Mac Freeware All-Stars: Our 10 Best in Category Picks

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.

mac screenshot

SimpleTask Main Interface

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.

mac screenshot

Adding a Task

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

If you read AppStorm frequently, this pick will come as no surprise. ClipMenu is hands down the best free clipboard manager available (check out our full review).

mac screenshot

ClipMenu

Global keyboard access, a floating menu that pops up where your mouse is, menu bar access, snippets management, complex string actions and more.

mac screenshot

ClipMenu Snippets

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.

mac screenshot

Alfred

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.

mac screenshot

Alfred IMDB Search

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).

mac screenshot

Droplr

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.

mac screenshot

Droplr Web Interface


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.

mac screenshot

TweetDeck

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.

mac screenshot

Postbox Express

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).

mac screenshot

Postbox Express Message Tagging


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.

mac screenshot

iStat Pro

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.

mac screenshot

NetNewsWire

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

There are definitely quite a few great fully featured IDEs on the market such as Netbeans and Aptana, but these applications tend to feel a little bloated if all you want is a simple code editor.

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.

mac screenshot

TextWrangler


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.

mac screenshot

IceClean

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.

mac screenshot

IceClean

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.

Your Turn!

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.


  • http://gabrielrinaldi.me Gabriel Rinaldi

    I missed Gruml in the RSS Reader section. Although it is still a beta software I think it is a lot better than NetNewsWire. Great article :)

  • Charlie Monroe

    Try Namely instead of Alfred – lower footprint, if all you need just an app launcher.

    • http://franciscans.tv Matto

      I second that. Namely is my number one launcher.

  • Bruno

    Oh, you guys missed the awesome Notational Velocity. Best note taking app, syncs with Dropbox/Simplenote and it’s free.

  • http://meerzdaily.blogspot.com Meerz

    Games: Quinn, Mc Solitair !!!!
    Dock : Dock Library, Dock Color
    Others: Handbrake, VLC Player
    Twitter: Nambu is the best by far

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Nambu confuses me. There used to be multiple columns, profile views, and a few other cool features. Every time the application updates it seems like they take as much away as they add!

  • http://relevantdevelopment.co.uk Ash

    Can’t say I’ve ever liked TweetDeck. Echofon is streets ahead in my opinion.

    • http://iaian7.com Iaian7

      Agreed! Echofon is absolutely terrific, and doesn’t rely on Adobe Air (which I avoid at all costs).

  • http://www.ronildo.com.br/blog Ronildo Costa

    A nice option for Alfred is Trampoline, is not free but you can use it without paying… it will just show you some screens asking to buy the app.

    Anyone knows an option for Espionage?? I can’t find any application just for to set up a folder with password.

  • thekryz

    I prefer fraise over TextWrangler:

    http://www.fraiseapp.com/

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Good suggestion, Fraise is definitely an awesome app and one that I use frequently.

    • Ethan

      How do these two compare to Komodo?

  • http://slightlyinsightful.com/ Ammon

    A respectable list. Below are a few of my personal picks I’d add to this post.

    Office: FormulatePro (fill out any PDF form document, drop in graphics, scribble with the mouse or a tablet, save and print)
    Gaming: ScummVM (for LucasArts games) or Boxer (for DOS games and apps),
    Utilities: Burn (for creating CD/DVDs)
    Misc: Caffeine (prevents your Mac from going to sleep–a must if you’re watching long YouTube clips), AppFresh (keeps apps up-to-date),

  • http://mariofink.de Mario

    An even better choice than TextWrangler is Fraise (http://www.fraiseapp.com/).

  • Deseo Mar

    I would second the Fraise recommendations.
    Burn, of course.
    Lots of folks swear by QuickSilver, if you like a Launcher app.
    Adium Chat Client. Hands down!

  • Dan

    I still use Himmelbar (http://softbend.free.fr/himmelbar/) as a simple app launcher. It’s free and works in Snow Leopard. One of these days I’ll figure out QuickSilver or the like.

  • http://www.cuby.co.nr Henry Bennett

    Great roundup, thanks! It’s always useful to hear someone’s opinion on the very best, especially when they’re all free!

  • http://twitter.com/richardzimmer Richard

    Hands down, Droplr. CloudApp was/is WAY over hyped.

    • Michael

      Droplr was nice. Until they stopped updating it. CloudApp has much more responsive and has little to no bugs. On more than one occasion Droplr would fail with larger files when CloudApp would not. That at it takes 1/4 of the time to upload a file with CloudApp, compared to Droplr. For developers, CloudApp also has a very simple to use API.

  • Topy

    have you tried Movist? way better than VLC

  • http://www.thegraphicmac.com Jim

    You lost me at TweetDeck. The ugliest, buggiest, most bloated piece of Mac software in the Social Networking arena. Seriously?

  • http://loneplacebo.com Tony

    I can’t live without Cinch! It makes windows management so much easier. I wrote a review about it here: http://loneplacebo.com/cinch-sizeup-review/

    • Ed

      Messed around with Cinch for a minute, really liked it – but try out Divvy. I ended up buying the license just to avoid the demo countdown – otherwise I love Divvy

      • http://iaian7.com Iaian7

        I’ve found Breeze to be more in line with my usage style – more keyboard, less clicky – and it can be a LOT faster in daily use.

      • Andy L

        Yeah, Breeze is great :)

  • Purse17

    Fraise
    YoruFukurou (twitter client). Can’t stand the Air apps.
    DropBox

  • OPKevin

    I don’t get it. If all you need is an application launcher, why not use the native Spotlight app? I used to use Quicksilver, but quickly realized that I never used the extended functions.

    • David Ferguson

      Amen. I don’t see the need for all the other apps, and I’ve tried them all. The only thing I would like to have extra that Spotlight doesn’t, is some form of integrated way to perform a google search. Other than that, Spotlight works fine for me. Why run third party apps when what’s built into Snow Leopard does the exact same thing?

      • http://www.totushi.com totushi

        Spotlight is awesome… agreed!

  • http://bobruns.blogspot.com Bob Allen

    I really like Tweetdeck but I’m really, really, really tired of having to delete the Application Support and Preference files and re-adding all my accounts. Whether it’s Tweetdeck itself or Adobe Air, it needs to be fixed.

  • http://www.free-ebooks.gr/ Dimitris

    Nice collection indeed. My best is iStat Pro

  • Fredericko

    If gmail is your main email account, then Mailbrowser is unmissable. Much prefer it to postbox. Cant understand why it doesnt get more press.

  • http://www.flickr.com/thelugash Josh

    SimpleTask honestly changed my life, it’s that bloody good. Literally my only complaint is that the iPhone app isn’t free, because I’m just *that* darn cheap. :)

  • http://www.cajebo.com Michael

    One that has been completely overlooked is one of my must haves. One day it may prove to be a paid app, but for now, Skitch (skitch.com) is the sht when in comes to orchestrated screen captures.

    As to the rest, a few are installed, a few have been and then trashed, and there’s some new food for thought here that I’ll check out pronto.

    As a member of the Mac community since the hammer went through the screen, it’s great to see the dearth of freeware apps still strong as ever.

    Thanks a ton for your post.

  • Brian

    I use most of these apps and love them! Post box seems cool. I read the review on your site and it also sounded great but is Post box Free?

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  • Chris

    You should definitely try Evom for Video conversion and downloading videos from the web. Really simple app with a gorgeous interface!

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  • Brenda

    Anybody tried Songbird instead of iTunes?
    I hate iTunes!

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  • http://www.cueros-pym.com.ar cuero

    Based on Twitter suggestions, we also added the list of forums that you all recommended!

  • http://copperseed.co.za/ Ashraf

    I think Cyberduck and Evernote are two apps that should be listed here! Thanks for the list. I use SimpleTask and TweetDeck religiously and am now thinking of switching to Alfred from Quicksilver!

  • Matt

    Wunderlist is easily the best free to-do/list manager: collaboration, wireless cloud sync, iOS clients, and looks the business.

  • http://www.starkjr.com Thomas Stark jr.

    I respectfully disagree. The best Twitter app on the market is definitely Twitter for Mac!

    • http://flavors.me/xmeerzx meerz

      Nambu is!

  • http://flavors.me/xmeerzx Meerz

    SimpleTask WAS my favorite app, Wunderlist now is definitely my favorite.
    Because I can sync, share and it’s on the iPhone and iPad as well!

  • http://minimalisten.tumblr.com/ Robin Lundgren

    IceClean just won’t work for me, it gets stuck if i try “All Tasks – Reboo”t, or “Deep Clean”. (Yes, waited 2 hours, still stuck.. And no my system ain’t that dirty.)

  • Coxychap

    Though limited in a few ways, Lazyscope is a great twitter client. Saves lot of time as you rarely have to switch to a browser – you can see it all (weel, most) within the app.

  • PeterBreis

    iText Express is a fantastic superset for TextEdit, adding an enormous list of enhancements like multiple columns, footers, headers, some page layout, tables, line numbering, footnotes, hyperlinks etc.

    I use it for just about everything, not just as a text editor/word processor but also as my portal into my favorite websites, managing downloads and links, storing serial numbers, quick and dirty DTP and pdf tutorial construction… the list goes on and on.

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    Droplr was nice. Until they stopped updating it. CloudApp has much more responsive and has little to no bugs. On more than one occasion Droplr would fail with larger files when CloudApp would not. That at it takes 1/4 of the time to upload a file with CloudApp, compared to Droplr. For developers, CloudApp also has a very simple to use API.Droplr was nice. Until they stopped updating it. CloudApp has much more responsive and has little to no bugs.

    On more than one occasion Droplr would fail with larger files when CloudApp would not. That at it takes 1/4 of the time to upload a file with CloudApp, compared to Droplr. For developers, CloudApp also has a very simple to use API.Droplr was nice. Until they stopped updating it. CloudApp has much more responsive and has little to no bugs. On more than one occasion Droplr would fail with larger files when CloudApp would not. That at it takes 1/4 of the time to upload a file with CloudApp, compared to Droplr. For developers, CloudApp also has a very simple to use API.Droplr was nice. Until they stopped updating it. CloudApp has much more responsive and has little to no bugs. On more than one occasion Droplr would fail with larger files when CloudApp would not. That at it takes 1/4 of the time to upload a file with CloudApp, compared to Droplr. For developers, CloudApp also has a very simple to use API.

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    I use most of these apps and love them! Of course, if they are free, it can’t be better!

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  • insane dreamer

    Good list. Other favorite freewares:

    - Notational Velocity
    - SimpleNote (use the dashboard widget and sync with iPhone–quickest way to get quick notes onto my phone, though i haven’t used SimpleList yet)
    - Threshold (alternative to Alfred)
    - Wunderlist

    Also, Postbox Express in no longer being actively developed (according to their site).

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