This post is part of a series that revisits some of our readers’ favorite articles from the past that still contain awesome and relevant information that you might find useful. This post was originally published on Feb 2nd, 2011.
There’s a huge range of amazing paid software out there, but more often than not there is some form of free alternative. For those of us who can’t afford to spend up on every great app we desire, gathered here are 15 great free pieces of software that achieve much the same purpose of a popular but paid application.
Of course – nine times out of ten you get what you pay for, and the paid applications are usually going to do the job better, look nicer, or have more features than any free app. But that doesn’t mean free applications are worth overlooking, as they will often be more than functional enough for your needs.
Join us after the break for a look at some great examples!
Photoshop Alternative: Seashore
Photoshop is without question a brilliant piece of software, but at a whopping $700, most people looking for a general photo editing application might want something a bit more modest. Pixelmator is well worth a try at $29, but as far as free photo editing apps go, Seashore might be perfect for those on a tight budget.
This open source image editor is based off GIMP, but runs in a clean and simple interface with enough features to keep modest users happy.
Seashore handles layers, alpha channels, and has a decent tool set. Within the Menubar are a number of effects and image editing controls to play with including basics such as contrast and hue sliders. These sliders fade after each adjustment, which is a convenient feature to see the effects of your changes. Well worth a look.
AppZapper Alternative: AppCleaner
AppZapper ($13) is a great application for properly deleting applications, widgets, preference panes and plug-ins. When you drag an application to AppZapper, it finds all the files that relate to that app so that you can delete the whole application without leaving odd bits scattered around your hard drive.
AppCleaner from Free Mac Soft is an incredibly similar application, but it’s free. Like AppZapper, cleaning up apps is as simple as dragging one from the Finder to the AppCleaner window. Once dragged, AppCleaner will instantly identify all the files that the application has created across the system, which can all be trashed by clicking ‘Delete’.
Files can also be found from within AppCleaner under three different categories and searched for. There is a bug within the application which means that as you search, the list updates live but the icons remain where they were which can cause a bit of confusion.
AppCleaner boasts a few features that AppZapper doesn’t have. A very nifty feature is ‘SmartDelete’, which means that when you drag an app to the trash, you will be asked if you would like to also delete related files. This even works when AppCleaner isn’t open.
You can also drop in specific apps to protect from deleting with AppCleaner. Of course, AppZapper has its own special features, including a license and serial storage space for your own apps and stunning animations.
Parallels/Fusion Alternative: VirtualBox
For those of you on Mac who still need to run Windows, the first names that you’d hear would be Parallels and VMware Fusion (each $80), both of which are powerful and highly praised Windows virtualization tools. But there’s also a third player out there which you may not have heard of; VirtualBox.
VirtualBox is an open source application which, whilst missing some of the features and performance of the commercial apps, stands up very well for those looking to use Windows for tasks which don’t tow too heavily on the processor. VirtualBox is definitely a viable alternative to Parallels and Fusion if you’re happy to put up with what it lacks in comparison.
Also don’t forget Apple’s own Boot Camp, which comes pre-installed on Macs, but requires you to reboot the computer each time you want to change operating system.
Linkinus Alternative: Colloquy
Linkinus ($20) and Colloquy are IRC (Instant Relay Chat) clients which allow you to connect to a chat room on a certain topic to chat with like-minded people around the world. Both applications do a great job, but as an open source app Colloquy is well worth a look and has a great user base.
Colloquy is a reliable and well designed application which can be customized to suit your style. It has a great range of features (including growl notifications) and has plenty to play around with inside the preferences. I also personally really like the set of sound effects included for the various alerts.
I’d recommend giving Colloquy a go if you’re looking into an IRC app that works well and is easy to use, but with plenty of more advanced features for regular users.
Transmit Alternative: Cyberduck
Transmit ($34) would be one of the most popular and publicized FTP clients for Mac, and for good reason. Cyberduck may not pack the same feature set and flair, but it is a great open source alternative.
From my experience it always works perfectly for connecting, uploading and downloading files from FTP servers. Of course it doesn’t only support FTP and can connect to a whole heap of different servers, as well as letting you edit any text files directly from the server.
The interface of Cyberduck is easy to use and navigate for those with little experience surrounding FTP, and it’s certainly worth checking out.
Concentrate Alternative: Isolator
Concentrate ($29) is a fantastic application to help you get rid of distractions on your computer so that you focus on the task at hand. It can do a whole heap of tasks such as quitting applications, setting chat statuses to ‘away’, running AppleScripts, and blocking websites such as Facebook.
Isolator is a free application that aims to solve the same problem, but does so in a completely different manner. Basically, it ‘isolates’ the current active application and dims everything else in the background. Isolator sits in the menu bar and can be activated by keyboard short cut.
Within the Isolator preferences, you can adjust a whole range of settings. In terms of appearance, you can change how opaque the background is made, and even blur out the background windows using a number of effects. This app also works seamlessly with Spaces.
InDesign Alternative: Scribus
InDesign ($700) is a professional page layout tool for designing print projects such as newsletters. If you gawked at that price then it might be a good idea to take a look at Scribus, an open source desktop publishing application.
The interface leaves a bit to be desired, as it is a little confusing at first. To counter it’s interface though, Scribus has all the features you’d expect and a few more for good measure, such as vector shapes. It comes with fantastic documentation which walks you through all the things it can do, and the website has a wealth of more information and tutorials.
If you’re prepared to give Scribus some time then it could be a great desktop publisher for you.
Pages Alternative: OpenOffice
Pages ($20) is the word processing part of the iWork bundle from Apple. It is a brilliant application for writing and basic page layout, but it too has a completely free, open source alternative; OpenOffice.
OpenOffice runs natively in OS X, (rather than in X11 like it used to) and is smooth and fast. It’s easy to use and looks more or less the same as any other word processing app. Like most free vs paid apps, it may not pack all the bells and whistles that Pages, or even Microsoft Word has, but OpenOffice should fit the majority of peoples needs.
OpenOffice is actually a full office suite and includes Presentation, Spreadsheets, and even Drawing applications alongside the word-processor, so can replace the entire iWork or Microsoft Office suite.
CoverScout Alternative: Album Artwork Assistant
CoverScout ($30) is a wonderfully designed application that makes applying and editing album artwork in your iTunes library a pleasure. Album Artwork Assistant doesn’t have the same wow factor and features, but if you’re looking for something free to apply album artwork to your music without doing everything manually, this might be just for you.
Album Artwork Assistant isn’t completely automated. You have to go into iTunes and select all the tracks from albums that you want to add artwork to. Then AAA will load those tracks up and as you click on each album, it will do an image search across the internet for artwork.
You can Quick Look images, and even browse the web if AAA doesn’t yield the right pictures. Once you’ve got the right one, you just click ‘Add Immediately’ and it will be applied to the iTunes tracks. It can be a little buggy in selecting tracks to search but overall is worth giving a go.
Also, you may not be aware that iTunes has a built in Album Artwork finder. It will only work for tracks with the correct labels and only if iTunes has them in it’s store, but here’s how to go about that… Within iTunes, click ‘Advanced’ in the menu bar, then ‘Get Album Artwork’.
CoverSutra Alternative: Bowtie
CoverSutra ($5) is an app which gives you easy access to search and controlling iTunes, as well as displaying album artwork and information directly on the Desktop. Bowtie is a very similar, but is a free application which also does a great job.
Bowtie places a small Album icon on your Desktop which you can drag around and place where you like. Clicking on it brings up song information and iTunes controls including ratings. The themes can be customized, and more can be downloaded from an ever-growing selection.
Last.fm scrobbling is supported, and you can set up a huge variety of keyboard shortcuts to control Bowtie and iTunes. A really nice app to use to enhance your iTunes experience.
MainMenu Alternative: IceClean
IceClean contains an abundance of features stored throughout various menus, which include repairing disk permissions, routine maintenance scripts, clearing caches, looking up network info and force ejecting CDs/DVDs. This utility is well worth a download if you’re an advanced Mac user and understood what all the features above meant!
DaisyDisk alternative: DiskWave
DaisyDisk ($20) offers a beautiful visual representation of where your hard drive space is being used up, so that you can then go about and free up space by deleting large and unimportant files.
DiskWave lacks the charm and visual charts of DaisyDisk, but if you’re looking for a free, functional application to discover what is hogging up all your space, it could be all you need. You start off by selecting a drive to scan. Once it’s finished searching through your drive, all of your files will be displayed as they are in the finder, but ordered from largest to smallest and color coded based on size.
It’s then fairly straight forward to work your way through the layers of folders to find troublesome files, which can be deleted from within the app by pressing the ‘Delete’ button. There are also buttons to Quick Look the files or reveal them in the Finder. DiskWave is still under development according to it’s site but is fully functional as it is.
Illustrator Alternative: Inkscape
Illustrator ($600) is the go-to drawing application for vector work, and it works wonders. But as with all Adobe products, the price tag is a bit frightening for many. Luckily Inkscape, an open source vector drawing application exists. Inkscape is easy to use, especially if you’re familiar with Illustrator, and packs a great range of features that will get you through most projects.
Unfortunately it is not a native Mac application and requires Apple’s X11 app to run but this is only a small downside. If you’re wondering if Inkscape is capable of producing stunning looking work, you only need to take a peek into the Inkscape DeviantART page to see what it’s users are creating.
Inkscape also has fantastic support for importing Illustrator files and I was very impressed at how even complex files were imported flawlessly, ready to be edited. If you can’t afford to fork out big bucks for Illustrator, Inkscape is well and truly worth a look and may suit you perfectly.
TextMate Alternative: TextWrangler
TextMate ($55) is a powerful text editor, which is great for editing all sorts of code such as HTML. A wonderful free alternative to TextMate is TextWrangler, from Bare Bones Software. This application packs a huge selection of features, mostly tucked away in its menu.
It excels in areas such as find and replace, syntax coloring for many various coding languages, code folding, FTP opening and saving, and much much more. TextWrangler is very straight forward to use and the interface is simple and clean. It’s perfect for programmers, but also serves the needs of basic text editing as well.
Coda Alternative: Aptana Studio
Coda ($100) is a wonderful web development app from the team at Panic which brings all the main elements of website creation together into one window. The interface looks great and is a joy to use, but if you’d like an app which can do much of the same stuff for free, Aptana Studio is a great place to start.
Aptana Studio is cross platform so not specifically designed for Mac, but it is a very powerful web development application that is definitely worth looking into whether you are an aspiring or experienced website developer.
Hopefully you’ve discovered a few new apps, free of charge, which can replace other, more popular apps which cost money! There’s a lot of great stuff out there for the Mac which developers kindly release for free.
Of course, whilst we’ve been throwing the word ‘free’ around a lot in this article, many of the developers of these apps ask for donations. If you use and like a free app, be sure to support the developers who put their time and effort into making it.
Let us know what you think of any of the free applications mentioned above, if you think there is a better alternative, or any other great free software that replaces popular paid applications out there!