After posting my list of 10 essential, must-have free apps for PC owners, I received a flood of requests to compile the same list of indispensable freeware for the Mac.
"If you're going to do one for Windows, you have to do one for Mac!" the argument went. I was inundated with the same request over and over, like a radio DJ in 1999 the day after Smash Mouth's "All Star" came out.
Now is, after all, a great time to buy a new Apple computer, if you're in the market for one. Apple recently refreshed its laptops with the latest processors from Intel and also introduced a drool-worthy MacBook Pro with Retina display, which most reviewers agree is one of the best laptops you can buy (if you can afford it).
So, if you're reading this from a new Mac (hi!), you may be wondering: What free apps should you download for it? Or, if you've had your Apple computer for awhile, which freeware should you have already downloaded? Below, just as we did for Windows, we've compiled a list of the most vital free applications for Mac owners, along with their download links for your convenience. Enjoy, and let us know what we missed in the comments:
VLC Media Player
Our go-to media player for Windows also has a free lightweight version for the Mac, and it's just as essential on Apple. VLC can play almost any movie or audio file you hurl at it, and it can do it fast and without using up your Mac's resources. <a href="http://wiki.videolan.org/How_to_make_VLC_the_default_player#Mac" target="_hplink">Make it your default media player</a> and never look back. <a href="http://www.videolan.org/vlc/index.html" target="_hplink">Download VLC for Mac here</a>.
Adium is our favorite way to chat with and badger our friends on the Mac, and probably the most efficient way, too. On Adium, you can sign in to all of your chat clients -- Gchat, Facebook Chat, AIM (DISCLAIMER WE ARE OWNED BY AOL), MSN, whatever -- and talk to your buddies and family members from one place, on your desktop. It's an easy way to stay available to all those friends you've amassed (Mr. Popular!) on tons of different platforms without needing to keep millions of tabs open. Efficiency, people. <a href="http://adium.im/" target="_hplink">You can download Adium here</a>.
With apologies to Apple's Safari, Google Chrome is our Internet browser of choice for Mac. Chrome is fast, clutter-free, and brings a mountain of great third-party extensions to your browser. Did you know that you <a href="https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/gjcmbbccmjakkhgeipejcbppplmdiafc" target="_hplink">can make every website's font appear as Comic Sans with Chrome</a>, or <a href="https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/bpdhblmflikcbfmoohdgemfnhjjfahcm" target="_hplink">block the name Kim Kardashian from appearing on your Internet</a>? Chrome really is on the cutting edge. <a href="http://www.google.com/mac/" target="_hplink">Download Chrome for Mac here</a>.
Yes, Virginia, Macs are susceptible to viruses. Though Apple computers were long immune to malware and the like, recently the Mac operating system <a href="http://www.dailytech.com/Apple+Admits+Its+Macs+Have+a+Malware+Problem/article24451.htm" target="_hplink">has been attacked by its first viruses</a>, forcing <a href="http://www.geekosystem.com/apple-virus-immunity/" target="_hplink">Apple to remove claims of invulnerability</a> from its promotional material. Grab an anti-virus program like Avast! or Sophos Free Anti-Virus For Mac to stay safe while browsing the web, downloading mysterious files, or clicking unsafe links. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/larry-magid/now-mac-users-need-to-wor_b_870953.html" target="_hplink">As tech columnist Larry Magid wrote recently</a>, "It's time for Mac users to wake up." Download <a href="http://www.avast.com/free-antivirus-mac" target="_hplink">Avast! for Mac here</a>, or grab <a href="http://www.sophos.com/en-us/products/free-tools/sophos-antivirus-for-mac-home-edition.aspx" target="_hplink">Sophos Free Anti-Virus here</a>. Either should do the trick.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/09/10-free-windows-programs-everyone-needs_n_1659856.html#slide=1206860" target="_hplink">Like Crap Cleaner for Windows</a>, Onyx can scan your Mac and remove the files you no longer need to speed up your computer. While there's a <a href="http://www.piriform.com/mac/ccleaner" target="_hplink">version of Windows favorite CCleaner available for Mac</a>, Onyx can do much more, sweeping through dozens of different nooks and crannies on your Mac and deleting the unnecessary stuff. There are several other utilities for more advanced users, too; for novices, the Cleaning function is all you need. <a href="http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/11582/onyx" target="_hplink">You can download Onyx here</a>.
Another holdover from our Windows list, OpenOffice is the Microsoft Office suite that you don't have to pay for. It can open Word documents, PowerPoint files, and Excel spreadsheets, and you can also use it to create all those files, too. If you're looking to save some money on software and don't want to pony up for Microsoft Office, OpenOffice is your best alternative; it is likely capable of everything you would need MS Office for, but free. <a href="http://www.openoffice.org/download/index.html" target="_hplink">You can download OpenOffice here</a>.
For locating a stolen or lost computer, Apple's Find My Mac is good, but Prey is better. After downloading you can register your Mac on the Prey Project's website and, if it goes missing, do any number of things to track it down or ensure its safety: You can set off an alarm; lock the system; turn on the webcam so you can see the thief; view your computer on a map; and more. Though you should also <a href="http://www.wikihow.com/Enable-and-Disable-Icloud-Applications-in-Mac-Os-X-Lion" target="_hplink">enable Find My Mac in your iCloud settings</a> on your new Mac, Prey should have you covered if your laptop disappears, giving you several different ways to track your missing computer. <a href="http://preyproject.com/download" target="_hplink">Get started with Prey on its website here</a>.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/09/10-free-windows-programs-everyone-needs_n_1659856.html#slide=1206876" target="_hplink">Like 7-zip on Windows</a>, The Unarchiver goes above and beyond what Apple's native archive software can do. <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-unarchiver/id425424353?mt=12" target="_hplink">With a claim that</a> it is "the only unarchiving program you will ever need," The Unarchiver can handle a ton of different file types and can unzip almost any compressed folder you throw at it. A simple utility that every Mac user should have installed. <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-unarchiver/id425424353?mt=12" target="_hplink">You can download The Unarchiver here</a>.
Dropbox (Or Google Drive)
A cloud backup service like Dropbox or Google Drive <a href="http://www.27andfrugal.com/2010/11/30/why-you-need-dropbox/" target="_hplink">can help ensure</a> that your documents, photos and other important files are protected somewhere you can't destroy them. By keeping your important stuff online, rather than locally on your hard drive, you can rest assured that if you drop your computer or spill water on it, at least the files you've saved in the cloud will be safe. The two programs work the same way: Sign up for the free service, download the program to your desktop, and drop in the folders and files that you want backed up. You can then access those files from any computer or from the web, at Dropbox.com or Drive.Google.com. If you're not using Dropbox or Google (or SkyDrive or SugarSync or...) then do yourself a favor and get started. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/26/google-drive-cloud-storage-service_n_1452192.html" target="_hplink">We've compared the five best services here</a> so that you can choose which one is right for you. You can <a href="http://dropbox.com" target="_hplink">download Dropbox here</a>, or <a href="http://drive.google.com" target="_hplink">Google Drive here</a>.
Quicksilver is an incredibly useful little productivity tool that lets you quickly and easily search your Mac's contents, launch applications, open files and more. You just hit control+space bar to call up the launcher and then type whatever you're looking for; more often than not, Quicksilver will locate your app before you can even finish typing and open it for you. Thanks to a large library of plug-ins, you can also use Quicksilver to search a dictionary, control your iTunes, send emails via Gmail straight from your desktop and a bunch of handy other stuff. Try out this "<a href="http://thenextweb.com/2009/05/04/quicksilver-mac-greatest-app-time/" target="_hplink">digital Swiss Army Knife</a>" and you'll certainly save some time and maybe get away from your computer every once in awhile. <a href="http://qsapp.com/download.php" target="_hplink">You can download Quicksilver here</a>.
Now that you've downloaded all of these apps, you've gotta keep 'em updated! AppFresh is a simple utility that scans all of the applications on your computer and tells you which apps are up-to-date and which have updates available. For the apps that need updates, you just press a button in AppFresh and -- poof! -- it's updated. This is similar to what the Mac App Store does, of course, but AppFresh works for the apps you've obtained from any location, not just the App Store. And if you've downloaded any of the preceding apps, then you've certainly obtained apps from outside the App Store. <a href="http://metaquark.de/appfresh/mac" target="_hplink">You can download AppFresh here</a>.
These 11 apps are but the tip of the iceberg, of course. For further reading, I recommend Lex Friedman's article on Macworld about how he sets up a new computer, PCMag's thorough list of the Best Free Mac Software of 2012 and AppStorm's lengthy countdown of the 100 Incredibly Useful Free Mac Apps.