The folks over at FreeMacWare.com have had a really cool idea: have all their regular visitors with blogs post their five favorite freeware apps on FreeMacWare.com’s site. The fact that there’s a $100 Apple Store gift card in the picture has only partly contributed to my enthusiasm about this.
I love searching for freeware because, well, it’s useful and it’s free. But I also love freeware because it represents a new concept of what the computing experience should be. It should not be closed and proprietary, it should be open and free. This sort of utopian idea is really inspiring to me because it’s really dangerous to giant, user-abusing companies like Microsoft. And anything that is dangerous to Microsoft is good by me. (Speaking of which, I’m happy to report that I have been completely free of Microsoft software for over a year now, since my switch to Mac!)
Anyway, here are my five favorite Mac freeware titles featured on FreeMacWare.com, in order of how often I use them:
1. Adium – This is what all instant messenger clients should be. It’s a tiny program that runs in the background all the time and maintains simultaneous connections to all of your IM accounts. I hear from a lot of people who disdain instant messenging, but since I have a dial-up connection and no cell phone, this is a great way to remain accessible even when I’m online.
2. QuickSilver – Now here’s a program that does twice as much as you can imagine it doing, and about a thousand times as much as you need. I use it as an application launcher – hit Control-Command-Space and type in the first three letters of the application’s name, then hit enter. It’s a lot faster than navigating to the Applications folder and I can no longer imagine living without it.
3. Camino – My web browser of choice. I switched from Safari a few weeks ago when I started longing for find-as-you-type searching. Little did I know that Camino is also a lot faster than Safari and supports a few little widgety things like advanced text entry forms that you can’t use in Safari. And as a plus over Firefox, it’s Cocoa-based, so it uses native OS X services and has the look and feel of a Mac application (and I found it more stable than Firefox on my G5) If you’re a power user, be sure to also get CamiTools and CaminIcon.
4. CyberDuck – A really good FTP application. It looks and feels Mac-like (a requirement for any freeware software I use regularly), supports SFTP, and does a darn good job maintaining a connection, even over dial-up.
5. HandBrake – Really useful for anyone who owns DVDs, especially for those of us who have video iPods (or is that iPod Video’s?). This program takes any DVD and can convert it into a number of video formats, including the MPEG-4 and H.264 formats supported by the iPod Video. I used it on Garden State and The Life Aquatic just yesterday. NOTE: Don’t steal movies. You could use this program to rip rented DVDs, but just don’t. I have no problem with Paramount not getting richer, but directors and actors receive substantial royalties from DVD sales, and they’re the people who really need the money. If you like a movie, buy the DVD and THEN rip it. NOTE: This is still technically illegal. This is why the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is, was, and always will be a bad idea.
AND NOW: SOME MORE OF MY FAVORITES, NOT LISTED ON FREEMACWARE.COM:
Celtx – Cross-platform script writing software (that means you Windoze users can try this, too). It’s based on Firefox, and allows for online multi-author script-sharing (although it’s not perfect yet). Even for single-author scripts, this is a really amazing too that beats out even professional software costing hundreds of dollars!
WordPress – What this blog is built on. It’s web-based, so it is absolutely completely entirely cross-platform. It builds its own page structure, allows commenting on posts, and auto-generates multiple RSS feeds. Who knew it could be done with open-source software?
FINALLY: FREEWARE I WOULD REALLY LIKE TO SEE PORTED TO THE MAC:
OpenOffice.Org – A full-featured office suite. Sure, I can run it in X11 or use NeoOffice (what I have been using), but X11 doesn’t integrate well with other applications and NeoOffice doesn’t support OpenOffice.org version 2. There are aparently plans to build a Cocoa version for Macs, and I am really looking forward to it.
The GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) – A potential Photoshop-killer if I ever saw one. Sadly, the interface is decidedly un-Mac-like and it can only be run in X11, with no plans to develop a Mac-native version.
Voodoo Camera Tracker – Currently Windows-only, with porting to the Mac underway, this is a program that takes any video file, asks some basic questions about how it was shot, and then tracks any camera movement in 3D space, allowing you to then export the resulting data in numerous formats, including Python Blender scripts. I see HUGE potential for this software, especially for filmmakers: adding motion blur, advanced image stabilization, compositing, anything that has to do with extrapolating information from 3-dimensional movement. I REALLY want this on my Mac!
The freeware available for Macs is one of the major reasons I switched from Windows, believe it or not. Because OS X is UNIX-based and includes bunches of developer tools free from Apple, it is a very developer-friendly environment, which means that there’s tons of free software out there. Much of it is completely useless or appeals only to a niche audience, but every once in a while you find a few gems like these.