how many entries are cached) and also saves the clipboard through restarts. I keep it configured as a default startup item.

SpotInside Spotlight Search Enhancer

SpotInside works the way Spotlight ought to, and this little utility has grown on me to the point that I find it almost indispensable. I can't say enough good about it.

Most of the other third-party search utilities are impressively powerful and offer much deeper feature sets than SpotInside, but it's power and complexity that I don't really need very often. The beauty of SpotInside is that it's speed and simplicity itself to use, so I find myself using it as my first and usually only other resort if Spotlight doesn't come up with the result I need on its first shot.

For some reason, I'm not sure exactly why, SpotInside also tends to turn up the most useful collection of results for my purposes of any search utility I've yet tried, and it displays them in a very convenient fashion. Most of the time, I find it the most helpful tool for the sort of content searching I do, and it does its thing using minimal system resources.

Unfortunately, it's not perfect. It has some stability issues, notably locking up when trying to preview the content of large files. However, it's so good at what it does that I'm willing to cut it some slack, especially since it restarts almost instantly.

OnyX System Maintenance and Cleaning Utility

Of the dozen or more OS X system maintenance utilities out there, the one I use most often is OnyX, which has a nice interface, is updated frequently, performs well, and is freeware.

Aside from OS X system maintenance and optimization, including verifying and repairing permissions, running chron maintenance scripts, optimizing the system, dumping caches and updating databases, OnyX - like Cocktail, Mac Pilot, MainMenu, and several others - also makes it possible to configure certain hidden parameters of the Finder, the Dock, and Safari. It allows you to customize scroll bar arrows, label lines, toggle appearance between Aqua and Graphite, show hidden system files, put a Quit menu item in the Finder menu, activate application and window zooming, delete certain preferences, and force empty the Trash, with or without destruction.

You can customize Dock position, alignment, and minimization options, and activate hidden and system files, transparent icons for hidden applications, animate opening applications put a menu item Quit Finder in the Dock, and relaunch the Dock to remove a certain number of files and logs, preview the different logs and CrashReporter, and more.

TigerLaunch Application Launcher

There is a fairly broad selection of OS X program launcher utilities out there, and I've tried a lot of them, but the one that I like best, and have stuck with since OS 10.1 days, is Ranchero Software's TigerLaunch.

Being a very small and simple application, TigerLaunch doesn't get updated very often, and doesn't need to. It just works.

Seashore Cocoa Open Source Graphics Program for OS X

Seashore is a capable Open Source bitmap graphics program in Cocoa for OS X by Mark Pazolli that for many users could be a viable free alternative to Adobe's Photoshop applications.

Seashore features gradients, textures, and anti-aliasing for both text and brush strokes. It also supports multiple layers and alpha channel editing. It is based around the GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program - and another excellent freeware pick for doing high-end graphics) advanced open source bitmap imaging program's technology and uses the same native file format.

Seashore's features include:

  • Full support for the GIMP's native XCF file format
  • Read and write support for the TIFF, PNG, JPEG, and JP2000 file formats
  • Read-only support for the BMP, PICT, PDF, XBM, and GIF file formats
  • Layers with over 20 merging effects
  • Individual primary and alpha channel editing
  • Thorough transparency effects including semitransparent gradients
  • Arbitrary selection regions
  • Anti-aliased brush strokes
  • 6 basic gradient effects with 16 variations
  • Tablet support
  • ColorSync support (including embedded profiles in TIFFs and CMYK previewing)
  • Plug-in filters

Seashore is sleek and a lot better-documented than most of today's commercial software, with a thorough and detailed user's manual in PDF format. It also integrates tightly with the Mac operating system and is thoroughly object-oriented. It is intended serve the basic image editing needs of most computer users, rather than to provide a replacement for Adobe Photoshop which is more the GIMP's role.

EasyFind Search Utility

Devon Technologies' EasyFind is positioned as an alternative to or supplement of Spotlight/Sherlock that finds files, folders, or contents in any file without the need for indexing. Indexed searches are faster, of course, but the indexing process in the background tends to slow down slower machines.

Befitting its name, EasyFind is fast and easy to use with easily configurable search criteria. EasyFind also offers a lot of functionality that Spotlight doesn't (at least conveniently), such as case sensitive or insensitive search, Boolean operators, wildcards, or searching for phrases. In addition, EasyFind uses multithreading and is therefore very responsive even with multiple search processes running, provides contextual menus and Mac OS X Services, and displays the location of each item in a separate column for a better overview. Finally, EasyFind uses little memory, supports drag-and-drop and the clipboard, and optionally finds invisible items or items within packages (which Spotlight doesn't search). Consequently, even if you're running Tiger, EasyFind can be a very useful enhancement to your search capability.

Adobe Reader

When Apple vastly improved OS X's Preview app, with the OS X 10.3 "Panther" release and later OS versions, Adobe Reader remains the mothership PDF application, now with an interface that lets you choose the reading mode to fit more content on the screen or the two-up mode to view page spreads without excess space in the middle. Zoom in, pan over, or leverage the loupe feature in Reader 8 to take a closer look.

With Adobe Reader, you can instantly collaborate with virtually anyone, anywhere, at any time using the Start Meeting button in to access Adobe Acrobat Connect software and deliver online training and support or communicate with remote audiences in real time.

Reader supports digital signing of Adobe PDF documents, allowing recipients to more confidently view and verify the authenticity of PDF files.

For large volumes of information, such as technical manuals, Reader 8 can condense any type of PDF file into a single booklet for printing. Print only the desired pages on two sides of paper or in a smaller type size to save time and paper.

Adobe Reader lets you find and retrieve any PDF document or a phrase in a document within seconds. Search for words in page content, annotations, bookmarks, form fields, or document metadata within any PDF file on a local machine.

MacSword Bible Reference Software

For Christian Mac users, MacSword is a free, open source application for research and study of the Bible developed specifically for Macintosh computers running Mac OS X.

MacSword allows you to read and browse many different Bible translations in different languages from Hebrew to Albanian. As well as reading devotionals, commentaries, dictionaries, and lexicons, it also supports searching and advanced features such as services so that you can access the Bible in any program.

MacSword uses the Sword project. This is an open source project whose purpose is to "to create an ever expanding software package for research and study of God and His Word". This provides the backend functionality to handle the Bible texts and provide features such as searching.

So there are a bunch of my favorite Mac freeware applications - there are more than ten if you count the various browsers. However, even if you combine Alexis' list and mine, it barely scratches the surface of what's available. For example, neither of us got into Dashboard widgets. For more Mac freeware, check out the Mac listing of all freeware at VersionTracker. LEM

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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