21 Free Must-Have Mac OS X Apps

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Located deep in the bowels of a subterranean man-cave in Southern California, the LarryTalksTech computers patiently await daily instructions from their users. Though there is a sprinkling of Debian Linux powered computers, the main work-horses here are Macs. As our capital expenditure budget is next to “0”, so open-source software answers most of our software needs. The “free” and mostly open-source software discussed in this article, represents software used at LarryTalksTech routinely, is found on all of LarryTalkTech’s Macs, and as such, each program earns a “must-have app” status. Take a look at our list of Must-Have Mac OS X Apps, you might find apps here that meet your current needs, and/or apps that meet a need you didn’t know you have.


I listed this section of Must-Have Mac OS X Apps first, because protecting data is mission critical to anyone using a computer “on” or “off” line.

Sophos Antivirus. Over the years, I have tried a number of anti-virus programs on the LarryTalksTech Macs. I have found none better than Sohpos. This program is an off-shoot from their enterprise grade anti-virus software. Here are the program’s features[1]:

  • Full Mac protection from viruses, Trojans and worms
. Stops all threats, even those designed for Windows. Not only is your computer safe–the people running PCs you send files to are safe from threats too.
  • Secure web browsing
.  Be safer online. Sophos Antivirus scans websites for malicious codes. It also blocks web-based malware before it can infect your Mac, protecting you from Internet threats.
  • Stops all threats, familiar and unfamiliar
.  Our antivirus technology stops all threats, even if it’s something new. Thanks to Live Antivirus, you have a direct line to Sophos Labs for the latest threat intelligence.
  • Quarantines and removes the threats it finds
.  You might not want to immediately delete bad files our scans find. No problem. You can quarantine questionable files and check them again later, or you can have them immediately removed from your computer. The choice is yours.
  • Business-quality antivirus, backed by Sophos Labs
. We’ve put the entire force of our business-strength threat expertise behind Sophos Antivirus for Mac. That means you’re using the same product that protects all of our customer organizations, large, small and in-between.
  • Easy installation and painless maintenance.  
We keep our antivirus light and easy. Once installed, it’ll work quietly in the background with your choice of scanning on-access, on-demand or on a schedule. And of course, it will alert you when it finds something nasty.

You can get Sophos Anti-Virus here: http://www.sophos.com/en-us/products/free-tools/sophos-antivirus-for-mac-home-edition.aspx

Murus Inbound Services
Murus Firewall

Murus PF Firewall GUI. Your Mac has two firewalls. An ALF (Application Level Firewall) and a PF (Packet Filter Firewall). ALF can be configured from the Mac’s System Preferences. The PF firewall is, by default, turned off, and is usually configured via command line razzle-dazzle by a very talented Geek, and/or enterprise System’s Administrator. This is where Murus comes in. Murus is a graphic user interface that enables non-techies to configure and run the very powerful PF firewall. Talk about secure, you can run both the ALF and the PF firewalls at the same time. You can learn more about Murus in this article I wrote for LarryTalksTech, by clicking here.

Download Murus here: http://www.murusfirewall.com/

Little Snitch, is a firewall with a twist. Though it performs basic firewall stuff, its real strength is letting you block outgoing messages from programs installed knowingly or unknowingly on your Mac. Little Snitch even provides real time monitoring through a graphic interface. You can both configure and monitor by application when using the Little Snitch rather than by port. Here are some more of its features[2]:

  • Detailed traffic history of the last hour, separate for each process, server, port and protocol.
  • Display of total traffic amounts, peak traffic, average bandwidth, etc.
  • Variable zoom from one hour down to one minute time range.
  • Filtering by process name, server, port, etc.
  • Versatile grouping and sorting options.
  • “Show Corresponding Rule” quickly shows why a particular connection was allowed or denied.
  • Display of system events (app launch or termination, sleep) to see network activity in its context.
  • Indication of connections denied by Little Snitch.
  • Capture network traffic in PCAP format.
  • Save Snapshots for later analysis.

You can get Little Snitch here: https://www.obdev.at/products/littlesnitch/index.html


Rsync is a very robust command line operated backup program. I have used many backup programs on Windows, Linux, and Macs. Rsync, hands down, is the best of the lot. Period. I detail how to use Rsync in a LarryTalksTech article (click this link for the article: http://wp.me/p2J68t-fW )

Download Rsync here: https://rsync.samba.org/features.html

LastPass is a password manager. Instead of having to recall the many passwords you use, you simply need to remember one, the access password to LastPass. LastPass is a browser add-on and works on most popular browsers. It can auto-fill your password for websites, auto-complete online forms, generate random passwords, cloud based so you can use your passwords on multiple computers, and more. This program will really make you wonder how you got along without it.

Find out more about LastPass here: https://lastpass.com/features


The Must-Have Mac OS X Apps listed here make our lives easier while we plug away for hours at our Macs.

Quicksilver, because of its broad scope of abilities, Quicksilver is very hard to describe. So….I’ll let the developer do it[3]:

  • Quicksilver gives you quick access to all your important things. With only a few keystrokes, you can get to your applications, files, contacts, bookmarks, music, etc. Don’t get distracted though; although Quicksilver finds and launches things quickly and extremely well, it’s more about doing, not finding.
  • Saying that Quicksilver is an application launcher is like saying a car is a cup holder. You can do almost anything with Quicksilver. Quicksilver’s art is in learning what you like doing, and turning your chores into two-second thoughts. By knowing your habits, Quicksilver blurs the line between thinking about something and simply getting it done.
  • Using OS X’s Spotlight or a similar app to find the contact ‘John Smith’ requires you to search for say “john”. What if you want to just type “js”? Quicksilver lets you abbreviate using letters from anywhere in the name, and that means anywhere. Use “ps” to find Photoshop or “tun” to find iTunes. Use abbreviations that make sense to you.
  • Quicksilver lets you do things how you think of them, adapting to however you think. You can Google search for ‘some text’, or find ‘some text’ with Google search. You can select a contact and e-mail them a file, or you can select a file and e-mail it to a contact. No thinking. No planning. No adjusting. Just doing.
  • With Quicksilver, you never need to stop what you’re doing to complete simple tasks. Move the file you just downloaded to your Documents folder without leaving your browser. Add something to your To Do List as soon as you think of it. Quicksilver allows you to process your thoughts instantly, and lets you get right back to what you want to be doing.
  • Select files or text and act upon them immediately. Quicksilver can grab the current selection from almost any application. Grab selected text to search for it on the web or append it to a file. Grab files and delete them, move them or send them. Grab pictures to resize them or change their format (above), the options are limitless.
  • Quicksilver allows you to do all sorts of things with files: move, copy, rename, delete, whilst also letting you navigate your entire file system. Just add a few important top-level folders to the catalog and you can browse through your folders from there.
  • If you find yourself doing something frequently, you can speed up the task even further by assigning a “trigger” to it. Triggers give you the power to assign regular tasks to keyboard shortcuts or mouse movements; you don’t even need to activate Quicksilver.
  • There are many plug-ins that extend Quicksilver’s functionality even further. Interact with your installed applications; Mail, 1Password, Microsoft Office and more. Access information from web-based services. Access your browser’s bookmarks and history. Check out the ‘Plugins’ section within the Quicksilver preferences to see the all the entire plugins list; containing over 100 plugins.
  • Customise Quicksilver with one of the many interface plugins, or alter the colours, bezels and font sizes.

You can get Quicksilver here: http://qsapp.com/index.php

Synergy. I often use two, and sometimes three, computers at a time. I run all of them with just one keyboard and a mouse. This is all done with an amazing little piece of software called Synergy. Using it is simple: As your mouse moves off screen to another computer’s monitor, you now control that computer.

Back in the day, setup was a bear, done through the command line. Now, setup is very very very simple. Download and install the software on the “controlling computer”. Open the software and use the wizard. Start the program. Now download and install the software on the clients. Start the software on the clients (the client software will search and find the controlling computer). Done. Here are some of the program’s features[4]:

  • Seamlessly move your mouse to any computer and start typing.Works on all major operating systems (Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux).
  • Share your clipboard (copy and paste) between your computers.
  • Drag and drop files from one computer to another (Windows and Mac OS X).
  • Encryption keeps sensitive data safe on public networks.
  • Network-based (IP) software

There are several different variants of this type of software out there, and I hve tried most of them. In my humble (?) opinion, none compare to the latest versions of Synergy.

You can read a complete article I wrote about Synergy here:  http://wp.me/p2J68t-Y

Download Synergy here: http://synergy-project.org/

FocusWriter. When I write for a project, I use Scrivener (a program I actually paid for, and worth every dime, and then some). For lighter documents, I use FocusWriter. It provides a blank “piece of paper” and a blinking bar to add text behind. Simple, and elegant. It is not featureless, the features are just neatly tucked away. Here are some of those features[5]:

• TXT, basic RTF, and basic ODT file support
• Timers and alarms
• Daily goals
• Fully customizable themes
• Typewriter sound effects (optional)
• Auto-save (optional)
• Live statistics (optional)
• Spell-checking (optional)
• Multi-document support
• Sessions
• Portable mode (optional)
• Translated into over 20 languages

For more information about FocusWriter, read this article in LarryTalksTech:  http://wp.me/p2J68t-he

Get FocusWriter here: http://gottcode.org/focuswriter/

Office Suites

Why pay for Microsoft Office to do word-processing, work with spreadsheets, create presentations, or use a database? There are two free office suites we use that can handle nearly all the work load you throw at MS Office, and these suites can read and save in Microsoft’s formats (as well as many other formats) too. I haven’t used MS Office for years, and it hasn’t been missed.

Open Office Spreadsheet
Open Office Spreadsheet

Apache Open Office. Starting life in the late 90’s as StarOffice (I believe in Germany), it was owned the Sun Microsystems, then Oracle, then Sun again, and now it is owned by the Apache Foundation. Through its life, there have been both commercial and open-source versions, of which the current model is open-source. Open Office is a digital example of the Nietzche quote, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”. From its humble beginnings, and multiple owners, Open Office has evolved into an impressive office suite. Open Office has the following component applications[6]:

  • Writer:
    A word processor analogous to Microsoft Word and WordPerfect.
  • Calc:
    A spreadsheet analogous to Microsoft Excel and Lotus 1-2-3.
  • Impress:
    A presentation program analogous to Microsoft PowerPoint and Apple Keynote. Can export presentations to Adobe Flash (SWF) files, allowing them to be played on any computer with a Flash player install.
  • Draw:
    A vector graphics editor comparable in features to the drawing functions in Microsoft Office
  • Math:
    A tool for creating and editing mathematical formulae, analogous to Microsoft Equation Editor.
  • Formulae can be embedded inside other Apache OpenOffice documents, such as those created by Writer. It supports multiple fonts.
  • Base:
    A database management program analogous to Microsoft Access. Base can function as a front-end to a number of database systems, including Access databases (JET), ODBC data sources and MySQL/PostgreSQL. Native to the suite is a version of HSQL.

Libre Office, is a developmental fork from Oracle’s Open Office suite, which in turn can trace its genes all the back to StarOffice. Though not an “identical twin” to Apache Open Office, Libre Office might be termed a “fraternal twin”, with the same component applications. Of course, there are some variances, but at this point both office suites are more similar than they are dis-similar.

Try one or try both. To me, they are a “coin toss” as to which one is better.

You can learn more about each program and download here:

Apache Open Office:     https://www.openoffice.org/

Libre Office:                   https://www.libreoffice.org/


Determining “what is the best browser” has been a question that has plagued mankind since the square-off between Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Netscape’s Navigator. I suppose a lot of what goes into deciding the correct browser for you depends on how you plan to use it, and how safe you want to be while you are using it., – or it might be based on how you deal with it. Who knows?  I think a browser choice has boiled down to a personal decision, like deciding on a brand to toothpaste.

In any event, at LarryTalksTech, we use two browsers: Chrome and Firefox. Nothing too radical in either choice, one seems to work better than the other on certain websites, so we alternate between the two.

Find out more about Chrome, and download it here: https://www.google.com/chrome/browser/desktop/

For FireFox: https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/new/

Mail Client

There are three reason’s we use Thunderbird as our mail client:

  1. Apple’s “Mail” client, among other faults, struggles with multiple mail accounts. This maybe tolerable in a “home” environment, but unacceptable in the commercial world.
  2. Thunderbird has been around for along time.  As a result, it is well sorted out, installs fast with minimal effort, and is stable.  Requires hardly any learning curve to use.
  3. Thunderbird is cross-platform, and works well on our Macs as well as our Linux machines. Having the same mail client on all computers is a good thing.

Here are a few of its features:

  • Easy setup
  • Cross platform
  • Handles virtual identities
  • Easy to import contacts and emails
  • Support for Microsoft Exchange
  • Very good Spam filter
  • Strong encryption
  • Support for certificates
  • RSS reader
  • Many extensions

Download Thunderbird here: https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/thunderbird/

WiseStamp is a powerful email signature. With it, you can direct people to content on your website, “Likes” and “Shares” on social media, and much more. You can customize your email signature to become an advertisement for you. I have different variants for my personal and business emails. WiseStamp is installed as an extension on Thunderbird.

Find out more about WiseStamp: http://www.wisestamp.com/

SendLater is a Thunderbird extension that allows you to send email anytime you want: tomorrow, next week, nest year. From the Developer[7]:

“Send Later” functionality to schedule the time for sendingChanges the “Send Later” command (Ctrl+Shift+Return) in the message composition window, so that instead of merely copying the message into your Outbox so that it is sent the next time you go online or do “Send Unsent Messages”, a dialog pops up which allows you to specify when the message will be sent.

You can specify a specific time and date, or click “15 mins later”, “30 mins later” or “2 hours later”, or click “Put in Outbox” to get the built-in Thunderbird “Send Later” functionality (i.e., copy to Outbox).”

Available through Thunderbird Add-Ons

Graphic/Photo Editing

You can do a lot of pretty cool things with photos and graphics for……well, assuming you already have a computer and printer, nothing. Use these Must-Have Mac OS X Apps to bring out your inner Rembrandt:

Gimp (General Image Manipulation Program) is, in short, a cross-platform full featured graphic editing program. Gimp performs many of the same functions as Photoshop, and depending on how and why you use it, Gimp might will be a very suitable Photoshop replacement (and at a price of “FREE”, it is certainly a lot cheaper than Adobe’s editor). For the Mac, Gimp now installs like any other program (back in the day, installing it required more supporting software, and though it worked OK once installed, the program startup was a bit clumsy). From its developers, here are some of its features[8]:

  • Customizable Interface: Each task requires a different environment and GIMP allows you to customize the view and behavior the way you like it. Starting from the widget theme, allowing you to change colors, widget spacings and icon sizes to custom tool sets in the toolbox. The interface is modulized into so called docks, allowing you to stack them into tabs or keep them open in their own window. Pressing the tab key will toggle them hidden.
  • Photo Enhancement: Numerous digital photo imperfections can be easily compensated for using GIMP. Fix perspective distortion caused by lens tilt simply choosing the corrective mode in the transform tools. Eliminate lens’ barrel distortion and vignetting with a powerful filter but a simple interface.
  • Digital Retouching: GIMP is ideal for advanced photo retouching techniques. Get rid of unneeded details using the clone tool, or touch up minor details easily with the new healing tool. With the perspective clone tool, it’s not difficult to clone objects with perspective in mind just as easily as with the orthogonal clone.
  • Hardware Support: GIMP includes a very unique support for various input devices out of the box. Pressure and tilt sensitive tablets, but also a range of USB or MIDI controllers. You can bind often-used actions to device events such as rotating a USB wheel or moving a MIDI controller’s slider. Change the size, angle or opacity of a brush while you paint, bind your favorite scripts to buttons. Speed up your workflow!
  • File Formats: The file format support ranges from the common likes of JPEG (JFIF), GIF, PNG, TIFF to special use formats such as the multi-resolution and multi-color-depth Windows icon files. The architecture allows to extend GIMP’s format capabilities with a plug-in. You can find some rare format support in the GIMP plugin registry. Thanks to the transparent virtual file system, it is possible to load and save files to from remote locations using protocols such as FTP, HTTP or even SMB (MS Windows shares) and SFTP/SSH. To save disk space, any format can be saved with an archive extension such as ZIP, GZ or BZ2 and GIMP will transparently compress the file without you needing to do any extra steps.
    Supported Platforms:
  • GNU/Linux (i386, PPC)

Microsoft Windows (XP, Vista)
Mac OS X
Sun OpenSolaris

I use both Photoshop and Gimp. Each program has their own strengths to use to your advantage.

Find out more about Gimp and download it here: http://www.gimp.org/features/

Skitch. A lot of the technical writing found in LarryTalksTech makes use of screen-captures. The main tool we use to capture screens is Skitch. The program is a sidekick to the productivity program Evernote, but not worry, Skitch performs on its own very well without any necessary entanglement to its sibling. Skitch has a robust set of editing tools that sets it apart from similar programs; captures full screen, windows, or user defined spaces; and can be exported in many formats. What’s not to like?

Download Skitch from the Mac App Store.

CF/X Watermark Pro Sample
Watermark Pro

Watermark PRO. When we create original artwork and use it an article and/or post it on the net we often watermark the artwork so we are credited with its creation, and to limit it unauthorized reuse. For whatever reason you choose to watermark your work, its hard to find program more up to the task than Watermark PRO. Here are a few of its features[9]:

Text Watermark

Auto-resize for easy editing
Any font, color, style, background color
Smart text support (see below)

Logo Watermark

Use any image as a logo
Automatic crop modes

QRCode Watermark

Up to 4000 characters, self configuring
Instant updates

Map Watermark

Automatically loads location from GPS data embedded in photos
Visually displays direction camera was facing (when heading information is available)
manual and Mac-location supported (requires access to location services enabled)

Line Art

Choose from 6 standard pre-sets to place line art over your images

Smart Text

Text, QRCode and Export can access meta data. Add time stamps or other dynamic information (e.g. Aperture, Modification Date, Lens or Camera) to your photos

Export Module

Use file naming rules to simultaneously watermark, resize and rename your photos
Highly flexible file name scheme that can access EXIF and other metadata
Convert to file formats: JPG, JPG2000, PNG, PDF, PSD, BMP, GIF, TIF
Save as 16-bit image if source was 16 bit
Resize using the following units: percent, pixel, inch, cm
Can create single multi-page PDF

You can get Watermark Pro at the Mac App Store.


These Must-Have Mac OS X Apps will help keep your Mac Running strong, and if you use a terminal to  maintain your Mac, you’ll find a terminal-on-steriods here to help you.

Onyx Rebuild Tab

Onyx is a Swiss Army Knife for OS X maintenance, – an “over the top” system maintenance utility packed with features and tweaks. Here is a link to an article I wrote for LarryTalksTech about this useful and amazing program: http://wp.me/p2J68t-i3

You can download Onyx here: http://www.titanium.free.fr/onyx.html

AppCleaner is a small application which allows you to thoroughly uninstall unwanted apps. Installing an application distributes many files throughout your System using space of your Hard Drive unnecessarily. AppCleaner finds all these small files and safely deletes them. Simply drop an application onto the AppCleaner window. It will find for the related files and you can delete them by clicking the delete button[10].

Simply dragging an app’s icon to the “trash can” does not always remove everything that was installed, and those remnants can be source of problems for you later. AppCleaner solves this problem.

You can download AppCleaner here: http://www.freemacsoft.net/appcleaner/

Iterm2 is a replacement for Mac’s terminal window, and has enough tweaks to bring tears of joy to the eyes of any command-line user. Here are some of its features[11]:

  • Split Panes: Divide a tab up into multiple panes, each one of which shows a different session. You can slice vertically and horizontally and create any number of panes in any imaginable arrangement.
  • Hotkey Window: Register a hotkey that brings iTerm2 to the foreground when you’re in another application. A terminal is always a keypress away. You can choose to have the hotkey open a dedicated window. This gives you an always-available terminal (like Visor, Guake, or Yakuake) at your fingertips.
  • Search: iTerm2 comes with a robust find-on-page feature. The UI stays out of the way. All matches are immediately highlighted. Even regular expression support is offered!
    Autocomplete: Just type the start of any word that has ever appeared in your window and then Cmd-; will pop open a window with suggestions. The word you’re looking for is usually on top of the list!
  • Mouseless Copy: Use the Find feature to begin searching for text. Press tab to expand the selection to the right or shift-tab to expand the selection to the left. Option-enter pastes the current match.
    Paste History: Paste history lets you revisit recently copied or pasted text. You can even opt to have the history saved to disk so it will never be lost.
  • Instant Replay: Instant replay lets you travel back in time. It’s like TiVo for your terminal!
    Configurability: Map any key to any function. Assign separate functions to each option key–or even remap all the modifier keys. You can customize iTerm2’s appearance to suit your needs: enable transparency, background blur, background images, and much more.
  • Readability: Do you lose your cursor when there are lots of different colors or have programs display hard-to-read color combinations? With the Smart Cursor Color and Minimum Contrast features, you can ensure that these problems are gone for good.
  • Mouse Reporting: You can use the mouse to position the cursor, highlight text, and perform other functions in programs like Vim and Emacs with the mouse reporting feature.
  • Growl Support: You can choose to receive Growl notifications of activity, bells, and more. Feel free to let a long job run in the background, secure in the knowledge that you’ll know when it’s done.
  • Exposé Tabs: Like OS X’s Exposé feature, iTerm2 shows all your tabs on one screen. Better yet, you can search through them all at once. Go ahead and open as many tabs as you want–you can always find what you’re looking for.
  • Tagged Profiles: Do you need to store separate configurations for many different hosts? iTerm2 provides a taggable and searchable profiles database so you can easily find the profile you’re looking for.
  • Multi-Lingual, Trigger Support, Performs Smart Selection…..and more.

You can find iTerm2 here: https://iterm2.com/


1. Sophia Antivirus For Mac | http://www.sophos.com/en-us/products/free-tools/sophos-antivirus-for-mac-home-edition.aspx
2. Little Snitch | https://www.obdev.at/products/littlesnitch/index.html
3. Quicksilver | http://qsapp.com/index.php
4. Synergy | http://synergy-project.org/
5. FocusWriter | http://gottcode.org/focuswriter/
6. Wikipedia Apache Open Office | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apache_OpenOffice
7. SendLater | https://addons.mozilla.org/en-us/thunderbird/user/jikamens/
8. Gimp | http://www.gimp.org/features/
9. Watermark Pro |  http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/49032/cf-x-watermark-pro
10. AppCleaner | http://www.freemacsoft.net/appcleaner/
11. iTerm2 | https://iterm2.com/

By prometheus

Husband. Father. Grandfather. World class Geek.

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