Let’s face it – buying a Mac isn’t cheap, but you can help justify some of that cost if you use only a few of these outstanding free Mac apps. I’ve included my favorite apps, from simple text editors to advanced publishing tools, which are available at no cost to you.
In addition I attempted to stay away from the apps that everyone uses, instead focusing on the apps which are either up-and-coming or gems in the rough. Read on and see if you can’t get some extra value out of your Mac!
Macs have traditionally been the ultimate media machines, and these apps prove that that’s still true today. From drawing apps to media players – these are for the creative types.
- Skitch – This isn’t a traditional photo editing app in that it’s used mostly for manipulation of screenshots. Its annotation tools make it indispensable for anyone who works in a team or just wants to share a photo without reveling sensitive information. If there’s any app on this list that I’d consider a must-try, Skitch would likely be it.
Skitch was recently acquired by another free favorite Evernote, and the two services work together beautifully.
- Sketchbook Express – I’m not an artist and I don’t claim to be, but when I want to feel like one I fire up SketchBook Express, an amazing drawing app from the folks over at Autodesk. The app makes use of some pretty slick gestures and its professional-grade brushes and tools should make it worth a try for any would-be-Picasso. Once you’ve outgrown SketchBook Express, Autodesk offers a professional version for a penny under $20, which is a steal in its own right.
- QuickTime + Perian – Quicktime is undoubtably one of the most beautiful Mac apps, but it’s plagued by a weak list of supported files. On the flip side, VLC Media Player has a bland interface with amazing file format support. Luckily, a free tool called Perian lets you get the best of both worlds by extending Quicktime’s native file format support to include dozens of formats; both popular and obscure. You should note, though, that Perian doesn’t handle every file format, so having VLC as a backup isn’t a bad idea.
- Kindle – While the Mac might not make the most robust eBook reader, the free Kindle app works as an awesome companion to the devices and/or the mobile apps. I can’t say that sitting down behind your computer to read Dickens is a good idea; but for students who need a faithful research companion, or if you’ve got some time to kill; Kindle is an indispensable tool.
- Miro Video Converter – For those of us who live within the Apple-ecosystem video converting may be a thing of the past, but for people who still need to get video files from one format to another, Miro works great. It was fast and simple, with a number of presets to make your life a whole lot easier. If you need something a bit more robust, Handbrake might be an option, although Miro’s interface is much more welcoming to the less technical.
- Soundcloud – If Mixx and VirtualDJ are great for trying to be a DJ, then Soundcloud is the perfect place to put your work as a DJ and share it with others. The service is free to use, has a beautiful Mac app, and best of all, has a great community surrounding it of both independent and signed artists. Soundcloud also features inline comments on your tracks which is a great way to share your thoughts about a particular part of a song.
Soundcloud is great for music, but it can be used for just about any type of audio. It’s a great way to start up a quick podcast or just share your thoughts via audio.
- VirtualDJ Home or Mixxx – Both VirtualDJ and Mixxx feature one basic promise: you can be the life of the party, and that promise is lived up to – mostly. While each app has its own limitations, for the budding DJ either one should be more than enough to get you started. Both pull from your Mac’s music collection to allow you to do some virtual scratching and mixing. I personally prefer VirtualDJ, but Mixxx has its fans, so you’re just going to have to try them out to see which works best for you. At the low-low price of free, why not?
- GIMP – If you want to jump into the world of professional-grade photo editing without paying an arm and a leg (I’m looking at you, Photoshop), then GIMP might just be your ticket. It’s a robust cross-platform photo editor which works similarly to Photoshop and includes many of its most popular features. As with many other open source software titles, though, the interface isn’t the best (and it requires X11). Still, I’m willing to give up a few refinements to save my hard-earned cash.
- Rdio – This is an all-you-can-eat music service with a twist: an amazing Mac app. Unlike its competition, the Rdio app feels like a native Mac application that’s done right. With the free service you’ll enjoy a nearly unlimited number of songs; although if you use it too much, or need to use it on a mobile device, they’ll make you upgrade to one of their premium plans. While it can be used as an iTunes replacement, you should really think of the free tier as something complimentary to the iTunes experience.
- CamTwist – Whether you’re starting your own web show or just video chatting with Grandma, CamTwist can help you spice it up. It acts as a full live video production console that can be used with nearly any app. You’ll be able to add titles, transitions, and even live-broadcast your screen with just a little know-how. It has a GUI which is functional, but you’ll need to do some digging around in order to max out its potential.
Internet and Social
Internet and social is one of the hottest app categories out there today, so much so that nearly every app you use plugs into it in one way or another. Despite that, these are the apps that I felt fit best into the Internet and social category.
- Twitter – Face it -the world is hooked on Twitter, and luckily you can get your tweet-fix right from the source with Twitter for Mac. While there are a plethora of alternatives available, the official app still takes the cake for the best interface and design, as well as a surprisingly rich feature-set. The app includes support for photo uploads and viewing, multiple accounts, and even the often overlooked lists feature. If you need a Twitter app that just works, look no further than, well – Twitter.
- Notifications for Facebook – I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve got a bit of an addiction to Facebook, which often prevents me from getting any work done as I’m checking it too often, but thanks to Notifications for Facebook, I’ve been able to focus more and get stuff done. It’s a simple menu bar app that does just about what you’d expect – giving you real-time Facebook Notifications with no frills. If you’re like me and you love Facebook, then Notifications is really a no-brainer.
- LogMeIn – At one point in your life you’ve probably been away from your computer when you need a file off of it the most, and unless you use a remote access solution you were probably out of luck. Generally these services can be costly and difficult to use, but the folks at LogMeIn have changed all that with their free tool, not surprisingly named “LogMeIn”. The service as well as mobile apps are completely free (yup, that means you can use your Mac via your iPad), and they are extremely fast and feature rich. On the desktop there isn’t really much of a desktop app with the exception of the menu-bar helper, which is disappointing, but the web interface is generally more than adequate. Oh, and it’s free so you can’t really complain.
- Sparrow Lite – Whether you love email or hate it, Sparrow should come as a refreshingly simple way to manage it. The app presents your email in an interface which is nearly identical to the Twitter app’s and it includes some extra love for Gmail users, although it supports a wide variety of other services. In addition, Sparrow is fully integrated with Dropbox and CloudApp -making it the most web connected email client I’ve ever seen. The full version will run you ten bucks which will remove ads from the app and a “Sent with Sparrow” signature from your mail. In short, if you want to try something new in the world of email, look no further than Sparrow.
- TWiT Live – Leo Laporte and his TWiT technology netcasts are really great, but did you know that there’s an app for that? There is, and it allows you to view their 24/7 live stream as well as chatroom in a nicely polished interface. If you have any interest in learning more about technology, TWiT (and it’s app) is a great place to start. Otherwise there’s not much else to say about this one except that I’d highly recommend it.
- Raven – If Safari, Chrome, or Firefox don’t live up to your standards, RavenCo hopes to fill that void with their take on a web browser which combines the web with apps. Their approach to web browsing is refreshingly different and the app is relatively lightweight as well as styled beautifully for the Mac. Raven’s main claim to fame is its apps, which at the end of the day are really just glorified app menus, but they work nicely and give the web a nice Mac feel. Raven hasn’t replaced Chrome in my daily workflow just yet, but I can see that changing in the not-so distant future.
- Telephone – If you use a SIP service then you need Telephone. It’s an amazing (and free) app which allows you to make and receive calls on your Mac via your SIP provider. The interface is beautiful and light, and it supports full Growl notifications. Telephone is just another no-brainer app pick for anyone who uses SIP; pick it up from the App Store today.
- eBay – While eBay may seem like an antiquated service, it’s still the best way to buy and sell your stuff over the Internet, and their native Mac app makes that process just a bit easier. You can browse, bid, and buy items easily, but there is one glaring omission: you can’t list items from the app. If it could do that, the eBay app would be nearly perfect, but for now, at least, it’s only really useful for frequent shoppers. Still, if you do your fair share of eBay shopping, this little App might be your new right hand man.
- Meme Generator – This pick might be a bit controversial, but I stand by it, because Memes are just plain funny. With the Meme Generator app you can effortlessly generate just about any Meme you can think of which makes it a winner in my book. This app won’t help you focus or get work done, but sometime you have to let your hair down and enjoy a little Meme-based fun, after all, this is the Internet.
- Trillian – If you use Facebook, Windows Live, Twitter, GTalk, AIM, or Yahoo!, then you need Trillian. It’s hands down the most versatile free chat app for the Mac. It’s a well designed app that handles nearly ever IM protocol under the sun as well as syncing support for its companion iOS app. With Trillian there’s no need to use more than one IM client, and frankly, why would you?
From text editors (there are a bunch of them in this article) to note-taking apps, these should satisfy your need to sit down a get typing.
- Compositions – Currently there’s some stiff competition out there for the simplest writing app, and while Compositions isn’t the best, it is the cheapest. It uses the up-and-coming .write file format to compose basic text files which can be synced via Dropbox. The Mac version doesn’t have Dropbox sync built in, so you’ll need to install Dropbox separately, but the iOS version can read and edit the files you create on your Mac. In fact, I’m using it right now to write this article.
- Wunderkit – Wunderlist has been a favorite among Mac users for a to-do list app for some time now, but recently its developer, 6Wunderkinder released a full featured project management service that includes a stellar Mac app which can be used by individuals for free. If you need to organize something, Wunderkit is one of the best options available. As I said before, though, for simple to-do lists, Wunderlist might be a better choice. Either way, 6Wunderkinder is a diamond in the rough of developers – especially at the ever-so appealing price of free.
- Bean – If Compositions is too stripped down for your taste, perhaps Bean might be the magic bullet you’re looking for. It’s an RTF editor which should be easy to use for anyone skilled in Apple’s own apps (e.g. very heavy on the Inspector). The developers claim it’s not a replacement for Microsoft Word, but I haven’t looked back.
- iBooks Author – iBooks Author is an amazing way to publish beautiful interactive books for the iPad. Apple recently cleared up some licensing concerns so theres no reason any aspiring author shouldn’t give this app a try. In addition your books can also be exported in plain text and PDF formats so you aren’t locked into Apple’s ecosystem.
- TextWrangler – In a world of constantly changing Mac apps, TextWrangler is a constant. This app is perhaps the best free text and code editor on the market. It supports syntax coloring, OS X scripting support, FTP/SFTP and so much more. This is one Mac App you can’t live without.
- insync – No, this isn’t the boy band from the mid-2000’s, insync is actually an amazing tool which bring Google Docs to your desktop. It works as a replacement for Dropbox as a sort of online flash drive, but since it uploads the files to your Google Docs account, you can edit them in the cloud. It’s 100% free and a killer app for any Google Docs addict.
- Notational Velocity – If you need an app that does simple text notes right, then Notational Velocity is for you. Its great user interface coupled with syncing support for both Simplenote and Dropbox make this app a no-brainer pick. Also check out nvALT.
- Evernote – If you don’t know about Evernote, chances are you’ve been living under a rock. Luckily, though, it’s never to late to start using this amazing “external brain”. It allows you to organize a collection of notes, files, pictures, et cetera which you can then search using their OCR technology. That’s really oversimplifying it, but needless to say – it’s amazing. If you’re not sold yet they offer mobile apps for nearly ever platform which should make your life a whole lot more organized.
- Calendar – How would you like a full-featured calendar app in your menu bar? Unsurprisingly, that’s what you’ll get with Calendar by Qbix. It’s a nice way to see an overview of your schedule and it can use your iCal events so you don’t need to worry about importing or exporting data.
- Chronicle Mini – Bills are the worst, but Chronicle Mini makes them just a little bit better by letting you see when payments are due, pay them, and log them all from your menu bar. In addition you can add bills to iCal so you’ll never forget them again. while other apps have similar functionality, Chronicle Mini is by far the most attractive and simple, and of course, it’s free.
Utilities and More
This is the category for the apps that put function over form, the apps that do what you need, when you need it done, and best of all – for free.
- CloudApp – In the file sharing world Dropbox is king, but it’s being challenged by a few new apps, most importantly CloudApp. Where Dropbox is really just a flash drive in the cloud, CloudApp tries to be a drag-and-done solution to sharing files of all types. Uploading a file is simple, just drag it to the CloudApp icon in your menu bar and you’re in business. You can access your files via the web and many 3rd party developers have begun to integrate the service into their own apps. CloudApp is free with paid plans available, although for most people that’s not necessary.
- Caffeine – Imagine this: you plug your Mac into your TV, start up a movie, and get comfortable on the couch, only to have your screen saver activate five minutes later. While you could just disable it completely, it’s useful for power savings, so you’re in quite a pickle. Luckily, Caffeine is just what the doctor called for. It’s a menu bar app that prevents your Mac from sleeping with a single click, and vice versa. That’s it. For someone like me who uses their Mac as a media consumption device, Caffeine is truly priceless. I can’t recommend it enough.
- Mactracker – If you are the tech support for your family and friends or you just like the sound of having a complete Mac encyclopedia at your fingertips, Mactracker might be for you. It’s an incredibly polished app which functions as a database of basically every product Apple has ever made. While it’s fun to use, it also has some serious practical uses. For example, if you need to know how much RAM a particular Mac supports, it’s never more than a click away. Mactracker is an amazing app, and while it’s not particularly glamourous any Mac nerd should have no problem losing themselves in the veritable ton of information it holds.
- Xcode – Did you know that you there’s a simple way to make Mac, iPhone, and iPad apps for free? Well there is and it’s called Xcode. This is Apple’s own IDE with a little extra special sauce and it works great. Whether you’re a seasoned developer or a newbie, you’re going to need to familiarize yourself with this little gem. It’s also a really good deal as Apple used to charge for Xcode, but recently made it free. It’s worth noting, though, if you want to distribute your apps on an App Store you’ll need an Apple Developer Account.
- VirusBarrier Express – Mac users, the time has come, we need to start protecting ourselves with AntiVirus software, and VirusBarrier Express by Intego is a great place to start. It won’t slow down you Mac and it helps get rid of any malware that might be plaguing your Mac. In addition it will prevent you from passing viruses along to your Windows-using friends, which should give you a nice warm and fuzzy feeling. So while us Mac users might need to start using anti-virus, it doesn’t need to be as slow or ugly as what our PC-lovin’ counterparts are stuck with.
- NameChanger – This app lets you easily batch-rename a list of files for free. This is really useful for photos or videos. There’s not much else to it.
- AppCleaner – Here at Mac.AppStorm we want you to love your Apps just as much as the computer they’re running on, but sometimes you just need to get rid of one or two. Luckily, and perhaps somewhat ironically, there’s an app for that. AppCleaner does more than your standard dragging-to-trash by searching for preference files and other byproducts of an app left on your system by uninstalling them as well. This is especially useful for games or apps like Microsoft Office which tend to spread themselves out across your system. It’s also extremely lightweight and unobtrusive so you shouldn’t have to worry about uninstalling this app any time soon.
- Prey – Having you computer stolen would likely be a disaster -the machines themselves are expensive, but it would also likely grant a thief a huge amount of your personal data. That being said, it’s probably not a bad idea trying to protect yourself in every way possible – and that’s where Prey comes in. It’s a free (for up to 3 devices) cross platform app that monitors your computer if it’s ever stolen, protects your information, monitors the thief, and even tries to geolocate it for you. I have it installed on my Mac, it works really well and doesn’t use up too much memory. Pro plans are available, but you probably won’t feel the need to upgrade as the free plan is really full-featured.
- HimmelBar – This is an amazing little launcher app that sort of mimics the start menu on Windows. I use this every day in combination with Spotlight for all my app-launching needs. Now I’m sure I’ll get quite a bit of hate for using an app that mimics a Windows feature, but I just think it works best. The app is currently listed as being on a sort of hiatus (since 2009), but it works great with every recent version of OS X and is almost entirely bug free. You probably won’t be getting updates any time soon, but I don’t really see a need to have any new features added.
- Deeper – Your Mac has millions of little features and tweaks available to it, and Deeper makes them easy to access. Whether you’d like to change the look of your dock or the location of your screenshots, Deeper can handle it.
Bonus Round: Games
Once you’re finished with all those boring productivity apps, why not enjoy yourself by sitting back and enjoying one of these ten games which are both fun and free.
- Touchgrind – Pretend you’re Tony Hawk with this awesome skateboarding game. Requires a multitouch trackpad.
- Fantastic 4 in a Row Free – It’s basically a generic Connect Four game, but what more do you really need?
- Papijump Free – A simple and addictive platform-jumping game.
- Stand O’Food Free – A fun little restaurant simulation game.
- Screen Snake – This is my favorite Mac game, it’s a game of snake overlaid on top of your desktop.
- Robotek – Over 200 levels of free-to-play strategy, action, and role playing.
- UberStrike HD – An amazing free-to-play online first person shooter.
- Victory March – An addicting side-scroller set during World War II.
- Air Hockey Free – The classic game of Air Hockey brought to your Mac.
- The Battle for Wesnoth – A turn based strategy game set in a fantasy world.
So there you have it,- 50 apps for your Mac that cost nothing, but provide an amazing amount of functionality. If you noticed that one of your favorite apps is missing feel free to share it in the comments below.