There's something exciting about buying a new piece of software, unwrapping the packaging and slipping the disc into your Mac ready to install your new goodies. And, of course, the new Mac App Store has made the process of obtaining new software by a digital download just a few simple mouse clicks.
Whichever method you prefer, the biggest drawback is the money you have to hand over. Forking out for your goods is a necessary evil, and the price of things is usually a good indicator of its quality. But the good news is it's not always that way, especially when it comes to Mac software.
As we will show you, there are many apps available for free that have all the polish and advanced features you would expect from a premium paid-for version, but without the nasty price tag. There are apps that will clean up your hard drive or organise your day-to-day activities. Some even work on your iPhone and iPad, too.
We've presented the best ones below – they're all really fantastic and, best of all, they're all free.
A number of these applications, while still great as a free version, also have more fully featured pro versions. So if you really enjoy one, you can consider spending the extra money.
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Best free Mac media tools
1. Boxee Online
TV channels put a lot of their content online for free, but you usually have to go to their websites to find out what's available. Not with Boxee.
This app lets you browse through episodes of shows from sources such as YouTube, among many others. It also pulls in media from your Mac. The interface can be controlled via the keyboard, an Apple remote or the free Boxee app available for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
It's a doddle to navigate, enabling you to quickly find sports, movies, music or photos to enjoy on your computer. For entertainment on your Mac, Boxee is hard to beat.
BitTorrent clients have received a bad rap over the years for enabling users to download copyrighted material for free. Vuze is no different in this respect. That said, downloading via BitTorrent is not illegal and, should you be accessing legal material, you're fine.
Even better than that, Vuze will act as a media player for most formats and even convert files for playback on your devices, including iPads and games consoles. You can even stream video from Vuze via Wi-Fi to compatible devices such as the Xbox 360, making it more of an ideal media viewing solution than a nuisance to society.
There's been little love lost between Apple and Microsoft over the years, and the same extends to their media formats. The dreaded .WMV (Windows Media Video) file is the scourge of the Mac OS X operating system and will not run natively in QuickTime.
Fortunately, the free Flip4Mac software will eradicate this headache and, once installed, lets you forget about formats and enjoy the video you are after. The WMV player also allows for Windows Media files to play back in Safari as well to help you enjoy a more complete browsing experience. A must-have install to alleviate format folly.
Those looking to bring their movie collection into the modern world should certainly consider HandBrake for all their ripping needs. This simple app can grab a movie from DVD and encode it into a variety of formats for playback on your Mac, iPhone or iPad.
Those with the new Apple TV will also be able to create compatible files from their movie discs and add them to iTunes without having to fiddle around with DVD players and tons of cases. The app can even retain the chapter selection features and subtitles of your original disc.
While ripping a DVD to your Mac can take some time (and please respect copyright) if handled right, the outcome makes accessing your entertainment a great deal easier. The latest version of HandBrake introduces a live preview feature that allows you to check the quality of your rip before committing to hours of encoding too. You can also use HandBrake to convert video files into different formats.
Spotify came from out of nowhere and took the music lovers of Europe by storm. This is streaming music done right. This service is free to those who can handle an advert every three songs or so. It offers a catalogue of more than 10 million songs of all genres, which stream instantly through the Spotify app.
It can also link to your iTunes library so all of your favourite tracks are in one place. You can log in from multiple Macs using your Spotify account, create playlists, share music with friends and more.
One of our favourite features is the innovative collaborative playlist, where your friends can add tracks over the internet for you to listen to. If you wish, you can pay to upgrade Spotify to a premium account, at which point you become ad-free.
And for £9.99 per month you can even have the same service on your iPhone with music stored for offline playback.
VLC is one of those apps you can turn to if QuickTime and other media-playing apps won't work with a media format you want to use. Initially, you might wonder why you'll ever need this app, but if you ever stray beyond the bounds of the iTunes Store and download video from another online source, you're more than likely to encounter a problem – that is, it's not playing properly in iTunes or QuickTime.
Converting the video with HandBrake is always an option, but, to be honest, using VLC is simply quicker. The app can handle DVD playback as well as more obscure formats that crop up from time to time.
Files that are missing pieces or broken can still be played in VLC to the best of its ability and it provides a wealth of codecs to help your Mac handle all kinds of media file formats.
VLC is an application that every Mac user should have installed for when their media won't behave.
Social apps for Mac
The Address Book app on your Mac is great for organising contacts and syncing them to your iPhone. However, the problem is with so many contacts held, continually adding information and profile pictures can become a time-consuming task.
AddressBookSync is an ingenious tool that connects to your Facebook account to pull in your friends' birthday info as well as images from their accounts into your Mac's Address Book. This is particularly handy for iPhone users with images appearing on screen when a contact is calling.
The chances are you have an account for more than one instant messaging client. With so many available from iChat to Windows Messenger through Google Chat and Yahoo! it's not surprising.
So, do you leave all of these clients open and consuming memory or do you find an all-in-one solution? If you want the latter, Adium is your app.
Compatible with more IM clients than you probably knew existed, Adium combines all your accounts into one easy-to-use solution so you can keep in touch with all your contacts regardless of the service they are using.
This is the official Twitter app for Mac (opens in new tab). It was launched at the same time as the new Mac App Store, and quickly became the most popular download there. To get it you'll need to have the Mac App Store installed (which means you'll need to be running OS X 10.6 and have installed the latest system updates).
Unlike other Twitter clients, Twitter offers a very OS X-friendly environment without skimping on the features you need to enjoy your 140-character fix.
A particularly great feature is that you can view all tweets in a conversation simply by double-clicking on the main tweet. You can also search for trending topics and use multiple accounts within the same app.
Composing a new tweet is now made far easier with the Compose window that floats outside the interface, ready for you to type your thoughts. If you want to add an image to your tweet simply drag and drop it into the new tweet window.
You can select which image hosting service you use from the Preferences pane, and also which URL-shortening service the Twitter app will use. You can also get the official Twitter app for iPad and iPhone to complete your Twitter experience wherever you are in the world.
Skype (opens in new tab) isn't a new service but the way it has developed over the years keeps it incredibly useful. The premise is simple, with an internet connection and a copy of the free software installed, you can talk to anyone on Skype via audio or video chat. And you can even swap files, create conference calls or simply chat via instant messaging.
For an additional fee, you can add voicemail to your account and even call mobiles and landlines if you wish.
Whatever you're doing in life there are things you need to remember, be they pictures, notes, websites or sounds. Evernote (opens in new tab) provides a place to store your ideas, plans and reminders.
Using cloud-based storage, the Mac app syncs with your iPhone and iPad, as well as any other computer to keep your notes close to hand whenever you need them. Unique search features allow you to dig out anything you've stored and it can even recognise handwritten docs.
This app not only organises your notes, photos, screenshots and more, but you can add custom tags to make things easier to search.
Have you ever had a bunch of files in a folder and then discovered you need to rename each one? For a renaming task that comprises more than ten files or more it can become a very dull and repetitive task.
And that's where r-name comes in. It's a simple, free app that allows files and folders to be dropped in and renamed in any way you require. Ideal for photos or television series, this app will save a great deal of time.
While it's easy to burn a CD or DVD from within Mac OS X, Burn brings simplicity, as well as advanced options to the task. For example, it allows you to set which file system your disc will use so Windows owners can access files.
It can create audio CDs and MP3 discs, and caters for DVD, VideoCD and DivX discs. An Inspector tool allows you to change settings on your disc such as file permissions, dates and the icon.
14. Carbon Copy Cloner
Everyone talks about backing up their computer files, but how many of us are committed to doing it properly?
Carbon Copy Cloner makes it easy to back up your system but to move it to another Mac or larger hard drive without having to reinstall the OS. It even offers incremental backups, which only updates files that have changed since you last ran the software.
Considering this is a free application, it's an absolute powerhouse for any Mac user who wants security for their system and flexibility for their hardware.