Top 12 Free Apps on Mac OS X for ex-Windows users

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Image via Wikimedia

Recently at a startup meeting that some fellow Angels and I hosted, I was amazed to see nearly every entrepreneur at the table (yes, there was a rather large oval table in the room) had a Macintosh (Powerbook or Air). Having made the switch (back) to a Mac just this last February, I realized how the last ten years of using a PC had ingrained certain habits, which were hard to break.

Surprisingly the transition to a Mac OS X after a decade of Windows usage,  went extremely smoothly with the only initial hiccup being able to find a good replacement for Notepad++ which had been my primary text editing/composing tool! In the weeks that followed as I got down to actually working, I slowly began identifying the holes in my work flow and began filling them with free apps or utilities for the Mac. Here are the insights that I gained from that journey and hopefully some of you will benefit from it as well.

Note: I have focused on primarily things that I felt made my transition from Windows to Mac OS easier and were holes in the software that came along with the MacOS. Clearly there were apps or utilities that shipped natively with the Mac OS and I have tried to mention them where ever appropriate.

TextWrangler By far the best (free) text editor on the Mac – from Bare Bones Software the makers of BBEdit – whilst the Mac OS ships with TextEdit (ala WordPad for Windows) – for any serious HTML coding or even plain unhindered text creation. If I were to add only one piece of software to my Mac OS X it would be this.

Business bundle

OpenOffice (now from Oracle) has been a staple of mine the last three years and was the first business app I downloaded. It gets far greater use despite my having bought the iWork package from Apple. Even for heavy users of MS Office, you will not skip a beat IMO with OpenOffice.

Skype – Despite the excellent iChat that ships in the Mac (allowing Jabber, gmail or AIM chats) – much of my business (or even personal) chat, video-calling and VOIP is done on Skype. So this made its way on to the list.

Wine – Nearly everyone I know has one favorite utility or application on Windows that has no real (or acceptable) equivalent on the Mac (if you can believe it). In my case it’s Quicken for Windows and The Journal from David RM software. Wine (& Wine Bottler) are great to run Windows apps under your Mac OS X. Loving it!

Media Management

Picasa As father of two girls and owner of at least two SonyEricsson phones and one Sony T-90 camera (thanks Yogesh!) I get a fair number of pictures taken (mostly in dubious focus). Having used Picasa on my Windows machine and despite the occasional twinge about Google’s reach into our lives, I’ve opted to stay with Picasa as my image importing, (minimal) photo manipulation tool. It’s face recognition feature is pretty cool. iPhoto that comes bundled with the Mac OS X is something that I am yet to play with – this is an instance where inertia won over

GIMP A year ago, I still found GIMP complex and intimidating – however sustained use over the last year, particularly for FlipSide, our nearly weekly cartoon, has made me rely on this as my primary image composition and image authoring tool. I am told this works reasonably well as a photo retouching tool, but never having used Photoshop or GIMP for such use, I cannot comment. This is amongst the most heavily used tools on my Mac (not bad for a X11 app 🙂

Audacity For all the audio recording, tape/CD clean up and audio blogging needs, nothing beats Audacity and thankfully the app is truly cross platform and my daughters who do most of the ripping/editing didn’t miss a beat in using Audacity for most of our audio recording/editing needs.

VLC Media Player – Sure iTunes is nice, as is QuickTime Player both of which ship natively with MacOS X. But it helps to have a media player that can play your VCD, DVD, audio CD, play practically every audio compression format that’s out there (3gp anyone) and do some other stuff, such as stripping just the audio, which I am yet to fully figure out. And again like GIMP and Audacity it is a great endorsement for the Open Source software.


Alfred This was the first utility that I downloaded from the Mac App Store and more importantly the one I use the most. In their own words “Alfred is a productivity application for Mac OS X, which aims to save you time in searching your local computer and the web.” I use it as my primary launcher and am slowly beginning to prefer it over Spotlight (which it leverages). There is so much to Alfred (the free version) that it requires its own review to do it any justice.

EasyFind This is another utility that I find particularly useful to locate files who’s actual (or full) names I can’t recall. It supports Unix wild cards – doesn’t require indexing and works fast. It also can be constrained, to search in specific locations (or sub-folders or paths) or on file or folder names or within file contents. Also its ability to peer within packages and hidden files is a sweet benefit.

Wunderlist The newest addition to my Macintosh (surprisingly spurred by my purchase of an Android phone). It’s a great to-do list creator/tracker that syncs across my phone, Mac desktops, the cloud. It even allows my wife and me to maintain (and assign one another) to-dos across our separate Macs/calendars. Much like Alfred, it comes with a great yet simple interface with several GTD features and keyword (or labels) support.

Disk Inventory X & Grand Perspective Both of these are disk usage utilities that shows the sizes of files and folders in a special graphical way called “treemaps“. It was particularly useful while planning to move or back up files or as has happened all too soon, when my hard disk space seemed to be disappearing rapidly. Again not only useful but cool looking too. I prefer Disk Inventory for reasons I’m not too sure myself!

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