Great free software for the Mac

What can I say? You get what you pay for . . .

Sometimes that’s true. But in this case it isn’t—because open source and freeware are part of a long tradition in the computer industry, going back to the 1970s. I can list many programs which cost me nothing. Instead of giving me nothing, they were useful tools. These include

  • AppCleaner
  • Boxer
  • Caffeine
  • Calibre
  • ClipMenu
  • Clippy
  • Consolation
  • DaVinci Resolve
  • DiskWave
  • DosBox
  • DupeGuru
  • EasyFind
  • FinderPop
  • Gargoyle
  • Go64
  • Hackintool
  • iTerm
  • kid3
  • Lectrote
  • Onyx
  • Quicksilver
  • Rectangle
  • SilentKnight
  • Skim
  • Spatterlight
  • SystHist
  • Tex Edit Plus
  • TinkerTool
  • Ulbow
  • Vanilla
  • VLC
  • XLD

And all of my Firefox extensions, which make using the Web tolerable.

And atext, which I use all the time, is only five dollars.


Yes, there are some people who like to write utilities for fun and profit. Thanks for compiling that long list.

Been using a Mac since 1984 and other than Onyx, I cannot say I have ever heard or used a single one of the programs on your list. I feel like a dumb ass slacker.

Free programs generally have no marketing budget and are promoted via word of mouth. So your list could be very helpful.

I’d love to see your list annotated with one line describing what each program does. You know these programs and could write a description from your own experience.

For example: Onyx = Allows access to all finder settings including hidden ones.

There’s probably some stuff in there that would help me and others.

Just because I am uninformed doesn’t mean these are not great programs, they probably are terrific. It only means that I have never heard of them. And I am not an expert.

You got me thinking about free programs I do use. And the ones that I used to use that stopped working. Including paid programs where the developer just disappeared. Or Apple’s changes made the program stop working.

Anyone remember Andrew Welch and Ambrosia Software?

Gave away Easy Envelopes + to make it simple to print envelopes, but once Apple stopped supporting Dashboard Widgets, Easy Envelopes + died. Who mails snail mail envelopes anyway? They also made a great screenshot utility called SnapzPro.

But Ambrosia made some excellent shareware games. But they just one day stopped answering e-mails. I heard Andrew Welch had a nervous breakdown or got sick or just wanted to do something else, but the company just laid everyone off in 2013 and disappeared in 2018.

Anyone remember Unsanity who published Shapeshifter, Window Shade, and Chicken of the VNC? I must say, it is hard to create a software company and keep it going for years. For a geeky discussion from 2006 about software development and shareware, check out AppZapper was developed by a kid still in high school.

For example, I used to use a free keystroke recorder called Lazarus that would copy and save entries made into online forms as I typed and then erase them on a user defined schedule. Nothing worse than carefully crafting some text to go into a box in an online form and pressing ENTER to find out you’ve been timed out and your message as been lost to the sands of time. But the developer died or lost interest and the program stopped working with newer browsers in 2017.

No one could ever even contact the developer. We tried. A group formed on GitHub to try to group-hire someone to reverse engineer and update the code. That failed. Luckily someone else decided to make a similar free add-on called Form History Control II.

I still use a free browser add-on called Location Guard to prevent streaming sites like Hulu or Netflix from using my browser to detect my location. I used to travel a lot, I pay my monthly subscription fees and don’t feel it is fair to force me to watch a subset of content in a language I do not speak. The developer keeps it updated. There is nothing else that does what this program does. So I hope he doesn’t lose interest. I’d actually pay for this program, but the developer never even asks for donations.

There used to be a free app called Flume that could be used to interact with Instagram from Mac OS. This one was paid for the Pro Version. The developer took all the money and again just disappeared. It isn’t news when a small one person software company disappears, except to the users who are left perplexed and scrambling for a replacement app. In the case of Flume, Grids came along, it is a paid app through the AppStore and works even better than Flume.

I think the App Store helped make shareware viable. The old tradition was to download a fully functional piece of software and then you were on the honor system to buy a license. Most people didn’t pay. The were all kinds of distribution models: Crippleware, Nagware, Adware, etc. The history of shareware can be found here: and here: and here:

And if you really want to go back 20 years, here is the history of BMUG, the Berkeley Macintosh Users Group. They used to publish a PD ROM of free and shareware programs back in the days before the Internet.

It took me a few hours to try to remember Kagi Software, until I looked in my e-mail history of software receipts going back to 2016. Nothing on Google Search or Wikipedia unless I had the name. Found an article about them going out of business right here on TidBITS.


You are not a dumb ass slacker. Every person in this forum is intelligent. That’s one reason I’m here. It’s a real pleasure and an honor to talk to all of you. That is not a joke. I haven’t been here long, and many people have already given me great ideas. How can I disrespect longtime Mac users? I can’t. We’re like some weird remnant.

Of course I remember Ambrosia! That logo was awesome! If only I had kept it: a shirt, a jpg, anything. I loved that logo and that company. I remember playing their games Ferazel’s Wand, Harry the Handsome Executive, and Escape Velocity.

On the topic, I’m still using Clipy though I did buy Keyboard Maestro. Why not? It’s cheap. And I want to do more automating. There’s a learning curve. For me anyway. There were many good clipboard suggestions in this thread.


Thank you for the opportunity. I will put that in a new thread.


For me, the thing that made shareware viable was online payment, initially from Kagi and then via other means. I used to use early versions of GraphicConverter without payment because I didn’t want to go through the hassle of finding and buying an international money order denominated in Deutsche Marks. I have been a happy and licensed user for a couple decades now, but back in the day the payment process was relatively daunting.


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Go ahead and keep it here—I’ve broken this discussion out of the clipboard manager topic.

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Speaking of great, free software, who remembers Cheshire? Alright, I’m weird, but I thought it was wonderful. It didn’t do anything other than entertain, but I would still run it multiple times per week. I forget which OS upgrade broke it.

For anyone who never heard of it or forgot about it, Cheshire was a program whose icon was a stylized Cheshire cat. When the program ran, the cat would fade, leaving only its grin, which then faded. When even the grin was gone, the program deleted itself from the disk and terminated. From beginning to end, it took maybe ten seconds.

Perhaps my definition of great is different from that intended in the title of this discussion.

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Escape Velocity—or at least the sequel, Escape Velocity: Override—is being revived. There was a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds; it reached 100% and the work is now underway.


Still miss Ambrosia from their games to Easy Envelopes, loved their work.

Easy Envelopes is available in the MacApp Store, for $9.99. Well worth it, and works great on Catalina.

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Ambrosia was wonderful. I’m very sad that I won’t be able to get any upgrades to SnapzProX anymore. At least Maelstrom was released as open source, so it won’t be going anywhere.

The most important free software I use is GNU Emacs. I haven’t build a new copy in a while, but I usually compile my own copy from the public sources. There’s also a good Mac binary download available for those who don’t have the time or desire or ability to compile it.

I’ve been using Emacs in some form or another on every computer I’ve used since the late 80’s (on university Unix mainframes). The fact that it is available for every operating system and (mostly) works the same on them all is a huge benefit to me. Today, I run it on my Macs, Windows PCs and Linux systems (including VMs, dedicated PCs and a Raspberry Pi).

But the software company I truly miss is Freeverse Software. They sold some of the best games and I bought many of them. I also loved their free download toys, like Jared, the Butcher of Song. Unfortunately, their apps were almost all for the PowerPC and so are not usable today except on Mac emulators.

BBEdit was initially freeware. After reading an article about it in TidBITS, I downloaded it and learned to code in HTML. BareBones had a free version and a paid souped up version. I just checked and you can try the souped up version for 30 days, and if you don’t like it it will automatically switch over to the freebie.


Per request, here is a list of freeware I have used recently and their purposes. Wouldn’t it be great to see a documentary about the people who wrote these programs?

Tex-Edit Plus - by Tom Bender of Texas, hence “Tex” edit and the flag icon. I’ve been using this word processor for so long, I can’t even recall when I started. I used it to write this post. It does have some quirks in Sierra, but considering its age and that it hasn’t been updated often, it remains a solid piece of programming. For many years I used it solely for its text cleaning abilities. These days I use Text Soap for that. I used Tex Edit Plus for short writing, with AppleWorks as my main word processor until Pages came along. Tex-Edit Plus started as freeware, then after many years Bender charged ten dollars for it, but without crippling any of the functions. I wrote him a couple times, and he responded. That always gets you a gold star in my book. This was a program that Charles Moore loved, if any of you remember Moore’s work on Low End Mac and other sites. His death was a real loss. He often praised Tex-Edit’s scripting abilities, though I never used it for that.

FinderPop - by Turly in Ireland. Boy, do I miss this program. It worked until 10.10. It was a contextual menu program launcher. You put aliases for any folder or file into the FinderPop items folder, then when you ctrl-clicked or used the right button of a two button mouse, a menu would pop up listing the programs. It’s what I used instead of the dock. I used it almost as long as Tex-Edit Plus.

  • AppCleaner - uninstaller. It doesn’t clean up all the files, but it’s a good start.
  • Audacity - audio waveform editor
  • Bibdesk - organizes references for bibliographies
  • Boxer and DosBox - Emulators for MS-DOS games.
  • Brave - Based on Chrome, can use Chrome extensions, this browser emphasizes privacy and security. Not as good as Firefox but worth a look.
  • Caffeine - Prevents your Mac from sleeping, which is useful when you run diagnostics
  • Calibre - ebook reader and organizer
  • Clipy - clipboard manager, open source descendant of ClipMenu.
  • Consolation and Ulbow - Replacement for Console. In Sierra Apple changed how it does logs, making troubleshooting more difficult. Howard Oakley has tried to fix this situation by writing his own programs.
  • DaVinci Resolve - A free version of this professional video software. I haven’t used it because there is a steep learning curve, but I had to mention it for anyone interested in making videos.
  • DiskWave - tells you the size of your files and folders. Quickly.
  • EasyFind - I like it more than Spotlight or Find Any File. Or Sherlock.
  • Firefox - I don’t understand why anyone would use anything else
  • Gargoyle and Lectrote - Interpreters for IF (interactive fiction, like Infocom text adventures)
  • Go64 - Tells you which of your programs are 32-bit or 64-bit
  • Google Earth - See the world without leaving your chair.
  • icab - Many years ago icab was briefly my default browser.
  • iTerm2 - Replacement for Terminal
  • Kid3 - somewhat complicated tagger for audio files
  • LibreOffice - replacement for Microsoft Office
  • LockRattler - Checks your security measures. Cf. SilentKnight
  • Mactracker - database specs of every Apple desktop, laptop, and mobile device
  • Malwarebytes and DectectX - for finding and removing malware. Cf. Sophos.
  • Musicbrainz Picard - Another program for tagging audio files
  • Onyx - Repairs permissions, cleans caches, etc.
  • Oscar - I wear a Cpap every night. It has an SD card that records your sleep data. The card can be inserted into your Mac and analyzed with this program.
  • Quicksilver - A program launcher, file finder, etc. Cf. Alfred.
  • Seashore - drawing program
  • SilentKnight - Checks for latest versions of firmware, XProtect, GateKeeper, Kext, and can update them.
  • SingerSongReader - checks websites for lyrics to songs, then downloads them
  • Skim - pdf reader
  • SystHist - shows installation history, system updates, and security updates
  • The Unarchiver - The replacement for Stuffit Expander decodes all kinds of files. Cf. Keka.
  • TinkerTool - allows you to change Finder fonts and other system prefs
  • UNetbootin - creates bootable USB flash drive. I used this for trying out Linux.
  • Vanilla - organizes menu bar icons
  • Vienna - RSS newsreader
  • Virtual Box - Allows you to create a virtual machine to run Windows or Linux programs. Cf. Wine.
  • VLC - audio and video player
  • Winston - Amusing, minimal word processing program that imitates a typewriter.
  • XLD - audio ripper and burner

TextWrangler was the freeware predecessor to BBEdit, but by that time Tex Edit Plus did what I wanted. I use BBEdit more today. I hope to learn more of its capabilities.

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Tex-Edit Plus was my favorite writing tool for many years and I gladly paid Tom for its use. Apparently it will no longer receive any upgrades to work with Apple’s new stuff.

My guess is Tom Bender retired.

Loved TextEdit but became really dependent upon Bean. Used that for all my sermon research because of ease of use and dependability - I never had to worry about upgrade costs or the word processor taking over how I wanted to work. Pages and most especially Word (ugh) drove me crazy by always wanting me to do things their way. Then I learned of Nisus Writer Pro (thank you TidBITS!!!) and it was all over. I love that program and its adaptability to create a WP that met my needs. They also are great at support, too.

But Bean was (and is still) a great, simple and reliable program.

So enjoy all you folks have said here - lots of memories and (even better) good suggestions lol.


Thanks for the remembrance of Ambrosia Software. I used SnapZPro until it quit working (then had to find something else & went with SnagIt), ditto Easy Envelopes+ (yes, occasionally one does use snail mail), except that the EE+ version I have now crashes under Mojave; must try whatever’s in the App Store…). And Maelstrom – YES! Just got it again after all these years thanks to David C’s link! My most-used free software is the Brave browser (no ads! no tracking!), followed by the wonderfully feature-rich Audacity (for audio editing), followed by VLC and EasyFind. And I use LibreOffice because it will open my old ClarisWorks docs and save them in a modern format.

Thanks to fogcitynative (a fellow “Macs since 1984” user!) for the reminiscences.

I forgot about Brave. It’s pretty good, but I don’t like it as much as Firefox. I also could mention icab, another example of a solitary heroic individual supporting the platform. I don’t know if anyone here has watched the documentary Get Lamp.