Let’s face it — computers aren’t cheap. After spending as much as several thousand dollars on hardware, you still need to buy plenty of software that doesn’t come installed on your hard drive. But although you may not be able to live without big-ticket items from the Adobes and Microsofts of the world, not everything that runs on the Mac will set you back a pretty penny.
We’ve collected 60 of the best — and coolest — inexpensive or free applications available for the Mac: everything from essential OS X system utilities and networking and database apps to audio, video, and imaging software. You’re sure to discover some hidden gems in our guide.
4.0 mice. Atvaark Dev., firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.cellulo.info; free
Cellulo lets you create a playlist of video files that you can then play full-screen on your computer. This program is particularly useful when you want to play back segmented video files. Rather than tying segments together in a video-editing program, you simply put the files in the proper order — Cellulo will play across the breaks. Program navigation is easy, as is customizing the viewer — you can add entire folders of video with the Add button or by dropping the clips on the program. Cellulo also plays nice with the Avi2Mov utility, allowing Mac users to import and watch downloaded DivX files. For a 1.0 release, this program is quite solid, and you can’t beat its price. —
Pro Tools Free 5.0
4.5 mice. Digidesign, 650/731-6198, http://www.digidesign.com; CD, $10; download, free
Pro Tools Free, the sole OS 9-only application in this group, definitely justifies a reboot into OS 9. Like TC Works’ Spark ME, Pro Tools Free is an introduction to a family of audio products. This version provides eight tracks of real-time audio, 48 MIDI tracks, and industry-standard editing and mixing capabilities — it’s a powerhouse for musicians and video producers alike. You can output a project from Final Cut Pro via Open Media Framework (OMF), import it into Pro Tools Free, and do some sound “sweetening” with Digidesign’s free OMF Tool app. When you import a project this way, the audio clips will arrange themselves in Pro Tools Free’s timeline as they were in Final Cut Pro, making your work much easier. In addition, Pro Tools Free lets you edit and mix your audio to picture. Once you’ve finalized your audio, you can export it back to Final Cut Pro to finish the project. —
Slick Transitions and Effects, Collections One and Two
3.5 mice. Gee Three, 650/328-2359, www .geethree.com; $30 each, $50 for both
Final Cut Pro is not the only application with plug-ins available on the Internet. Each Slick collection is a set of roughly 50 transition and effect plug-ins for iMovie 2 that greatly expand that program’s editing capabilities. They can add a level of sophistication to your projects — especially if stepping up to Final Cut Pro isn’t for you. The Slick Sampler, a collection of nine transitions and effects including the Barn Door, Burst, and Sweep transitions and the Film Noise, Solarize, and X-ray effects, is available as a free download. —
4.0 mice. TC Works,  40 5310830, www .tcworks.de; free
Spark ME is a free introduction to the Spark line of audio applications. This OS X-only two-track editor allows direct recording and provides the ability to import and manipulate any QuickTime-compatible audio file. It’s similar in many ways to Sound Studio, but it has fewer default filters that you can apply to audio. 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 sound track to picture. —
4.0 mice. Feelorium, email@example.com, http://www.feelorium.com; $23
Tattoo is a QuickTime media-skin editor that allows you to customize your audience’s viewing experience. Need a multimedia greeting card for your video company? Just drop a QuickTime movie and a media-skin image of your company logo into Tattoo’s work area. You can even customize the buttons that control playing, stopping, stepping forward and backward, volume, and URL access. And because Tattoo exports QuickTime movies, your creations can be played on Macs (with OS 8 and later) and PCs running QuickTime 5. Tattoo’s interface is quite straightforward and can be mastered in minutes. And at $23, it’s a nice alternative to Totally Hip Software’s much more expensive LiveStage Pro 3 (Reviews, February 2002) if all you’re look-ing to do is create QuickTime skins. —
CatDV can import video clips captured by another program, such as Final Cut Pro, or it can capture the video on-the-fly via FireWire. After the video is imported or captured, CatDV can subclip footage, using DV start/stop detection or frame-based scene-change detection. It can also import non-DV video formats such as MPEG-1, AVI, Sorenson, and any other QuickTime-supported format. Audio files and still images are also supported.
Within the app, you can view all your cataloged clips by thumbnail or list, play the video, and make comments and annotations. With CatDV’s flexible filtering, you can quickly search through all your cataloged clips to find the shot you want. If you need to decide on the best take of a particular shot, you can group all the takes and watch them back to back. If you use CatDV to log and evaluate your raw footage before you start editing, you can output a batch-capture list, for Final Cut Pro or Premiere, of only the clips you need. You can even adjust time-code values if you want to recapture from a program tape rather than the originals.
CatDV can import CMX edit-decision lists from other programs and instantly build a cuts-only preview edit with clips stored in its database. This is useful when the original high-resolution media are offline and you want to see how a project looks. Since CatDV stores its video files in the PhotoJPEG format, you can have many hours of material cataloged on your computer without eating up too much valuable hard drive space. —
System Utilities and Finder Enhancements
4.0 mice. Arbysoft, firstname.lastname@example.org, http:// homepage.mac.com/arbysoft; free
OS X’s ownership and privileges can cause big headaches. BatChmod can alleviate the pain. It gives you precise, drag-and-drop control over single files and entire folders. This intuitive app lets you easily change who owns a file and who can read, write, and delete it. BatChmod can even empty the Trash if it contains locked files (an action that might otherwise require gaining root access — always good to avoid if possible). Keep in mind that changing file and folder ownership can seriously mess up a system, so take the program’s warnings seriously. —
Carbon Copy Cloner 1.2
4.0 mice. Bombich Software, http://www.bombich.com; free
Need to copy your OS X startup volume to a different hard drive? For-get dragging and dropping — OS X includes numerous invisible files that won’t make that kind of transition. Instead, use Carbon Copy Cloner, a simple utility that harnesses the built-in power of OS X’s Unix layer to make moving or backing up a volume as easy as clicking on a button. —
4.5 mice. James Thomson, email@example.com, http://www.dragthing.com; $25
DragThing combines the features of OS 9’s Application menu and Launcher in one utility — and then it outperforms both. Many of its fans use it as an alternative to OS X’s Dock. You can create as many “Docks” as you like, have them all on screen at the same time, and windowshade each Dock to a minimum when you want it out of the way. Items in Docks can be divided into categories (such as applications and documents), and you have almost unlimited control over a Dock’s appearance. —
5.0 mice. Objective Development, office@ obdev.at, http://www.obdev.at; $20
LaunchBar must be seen to be believed. Accessible from your menu bar, it can find any file almost instantly, even if you don’t remember its exact name. Just type any letters you believe are in the name, and LaunchBar will list all potential matches. When we typed aw, AppleWorks was the first program to be listed — only LaunchBar could’ve figured this out. The more you use it, the better its guesses become, and of course you can launch any listed item from LaunchBar. As a bonus, LaunchBar includes its own Application menu. —
4.0 mice. Proteron, 402/932-3894, www .proteron.com; $30
MaxMenus is a deceptively simple utility that installs customizable menus in the four corners of your Mac’s screen. Each menu can be configured to contain any number of items — including lists of specific files, applications, and folders; open applications (as in OS 9’s Application menu); recent applications or documents; system-preference panels; and mounted volumes. Menus and menu items can easily be assigned hot keys, and MaxMenus lets you drag and drop files to copy or move them into a menu’s spring-loaded folders. With MaxMenus, Proteron has taken a smart idea and filled it out with plenty of hidden power. —
3.5 mice. Pepsan and Associates, http://www.pepsan .com/contactus.html, http://www.pepsan.com; free
Perfboard monitors your system performance and keeps you informed via a continually updated readout. If your Mac suddenly starts acting as if it were swimming through molasses, Perfboard can help isolate the precise cause. From CPU usage to system load to virtual memory “page outs” to network I/O stats, Perfboard reports it all in one convenient display, with both text and graphs. Other utilities provide subsets of these stats, but none puts it all together as well as PerfBoard. —
Retrospect Express Backup 5.0
4.0 mice. Dantz, 925/253-3000, http://www.dantz .com; $49
Many Mac users were postponing the upgrade to OS X because Retrospect couldn’t back up and restore OS X volumes. But with Retrospect Express, they now have an affordable way to back up a few Macs without paying for unnecessary features — SCSI tape-drive and Retrospect Client support, for example. This new version includes many improvements to previous versions, including the ability to back up Mac files larger than 2GB and to work with all the writable optical drives currently shipping in Macs. (For a full review of the entire Retrospect Backup 5.0 suite, see Reviews, elsewhere in this issue.) —
Adam C. Engst
4.0 mice. Selznick Scientific Software, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://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. Especially useful is SmartWrap’s ability to clean text on the Clipboard. Just copy your selection and click once or twice in SmartWrap, and your text is ready for pasting wherever you want. The OS X version also works via the Service menu. —
Tinker Tool 2.1
4.0 mice. Marcel Bresink Software-Systeme, email@example.com, http://www.bresink.de/osx; free
TinkerTool is the key to accessing an assortment of OS X’s hidden preferences. It can reveal files that are normally invisible in the Finder (such as Unix files and directories), enhance your ability to choose which fonts and font sizes use OS X’s font smoothing, and more. OS X has built-in settings that let you do all this, but Apple didn’t provide a user interface for them — TinkerTool fills that gap. —
WindowShade X 2.0
4.5 mice. Unsanity, 877/700-7056, http://www.unsanity.com; $7
WindowShade X is a one-trick pony with one great trick — bringing OS 9’s windowshade effect to OS X. Double-click on a window’s title bar, and up it rolls. Windowshading is often better than minimizing windows to the Dock, especially when you want to quickly see what’s behind a window. If you don’t like windowshading, you can set windows to become transparent or completely hidden. You can even have your cake and eat it, too, by using the minimize button for one method and the title-bar double-click for another. —
4.0 mice. Rainer Brockerhoff, rainer@brockerhoff .net, http://www.brockerhoff.net; free
Zingg adds a contextual menu item that lists every application the OS believes can open a selected document. Yes, you could get the same list from Show Info’s Open With Application listing, but Zingg is a great shortcut. Even better, Zingg can be customized so that certain applications always appear in the list (useful for utilities, such as BBEdit, that can open many files they don’t officially support) or never appear in the list. It’s even smart enough to list OS 9-only applications only if Classic is running. —
When you double-click on a document from the Finder, does it open in the wrong application or refuse to open at all? Show Info’s Open With Application options can resolve this dilemma, but once again, XRay goes the extra mile. With XRay, you can modify a file’s Type and Creator codes. These carryovers from OS 9 link documents to applications without requiring that the document have a file-name extension. And you don’t even need to know what the codes are: XRay’s pop-up menus include every application on your drive. Just select the program you want, and XRay will fill in the code.
XRay can also create Unix symbolic links and assign colored labels to files (an OS 9 feature not included in OS X). And it’s extensible via plug-ins, so you may be able to add functionality to the program. If you’d rather not use Terminal, XRay is the way to go. —
Networking, Database, and Business Applications
4.5 mice. Network 23 Canada, 800/231-0062, http://www.network23.ca; site license, $50
eTraquer is an office in-out board for Mac users. One machine on the network runs the ePlanet server software, and users run the eTraquer client. Launch the program, enter the server’s address and your name, and you’re marked as “in.” When you’re unavailable, change your status to “out” and then add a reason, return time, and optional note. Administrative users can broadcast messages or change the status of other users. The eTraquer interface is very easy to understand and requires almost no training. eTraquer does only one thing but does it quite well. —
4.0 mice. MySQL AB, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.mysql.com; free
MySQL is the most widely used open-source database server — and it runs on OS X. Although documentation isn’t included with the program, the Web site has excellent documentation in various formats and includes reader comments. MySQL’s interface won’t win any design awards, but this powerful and flexible database server is available at a great price — free. Combine MySQL with the PHP scripting language, and you can turn your OS X Mac into a tool that allows you to create and serve dynamic Web pages. If you visit Marc Liyanage’s site (www.entropy.ch/software/ macosx/), you can download double-click installers for both MySQL and PHP. —
4.0 mice. phpWizard.net, http://www.phpwizards.net; free
phpMyAdmin is a browser-based tool for creating and managing MySQL databases — it adds a browser-based front end to the command-line-only MySQL interface. It supports all standard MySQL functions and provides easy point-and-click access for basic tasks such as browsing, selecting, inserting, and deleting records. It also lets you easily view database schemata and import and export data to and from text files. phpMyAdmin won’t help you learn MySQL, but if you already use it, phpMyAdmin can make managing your databases much easier. Installing phpMyAdmin requires a basic understanding of the Terminal application and Unix. —
4.5 mice. Logiciels Malus Softwares, email@example.com, 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. You can also define documents as “activation files” for tasks. When one of these documents is dragged onto Sambucus’s floating timer window, the clock starts for the associated task. Reports are generated by an XML parsing system, so you can easily define and create customized versions to meet your own needs. —
3.5 mice. Objective Development, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.obdev.at; hobbyist version, free; home license, $50
Sharity provides a CIFS (Common Internet File System) browser in the Finder, making browsing and using shared volumes from most versions of Windows as easy as using local files. Although OS X has a built-in capability to see Windows volumes (via Connect To Server and a smb:// string), Sharity provides true Finder integration. There are some limitations (such as no support within the Classic environment), but for many users, Sharity can provide a painless method of accessing Windows volumes. A hobbyist version is free; other license costs vary depending on usage. —
Speed Download 1.8
4.5 mice. YazSoft, email@example.com, www .yazsoft.com; $20
Speed Download is a useful tool if you have a high-speed Internet connection. It accelerates your downloads by opening multiple connections to the download site and then joining together the resulting pieces. If the server and your connection have extra bandwidth available, the result is a much faster download. For example, downloading a 75MB demo from Download.com resulted in an average speed of 74K per second on a cable modem. Downloading the same demo with Speed Download, set at six connections, resulted in an average of 174K per second, more than twice as fast. —
4.5 mice. Chronos, 435/615-7335, http://chronos.iserver.net/; $40
StickyBrain could be described as “Stickies with superpowers,” but that doesn’t begin to explain everything it can do. StickyBrain is more of a brain assistant. It has calendars, alarms, categorizable stickies, checkbox buttons, text-cleanup tools, and search features — grasping everything StickyBrain can do for you will have your hands full.
StickyBrain ships with nine predefined information categories (Calendar, Documents, Friends, Miscellaneous, Passwords, Receipts, Tasks, and Unfiled). Each category has a predefined set of associated settings. For example, you can choose a window-background color, the size and formatting of text, default text to be added when a new sticky is created, and sticky size. If you come across a type of information you’d like to start collecting, just create a new category and start pasting data.
To get a feel for all the things that StickyBrain offers, open its Sticky Browser and select All Categories. Chronos has included a number of utility stickies with information on everything from popular baby names to world time zones to U.S. zip codes organized by state. By looking at the examples, you can get a feel for the various ways you can store your information.
But the real power of StickyBrain shows through when you begin to organize your data. An included contextual menu extension lets you grab text from most OS X-native applications (text in other applications must be copied and pasted). The same contextual menu also lets you search the StickyBrain database for selected text or look up Web passwords you’ve stored. Once data is stored in a sticky, contextual menus in StickyBrain let you set alarms, reclassify the sticky, and more.
As your collection of information grows, Sticky Browser may become the StickyBrain tool you use most. Type a few letters of the phrase you think you’re looking for, press return, and then browse the results until you find exactly what you wanted.
It can take some time to adjust to the StickyBrain interface, but it’s time well spent. We are inundated with information on a daily basis, and StickyBrain is an excellent tool for keeping track of it all. —
4.0 mice. Lemke Software, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.lemkesoft.com/us_index.html; $30
GraphicConverter is an excellent tool for people who work with different image formats and want high-powered automation features that speed up work on multiple images. GraphicConverter can read more than 145 file types — from those created by old Mac and PC programs to newer ones used by cell phones and PDAs — and it can export files in more than 45 formats. It also has a suite of painting and editing tools, an image browser, and a batch mode (with AppleScript support) that makes quick work of adjusting or translating a folder of images. Its interface can be a bit dense in places, but for its price, GraphicConverter is hard to beat. —
iPhoto Librarian 1.0
3.5 mice. Scott Schroeder, email@example.com; http://homepage.mac.com/scrufmeister/; free
iPhoto Librarian is an AppleScript application that lets you work with multiple iPhoto libraries. This can be extremely helpful if you want to keep your pictures in separate groups — or on separate hard drives. It’s also a boon if you have too many photos for iPhoto to manage without running into performance issues, but you still want to have access to all of your images. —
iView MediaPro 1.5
4.5 mice. iView Multimedia, info@iview-multi media.com, http://www.iview-multimedia.com; CD with manual, $90; download, $50
There are many good, low-cost image-cataloging utilities out there, but iView MediaPro is perhaps the best. It quickly catalogs just about every type of graphics file imaginable and displays files cleanly in one of three customizable display modes — text list, thumbnail view, or full-size image. It fully supports AppleScript and drag and drop, can display the EXIF (Exchangeable Image File Format) data recorded by your digital camera, and has lots of shortcuts for navigating your catalogs. It also has a full-featured slide-show mode, can build simple Web pages of your images, and provides an archiving feature for moving images to CD. iView might not be free, but it’s better than iPhoto in just about every way. —
3.5 mice. Sugar Cube Software, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.sugarcube software.com; free
Pic2Icon does one little thing: it makes 128-by-128-pixel icons for image files so you can browse a folder of images in OS X and see photo-realistic representations of your pictures (something even iPhoto doesn’t do). Pic2Icon can read a wide array of file types, including TIFF, JPEG, PDF, PICT, PNG, and Photoshop images, and it can quickly process folders of images. It can even automatically add a drop shadow or dog-ear corner to an icon. —
A program such as iPhoto is fine for creating the occasional 4-by-6-inch print, but if you want to maximize the use of costly photo paper — or if you want to print lots of images or multiple copies of one image — look for a photo-printing application.
All of the utilities mentioned here make quick work of printing large groups of photos. You can print images at multiple sizes, from wallet-size pictures to full-page prints. Printing is as simple as dragging a folder of images (or a selection from iPhoto) into the program’s window and choosing the appropriate layout.
It’s hard to pick one that’s better than the others in this group; they all do a good job and are extremely easy to use. Choosing the right one for you depends as much on how you work as it does on the feature set. —
4.0 mice. KepMad Systems, email@example.com, http://www.kepmad.com; $15
ImageBuddy has a clean interface and a deep feature set. Building pages with this program is more interactive than with either of the others, and it has options for adding captions, backgrounds, drop shadows, masks, overlays, and more to your pages.
ROB GRIFFITHS runs the Mac OS X Hints Web site (www.macosxhints.com), Contributing Editor TED LANDAU runs the MacFixIt Web site (www.macfixit.com) and wrote Mac OS X Disaster Relief (Peachpit Press, 2002), Editor in Chief RICK LEPAGE specializes in imaging, and ANTON LINECKER is a video technical advisor and writer. Contributing Editor ADAM C. ENGST, Associate Editor JONATHAN SEFF, and Editor JASON SNELL also contributed to this article.
to see an index of recent Mac Gems reviews.