Tuesday, May 19, 2015

My favourite free Mac OSX apps

I have been a Windows guy for many, many years, starting with Windows 2.x in the late 1980's all the way up to Windows 7. Then, about 4 years ago I gave up. Not because Windows was so bad (I actually quite liked Windows 7) but because at the time I could not find any decent laptop for it! So I got a Mac in 2011. And, over the years I got to like it, especially the hardware. I was always a big fan of opensource and freeware/shareware which was always widely available for Windows. Over the past years a collected some good legal free software for the Mac and I thought I'd share with everyone what I like. The interesting bit here is that most of this stuff is not actually distributed via the Apple Appstore...

Here's my list in no particular order, starting with a bundle of freely available utilities...


Great video converter tool. Convert any videos that you might have into any other format. BTW if you're looking for good settings that give you videos that play/stream on most devices and are relatively modest in size, I use the following settings (everything not mentioned is left at default):
  • Format: MP4, Web Optimized
  • Picture: Size: source = destination, Cropping: automatic, Anamorphic: none, Filters: all off
  • Video: Codec: H.264, FPS: Same as source-variable, Quality: RF 22, Use Advanced Options
  • Audio: AAC Stereo, Samplerate auto, Bitrate 128
  • Advanced: Reference Frames: 6, CABAC Entropy Encoding: yes, 8x8 transform: yes, Weighted P-Frames: yes, Subpixel ME & Mode: 2  SATD qpel, Trellis: off, No DCT Decimation: off.
Download from http://handbrake.fr.


The video player that plays everything. If you install the right drivers it can even play Blu Ray discs, something the native DVD player on OSX cannot do. Download from http://www.videolan.org/vlc.


Previously called XBMC. Another media player. This one is really good for streaming over the network and has tons of plugins. You can also create a catalog that runs on a central server and stream that to all the devices in your house, for example. I wrote some details on how I use my Raspberry PI as such a media server here: http://coderthoughts.blogspot.com/2014/01/how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-about.html. Download from http://kodi.tv.


This tool has a lot of features for the touchpad, but the main reason why I use it is not on the touchpad. I don't like the click feature of the touchpad, the fact that you have to press the touchpad itself. I prefer pressing a button to act as a mouseclick. On my UK keyboard there is a key that I never use, just above the TAB key there is a key with the § sign. The above screenshot shows how I used the BetterTouchTool to remap that key to be the mouseclick. I still use the trackpad to position my mouse, but no need to press it down, I do that with my other hand by pressing that mapped key. Download from here: http://blog.boastr.net
BetterTouchTool also has Windows 7-like window snapping functionality, which is really handy too. Although I personally use Breeze for that, which has more features in this area. It's not a free tool so it doesn't belong in this list, but its very cheap so worth checking out :)


This is a very handy little tool, that simply extends the clipboard with a history of up to 25 entries. Instead of cmd-V, use shift-cmd-V to cycle through all your past clipboard contents. Extremely useful. This one is free on the apple appstore: https://itunes.apple.com/ie/app/flycut-clipboard-manager/id442160987?mt=12.


This is a free WinZip-like tool for the Mac. It doesn't have as many features as WinZip, but I tend to find it very good for quickly peeking in a .zip or .jar file. And the program icon is just really cute! Download from: http://www.zipeg.com.


I'm a VIM guy and this Mac version is really good! Download from https://code.google.com/p/macvim.


I'm relatively new to password management software but the recent vulnerabilities and attacks made me move to it. I'm a bit weary of storing my passwords in a cloud-based solution. I'd rather have a local file that's properly encrypted, so that it doesn't matter who actually sees that raw file. I also want something that automatically works with web browsers so that passwords are automatically entered. KeePass is a great Windows-based app that does all that. There's an Android version (KeePassDroid) that even works on my BlackBerry Z10. And there are Chrome (chromeIPass) and Firefox (PassIFox) integrations with the KeePass HTTP server that seamlessly enter your passwords in the appropriate websites if you approve this action.
There are a number of opensource projects to get this working on the Mac too. However, they seem to be in various stages of incompleteness. There is the KeePassX project, but it doesn't have support for the HTTP server (yet) that you need to integrate with the browser. There is a new project called MacPass which is another KeePass clone, but it also doesn't support the HTTP server (yet). Some people use Mono to run the Windows KeePass on OSX, but I found that not very satisfying and at some point it just started crashing continuously. In the end I found Keith Bennett's fork of KeePassX 2.0Alpha5 that has HTTP server support. The UI is a bit buggy, but it's the best I could find in the opensource arena for password management on OSX, so this is what I'm using right now. Looking forward to having a more stable version of KeePass on the Mac with HTTP server support.

PDF Split and Merge

I love PDFs :) (hey I work for Adobe). And there are tons of tools available for creating PDFs both from Adobe and from other vendors. PDFSam is a really nice little tool that helps you work with PDFs once they are created. Rearrange pages, split chapters off, merge multiple PDFs together, that kind of thing. I find myself using this tool pretty often. You can get it from here: http://www.pdfsam.org.

OSX Screen Saver runner

Ok, should maybe not be in this list, because it's not freeware or opensource, as it's shipped as part of OSX itself but it's free in that everyone who has OSX already has it, but you may not be aware of its existence. This is just a really simple way to lock your screen, if you need to walk away from your computer, for example. You simply find it on your local disk at /System/Library/Frameworks/ScreenSaver.framework/Versions/A/Resources/ScreenSaverEngine.app
and I normally have it locked to my dock, so I can just click it to lock my screen.


There are also a few larger applications where I think there are some great opensource products available that I use on a daily basis.

Openoffice / Libreoffice

Personally I prefer this office suite to the commercial ones available. Great features, great usability and it works on all the platforms that I use outside of OSX, including Linux. Download from https://www.openoffice.org.

Thunderbird and Firefox

These two need no further introduction. Just an excellent webbrowser and a great email client. Get them at https://www.mozilla.org.


Still the best IDE around for Java and other programming languages. Available from http://www.eclipse.org.

That's it - these are my favourite opensource / freeware / shareware apps that I use all the time. Enjoy :)


János Setény said...

For those developers who are willing to lear something other than Eclipse there is a better choice I think: https://www.jetbrains.com

David Bosschaert said...

@János Setény: good point, IDEA is very popular with many developers!

Additionally, BetterTouchTool is not free any more. However, I'm now using Karabiner which at least on the keyboard level provides generally the same functionality: https://pqrs.org/osx/karabiner/.