Welcome to the world of OS X. Now, we all know that OS X comes bundled with great software like the iLife suite, iTunes and Safari. As useful as the bundled software is for OS X, there’s much more out there that you’re going to need. I’ve compiled the following list of ten free applications that you must have if you are a new Mac owner. These applications will get you up and running, ease your transition if you are coming from a PC and show you the power of OS X.
Objective Development’s Little Snitch is an amazing security program that puts you in control over OS X’s internet connection. While the new Leopard firewall is pretty robust and can block outgoing traffic, it’s kind of a pain to deal with and doesn’t have the level of control that Little Snitch does. Basically, Little Snitch alerts you whenever a program requests the network adapters. In the beginning it will pop up frequently but once you train it, it will calm down. You can set it to allow or deny and permanently or temporarily. It will block regular applications from “phoning home”, rogue applications from accessing the internet, and even stop legitimate applications from accessing sites / ports that you don’t want.
Note: Little Snitch is not technically freeware, but will run for free for three hours. After that it displays a popup and turns off. You can then restart it.
Skype is one of the most revolutionary and disruptive applications that have come along. Forget about ever paying long distance charges again. Just download Skype, create a free account and tell your friends and family to do the same. It works on both Windows and Mac machines, so it doesn’t matter what type of computer they have. Skype has revolutionized personal international communications by making the call free for anyone with an internet connection. You can even add on traditional phone lines and cell phones to Skype calling but that’s not a free feature.
OS X comes with iChat which is great if you’ve always used the Jabber or AIM chat networks. Obviously, it’s not going to work with Microsoft’s MSN Messenger network. Microsoft does have their own MSN Messenger client for OS X but frankly, compared to the Windows version it sucks. Fortunately, the open source community has brought us aMSN which connects to the MSN network and allows you many more features than the Microsoft Client – features that if you’re coming from a PC, you will be used to.
There are tons of file compression formats out there. Some will work natively with OS X and some will not. Also, in Leopard, Apple has dropped the StuffIt (SIT) format but there are still files using it floating around the internet as it was a common file format for years in the Apple community. Fortunately, there’s one program out there that will handle all your file decompressing needs and it’s free. Download The Unarchiver from Dag Ågren. Supported formats include: Zip, Rar, 7-Zip, LhA, StuffIt, GZip, BZip2, and many more.
Like file compression formats, there’s also tons of video compression formats out there. One of OS X’s dirty little secrets is it doesn’t handle them right out of the box. The open source community has created Perian to take care of this. Download, install and watch Xvid, DivX, Flash Video (FLV), .AVI’s and much more, using Quicktime Player.
Speaking of video formats, there’s that pesky Windows Media Player format that’s all over the internet. Thankfully, there’s the Flip4Mac libraries to let you play Windows Media files with Quicktime.
Note: The free version of Flip4Mac is only available from the Microsoft website. Download it from there.
Online video from YouTube, Google Video and tons of other video hosting sites can easily be downloaded and converted to iPod / iTunes / Quicktime format with TubeTV. There are others but I found that TubeTV works the best.
Note: TubeTV requires Perian to run. Download and install it first.
Where would the world be without BitTorrent.. Without getting into the politics and ethics of it all, Vuze (formerly known as Azureus) is one of the best BitTorrent clients for OS X.
If you need to secure important files (and you should), and cross platform (Mac/PC?Linux) compatibility is important, the open source TrueCrypt is the best encryption application out there. I use it heavily with USB travel drives, backup DVDs and for keeping all my financial records private. You never know when you will accidentally lose a USB drive or have a laptop stolen. Be safe with TrueCrypt.
Note: While OS X has it’s own built-in method of creating encrypted volumes, I recommend TrueCrypt over this because True Crypt is cross-platform. If necessary, data can be accessed from a Windows machine with TrueCrypt, not with OS X’s method.
For more information, here’s a tutorial on how to use TrueCrypt.
For those of you with FTP needs, there’s a few shareware / commercial solutions for OS X. Don’t even bother with them. Just download Cyberduck. Cyberduck will handle FTP connections, SFTP, WebDAV and Amazon’s S3. It even incorporates OS X technology such as BonJour, Spotlight, the Keychain and QuickLook. For the professionals out there, it also integrates with external editors such as Smultron, TextWrangler, TextMate, BBEdit and many more.