Recently we posted an enormous roundup of 100 free Mac applications. These types of articles are awesome for a quick overview of everything that’s available, but sometimes you just want to know what the best free app is in a given genre.
Today we’ll answer this question by presenting our top picks for free applications across various categories. Below we’ll take a look at the best of the best in free software and then give you the chance to join the discussion and cast your vote.
Best Free Task Manager: SimpleTask
Our first award goes to the best free task manager. There are plenty of premium GTD apps out there such as Things, Firetask and The Hit List but they all require you to drop at least $50.
Though you won’t currently find the premium level of functionality in a free app, there is much to be said about a simple todo list application that allows you to track your daily tasks without piling on fifty-seven features that you’ll never actually use.
Among the apps that fit this description, SimpleTask definitely stands out as a clear winner. This simple todo list has all the basic features you need in addition to a few great advanced features such as a global keyboard shortcut, a menu bar option, integrated search, and syncing with the iPhone version.
SimpleTask makes it super easy to quickly add a task and back to work. You can set as many or as few of the options as you like and sort your list by pending and complete tasks.
Though I’d like to see a due date feature added here, it’s easy enough to use the description field for this and other information.
Best Free Clipboard Manager: ClipMenu
Global keyboard access, a floating menu that pops up where your mouse is, menu bar access, snippets management, complex string actions and more.
Trust me, no matter what your free clipboard manager does, ClipMenu does more.
Best Free Launcher: Alfred
Once upon a time this award would’ve gone to Quicksilver without a second thought. However, despite still being more fully featured than any other free launcher, Quicksilver development has become stagnant (perhaps in favor of Google’s GQSB).
The current rockstar in the app launcher world is Alfred. The big user friendly interface makes it easy for even complete Mac novices to instantly launch any application from the keyboard.
Alfred is also great at finding files on your Mac, making calculations, and searching the web. One of my favorite features is the ability to search a number of popular sites and even set up your own custom searches for any site not included by default.
Sometime soon we’ll be taking an in-depth look at the Alfred Powerpack, a new bundle of advanced features available for £12.
Best Free Quick File Sharing App: Droplr
This genre is occupied primarily by two applications: CloudApp and Droplr. Both of these apps allow you to rapidly share files by uploading them online and automatically placing the URL in your clipboard.
It’s definitely a tough call, but I’m declaring Droplr the winner here. Though Cloud provides you with ad-free uploads and integration with a few other apps via “Raindrops,” Droplr has code sharing with syntax highlighting, better text sharing, a better web interface, and better Twitter integration (the place you’re most likely to be sharing to).
Above you can see the little pop-out menu that shows up when you drag something to Droplr. Clicking the little Twitter button will tweet the link with your app of choice.
Below is the online Droplr interface. The primary reason it stands out from that of Cloud is the thumbnail view for your recent images. Cloud’s simple list view has no previews and can therefore take quite a few clicks to find the image you’re looking for.
Best Free Twitter Client: TweetDeck
I really wanted to give this one to Tweetie. While it’s definitely my client of choice, it has fallen far behind in development and supports none of Twitter’s newest features (Officials ReTweets, lists, etc.).
Moving on, Kiwi, a very similar client to Tweetie, is another one of my favorites, but it’s not a truly free app (it costs $9.95) and doesn’t support Twitter lists. Next I tried Nambu. It’s completely free, supports lists and ReTweets, and has a great interface complete with inline picture viewing. I thought I had found a winner but the fact that you can’t view user profiles or timelines in the app (clicking a user name opens your browser) makes it just about unusable for me.
It turns out if you’re comparing raw functionality you simply can’t beat good old TweetDeck. The features available in TweetDeck don’t just rival that of just about every other client, they blow them out of the water.
TweetDeck supports Twitter lists, official RTs, a bunch of other networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, MySpace, etc), in-app profile viewing, multiple columns, iPhone column syncing, column filtering, notifications, tweet translation and a whole bunch of other great stuff that we’ll be taking a look at in an upcoming article.
TweetDeck may not be a native Mac app (AIR), nor is it as pretty as Tweetie or Kiwi, but it’s definitely the ultimate free Twitter application.
Best Free Mail Alternative: Postbox Express
Apple’s default Mail application is certainly a powerful application but it leaves many users wanting more. I’ve been experimenting with free alternatives like Thunderbird lately and have had significant trouble finding a single app that really worked the way I wanted.
Enter Postbox Express, a new free version of the popular Postbox application. Postbox Express is enough like Mail that you’ll feel right at home and contains enough enhancements to make it worth the switch.
One of the coolest features that you’ll notice right away is tabbed email browsing. The tab implementation is exactly like Safari and is extremely useful to have for your inbox. Other awesome features include lighting quick email setup (username, password, done), message tagging (a huge missing feature in Mail), third party extensions and even social network integration (post to Facebook and Twitter).
Best Free Dashboard Widget: iStat Pro
Though iStat Menus has turned into a paid app, the old iStat Pro Dashboard widget is still free. I’ve nearly abandoned Dashboard completely, but I still keep this one widget open because it’s so incredibly useful.
If you’re a data junkie, feast your eyes on all of the information available with iStat Pro. The widget is fully customizable and allows you to track any or all of a number of system variables including memory, connected drives, active processes, network activity, internal temperatures, fan speeds and more!
Best Free RSS Reader: NetNewsWire
NetNewsWire looks and feels very similar to Mail.app and has a ton of awesome features that help you stay on top of the news from your favorite sites.
NetNewsWire syncs with Google Reader, is packed with keyboard shortcuts, integrates with Instapaper, allows you to repost articles via MarsEdit, lets you create multiple tabs, and has an integrated web browser.
I’ve tried a few other news readers but the concept never really stuck with me until I downloaded NNW. The integrated tabbed browser makes this application an awesome place to track not only your RSS feeds but keep on eye on Facebook and Twitter as well.
Best Free Text Editor: TextWrangler
In these cases, your best bet is going to be TextWrangler, an awesome and free editor from the creators of BBEdit. TextWrangler supports all the simple stuff like syntax highlighting and has a lot of advanced features as well like sorting, version comparing, multiple clipboards, and custom document markers.
Best Free Maintenance Utility: IceClean
Recently we took a look at MainMenu, an awesome Mac maintenance utility that cost just under $20. If you’re looking for the same kind of functionality in a free app, check out IceClean, an app I only recently came across that rivals the feature set of even paid apps in its category.
IceClean’s features are far too numerous to list here while doing the application justice. A few notable commands include repairing disk permissions, verifying preferences, updating prebindings, routine maintenance scripts, clearing caches, removing log files, and force empty all trash.
If you’re an advanced Mac user and know your way around system maintenance jargon, IceClean is definitely a must-have utility whether you’ve already purchased MainMenu or not.
Our top picks are sure to be controversial and are fully meant to start a few comment wars. Join the discussion by casting your votes for the best free app in each category above. This is a highly subjective topic so feel free to completely disagree with any and all of our choices!
Also be sure to post a link to and must-have free application that we didn’t mention above.