Top Ten Mac OS X Freeware/Shareware Applications | October 15, 2005

Here are my current top ten OS X freeware and shareware applications. What are yours and why?

Growl and GrowlTunes

Growl is billed as a “global notification system for OS X”. What that means is that when an application performs or finishes performing a function, it will inform Growl. Growl then passes that info onto the user by displaying the info in an unobtrusive floating box. Growl works with lots of apps so you can set it up to do things like notify you when new mail comes in, or downloads are completed.

I mostly use Growl in combination with GrowlTunes to display song details whenever the song changes in iTunes. I found that I was listening to iTunes music collection in rotation, never knowing the name of the artist or song that was currently playing. With Growl, whenever a new song comes on, a little floating transparent box shows me the name of the song, the artist, cover artwork and star rating.


Quicksilver is a fantastic application that all OS X users should have. Quicksilver does a whole bunch of advanced things, most of which I don’t know about. However I use it as a way of quickly launching applications, finding contact details and occasionally finding files or websites. When Spotlight came out I though it would be a Quicksilver killer, however in comparison, Spotlight feels like swimming through treacle.

When I hit control space and start typing, Quicksilver pretty much always finds what I’m looking for, in an instant. When I hit command space and start typing in Spotlight, it takes a couple of seconds to think about things before results start to slowly appear. The results jump around loads so I’ll go to click the top result only for it to change and take me somewhere else! Spotlight is great because it searches inside docs, and would be particularly handy if I started tagging my docs. However I just don’t like the sluggish responsiveness and find Quicksilver a much more pleasant and predictable experience.


X-Tunes is a really nice, simple iTunes controller. Hitting alt space brings up a floating panel that displays basic song details and lets me stop, jump forward or back in the playlist, or change volume. IF a song comes on that I don’t like, I simply hit alt space and then the forward arrow. If the phone rings I just hit alt space and enter, pausing the track. Once I’ve finished on the phone, the same combination starts the track up again. Simple but very effective.


I’m not sure why I like this application so much, as its just an FTP client. In all honestly its probably got a lot to do with the big, chunky dump truck icon. However it is simple to use and does everything an FTP client should. There is also a rather nice widget for Transmit that allows you to FTP files to s pre-specified location without having to launch the app and log-in. Its not hugely useful, but I like using it anyway, if only to see the truck logo animated, bumping along the road as its delivering your files to the server.

Net Newswire

It seems that a lot of people have jumped ship from this app of late, and are using one of many new RSS readers around. I’ve had a quick look at some of these other apps, but none of them seem to offer anything compelling enough to make me want to switch. Net Newswire has a simple and intuitive user interface, and pretty much does everything I want in a feed reader.

Not that I actually have enough time to read my RSS feeds at the moment. Every time I open Net Newswire I have 800+ unread feeds. I’ll spend an hour going through my feeds, reading the quick reads, marking uninteresting posts as read and saving the interesting ones for later. However there never is a later, so the number of interesting unread feeds just keeps building. At some stage I really think I’m going to have to take a week off work, just to read my feeds.

FontExplorer X

Lets face it, Apple font book sucks. Its OK for previewing fonts, but is totally impractical for managing large font collections. So I was fantastically pleased when I found this app. Doubly so because its free. The app basically works like iTunes for your font collection. You can drag fonts around, group them, preview them, enable them and disable them, all in a familiar and intuitive interface. Very nice.


A great free text editor from Bare Bones Software. I don’t need the full power of BBEdit so this little app is perfect. It does everything I need in a lightweight text editor.


I have to admit that I don’t use xScope that much; but when I do, I love it. xScope provides a series of Photoshop like tools for your desktop. You can set up guides, measure things with the ruler, zoom in to layouts and check colours with the eye-dropper. I most use it when I’m debugging my CSS, using the zoom and ruler tools to measure gaps in layouts to see what is going on.


VNCThing isn’t sexy, but I find it really useful, particularly in combination with Browsercam. Being a Mac user, I don’t have a Windows box to test on. I used to use Virtual PC, but it tends to be really slow, and anyway, the version that I had broke when I moved to a G5 iMac. Version 7 apparently works on a G5, but I’m a bit annoyed that the copy I bought just stopped working when I moved processors and I have to upgrade for it to work again. So instead I use Browsercam.

Most people use Browsercam simply to take screenshots. However the killer feature for me is remote access. Using VNCThing I can VNC into any of their boxes and test not only my layout, but also the interaction. And amazingly, its faster using a remote computer over the Internet with VNC than it was using Virtual PC on my desktop. Go figure.

Omni Graffle

Lastly I really like Omni Graffle. Again, its one of those apps that I feel I don’t use enough, but that is probably because I’m not doing much IA at the moment. This is the perfect app for doing all your site mapping, wireframing and any other IA work. Its basically Visio done well. I’ve not tried the latest version, but from all the reports I’ve read, its even better. Check it out.

Posted at October 15, 2005 12:06 PM


Jeff Wheeler said on October 15, 2005 3:05 PM

Alternatively to GrowlTunes, I use iScrobbler, which will upload my current track’s info to Audioscrobbler.

Growl allows an event to be based off this app, so I get notifications of every new song, with all that information.

It’s quite cool.

Jeff Lindsay said on October 15, 2005 9:25 PM

TextMate is pretty popular. In fact, I would have imagined it would be on your list.

Also, VoodooPad is an awesome personal wikipad. Flying Meat makes great stuff.

inguna said on October 15, 2005 9:55 PM


Smile (regular edition/free) is an AppleScript-based working environment, automation engine, and development platform. I use AppleScript a lot and Smile lets me run or check scripts or lines of script on the fly, from windows which are also regular text editor windows (it’s not unlike what UNIX users do in Terminal). Made by folks in Paris, absolutely rocks (all three components — Smile, Paris and developers :-)


Using constantly. Started to encrypt my files when was living under a totalitarian regime. Then it was a matter of survival, now it’s not any more but old habits die hard, I guess.

Carbon Copy Cloner

It’s not that you use it every day, but when it’s needed, it’s absolutely indispensable. Makes bootable backups of one’s hard drive or moves one’s entire Mac OS X installation to a new computer. I use it for regular backups as well. Simple and has never failed me.

Wire Tap Pro

Well, it’s from Ambrosia Software, and I adore this guy. He’s the author of one of my probably most misused games of all times — Maelstrom, and another one, Apeiron, and everything coming from him is just top noch. Wire Tap Pro is all-purpose digital recording device. Using to record my favorite bbc sessions.

Preferential Treatment

Checks one’s preference files (both in user’s preference folder and the system’s preference folder) for corruption.

Prité said on October 15, 2005 10:27 PM

1) Transmit
Like you’ve said before, it’s just a FTP client, but Panic is a killer company. Although the german translation is disastrous. That’s why i still use 3.2 in english. And you’re right: the icon is pretty cool.

2) Onyx
Onyx is a maintenance and optimization utility. And it’s for free! This one i’ve used when my system was getting very slow and booting up the os took much longer than usually. I guess this app can do about the same Cocktail does.

3) iBiz
Keep track of your time spent on a project. See all your projects for different clients and generate invoices.
As a freelancer i use this tool every day and it gives me a good overview about working time and financial affairs.

4) FontExplorer X
Forget about Suitcase and FontBook, FontExplorer is great! It gives you superious options for managing your fonts and it’s for free. And i just live around the corner of the Linotype Headquarter. Support the locals!
A thing i don’t like about FontExplorer is that you can’t hide the store function, it always seems like a commercial in your app. Although if you want to buy fonts the fast way it’s a good thing.

5) NovaMind
This is a mindmapping tool with a very clear interface and no overloaded tool bars. I use this app for collecting all my ideas for a project and sort them the way i want. But pretty expensive for a mindmapping tool, so i don’t know if this fits on this list.

6) Mamp
No need to type anthing weird into the terminal to start the Apache server and no need to install mySql. The only thing you have to do is to start this app and everything is working, apache and mySql. And if you want to it closes both when quitting the app. It cool for everybody who’s to work with Apache and mySql offline or surely for all the bloggers out there for testing their website.

I like it for making it easy to stop running Apache and mySql since i don’t need that a lot. Aah, once more a free application!

7) Mactracker
Get all the informations about any Mac.

That’s it. The rest are the usual tools…

David House said on October 16, 2005 9:15 AM

“IF a song comes on that I don’t like, I simply hit alt space and then the forward arrow. If the phone rings I just hit alt space and enter, pausing the track.”

If a song comes on that I don’t like, I hit Windows Key + V. If the phone rings, Windows Key + C. Win+C starts it again. A lot simpler than having to press a key combination than use the mouse; this is just one quick press.

God bless amarok and global shortcuts :)

Ben Williams said on October 17, 2005 8:18 AM

I cannot believe that I haven’t heard about the Browsercam VNC thang before!

How long has this been around for? I haven’t used Browsercam for screen captures for a while, but this VNC doohickey is going to be a godsend for testing.

Excuse me for a moment…


Much better. I am still at a loss as to how I haven’t heard about this before now…

Dave J. Lowe said on October 17, 2005 2:22 PM

Andy, I don’t know if you’ve tried this, but if not here goes. Quicksilver definitely is an awesome app and it does tons of stuff very well, including both iTunes track notification and iTunes controlling.

In Quicksilver’s preferences, there’s an iTunes pane. Check ‘Show Artwork’, ‘Monitor Recent Tracks’ and ‘Display Track Notifications.’ Now when the song changes QS will show you the current song info and artwork. For controlling iTunes, if you don’t have a Triggers pane in QS, go to the Application pane, check ‘Enable advanced features.’ After a relaunch of QS, you’ll have a Triggers pane where you can set up keyboard shortcuts for anything QS can do, including ‘Show Playing Track’, ‘Next Song’, ‘Previous Song’, and ‘Play/Pause.’ I use command-option-space for Play/Pause, command-option-right and left arrows for next and previous songs, and command-option-up arrow for show playing track.

By the way, FontExplorerX, Transmit and TextWrangler all make my top ten too.

Davy McDonald said on October 17, 2005 5:03 PM

Yep, Quicksilver’s on my Mac too. here’s a couple I didn’t see yet but they are excellent and they’re free.
Khronos - from
This is a work timer, very simple but easy and quick to use.
Textpander - from
A vey useful text shortcut application, great for bashing repeat snippets of text into any Mac application, but particularly useful for email.
I have Novamind too, I like it for large scale project planning.
Devnthink and DevonAgent are worth a look if you’re into any form of knowledge management. If you’re unamiliar with them try the 30 day download. I haven’t figured my ideal use for it yet but it can do some pretty amazing stuff.

Rob Goodlatte said on October 19, 2005 12:14 AM

I’m a big omnigraffle fan too, but I don’t believe it qualifies as freeware or shareware.

Right now, the best of the best for me is:

Firefox (duh)

and of course a whole ton of widgets

Karl Jacobs said on October 19, 2005 6:26 AM

1) Default Folder X (Saint Clair software) A MUST-HAVE for making the open/save window bearable.

2) Most tools from Unsanity, but especially Windowshade X. I really, really like the windowshade effect. Also Fruitmenu, to gain control back that Apple keeps taking from us.

Michael Murphy said on October 19, 2005 9:35 AM

I concur, TextWrangler definitely makes even my top 5 list. A coworker has been trying unsuccessfully for weeks now to turn me onto xScope. Maybe I’ll give it a second look.

ycc2106 said on October 19, 2005 3:38 PM

Oh thanks, I’m going to try FontExplorer X and maybe Mamp.
I don’t have a very powerfull mac, so Quicksilver isn’t as quick as is said to be. I use Butler.
It’s very complete, you get a laucher, bookmark manager, shortcuts, keystrokes and it can replace the script menu. Also has plug-ins!
It’s the one I use eveyday with OnMyCommand, customizable context-menu utility.

Tore Mogensen said on October 20, 2005 8:13 AM

I’ve bought both NewsFire and NetNewsWire, but I just like the NewsFire look and keyboard navigation better.

Amazing text editor.

Microsoft Remote Desktop for Mac
I have an old Windows box both at home and at work. Remote Desktop allows me to check my sites in IE and run Visual Interdev for asp development. It’s much faster than Vitual PC and free!



iTunes controller

USB Overdrive
Because I absolutely hate the default mouse acceleration on OS X (or any kind of mouse acceleration for that matter).

For synching and importing Exchange Server addresses to iCal.

Address X
For synching and importing Exchange Server addresses to Address Book.

For live html editing.

Webdeveloper toolbar for Firefox
Great tools. I couldn’t live without the EditCSS feature.

ycc2106 said on October 20, 2005 1:32 PM

This is my second comment.

I tried quicksilver after reading this, is there any keyboard shortcuts for the modules?

With Butler I chose to have 4 shortcuts for the last 4 clipboards, the rest is in a menubar. If I had better memory I could use more.
I noticed how much I need this…trying QS.

So I’m back with Butler!
It’s awsome! Thank you P.Maurer!

Have to add that it also does iTunes controller, IP, Adbook, bookmarks, custom sniplets…

Also you can choose to have anything docked or in a menubar…

And is also free.

beth said on October 20, 2005 7:58 PM

I wish there were more useful freeware apps for Windows. I mean there’s a plethora of freeware, but none of it is so nicely designed as the Mac stuff. I do, however, enjoy Google Desktop.

_iconoclast said on October 21, 2005 2:31 PM

It constantly amazes me that (seemingly) most web designers use a totally different platform to develop on (Mac) to the one the vast majority of end users employ (Windows).

Can someone explain this apparent separation from reality?

selftitledstudio said on October 21, 2005 8:35 PM

Audio hijack!

will hijack the sound from any app running on your mac. meaning that you can record any real audio or WMP stream.

If you have a fav internet radio station you can now record it.

and rogueamoeba also has some other nifty apps.

Brian Cray said on October 23, 2005 11:32 PM

This is in no order:

1) CyberDuck: FTP program. Free, Easy, and does what it needs to.

2) TextWrangler: Perfect for web site programming.

3) Nestopia, Snes9x, Genesis Plus, MacMAME: Play old school video games.

3) Audacity: Make sound.

4) Adium: Chat with anyone.

5) Onyx: Optimize your mac.

6) MacTheRipper: :X

7) ClamXav: Free virus scan.

8) VLC: Watch almost all video codecs. Best thing? Play .wmv without Microsoft. Muahahaha.

9) Camino: Mozilla, Mac style.

10) BrickHouse: Firewall your mac on steroids.

ycc2106 said on October 24, 2005 1:08 PM

Check out :Flock, the new bloggers browser!

Jarkko Laine said on October 26, 2005 5:00 PM

Comment on the Version Tracker page for VNCThing:

Developer has abandoned the URL. No further information is available on VNCThing. Consider it dead.

Any recommendations for a replacement? Just got a one-year group subscription to BrowserCam.

charles said on October 29, 2005 3:57 AM

khronos to keep track of billed hours.

pathfinder when i tire of the Finder, however it’s never possible to totally escape it.

wget because downloading free mp3s in mass is so much easier once you learn how to use wget.

bit torrent because i refuse to purchase cable television just to watch the daily show.

Rob Winters said on October 29, 2005 10:44 PM

Loads of great links here.

My Favorites have to be SubEthaEdit, transmit and Hog Bay Notebook all smashing.

Ian Adams said on November 2, 2005 9:41 PM

You know, I actually don’t really use Quicksilver at all. Spotlight works just fine for me as an application launcher, so Quicksilver would just be redundant.

USB Overdrive is great. Especially in combination with the Playstation 2 controller and PS2->USB adapter I picked up at Radio Shack for $10. The various game emulators I use have yet to have a problem with it, and it’s just great.

Mac the Ripper is great, as is DVD2OneX.

Transmit rules, although I still haven’t upgraded to version 3. But it’s still quite verbose for an FTP client, and quite easy to use.

Azureus is great. These days, though, I pretty much only use it to download episodes of Naruto as they’re released in Japan.

MPlayer and VLC; what would I do without those apps? Great video apps, although I end up using MPlayer more often.

MacTracker is also pretty useful for me, actually. I’ve got a few Macs and I find that I need to look up information on them somewhat regularly.

Silly though it may sound, I’m totally in love with UNO, which gives EVERY window the Unified appearance. What’s especially great about it is that in apps like the Finder and iTunes, which under Unsanity’s Unifier or without any appearance changes wouldn’t allow you to drag the window around by clicking on any area covered normally by brushed metal, allow you to drag the window from anywhere you would be able to in brushed metal.

And I have to agree that Omni Graffle is great. I use it for lots of things, especially planning websites.

As an aside, Andy, how did you get Textile as a plugin for your comments system?

Kevin Finlayson said on November 9, 2005 7:01 AM

Forget xtunes. Forget 3rd party itunes controller RAM footprints. Use Quicksilver triggers to assign hotkeys for play/pause, next, previous, ratings, etc. QS comes bundled with applescripts for these functions (show package contents of quicksilver itunes module—>resources/scripts/…)

You can also write applescripts to decremement ratings with every manual track skip, or incrememnt play counts even if the track doesn’t finish. Use quicksilver for itunes notifications if you really want the bezel track notifications. Growltunes is good for auto cover-finding but lacks features.

Fazal Khan said on November 16, 2005 11:01 PM

I’ll make it short and snappy:

1. Adium
2. Quicksilver
3. Cyberduck - Freeware FTP
4. MyMind - Freeware Mindmapping
5. Omnioutliner\KGTD - Get ya s**t organised
6. Font Explorer X
7. Xyle scope - quote: An Innovative CSS Tool for Analysis, Debugging, and Fine-tuning - good quote.
8. Transmission -Freeware Bittorrent client - fast and easy
9. Paparazzi - Screenshots of sites the way you need them to be.
10. MAMP

Got so many more - but this is the free stuff.

hahaha said on November 23, 2005 11:14 PM

what about image well??

brian warren said on May 21, 2006 5:30 AM

OmniWeb is quickly becoming my favorite browser.

OmniOutliner Pro along with kGTD is a fab combo that makes for great listmaking and getting things done.

Yojimbo has been a nice place for me to store a bunch of stuff.

I use Cuppa to time my french press. Thankfully it’s universal, i dont know if I could deal w/ lousy performance from a tea/coffee timer.

I’ve been using Parallels a lot as well as bootcamp. Wow, that rocks.

Chicken of the VNC is what I use for VNC work.

Aside from those i’ll echo the praises for Quicksilver, Textmate, NetNewsWire, xylescope, xScope etc. They’re all good.