Wordman’s recommended software 2008

I’ve been asked on a number of different occasions to recommend software for Mac OS X to people who have just bought a new Mac. To save time the next time someone asks me, I put together this list of shareware that I use all the time. This does not include standard stuff like iTunes or commercial software like Photoshop. It’s just the little nuggets of cool stuff from around the web. If you’re looking for a type of software that isn’t listed here, try Free Mac Ware, Open Source Mac, another open source Mac site and VersionTracker. If you’re the type of person who, unlike me, likes a lot of custom menu bar doohickies, check out Jeweled Platypus. This page makes no attempt to recommend Dashboard widgets.

If you are a “switcher”, you may want to read some advice before you begin.

Freeware

This software may be downloaded and used for no cost at all. Some of these titles are “donationware”, software that the author makes available for free, but asks for donations to fund his efforts.
Active Timer

Active Timer

http://osiris.laya.com/projects/activetimer/

Free. This application tracks how much time running applications spend in the foreground. It’s not really an everyday workhorse, but using it for a few days can be an eye opener.

Adium

Adium X

http://www.adiumx.com/

Free. A multi-protocol instant messaging client. Extremely customizable. I think it is much nicer than iChat.

AppFresh

AppFresh

http://metaquark.de/appfresh/

Free (for the moment). AppFresh scans all the apps on your machine and lets you know if there is a more recent version. If asked, it will attempt to download and install updates. It does this by auto-navigating web sites, so the process isn’t foolproof, but it does a pretty good job. It also can sync with iusethis.com, keeping your choices up to date. If the authors decide to charge for the application, I don’t think I’d continue using it, but it can be useful.

AppFresh

AppleJack

http://applejack.sourceforge.net/

Free. You may never actually need AppleJack, but when you do, it will save your ass. AppleJack is a boot-time, command-line tool that can do things like disk repair and so on, without needing a second startup disk. It’s also much easier to use than similar tools I’ve seen. It operates in single user mode (which, as I continually forget, is accessed by holding down command and s while booting).

Camino

Camino

http://www.mozilla.org/projects/camino/

Free. One of the only Mac browsers that can print worth a damn. Apart from that, it’s also stable, fast, standards compliant (built using Gecko, the same HTML engine in Mozilla and Firefox) and built specifically for Mac OS X. Although still more Mac-like than Firefox, it is starting to lose its edge to the latter, because Camino’s plugin support is not as wide or as slick (it is still a struggle to set it up to use Firebug or work with del.icio.us as well as Firefox can, for example).

Chicken of the VNC

Chicken of the VNC

http://cotvnc.sf.net/

Free. A client to connect to machines running VNC servers. This allows you to see an image of the remote machine and control it. This appears to be one of the only free, feature rich VNC clients for the Mac still under active development. (Also see OSXvnc, below.)

Chmox

Chmox

http://chmox.sf.net/

Free. It is rare that you actually need to be able to read a Microsoft help archive file (a *.chm file) on a Mac, but occasionally you find some good reference material in that format. This reader can open and display such files, all in a Mac-like way. Simple, but effective.

Chicken of the VNC

ClamXav

http://clamxav.com/

Free. Viruses have never been that big of a problem on the Mac. Up through Mac OS 9, there were only a handful of known virii, only a couple of which were dangerous. So far, there haven’t been any that effect Mac OS X. Still, Macs can hold files that contain virii from other platforms (such as the tens of thousands of them that can affect Office documents on Win32 machines) and pass them on. Your Win32 friends will thank you not to send them any, and this program can find and kill them. Watching this scan your junk mail folder is educational.

Disk Inventory

Disk Inventory X

http://www.derlien.com/

Free. A pretty decent tool for graphically investigating what is taking up your hard drive space. There is now a Mac version of Filelight, which has a more intuitive method of showing the same information, but the current version is more of a proof of concept rather than a fully functioning application, so this program will do just fine in the meantime.

Eclipse

Eclipse

http://www.eclipse.org/

Free. Widely regarded as just a Java IDE (a task at which it is unrivaled, in my opinion), Eclipse is really more of a platform into which functionality can be plugged. The Java plugins happen to be bundled with the download, but there are others that extend Eclipse to be much more, such as write and debug Perl and manage databases. I’m also pondering using it as a platform for various role-playing plugins.

File Merge

File Merge

http://developer.apple.com/tools/macosxtools.html

Free. A gem hidden among the Mac OS X development tools, this is a slick text file comparison application. Almost as good as the one built into CodeWarrior, but free. Downloading the dev tools requires a free registration with Apple.

Fink

Fink

http://fink.sourceforge.net/

Free. Provides downloading, installation and management of nearly 5000 open source Unix programs, compiled and tested under Mac OS X. If you are an Linux or Unix user looking to get your favorite tool onto your new Mac, check out Fink first. Most likely, someone has already gone through the pain of porting it for you.

gimpshop

GIMPshop

http://www.gimpshop.net/

Free. Like a fair amount of shareware, the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) acts a freeware alternative to successful commercial application (in this case, Adobe Photoshop). While GIMP is now fairly powerful, it suffers from an insurmountable flaw: its interface is absolutely hideous, to the point of unusability. Fortunately, being open source, it is possible for anyone to improve on this interface. One such attempt is GIMPshop, an application based on the GIMP code base, but with menus and other interface elements intended to mimic Photoshop as closely as possible. You might find that Seashore, ImageWell or Pixelmator fits your needs better.

gizmo

Gizmo

http://www.gizmoproject.com/

Free. In spite of the dumb name, this is an excellent voice over IP package. I should probably use this instead of long distance phone calls more than I do. There is also a Skype client for the Mac, but it is a real hog.

HandBrake

HandBrake

http://handbrake.fr/

Free. The only DVD ripper you’ll ever need. Though it has every tweakable setting you’d ever want, it hides this power under a simple interface, with presets for iPods, AppleTVs and so on. It can also handle multiple audio tracks, subtitles and so on.

IP

IP

http://www.astrok-software.com/

Free/$5. Adds a menu that displays your current IP address(es) and MAC(s). Selecting from this menu copies the address to the clipboard. The freeware version is as useful as I need it to be, but paying the author $5 will give you a code that unlocks additional features, such as better customization and automatic e-mailing of IPs.

Ishido

Ishido

http://iangilman.com/software/ishido.php

$13. A good portion of the 1990’s was spent attempting to master this game. Finally, a version that runs on Intel Macs is available, allowing me to scratch the itch that never went away. Alas, the graphics in the Tom Tom version are not as good as in the original.

IP

LiquidCD

http://www.maconnect.ch/

Donation Requested. OS X has the power to burn folders into CDs or DVDs out of the box, but to get more (like selecting specific files from a tree and saving that selection for reuse, or supporting other platform formats), you used to have to spend a hundred bucks for the endlessly upgrading Toast. Not any more. LiquidCD can do most of what Toast does, but for free. It’s also a bit nicer to use.

MacSniffer

MacSniffer

http://personalpages.tds.net/~brian_hill/macsniffer.html

Free. A GUI front end around the tcpdump packet sniffer. Allows you to view all traffic going over your network connection. Tools like Packet Peeper may also be of use.

Minuteur

Minuteur

http://www.phg-home.com/index_mac.html

Free. If you happen to have an iMac in your kitchen, you sometimes need a cooking timer. This one is better than my previous recommendation, featuring full screen countdowns, louder alarms and other features.

NeoOfficeJ

NeoOfficeJ

http://www.neooffice.org/

Free. A version of OpenOffice built with a native Mac look at feel. While not quite as polished as MacOffice, this app is file compatible with it, and infinitely cheaper.

NodeBox

NodeBox

http://nodebox.net/code/

Free. A strange little application for programatically generating graphics. Being basically Python coding, this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but can make some neat looking images.

Onyx

Onyx

http://www.titanium.free.fr/pgs2/english/onyx.html

Free. A general purpose utility for setting various (otherwise hidden) options in Max OS X, such as dock “pinning” and drop shadows, permission repairing, logs, etc. It is similar to Cocktail, but free.

OSXvnc

OSXvnc

http://www.redstonesoftware.com/vnc.html

Free. A full featured VNC server providing remote access to the GUI, keyboard and mouse using any VNC client (such as Chicken of the VNC, above). VNC is not all that complicated, but this server seems particularly easy to use. Note that since the release of Leopard, OS X has a VNC server built into it as part of its screen sharing feature, so you may not need this.

Quicksilver

Quicksilver

http://quicksilver.blacktree.com/

Free. I resisted using Quicksilver for a long time, because the hype surrounding it is the irritating kind. After using it for a week I became, sorry to say, a convert. Quicksilver is a bit hard to describe, and it has much more power than I ever use. The basic idea is that you use a hot key combination (cntl-space, by default) to pop up Quicksilver’s main window, then type a few characters to do all sorts of stuff. It sounds really pointless, I know, but now I can barely stand working on machines that don’t have it. Between Quicksilver and Witch (see below) I barely use the dock at all. It is best examined by installing it and trying it out.

Renamer4Mac

Renamer4Mac

http://www.power4mac.com/renamer/

Free. Allows you to do search and replace on filenames, including support for regular expressions. Sure, you could do similar things with the command line, but this is easier. The $10 FileXaminer also can perform such feats, as well as others.

Seasonality

Seasonality

http://www.gauchosoft.com/Software/Seasonality/

Free. If you don’t care about the weather, you don’t need this software. If you only care a little about the weather, you don’t need this either. If, however, you’d rather tell if it’s raining by looking it up on the net instead of looking out the window, this is the software for you.

SiteOrbiter

SiteOrbiter

http://www.siteorbiter.cc/

Free. While not an essential tool, this “web site cartography” application can be useful for getting reigning in out of control web sites. This app can also be used to build site maps for search engines.

Solitaire XL

Solitaire XL

http://lavacat.com/sol_one_zero.html

Free. The most used Win32 application is Solitare. This app allows switchers who need their fix experience solitaire the Mac OS X way.

Spotlaser

Spotlaser

http://members.optusnet.com.au/frovil/spotlaser.html

Donation Requested. Finding that Spotlight lacks the power to make complicated search queries? Spotlaser is the answer, exposing the power that is actually within Spotlight’s programming, but not shown by Apple’s interface. Spotlaser can to date searches, all/any/exact searches, filename only searches and more. As it’s web page says: don’t search, find. Those looking for something perhaps more powerful (but a bit less elegant and potentially more costly) might find FileSpot worth a look.

Terragen

Terragen

http://www.planetside.co.uk/terragen/

Free for non-commercial use. Terragen creates 3D scenery using fractal terrain. Its interface isn’t as slick as something like Bryce, but it isn’t as complex or expensive either.

Transmission

Transmission

http://www.transmissionbt.com/

Free. One of the more recently updated (and better) BitTorrent clients available on the Mac. It is not quite as feature rich as Xtorrent, but is free, which seems to be more in the spirit of BitTorrent.

Vienna

Vienna

http://www.opencommunity.co.uk/vienna2.php

Free. Vienna is a very simple RSS feed reader that does just enough for me. I used to use NetNewsWire Lite, but their new corporate face leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

VLC

VLC

http://www.videolan.org/vlc/

Free. A video player that can play more formats than the default QuickTime installation provides (including AVI and divx). Has lag problems on occasion, but can play most formats.

Witch

Witch

http://www.petermaurer.de/nasi.php?section=witch

Free. OS X has a built-in feature (cmd-tab) to cycle between application, similar to alt-tabbing on Win32. This preference panel adds a more sophisticated version (wired to opt-tab by default) that lists active windows as well as applications.

X Resource Graph

X Resource Graph

http://www.gauchosoft.com/Software/X%20Resource%20Graph/

Free. A funky, good-looking resource monitor. Also monitors stocks and the weather. Geeky, but useful.

Shareware

Shareware is software that asks you to pay a fee if you like it.
PCalc

PCalc

http://www.pcalc.com/

$10. After searching for some time, I finally found a Mac calculator that handled reverse polish notation (RPN), hexidecimal, conversions (lbs. to kg), and lists of fundamental constants. It is also wide displayed, programmable and great looking.

SideTrack

SideTrack

http://www.ragingmenace.com/software/sidetrack/

$15. Nearly a requirement for older laptops, SideTrack enhances a laptop trackpad, mapping taps on the pad to various things (e.g. right-clicks) and turning the side of the pad into a “scroll wheel”. Until registered, it periodically nags you to do so. SideTrack doesn’t support all models and you might find that Free Focused Scroll works better for you (though it doesn’t for me).

Crippleware

This software may be downloaded and used, but either has key features disabled until you pay for it or has a time limit for free use. I dislike the crippleware philosophy (and do not use it for software I write), so when I recommend crippleware, it is either because I don’t miss the crippled features or because it is better than most software out there.
1Password

1Password

http://1passwd.com/

$30. This password manager has replaced my earlier recommendation for password tracking (Safe Place), even though it is more expensive. It works a bit differently than other software of its type (see the video on their site for a good intro). I wasn’t sure I’d like it at first, but it won me over. It also has a read-only Palm app, to which encrypted copies of your data can be exported. This isn’t full syncing, such as that offered by SplashID, but has a much better Mac interface.

ArtRage

ArtRage

http://www.ambientdesign.com/artrage.html

$25. I’m not crazy about the wacky interfaces this company produces (the same crew that makes Kai’s Power Tools), but the natural media art program is fairly interesting, encouraging tracing, so even non-artists can produce cool stuff. It comes in a free “starter” edition that is fairly powerful, but lacks some of the tools of the full edition. On the plus side, even the full version doesn’t cost $200, like Painter.

Coda

Coda

http://www.panic.com/coda/

$79. Until Coda, there were two basic methods of creating web sites. One way was to use a WYSIWYG tool like iWeb or RapidWeaver. The other was to do hand coding using a mix of various tools, like text editors, file transfer programs, CSS editors and various browsers. Coda attempts to change this (and succeeds pretty well), providing a tool for the “hand markup” set that vastly streamlines workflow, and essentially obsoletes about a half-dozen other tools. Panic Software allows a 30-day trial before requiring payment, with a small discount if you own other Panic titles.

Delicious Library

Delicious Library

http://www.delicious-monster.com/

$40. For the anal-retentive in you, this tracks collections of books, DVDs, CDs and games. Integrates with a bar-code scanner, if you happen to have one (such as a hacked CueCat). Also allows you to use a video camera to scan barcodes. Can enter ISBN or USP numbers and will lookup information on item on the net. Library allows only 25 items to be entered unless you pay for it.

Duover

Duover

http://interfacethis.com/duover/

$20. Easy to use backup/synchronization program. Unlike many, it knows how to properly mount a remote volume automatically. It can also launch itself on a schedule.

EV:Nova

Escape Velocity: Nova

http://www.ambrosiasw.com/games/evn/

$30. A role-playing/space combat game that is sort of hard to explain until you play it. The makers of this game, Ambrosia, completely rule. If this genre is not your cup of tea, I guarantee that they have another game (some of which, alas, only run in Classic mode) that will have you addicted within minutes. If you like this game, you might also try Vendetta, which is very similar in concept, but uses 3D first-person combat and requires on-line play with thousands of other players.

GraphicConverter X

GraphicConverter X

http://www.lemkesoft.de/en/graphcon.htm

$30. Capable of reading and writing nearly any graphic format, this program also has slide show capability and a great directory-based image browser.

iConquer

iConquer

http://www.kavasoft.com/iConquer/

$13. A very sexy Risk game, somehow more addictive than the hordes of other Risk clones. It allows network play, but only 10 games before you have to pay for it.

iPhoto Library Manager

iPhoto Library Manager

http://homepage.mac.com/bwebster/iphotolibrarymanager.html

$20. If you ever need to merge two different iPhoto libraries into one or switch back and forth between multiple libraries, don’t even bother trying to do it yourself. It should be easy to do but, inexplicably, isn’t. Just pony up the cash for this program. You might also want to grab iPhoto Diet to remove some of the bloat iPhoto creates.

Balance

Life Balance

http://www.llamagraphics.com/

$80. A unique to-do manager with Palm synchronization. Their web site explains it better than I can. Takes a little getting used to, but is the best to-do system I’ve ever used. After a 30-day trial, save stops working unless you pay for it. There is also a Win32 version, if you’re into that sort of thing. Expensive, but unique. It’s also one of the few instances I’ve ever paid more than $20 for shareware.

Little Snitch

Little Snitch

http://www.obdev.at/products/littlesnitch/

$25. Brings up an alert any time your computer attempts to make a network connection to the outside world, allowing you to accept or deny the attempt. It can be trained to ignore things (like your web browser, chat client, etc.). It will only run for three hours at a time unless you pay for it. This is good enough for me, as I tend to run it only when installing new software. (Some software “phones home” to its creating company, transmitting who knows what.)

MacFamilyTree

MacFamilyTree

http://www.onlymac.de/html/stammbaum4en.html

$40. A bit pricy, but the best family tree software I’ve seen for the Mac. I’m still playing with this one, as I’m not sure it’s worth the cost. Nothing can be saved until paid for.

Missing Sync

Missing Sync for Palm OS

http://www.markspace.com/missingsync_palmos.php

$40. If you have a Palm device, don’t even bother downloading the “Palm Desktop” application that Palm makes for the Mac. It’s garbage. Instead, get this application. It syncs the Mac way, using things like iCal and Address Book on the Mac end.

OmniGraffle

OmniGraffle

http://www.omnigroup.com/applications/omnigraffle/

$80-$150. Switchers itching for something like Visio should look no further than the professional version of this app. It does some things a bit differently than Visio would, but generally “differently” here means “better”. Visio, notable as one of the few products whose interface radically improved once bought by Microsoft, could steal quite a few lessons from the guys at Omni. A limit is placed on the number of nodes you can have in a file until this software is paid for.

oXygen

oXygen

http://www.oxygenxml.com/

$48. Pretty much the only decent XSLT editor/debugger/transformer for the Mac (or any platform, really). As a bonus, you get an Eclipse plugin version with the cost. Allows 30 days free use before payment needed.

Path Finder

Path Finder

http://www.cocoatech.com/pf4/

$35. Though not for the faint of heart, Path Finder is extremely powerful and may be right up your alley if you think the Mac’s standard Finder interface lacks power. You can even set up this application to completely replace the Finder. One drawback is that it is fairly bleeding edge, with a tendency to exhibit odd problems when new major system revisions are released. (There is also a newer entry into the “Finder replacement” market called Leap but I have not yet used it.)

Project X

Project X

http://www.projectx.com/

$200. Some switchers need a replacement for Microsoft Project, and this seems closest to fitting the bill. I no longer use project management applications regularly, so I have not used this heavily, but after some time where this genre was unonccupied in the Mac world, this seems to have outpaced several competitors. And a “best of show” award from MacWorld is nothing to sneeze at. Some other possibilities in this space are OmniPlan, iTaskX, Merlin or, for something slightly different, Curio.

Snapz Pro X

Snapz Pro X

http://www.ambrosiasw.com/utilities/snapzprox/

$69. The king daddy of Mac screen capture programs, with a long lineage. Capture full screens, windows, selections to multiple formats. Capture video. Basically flawless, with a well-deserved five mice rating. Snapz Pro X can be used for a limited time before requiring payment.

Sound Studio

Sound Studio

http://www.freeverse.com/apps/app/?id=5012

$80. While there are number of sound editors available on the Mac, most of them were pretty bad last time I looked at them. This application does more of what I need it to, particularly with some features specifically to ease the importing of audio tapes. Other applications in this space are Audacity, Fission and Wavepad.

Spaceward Ho!

Spaceward Ho!

http://www.deltatao.com/ho/

$40. A classic strategic space military/economy game. It is a bit hard to explain, but is just the right mixture of complexity to make it fun, but not so much that playing a game takes days on end. It’s playable for free, but buying it provides smarter opponents, higher tech levels, larger boards, etc.

Steermouse

Steermouse

http://plentycom.jp/en/steermouse/

$20. The Mac is known for true plug and play support of all sorts of mice and other input devices, but sometimes the default support isn’t enough, particularly with unusual peripherals. This driver supports a wide variety of devices, and allows much more customization than mortal man was meant to use. It can be used for 30 days before requiring payment.

TextMate

TextMate

http://macromates.com/

€39. Much as I love BBEdit, it is too expensive (and its lightweight version too limited). This text editor (while still a bit pricey) feels great and does what I need it to. I particularly like its spellcheck-as-you-type. Text editors tend to be more of a personal choice than other software, so Smultron, SubEthaEdit, skEdit, jEdit, xPad or even Emacs compiled as a native app or a Mac-style Emacs may be more your speed.

Transmit

Transmit

http://www.panic.com/transmit/

$15. The file-transfer protocol (FTP) client for the Mac. Pretty much perfect. Until paid for, sessions can only last for 10 minutes and “favorites” cannot be saved.

Unison

Unison

http://www.panic.com/unison/

$25. Before the world wide web, there was Usenet, a vast collection of newsgroups. Though web forums seem to have stolen some of their thunder, they are still useful. Unison is one of the best newsreaders I’ve ever seen. Fully featured for 15 days, after which favorites are disabled and it can only be used for 10 minutes at a time.

VectorDesigner

VectorDesigner

http://www.tweakersoft.com/vectordesigner/

$70. Given a choice between standard raster editors like Photoshop or vector editors like this application (or Adobe Illustrator), I usually favor vector editing. It’s more flexible, scales better and usually uses smaller files. This low cost editor is still fairly powerful and full featured for most uses. You can try the free Inkscape, but it is much clunkier.

VisualHub

VisualHub

http://www.techspansion.com/visualhub/

$23. There are tons of video format conversion utilities around, but this is the first one I’ve used that didn’t irritate the hell out of me. It’s simple when it needs to be simple and complex when you want the complexity. I’m also a sucker for the icon. Until it is paid for, it will only convert two minute segments at a time.

WebDevil

WebDevil

http://www.chaoticsoftware.com/ProductPages/WebDevil.html

$35. Sometimes you just need to download an entire web site at once. This software provides a highly configurable way of doing so, and even works with sites that require logon. It can also filter by file type, file size and so on.

Yep

Yep

http://www.ironicsoftware.com/yep/

$34. Billing itself as “iPhoto for PDFs”, Yep is a way of managing all your PDF files in an intuitive way. Since I have tons of PDF books from DriveThru and other sources, I get a lot of mileage out of Yep (and, it helped that it was part of cheap bundle when I bought it).

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