Best free Mac software (Mac freeware)

Mac freeware FAQ: Can you provide a list of the best free Mac software?

While I'm loading up some freeware on a friend's new MacBook, it hit me how much really wonderful free Mac software is available these days. Of course there are free web browsers, which everyone wants, but there are also free Mac HTML editors, mail clients, and other free Mac apps for image editing, FTP, RSS, IRC, and CD/DVD burning and ripping, and much more. You can get a lot of things done these days using only free software.

In an effort to help other Mac users find the best Mac software around, here's my list of the best "free Mac software applications" I know of (last updated July, 2010).

Free Mac software - Web browsers

One of the first things everyone needs is a web browser. In my opinion, if you just want one good Mac web browser, I'd go with Firefox, but the other browsers have their strengths as well, and these days I also use Google Chrome a lot.

Firefox web browser for Mac OS X

Currently the leading open source web browser, Firefox has thousands of plugins to help customize your web browsing experience. (And I use it every day.)

Safari web browser for Mac OS X

Safari is included free with Mac OS X. Safari 4 includes a number of improvements that make it a good browser (but I prefer Firefox and Chrome).

Google Chrome web browser for Mac OS X

Google Chrome
Google Chrome is a web browser that runs web pages and applications as fast as Google can make it go. The Chrome people seem to want to make the world's fastest web browser. (June, 2010: Chrome is now my favorite Mac browser, though many other people still prefer Firefox.)

Camino web browser for Mac OS X

Camino is an open source web browser developed with "a focus on providing the best possible experience for Mac OS X users". Historically, Camino was developed as a native Mac OS X web browser when there weren't any other good alternatives. It is still a very good browser -- possibly better than Safari -- but I prefer Firefox.

Opera web browser for Mac OS X

I personally don't use Opera, so I'll take this statement from their website: "Opera’s newest Web browser introduces a new technology platform, Opera Unite, allowing you to stream music or share files, photos and more, right from the browser".

SeaMonkey web browser for Mac OS X

SeaMonkey -- which is discussed in the next section -- also includes a web browser. If you're an original Netscape Navigator user, the SeaMonkey browser will put a smile on your face. I use the SeaMonkey HTML editor, but I don't use their browser.

As a quick update, these days I use Firefox, Chrome, and Safari on a regular basis (in that order).

Free Mac HTML editors

If you're ever in the market for a free Mac WYSIWYG HTML editor, here are two options:

SeaMonkey web browser for Mac OS X

From their website: "SeaMonkey provides a web browser, advanced e-mail, newsgroup and feed client, IRC chat, and HTML editing made simple -- all in one application." As mentioned before, if you ever used the original Netscape suite of products, SeaMonkey will look very familiar.

I use the SeaMonkey Mac HTML editor (their 'Composer') for creating WYSIWYG HTML documents -- such as this document -- as described in this "Best free Mac HTML editor" article.

Amaya - free Mac HTML editor

Amaya is a free Mac HTML editor that was originally developed to showcase web technologies. Amaya really isn't intended as a commercial product, so these days Amaya's UI looks old, and the software runs slow, but it does create very clean HTML code.

Note: I've written about Mac HTML editors in detail before, including my popular Free Mac WYSIWYG HTML editors review.

Mac freeware - Office apps (word processing, spreadsheet, presentation)

Another big need when it comes to Mac freeware are "office" applications. If you're used to create office documents using Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on Microsoft Windows, these two free Mac office applications will help fill that void on the Mac OS X platform.

OpenOffice for Mac OS X

OpenOffice is a free and open office productivity suite from Sun Microsystems. It is probably the most popular free "office" suite in the world, and OpenOffice 3 provides a much better experience on Mac OS X.

NeoOffice - free office suite for Mac OS X

NeoOffice adds "improvements" to the OpenOffice project for the Mac OS X platform. (There is a little angst between the OpenOffice people and the NeoOffice people, but for a long time NeoOffice provided a better Mac experience. With the release of OpenOffice 3, I don't know if NeoOffice is much better than OpenOffice any more.)


Mac freeware - Mac OS X email clients

If you like to have an email client running on your local computer, here are two terrific, free Mac email applications.

Free Mac mail/email software

Mac Mail
Mac OS X comes with a free email application named Mail, which can usually be found in the dock and Applications folder when you first buy a Mac. You can configure Mail to work with your email servers.

Thunderbird - free email client for Mac OS X

Thunderbird 3 is the latest version of Mozilla Messaging's free and open source email application. Like Mail, Thunderbird is an email client that you configure to work with your remote email servers/accounts.

Personally I don't use either of these applications. I just use the web clients that come with Yahoo Mail and Gmail, but many people I know really like Thunderbird.

Free Mac DVD ripping software

I've recently started using the free Mac software application named Handbrake, and I can recommend it:

HandBrake - free software for Mac OS X

HandBrake is "an open-source, GPL-licensed, multiplatform, multithreaded video transcoder, available for MacOS X, Linux and Windows".

I've used HandBrake for the last two months, and it's great for ripping DVDs. I've written more about this in my iPhone/iPad DVD movies article and in my When ripping a DVD movie to a digital video file makes sense article. In short, two thumbs up.


Free Mac software - CD/DVD burning

Free Mac software - Burn

From the Burn website: "Simple but advanced burning for Mac OS X."

Like HandBrake, I haven't used Burn, but again, I see it referenced on many Mac websites. When I burn a CD or DVD, I do it the old-school way, as described in this article on "How to burn a DVD on Mac OS X".


Mac freeware - graphics and image/photo editing

These days everybody is editing and sharing images, and from my own experience I can tell you GIMP is a powerful image editing application that runs on Mac OS X.


Free Mac software - GIMP

GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring.

GIMP has many capabilities. It can be used as a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, an image format converter, etc.

GIMP is a really good free image-editing program for Mac OS X. It doesn't currently provide a "native" Mac look and feel, but it's a very powerful image-editing application, and I use it every week. It's a great free alternative to an application like Photoshop.

Free Mac software - Blender

Blender is the free open source 3D content creation suite, available for all major operating systems under the GNU GPL.

I haven't used Blender yet, but it certainly looks like it can create really terrific 3D images.


Mac freeware - RSS readers

Free Mac software - NetNewsWire RSS reader

NetNewsWire is "an easy-to-use RSS and Atom reader for your Mac. The Eddy award-winning NetNewsWire has a familiar three-paned interface and can fetch and display news from thousands of different websites and weblogs."

Whenever I do use an RSS reader I use NetNewsWire, but for better or worse I don't use any software applications like this these days. I usually find what I want on the internet via iGoogle and similar services.


Mac freeware - FTP clients

If you're a web site developer, or just need a simple way to transfer files from one system to another, these two free Mac FTP applications might be just what you need.

Free Mac software - Filezilla FTP client

FileZilla Client is a fast and reliable cross-platform FTP, FTPS and SFTP client with lots of useful features and an intuitive graphical user interface.

While Filezilla may not look like a native Mac OS X application, I use it all the time for FTP file transfers, and it's a very decent FTP client. Take a look at it before you go out and buy a Mac FTP client application.

Free Mac software - Cyberduck FTP client

Cyberduck is an open source FTP, SFTP, WebDAV, Cloud Files and Amazon S3 browser for the Mac.

I haven't used Cyberduck yet, but I will give it a trial run soon. (Again it's one of the names I've heard about for several years, but I haven't used it myself.)


Mac freeware - Instant messaging (IM) software

If you're into instant messaging, here are two free instant messaging applications for Mac OS X.

Free Mac software - Adium IM client

Adium is "a free instant messaging application for Mac OS X that can connect to AIM, MSN, Jabber, Yahoo, and more". I don't use any IM clients myself, but I've seen Adium referred to for several years now.

Free Mac IM software - Yahoo IM

Yahoo IM
I briefly tried a beta version of Yahoo's IM client for Mac OS X about a year ago, and it seemed fine for text messages. We had some problems with the video and audio quality, but the text messaging was just fine.



Mac freeware - IRC clients

Free Mac software - Colloquy IRC

From their website: Colloquy is an IRC, SILC & ICB client which aims to conform to Mac OS X interface conventions.

I haven't used Colloquy, but I see it referenced on many other websites.

Free Mac podcasting software

Like to create and listen to podcasts? If so, here are a couple of terrific, free Mac podcast applications.

Free Mac software - GarageBand for podcasts

GarageBand comes free with Mac OS X, and you can use it to create podcasts. I've used it several times, as shown in these GarageBand podcast tutorials, and I thought it was fairly easy to use.

Free Mac software - podcast receiver

Juice is a cross-platform podcast receiver. If you want to listen to podcasts, this program is for you. Juice is the premier podcast receiver, allowing users to capture and listen to podcasts anytime, anywhere.

Here are a few links to my GarageBand podcast tutorials:

Free Mac sound recording software

Free Mac software - Audacity audio for Mac OS X

Audacity is free, open source software for recording and editing sounds. You can use Audacity to record live audio; convert tapes and records into digital recordings or CDs; edit Ogg Vorbis, MP3, WAV or AIFF sound files; cut, copy, splice or mix sounds together; change the speed or pitch of a recording; and more.

I haven't used Audacity yet, but when I told a friend that I wanted to edit an audio recording, he recommended Audacity. (Again, I've heard about it for years, but haven't tried it yet.)

Free Mac OS X mind mapping software

Free Mac software - FreeMind mind mapping

FreeMind is a premier free mind-mapping software written in Java.

If you ever used MindManager on a Windows PC, FreeMind is a free, open-source competitor to that application. Written in Java, it runs on many computer platforms, including Mac OS X.

Mac freeware - Personal finance software

Some people have told me they can't switch to using a Mac without some form of personal finance application available on OS X. There are other commercial applications you can pay for if you'd like, but here are two free Mac personal finance applications that get you what you need.

Free Mac software - personal finance with Gnu Cash

GnuCash is personal and small-business financial-accounting software, freely licensed under the GNU GPL.

Free Mac software - personal finance with Buddi

Buddi is a personal finance and budgeting program, aimed at those who have little or no financial background.

(I haven't used either of these programs.)

Free Mac software developer tools

If you're a developer you probably already know about Eclipse and NetBeans, but if not, here's a little information about them.

Free Mac software - Eclipse IDE

Eclispse is an open source IDE, originally intended for Java, but now with support for many different programming languages and frameworks.

Free Mac software - NetBeans IDE

NetBeans is a free, open-source Integrated Development Environment for software developers. You get all the tools you need to create professional desktop, enterprise, web, and mobile applications with the Java language, as well as C/C++, PHP, JavaScript, Groovy, and Ruby.

Free Mac software - MAMP - Mac, Apache, MySQL, PHP

The abbreviation "MAMP" stands for: Macintosh, Apache, Mysql and PHP. With just a few mouse-clicks, you can install Apache, PHP and MySQL for Mac OS X.

Eclipse and NetBeans are competitors in the open source IDE world. Both run just fine on Mac OS X. MAMP is a cool bundle of free software applications that makes it very easy to use Apache, PHP, and MySQL on Mac OS X. I've been using MAMP for the last several months, and it really does make life easier.


Free open source Unix software for Mac OS X

If you come from a Unix background, the great news about OS X is that it is a real Unix operating system (BSD), and there are plenty of Unix tools available for Mac OS X. MacPorts and Fink are two projects that help to make it easier than ever to get Unix software installed and running on OS X.

Free Mac software - free Unix software, MacPorts

The MacPorts project is an open-source community initiative to design an easy-to-use system for compiling, installing, and upgrading either command-line, X11 or Aqua based open-source software on the Mac OS X operating system.

Free Unix software for Mac OS X with Fink

The Fink project wants to bring the full world of Unix Open Source software to Darwin and Mac OS X. We modify Unix software so that it compiles and runs on Mac OS X ("port" it) and make it available for download as a coherent distribution.

MacPorts and Fink are two competing projects that help make tons of free Unix and Linux software available on the Mac OS X platform. For the most part these are command-line programs that a regular Mac user won't be interested in, but if you are a Unix or Linux user, these two projects can help you get all the free, cool, open source software you want on your Mac computer.

Many more free Mac software applications

Of course there are many more Mac "freeware" applications, but I think this is a great start, and I've now worked with many of these free Mac software applications myself.

On a related note, if you're looking for Mac backup solutions, I recently wrote a Mac online backup solutions article which details many of the available backup options. Finally, at you can find many more free Mac software applications (along with many other apps you can pay for).