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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
Spam Fighter: Spam Vaccine 1.3
; Matterform Media, www.matterform.com; $9
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).