Thanks to a thriving developer community, there are thousands of top-notch OS X applications and utilities that can help you work smarter, customize your system, or perform tasks that are otherwise impossible—all for a fraction of what you’d shell out for a big-name application.
To give you a taste of what’s available, we pulled together some of the best low-cost and free software reviewed in Macworld (many developers of free apps do accept donations). Whether you want to blend two images, create mailing labels from your Address Book, or filter out annoying spam, there’s something in here for you. These applications may not have all the features of Adobe Photoshop or the applications in the Microsoft Office suite, for example, but they do their job well. And in many cases, they offer tools and features you won’t find in high-end packages. Best of all, none of these programs costs more than $30.
To find even more inexpensive software gems, check out VersionTracker (www.versiontracker.com). There you can see reviews from other users, search by software category, and even download the programs you want.
HTML Checker: BLT 0.2
; Braxtech, www.braxtech.com/blt/
Full-featured Web-authoring programs search for broken links, but if you’re using a smaller program for coding, BLT can fill the gap. It checks your hard drive or the Web to make sure that all of a page’s objects—not just its links—are OK (May 2003).
Backup Utility: Carbon Copy Cloner 2.1
; Bombich Software, www.bombich.com
Carbon Copy Cloner puts a simple interface on a series of complex Unix-based scripts, so you can easily make backups or transfer data from one Mac to another (May 2003).
Mousing Shortcuts: Cocoa Gestures 1.1
; bitart, www.bitartcom
Cocoa Gestures lets you to use mouse movements to perform actions in all Cocoa applications. For example, you could assign control-clicking and a down mouse motion to closing a window. The possibilities are endless (May 2003).
Web Searcher: Huevos 1.1
; Ranchero Software, www.rancherocom
If you spend a lot of time searching the Web, this keyboard-based, intuitive desktop search tool that accesses 15 different sites is a tremendous time-saver (September 2003).
Weblog Updater: iJournal 1.5
; William Coldwell, www.planetcryo.com
Coldwell’s Weblog tool is easy to use, and it supports keyboard shortcuts. A little bonus is that the program can show site viewers the iTunes song you’re currently playing (July 2003).
Text Editor: jEdit 4.1
; Slava Pestov, www.jedit.org
jEdit is a programmer’s text editor written in Java. jEdit’s features—such as unlimited undo and redo levels, and syntax coloring for more than 50 languages—and the fact that it’s free make it an excellent alternative to commercial editors (May 2003).
Weblog Updater: Kung-Log 1.44
; Adriaan Tijsseling, www.kung-foo.tv
A rich feature set helps Kung-Log manage Weblogs on multiple servers. As a plus, the developer is very responsive (July 2003).
iChat Searcher: Logorrhea 1.2.1
; Spiny Software, http://spiny.com/software
Logorrhea is a great utility that can help you quickly find text in archived iChat logs via browsing or searching (October 2003).
Journal Organizer: MacJournal 2.1
; Dan Schimpf Software, http://homepage.mac.com/dschimpf
If you keep a journal, diary, log, notebook, or scrapbook, MacJour-nal can help you organize your thoughts. MacJournal handles multiple journals, each with any number of entries that can be sorted by date, topic, or the first few words of text in a file. You can export files as text, RTF, or HTML (May 2003).
Image Editor: MorphX 2.5
; Martin Wennerberg, www.software.com/~martin
MorphX changes one image into another via a series of blended images. If you have QuickTime Pro, you can save the series of images as a movie (May 2003).
News Reader: NetNewsWire Lite 1.0
; Ranchero Software, www.rancherocom
NetNewsWire Lite collects content from multiple sites into a three-paned browser window, with sites on the left, headlines at the top, and summaries at the bottom. It can help you scan a lot of news sites or blogs quickly (May 2003).
Palm Reader: PorDiBle 2.1
; Rura Penthe, http://pordible.victolycom
PorDiBle converts text and HTML files into DOC files for your Palm, via an easy drag-and-drop operation. It can also convert PDB files into text files (May 2003).
Full-Featured Clock: PTHClock 2.3
; PTH Consulting, www.pthcom
PTHClock gives you everything Apple’s menu-bar clock provides, but it offers more control over time format; date format; and font size, color, and style. You also get a drop-down calendar, chime settings, and spoken alerts. It’s the best menu-bar clock and calendar available (May 2003).
Image Viewer: QuickImage CM 2.1
; Pixture Studio, www.pixturecom
A handy image-viewing utility, QuickImage CM is more convenient and has better editing capabilities than Preview (October 2003).
Search Utility: Searchling 1.1
; Michael Thole, http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~mthole
Searchling is the ultimate use-anywhere search tool. It lives in your menu bar; when you click on it, you get a small one-line search box for Google, Slashdot, eBay, and more (May 2003).
Virtual Network Server: Share My Desktop 1.2
; Bombich Software, www.bombich.com
Share My Desktop is an OS X–native Virtual Network Computing server that’s easy to set up. If you want the server to run continually, it can even be configured as an OS X Startup Item (May 2003).
Resolution Emulator: SmallScreenX 2.2
; Loren Brichter, www.lorenb.com/software
SmallScreenX displays resizable borders to simulate different screen resolutions—helpful for Web designers who want to get an idea of how a page will look on different monitors (May 2003).
Audio Editor: Spark ME
; T.C. Electronic, www.tcelectronic.com
This OS X–only two-track editor allows direct recording and lets you import and manipulate any QuickTime-compatible audio file. Spark ME includes the Normalize, Resample, Fade, Gain Control, Reverse, Invert, and Spark One Band EQ plug-ins. It supports the popular VST plug-in format—unusual in a free application—and lets you open a QuickTime movie and edit the soundtrack to picture (July 2002).
Envelope Formatter: Snail Mail 0.2
; Nixanz, www.nixanzcom
Snail Mail does one thing: print envelopes from your Address Book. It lets you format the envelope to show or hide specific fields, and you can change the fonts and margins or even paste in a custom logo (July 2002).
Mailing Labels: SwordfishExpress 1.0
; buyolympia.com, www.buyolympia.com
SwordfishExpress links to the United States Postal Service’s Web site to help you make mailing and return labels for Priority, First Class, or Media Mail. It even does delivery or signature confirmation, generating the required bar codes and tracking numbers (May 2003).
Multimedia Player: VLC media player 0.5
; VideoLAN, http://videolan.org
VLC is the most versatile video player available on the Mac; it lets you watch files such as DivX and MPEG-1, -2, and -4 movies with-out a hitch. Although the interface leaves a bit to be desired, VLC is a godsend (May 2003).
Font Viewer: FontBook 3.8
; Lemke Software; www.lemkesoft.com, $10
The best little font-specimen tool for OS X, FontBook offers a wide range of pages for printing; it doesn’t perform well when displaying hundreds of fonts—but not everyone is as font-crazy as our reviewer (July 2003).
Address Book Menu: iAddressX 2.1
; MibaSoft, www.mibasoft.dk; $8
iAddressX displays a list of your Address Book entries in the menu bar, providing a shortcut to this information from any application. You can copy phone numbers or addresses into the active application with a single click (May 2003).
Media Scheduler: iSleep 2.3
; FlyMac, http://isleep.free.fr; $8
iSleep adds a sleep function to iTunes and Apple DVD Player. When the timer hits zero, your music or movie fades out and then stops. You can also choose to put your Mac to sleep, log out, or shut down. iSleep can even wake up your Mac at a certain time and start playing iTunes (May 2003).
Remote Control Phone: Sony Ericsson Clicker 1.5
; Salling Software, www.salling.com; $10
This preference pane lets you use your Sony Ericsson Bluetooth phone to remotely control your Mac, making it one of those wondrous little utilities that demonstrate the power of interconnected technologies (June 2003).
Spam Fighter: Spam Vaccine 1.3
; Matterform Media, www.matterform.com; $9
iTunes Controller: Synergy 0.9
; Wincent Colaiuta, http://synergy.wincent.org; $5
There are many iTunes controllers and information displays out there, but none do it all as well as Synergy. Synergy places playback controls for iTunes in the menu bar, provides systemwide hot keys for playback and volume control, and adds a translucent informational display that fades in and out at the start of each track. You get full control of iTunes no matter what you’re doing (May 2003).
Envelope Printer: Addressix 1.3
; A Sharp, www.a-sharp.com; $13
This application can print envelopes in any of 12 U.S. and international sizes, and you can create custom sizes. Addressix is smart, and it does its task very well (July 2003).
Project Tracking and Billing: AtWork 2.4
; IGG Software, www.iggsoftware.com; $15
This solution for designers, consultants, and others who need to track and bill for projects and time lets users predefine clients, events (projects), and even currencies. An optional timer alerts you when a certain amount of time has passed, and invoices can be prepared with the click of a button. It works well, though documentation is light (July 2002).
Digital Bartender: BarWare Deluxe 2.5
; Digital Fried Chicken, www.digitalfriedchicken.com; $13
BarWare Deluxe comes with instructions for creating more than 750 mixed drinks. You can search by type of spirit, mixer, or garnish. There are even drawings of different glass types. Never be stumped by a friend’s drink order again (May 2003).
On-Screen Rulers: charlieX Screen Rulers 3.1
; charlieX software factory, www.kotarac.freeuk.com; $15
charlieX Screen Rulers is indispensable for anyone who needs help measuring or aligning screen objects. It includes five different on-screen rulers and measurement tools (May 2003).
Backup Utility: ChronoSync 1.1
; Econ Technologies, www.econtechnologies.com; $20
ChronoSync is one of the most flexible backup programs; it offers numerous options to give you complete control over your backups (May 2003).
Break Manager: Coffee Break Pro X 2.1
; Thomas Reed, http://home.earthlink.net/~thomasreed; $20
Coffee Break Pro helps you save your wrists, shoulders, and neck by enforcing periodic computer breaks. The screen blacks out and then displays suggested stretches. If you’re in the middle of something, just hit snooze to delay your break (May 2003).
Backup Utility: Déjà Vu 2.3
; Propaganda Productions, www.propagandaprod.com; $15
Déjà Vu installs as a preference pane; it will back up, synchronize, and even clone your system disk to a bootable copy on whatever schedule you like (May 2003).
Web-Cam Utility: EvoCam 3.1
; Evological, www.evological.com; $20
EvoCam is a powerful but easy-to-use program that turns any QuickTime-compatible FireWire video camera into a Web cam. You have access to QuickTime effects, so you can present yourself any way you like (September 2003).
Arcade Game: Helix
; Phelios, www.phelios.com; $15
Helix is a side-scrolling arcade game that harks back to the glory days of 16-bit gaming. Well-executed graphics and animation make Helix a surefire hit for gamers who remember the late eighties and early nineties as a golden age of gaming (May 2003).
Photo Printing: ImageBuddy 2.1
; KepMad Systems, www.kepmad.com; $15
ImageBuddy has a clean interface and a deep feature set. Building pages with this program is quite interactive, and ImageBuddy has options for adding captions, backgrounds, drop shadows, masks, overlays, and more to your pages (July 2002).
Label and Envelope Creater: Imprint 1.1
; Ampersandbox, www.ampersandbox.com; $20
This little utility can print labels and envelopes, and it includes more than 100 label templates. The interface isn’t as smooth as Addressix’s, but the program is powerful (July 2003).
Network Collaborator: iStorm 2.0
; Math Game House Software, www.mathgamehouse.com; $20
iStorm lets multiple users collaborate on documents simultaneously over a LAN. Edit text documents, draw on a chalkboard, and chat. It also includes a calculator and a Tex equation interface for serious math work (May 2003).
Billing and Job Tracking: iWork 1.2
; IGG Software, www.iggsoftware.com; $20
iWork is a timing, billing, and invoicing application that’s perfect for anyone who’s self-employed. Use the built-in timer to track work hours with timed events, and add flat-rate and quantity-based items. When you’re finished with your project, create an invoice with custom formatting and a logo (May 2003).
Keyboard-Shortcuts Creator: Keyboard Maestro 1.2
h; Michael F. Kamprath, www.keyboardmaestro.com; $20
Keyboard Maestro not only provides a great keyboard-based application switcher, but also gives you the ability to automate, via keystrokes, almost anything you can do on your computer (May 2003).
Crossword Reader: MacXword 1.0.1
; Advenio Software, www.macxword.com; $15
MacXword can read and solve crossword puzzles based on the Across Lite format (used by the New York Times and the Washington Post). It offers quick puzzle navigation, printing, hints, and clue-lookup hooked to the OneAcross Web service (April 2003).
3-D–Action Game: Marble Blast
; GarageGames, www.garagegames.com; $15
Marble Blast is a refreshing bit of arcade fun; you roll through a maze from the point of view of the marble. It’s got a lot of challenging levels, but it may be too difficult for younger players (June 2003).
Screen Saver: Marine Aquarium 2.0
; Encore Software, www.encoresoftware.com; $20
This seemingly frivolous screen saver can turn your Mac into a sleek and stylish aquarium complete with fish, coral formations, and even algae (September 2003).
Image Editor and Printer: Portraits & Prints 1.1
; Econ Technologies, www.econtechnologies.com; $20
Portraits & Prints has 12 built-in layouts and tools for cropping, sharpening, removing red-eye, and adjusting saturation and brightness. If you want to build your own layouts, Econ’s Template Maker is a great $10 companion to Portraits & Prints (July 2002).
Voice Recorder: QuickVoice X 1.7
; nFinity, www.quick-voice.com; $20
This voice recorder lets you quickly record notes, create stickies with voice notes attached, or send recordings as e-mail attachments. Files are in QuickTime format, so they can be played on Macs and PCs (May 2003).
Project Tracker: Sambucus 2.0.1
; Logiciels Malus Softwares; www3.sympatico.ca/fuzzies; $20
Sambucus is a project-tracking program for anyone who bills by the hour. Use Sambucus to create projects and tasks, set unique billing rates for tasks within a project, track task time, add multiple notes to projects and tasks, and quickly generate reports. Reports are generated by an XML parsing system, so you can easily define and create customized versions to meet your needs (July 2002).
Text Cleaner: SmartWrap 2.1
; Selznick Scientific Software, www.selznick.com; $18
SmartWrap will bring a welcome sigh of relief if you spend a lot of time copying text from e-mail messages and pasting it into other applications. This program cleans up text, eliminating stuff such as > characters and hard returns (July 2002).
IRC Chatting: Snak 4.9
; Kent Sorenson, www.snak.com; $20
Snak is one of the best ways to participate in IRC on the Mac. It offers a clean interface with AppleScript and ircII scripting support, automated actions, and a great HTML manual (May 2003).
Spam Filter: Spamfire 1.3.2
; Matterform Media, www.matterform.com; $19
Spamfire is an add-on utility that takes over the job of checking your e-mail. It logs in to your mail server and applies its points-based rules to mail stored there. Its accuracy is good, but you will take a hit on your bandwidth and storage (April 2003).
Spam Filter: SpamSieve 1.2.2
; Michael Tsai, www.c-command.com/spamsieve; $20
SpamSieve works as an add-on to Microsoft Entourage, MailSmith, PowerMail, and Eudora. It accurately cuts down on unwanted e-mail (April 2003).
Internet Downloader: Speed Download 1.8
; YazSo, www.yazsoft.com; $20
If you have a high-speed Internet connection, Speed Download accelerates your downloads by opening multiple connections to the download site and then joining together the resulting pieces (July 2002).
CD Labeler: disclabel 1.1
; Smile Software, www.smilesoftware.com; $30
Smile Software’s disclabel lets you create disc labels and design CD and DVD case covers and tray inserts, right down to the text on the spine. What really sets this label software apart is clever integration with the iLife suite of products (November 2003).
Media Archiver: DiskTracker 2.2.2
; Portents, www.disktracker.com; $30
DiskTracker catalogs any removable media connected to your Mac. The catalogs are searchable by name, date, label, file type, and more. A double-click on a file in the results window will deliver a prompt for the disc or disk containing the file. DiskTracker can even print labels for almost all removable media (April 2003).
Media Organizer: iView Media 1.2
; iView Multimedia, www.iview-multimedia.com; $30
iView Media is a solid photo-cataloguing program that handles a wide variety of formats and often outperforms iPhoto; it’s perfect for people who need to manage multiple media on a tight budget (October 2003).
Education Software: JumpStart Advanced Kindergarten
; Knowledge Adventure, www.knowledgeadventure.com; $30
Set against a backdrop of an auto-racing event, JumpStart (for ages 4–6) teaches kids about science, nature, music, simple arithmetic, and phonics, while offering activi-ties such as painting and drawing. Various characters, such as a math whiz, offer different learning styles to help kids learn (May 2003).