July 1, 2008

Let’s say you want to start fresh. Perhaps a clean-installation of OS X, or a good cleaning (and CRON jobs) of OS X’s underlying BSD sub-system. Well, here’s a list of around 15 (mostly) freeware applications that are useful to have on your system. I have also included alternatives, just in case you have something against a certain application.


Adium (free)(more info)(download)

Adium logo

Adium is the most popular IM application for Mac OS X currently available. It’s open source, has a large, helpful community base and support for multiple networks (and is also multilingual). It’s available as a free download.

The Alternative: iChat (free)(more info)
Already on your Mac, iChat allows text, voice and video chat over multiple networks, including AIM, Jabber Open Servers, .Mac and Google Talk. Voice and video quality are fantastic, but your connection may come in as a factor.

Caffeine (free)(more info)(download)

Caffeine app

​Don’t you hate when your watching a movie and the auto-dimming feature kicks in. Of course you can turn it off from the System Preferences, but what if you only want to disable it while watching the movie? That’s when Caffeine is useful. Caffeine is a tiny little application that sits in your menu bar, ready for you to enable it in these sort of situations. In the recent update, you can now specify how long you want Caffeine to be active, or use the classic method of activating and deactivating Caffeine manually.

The Alternative: N/A.

Firefox (free)(more info)(download)

Firefox logo

​Now before anyone argues about this, I’d like to bring up the point that Firefox 3 for Mac is a lot more stable than the previous Firefox 2.0.12 and fixes a lot of bugs and specifically memory leaks which had held the browser back. It is now classified faster than Safari at rendering pages (and boot up time, but I still think Safari is faster) and the latest version brings a Mac theme to Firefox, looking much better than 2.0 series.

The Alternative: Safari (free)(more info)
Safari is Apple’s WebKit-based browser that comes installed on every Mac. Safari is fast, easy to use and has a beautiful interface that says ‘look at me, I’m designed by Apple!’. Both browsers are good, but in the end it comes down to what you find better to use.

Colloquy (free)(more info)(download)

Colloquy app logo

​If your going to want to use IRC on your Mac, your going to need a good, stable IRC client. One top pick is Colloquy. It is hugely popular, has a large community base to help out with problems and is pretty straight forward and easy to use. IRC classically is based on command-line windows and a whole list of commands. Colloquy simplifies chat on IRC, much the same as mIRC does on Windows.

The Alternative: XIRC (US$24.00)(more info)(download)
XIRC is a fully-featured IRC client for Mac OS X. It has been around since OS X 10.2 hit the scene and has grown in popularity over the past few years. It does cost $24.00, so I’d get Colloquy unless you can justify the cost of purchasing it.

Growl (free)(more info)(download)

If I was currently reinstalling Leopard (or previous versions of Mac OS X) on my Mac this would be one of the first apps I would install. Growl is an alert application that other applications use to alert you to certain things. For example; in Firefox, if your queued downloads finish downloading, Growl will pop up with a message stating ‘Downloads Completed’. Quiet simple really, but the application is absolutely essential in my point of view.

The Alternative: N/A.

Hazel (US$21.95)(more info)(download)

Ok, this isn’t freeware but it is one application that you will find on most ‘mac essential applications lists’. Hazel is a system utility that has multiple uses. One of the main uses for the application is folder actions, or rules. For example; you have your Downloads folder, unorganized, in short – a mess. Basically, you install Hazel and configure rules for that folder, based on all sorts of variables (i.e. file types, date modified… etc…). Hazel then automatically sorts the files based on your rules and makes the folder nice and clean. Hazel also has another handy function where, when you delete and application, it will find it’s support files and ask you whether you want to delete them as well, basically eliminating the need to have additional applications like AppZapper or AppClean installed. In brief, handy.

The Alternative:Folder Actions (free)(tutorial)
Folder Actions are scripts that are already built into Mac OS X. Not near as powerful as Hazel, plus scripting knowledge is also required.

VisualHub (US$23.32)(more info)(download)

Another piece of software you have to pay for, but believe me, it’s worth it. VisualHub is a piece of software that can convert (almost) any sort of video (or audio) file you throw at it, into existing presets (Apple TV, iPhone, iPod Touch, PSP… etc…) or user-defined settings. You can also set what quality you want the output video to be, and if you want to compress it to a smaller size.

The Alternative:ffMPEGX (free)(more info)(download)
ffMPEG is a free alternative to VisualHub. In contrast, they pretty much have all the same features, except that VisualHub has a nicer interface. So it comes down to one decision really; would you rather have a nice interface and pay US$23.32 or would you rather have a rough but usable interface and have all the same features for free. Your decision.

Transmit (US$29.95)(more info)(download)

Yet another piece of software you have to pay for. The extremely popular Transmit, from Panic is currently the most popular FTP client available for the Mac. It has an easy-to-use interface, FTP droplets and bookmarks plus support for SFTP, WebDAV and Apple’s .Mac storage solution, iDisk. The interface is clean and unobtrusive, just like every other piece of software produced by Panic.

The Alternative:Cyberduck (free)(more info)(download)
If you have been looking around the Internet for Mac FTP clients you probably would of stumbled upon Cyberduck at some stage. Cyberduck is an open-source FTP client for the Mac that is (usually) buggy and freezes a lot. It has a rough interface but it gets the job done, and most of all it’s free, compared to Panic’s US$29.95 Transmit. It has also just been updated to version 3.0.

VLC (free)(more info)(download)

Have a video/audio file that won’t open in other applications? Try opening it in VLC. VLC is commonly referred to as the ’swiss army knife media player’, in other words ‘if it doesn’t open in VLC, it won’t open in anything’ (unless you fiddle around with codecs and scripts). VLC is a relatively big download, but it is open-source, updated actively and has a huge support base. Plus it’s free!

The Alternative: QuickTime (free)(more info)
If you don’t want to install VLC, consider using QuickTime with Perian installed (see below).

Perian (free)(more info)(download)

Everyone knows QuickTime only opens certain files (mostly Apple formats). Perian is the swiss army knife (as it’s logo suggests) of QuickTime codec support. With Perian installed, QuickTime will open almost every video/audio file you throw at it. Preferences can be set in it’s control panel, located in System Preferences to uninstall or update Perian, or to configure sound output and subtitles.

The Alternative: N/A

HandBrake (free)(more info)(download)

This has to be one of the best (and free) applications for the Mac available. HandBrake is an acclaimed DVD to Digital Format converter that does what it is meant to do, convert raw DVD video files to a specified format of your choice. It has loads of presets, for example; best quality (cleverly named ‘bedlam’), fast converting (’blind’) or a device preset like a PSP, iPod or an Apple TV. Conversion is fast and the final quality (depending on your settings) is basically the same as the initial DVD.

The Alternative: MacTheRipper (free)(more info)(download)
MacTheRipper is a popular, freeware DVD ripper that can decrypt copy protection on DVD’s.

Transmission (free)(more info)(download)

Transmission is an open-source, cross platform BitTorrent client that is open-source, free and updated regularly. It uses a low amount of system memory, has a nice interface that integrates well with Leopard and also has scheduling abilities allowing you to use your peak and off-peak usages wisely. It features a web interface named ‘Clutch’ and has a large support base surrounding it.

The Alternative: Tomato Torrent (free)(more info)(download)
Tomato Torrent is a freeware, open-source BitTorrent client that is Leopard compatible, fast, easy to use and memory efficient. It is built on BitTorrent 4.2 and supports AppleScript scripting.

Twitterrific (US$14.95)(more info)(download)

This is an absolute essential if you are a Twitter user. Twitterrific is the most popular Twitter client by a long margin on the Mac. It uses a simple HUD interface which can be activated by either clicking on the ‘twitter bird’ icon in your menu bar or by pressing the keystroke Cmd+Shift+T (can be modified). The interface on the application is beautiful, simplistic and easy to use with a timeline field, showing all the recent tweets by your friends plus direct messages (and the tweets you post) and a message box below it. This application is available in a free, ad-supported version or a full version priced at US$14.95.

The Alternative: Spaz (free)(more info)(download)
Spaz is a good alternative to Twitteriffic. It supports multiple platforms as it is built on the relatively new Adobe AIR web application framework. This also means it’s fast, has a stylish interface and is as easy to use as Twitteriffic. Most of all it’s free.

Final Thoughts.

As you can see by reading the article, I haven’t included any ‘industrial-grade applications’ like Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator or Apple’s Aperture/Final Cut Pro as they’re not really applications that should be installed on every system (although Photoshop is now commonly found on many systems). Of course, I’m open to discussion so feel free to suggest any applications I missed or your views on some of the applications I suggested.

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