In the current climate of belt tightening, shelling out cash for software or services like online storage may well be luxuries you can't afford. Or, you may prefer using free software from small or independent developers regardless of your finances.
Here's part one of our Mac money-savers. In part two, we'll reveal a dozen must-have free programs for your Mac.
Free stuff from Apple!
You can get a number of things for free from Apple, and, crucially, they're worth having. We're not just talking about software, either. For example, in Apple Stores you can go to any Mac on display and go online for free, check your emails and even log in to iChat or MSN and have a conversation.
The same goes for using other Apple stuff, and you can generally pick up an iPod or iPhone and try before you buy. In the bigger Apple Stores there are even seating areas where you can take your laptop, plug it in and use its WiFi.
The iTunes Store has been phenomenally successful as a way to buy music and movies, and quite often you can get free content through it as well. Podcasts are always free, but sometimes bands will make a track or a music video available as a free download as a way of promoting other material. Generally they're only free for a limited time and there can be geographical restrictions.
There are also weekly promotions, such as free music Tuesdays, where between one and three songs can be freely downloaded by logged-in users. More recently with the launch of the App Store in iTunes, you can also download a host of free games and applications for your iPhone or iPod touch. These are helpfully gathered together in a section you can access by clicking the All Free Applications link in the App Store.
Some developers of more advanced App Store applications also tend to make their products free for a limited time to boost popularity, then revert to charging a nominal fee after a set period of time.
There's also a link to iTunes U, which lets you download thousands of pieces of educational content such as lectures and videos on a wide range of subjects from universities and thinkers across the world.
iLife has come free with all new Macs for a good few years, and it's a fantastic suite of programs. When Apple released iLife '08, the company found that some people weren't as keen on the new version of iMovie as the older iMovie 6 HD, as it has a very different way of working.
So Apple made iMovie 6 HD available as a free download for those who have a copy of iMovie '08. It can be downloaded from www.apple.com/support/downloads/imovieHD6.html and has much lower system requirements.
Apple also makes thousands of free widgets available for you to run in Dashboard and enhance your system. They can be found at www.apple.com/downloads/dashboard sorted by category with a typically slick Apple interface and a Top Widgets list to help you see the most popular.
On the Apple Downloads site you'll also find categories of applications, many of which are free, and also freeware plug-ins for apps like Aperture, Final Cut and music software as well as demo versions of some programs like Aperture.
If you're buying from Apple, you may well find that in its online store there are usually special offers on where, for example, you might get heavy discounts on a printer when bought with a Mac. Students or those working in education often do even better as there are frequently special offers, like a free iPod when you buy a laptop.
MobileMe and movie trailers
Apple has recently revamped its .Mac service into MobileMe, and as before you can get a trial membership to test out what it has to offer before committing yourself. You get a restricted amount of storage rather than the full 20GB that comes with a full membership, but all the syncing features should work, and you're not obliged to buy a full membership once the trial is over.
You are also able to use iCal's Publish to web server feature to share your calendars for free on www.icalx.com and there's the option to password protect them as well. Apple also offers free tutorials on its website for various products and services, including iLife, MobileMe and iWork. As you'd expect from Apple these tend to be slick, easy to follow and conducted in relaxed Californian voices.
Apple has for years been offering free movie trailers online. There's nothing too revolutionary about that, but thanks to its server capacity it can offer HD versions of trailers, and provided you have a fast broadband connection you'll be able to watch them at very high quality.
Front Row and Apple TV are also able to hook directly into the trailer streams so you don't have to watch them through a browser.
Office software is something that most people use frequently, whether it's letter writing, making presentations or creating spreadsheets.
The most widely used in this arena are Microsoft Office and Apple iWork, but these both cost. OpenOffice.org is a fully-featured suite of office programs replicating the extensive functionality of its commercial rivals and able to save and load documents in a variety of formats.
It features applications called Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw and Base to cover all the tasks you may need to perform. There's also a good selection of add-ons and extensions to enhance its functionality. Its system requirements are amazingly low and it will run on a G4 400MHz with 256MB of RAM, which is far lower than most comparable suites.
The only problem with OpenOffice.org is that since it wasn't originally written for the Mac, you need the X11 windowing system installed, which it can do for you. Another issue is its appearance; it's Windows-like and lacks the finesse of Mac programs.
The solution to this is to try NeoOffice, a port of OpenOffice.org that integrates much better into OS X and has a slicker, more Mac-like look and feel. It even adds to the functionality with Mac-specific features like media browser support, horizontal scroll wheel support and more.
Adobe Photoshop is the leading image- editing program on the market, but even its basic version still costs. Instead, check out GIMP. It has many of the features of Photoshop including image retouching, batch processing, format conversion and more.
There's an active community writing free plug-ins and you can view online tutorials to get a sense of what it's capable of. Adobe CS3, of which Photoshop is a part, is powerful but expensive. For some of its components there are free alternatives.
Dreamweaver, for example, is a heavyweight web design and development application. For a free solution, try Kompozer. It doesn't have all the features of Dreamweaver, but it's lightweight and supports the easy creation of forms, tables and HTML and has an FTP client built in.
If you like to use Illustrator to create graphics but think it's expensive, Inkscape is worth a look. It's an open source vector graphics editor with an advanced set of tools for creating and manipulating vector graphics.
Anyone working with DTP or layout will have heard of QuarkXPress or InDesign, but will also know that they're not cheap. Scribus enables you to create great-looking documents in a similar way. It has publishing features like CMYK colour, separations, ICC colour management and the ability to create PDF files.
Budget movie making
iMovie is a great video-editing package, if a little limited compared to something like Final Cut Pro or even Final Cut Express, though they cost money, of course.
Jahshaka is an open source video editing and compositing tool that runs on a number of platforms. As well as editing video, it lets you create special effects, animate objects on film, paint on moving pictures, create music and work at multiple resolutions in different formats. It doesn't feel particularly Mac-like, but free applications with this functionality are few and far between.
Another great video app is MPEG Streamclip, which functions like Apple's Compressor that you normally only get with Final Cut. It's a video convertor, player and editor and can encode video files to multiple formats including iPod. It can also cut, trim and join movies and download video from YouTube and Google Video.
The only drawback with some of these ports of open source software is that they require X11. You can find this on your OS X install DVD. See http://xquartz.macosforge.org/trac/wiki/X112.3.0 for more.
Online storage is getting more and more popular as a backup method. Despite the many home broadband connections having slower upload speeds than download, it's still possible to transfer data upstream in a reasonable time. Also, the storage capacities of server farms has increased massively as hard drives have become bigger and cheaper.
Apple's iDisk is integrated into Finder, so if you do have MobileMe you can jump straight to it. However, there are alternatives. GMX Mail is primarily a free email service but also offers free online file storage.
You get 1GB of space for any kinds of files, protected by a secure SSL connection. Access is via a browser so you can get at your files from any computer with a net connection. By creating an alias to the drive you can access it easily from the Desktop.
ADrive offers a huge 50GB of storage space with its basic account, works through a browser and supports OS X. It also allows file sharing, folder uploads and features an online document editor, which claims to let you edit word documents online without having to save files locally before opening them.
Xdrive offers a similar package with 5GB storage space. The downloadable tools are Windows only but you can still perform uploads and downloads via a browser. Humyo offers 30GB of space with the basic free plan as well as mobile phone access, but no encrypted transfer. All of these plans feature an upgrade option of some sort that gives you more space and features.
Some online services are more focused on backup than file sharing, and a good example is iDrive. With low system requirements, it features a downloadable application with scheduling and logging features specially for the Mac as well as a Finder plug-in.
The software features incremental backups so only changed files are copied, data compression for faster transfers, 128-bit SSL encryption, automatic backup of key folders, snapshots, bandwidth throttling and a facility to power off the Mac after a backup completes.
The Finder plug-in gives you drag and drop access to your 2GB of online space with a basic account, or you can upgrade to get 150GB for just $5 (£2.50) a month. You may also want to look at Mozy which gives you 2GB of free space and a downloadable backup program for Mac that also features strong encryption, scheduling and incremental backup.
Free email has been around for a while, but the amount of storage you get is now incredible. Gmail has an ever-increasing upper limit and is now up at around 7GB for every standard, free mail account. Even Hotmail, which for a long time lagged behind in the storage stakes, now offers 5GB. Gmail's spam filtering is very good and it offers some handy tools like forwarding and aliases.
Google, in its quest for world domination, also offers Google Docs, a suite of tools which lets you create and store documents online. You can also upload documents from your Desktop and work on them, collaborating with others.
There's online chatting so you can work on documents at the same time, logging of who did what, virtual online storage, and the ability to save a copy back to your local machine. Google also offers a broader suite of services for free and tools including Google Calendar, Sites and Talk.
iLife can upload pictures and movies to MobileMe, but there are free alternatives. There's Flickr.com, of course, and a number of tools to upload images directly to it from iPhoto as well as batch editing them prior to upload. jUploadr is a great example.
For image hosting, www.picturetrail.com supports all kinds of tricks like sending digital postcards, site statistics and privacy options. Photobucket is similar and can also host videos, as can www.zippyvideos.com.
The most obvious way to create an online video channel is to use YouTube, though you are at the mercy of the default compression settings which can look blocky, and also a size and length limit on each individual video.
GarageBand is adept at creating podcasts as well as music but if you don't have a MobileMe account, you can host them online for free. www.podbean.com features the possibility to make some money from advertising if your podcast is popular, and www.mypodcast.com offers unlimited storage and bandwidth as well as templates to get you started. As soon as a podcast becomes popular it will use tons of bandwidth as it is downloaded, so finding free hosting is essential.
Finally, it's fairly easy to find free web hosting. If you have home broadband, the chances are you have some free web space. The only problem is the URL will be a little clumsy, as it will probably incorporate the name of your ISP.
There are many companies that will host your site for free if you buy a domain through them, or if you refer a friend, such as www.doteasy.com. An alternative would be to buy a domain but point it towards your free, ISP-provided web space, which is the cheapest way to host a site.
First published in MacFormat, Issue 201