Did you just get a new Mac? Or maybe you’ve had one for a long time and are just looking for some cool affordable apps to download. Either way, we’ve got a fun roundup for you. There are a bunch of paid apps on the App Store, and many of them do their job well, but what about free ones? What if you don’t want to pay for a new text or photo editor? There are a lot of free and open-source alternatives to popular apps, but they’re often hard to find.
In this roundup, we’ve gathered a list of great free apps that you should download, even if for a moment to try them out. They’re great, and you’ll likely find at least a few to add to your workflow. They’re also all native apps not tied to a service — so you won’t find the likes of Evernote and Droplr — so you can use the apps anywhere, anytime.
Here’s the best free stuff, just for your Mac, in 2013.
If you enjoy using these apps, please consider donating to the developers or purchasing one of their other paid apps to show your gratitude.
Notes, Task Management, Markdown, and Word Processing
- Imagine — Quite possibly the best little text editor for the Mac. It supports Markdown, has eight background colors, and saves everything in a plain or rich text file for easy access in any other editor. Imagine is the most affordable way to go distraction-free.
- TextWrangler — A contender for the top-of-the-line text editor. This is basically the free version of BBEdit, one of the most popular text editing apps available. It can be used for coding, server administration, basic text editor, and much much more. It even has the ability to open a file from an FTP server directly and then save it back there once finished, which is handy for Web developers.
- Brackets — If you don’t like TextWrangler, there’s always Adobe’s open-source code editor Brackets. It’s updated ever two and a half weeks and includes many handy features, from fullscreen editing and a beautiful interface to syntax highlighting. Check it out.
- OpenOffice — It’s one of the most powerful and popular open-source word processing apps on the market. If you really need to edit a Word document and aren’t in the mood to spend $20 on Pages, this is the perfect alternative. It’ll perform as well as Microsoft Word, but without the hefty price tag. And, it just got updated to v.4.0, with a number of small improvements. There’s also its slightly-less-well-known fork, LibreOffice, but they’re both very similar.
- nvALT — Even though its user interface may not be as “pretty” as the default Notes app, Brett Terpstra’s little bit of jotting software is perfect for any type of note-taking. It can even sync with Simplenote, and is by far the best client on the Mac (Justnotes is second, but at $9.99 it’s under par). Best of all, Brett always keeps the app up to date, so you don’t have to worry about unreliability.
- Anxiety — A very basic to-do app. Its design is reminiscent of small preferences windows you’d find in older versions of OS X. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it looks nice and behaves very well. The app syncs with Calendar and resides in your menu bar. It may be old (from 2007, actually, and for Leopard) but it still works great if you need something small.
- Done — Quick, shiny task management. It’s a good middle ground between Anxiety and Wunderlist, if the former isn’t enough and the latter is too much. Just create a list and get going.
- Grandview — This little app lets you enter a small fullscreen writing app to compose. Rather than open iA Writer, Byword, or Imagine, you can quickly trigger this tool with a hotkey and then write down what you’re thinking. When finished, the text will be copied to your clipboard for use elsewhere. It’s great for emails, short to-do lists, and other text documents.
- Ommwriter Dãna I — A full-screen distraction free writing environment, complete with 3 background themes, soundtracks, and keyboard sounds to take your mind away from your distractions and let you write. It’s a writing experience you shouldn’t miss, especially with the free version.
Photo Editing and Graphic Design
- HDRtist — A quick way to process your photos with HDR (high dynamic range). You could go out and buy Photomatix Pro for $99, but that’d be a waste if all you need is some quick processing. HDRtist does a decent job for free, and it’s fairly easy to use.
- Fotor Photo Editor — This is a fantastic alternative to iPhoto. If you need some more advanced editing functions, Fotor will do the job nicely. It has a simple user interface with quick adjustments, frames, borders, and even a tilt-shift mode. If you would like to get started with photo editing, this is a great tool.
- Skitch — You’re telling me you use Preview for annotating images? Well, not after you use Skitch. It has a fantastic array of features for annotating, cropping, rotating, and inserting text into your images effortlessly. The app is developed by the Evernote team and it’s updated regularly (and, yes, it can function 100% without an Evernote account).
- SketchBook Express — Do you enjoy drawing on your computer? Take it to the next level with SketchBook Express. It includes a number of beautiful brushes, six layers of space for drawing, and a drag and drop feature for importing images. Grab a capacitive stylus and you’ll be set!
- The Unarchiver — There was once a time when, to extract a RAR or StuffIt file, you had to download StuffIt Expander, which cost money. Well that is no longer an issue since the developers made the software free, but who cares? The Unarchiver does that much faster, also for free, and you’ll never notice its presence. Uncompress anything, from BinHex (whatever that is) to CABs and LBRs.
- Caffeine — You remember that one moment when you’re downloading an update, but your Mac refuses to stay on? Caffeine will give it some Kenyan brew and cheer it up for you. With one click, the app will stop your Mac from going to sleep. Handy.
- Wake Up Time — Alarms are easy on iOS devices, but if you don’t have one there are alternatives. Wake Up Time is the best free one we could find. It looks nice and makes setting an alarm extremely easy. Why not give it a try for tomorrow’s big early meeting?
- GeekTool — Make your desktop look like one from all the cool films. Using “Geeklets”, you can add information about your system right to your desktop, from CPU usage to internal temperature and battery health. On top of that, you can put the weather on there using Yahoo. There’s a whole lot more, too.
- Houdini — Rather than using the CMD + H shortcut to hide apps, Houdini will do it for you once they are inactive for a certain amount of time. It can be handy if you like an organized workspace.
- F.lux — A nifty little utility that adjusts the color temperature of your display to the time of day. Rather than having a bright blue screen at night, why not use a warm one? It’s much easier on your eyes.
- Spectacle — Another window control app, this time for organization. It will quickly resize windows to your preference with a quick few keystrokes.
- AppCleaner — There is no better way to uninstall an app. This will gather all related files and permanently remove the software from your computer. Don’t worry about any additional files being left on your system once the app has been removed with AppCleaner.
- Transmission — The smallest torrenting app available for Mac. It does everything you need in a speedy fashion and doesn’t take up as many resources as uTorrent.
- Cyberduck — A fantastic free FTP client. It’s been updated recently and supports FTP, SFTP, WebDAV, Cloud Files, and Amazon S3. If you need to edit code on your website or just upload some pictures to your portfolio, this will do the job well.
- Blackmagic Disk Speed Test — Find out if your flash drive is performing optimally. It also helps you if you need to know whether or not your SSD is still up to speed. In practical application, the app tells you whether or not your drive can play video.
- Onyx — It’s like CleanMyMac, and all those other things, but free. This app will make sure your Mac is running at optimal speed by allowing you to clear all caches quickly, even system ones. You can perform disc operations, too, and clean up all the other hidden unnecessary files on your Mac. Just make sure to read the instructions first.
- Alfred — With just a few keystrokes, you can do magic. Alfred makes it easy to launch an app quickly with a shortcut, search your entire Mac or the Web, and even empty the trash and perform other system actions. If you’ve decided to purchase the Powerpack license, we have a roundup of 16 Alfred workflows to help you get more out of the app.
- VirtualBox — It’s no Parallels or VMware, but Oracle’s small virtual machine app does a good job of letting you run Windows or Linux on your Mac without the need to dual-boot. Since it’s free, there aren’t any “convenience” features like Coherence in Parallels. Do you need them though?
- BootChamp — Don’t feel like using a virtual machine to run Windows on your Mac? Install Microsoft’s operating system using Boot Camp and then install Kainjow’s BootChamp to quickly restart to your Windows partition with one click from the menu bar.
- Audacity — One of the most popular audio editing/recording apps available. It’s open-source and can do almost anything, if you have the time. When compared to GarageBand, it’s hard to see the appeal here, but some people like the plethora of plugins available for Audacity.
- Muzzy for iTunes — A menu bar app to control iTunes and view now playing artwork. It even has the option to display lyrics.
- VirtualDJ Home — Put your audiophile traits to good use at parties with a full DJ app. VirtualDJ Home is the best free app for any beginner disc jockey. Please note that you will need to purchase the Pro version if you want to use your turntable as a controller for more than ten minutes.
- VLC — It’s simply the best multimedia player for the Mac. With VLC, you can open anything from MKV to FLAC and play it back flawlessly. The app can even try to fix video files when they’re broken. It also opens Internet streams. What’s not to like? The only thing it can’t do is play Blu-Rays.
- HandBrake — Basically, the only DVD ripping app you should download. It also converts video files to playable formats and popular devices (iPhone, iPad, etc.). If you want to take your favorite films or TV shows with you, it’s the tool you need.
- Touchgrind — Use your Mac’s touchpad for something useful. (If you don’t have one, either buy one for this game or move on to the next listing — it’s required.) The game basically gives you the ability to control a small Tech Deck-like skateboard with your touchpad. It’s also Retina-optimized.
- CSR Racing — Need for Speed is no longer a pricey dream. CSR Racing makes it free (so long as you don’t opt in for those in-app purchases) to have a street race with a custom car. You can only do a certain amount per day since you run out of fuel, but if you leave it for a while the tank will fill back up. Use up that nitrous.
- Pocket Planes — From the developers of Nimble Quest comes a tycoon-style game in which you create a airplane enterprise and fly around VIPs. It’s fun, in a pixellated way.
And From You?
That’s all from us, but maybe you have some cool free apps you’ve been using lately. Tell us all about them in the comments. We want to know about your adventures into the depths of the App Store. Quests are also interesting. Either way, start typing!