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Cool Free Mac Apps

November 29th, 2006

Here are some applications for the Mac that I find myself using quite a bit. In no particular order:


This little app helps you with all the other apps. There are only so many apps you may want in your Dock, and there will be a lot more apps you will want to use. Tired of searching for them in your Applications folder, or wherever you stashed them? Namely will help you open them right quick. Just type the keyboard shortcut you chose for Namely (I have it set to Option-Escape), then start typing in any part of the app’s name. Namely will create a list of apps with the text string in their name (like the illustration at top right demonstrates). If the app you want is highlighted at the top of the list, just hit “Return” (or “Enter”) and the app will start. If the app is not at the top, either keep typing to eliminate the others, or just use the down arrow to get to the app you want and again hit “Return.” Namely becomes invisible when it is not the active application, so it never gets in the way. You can set it to launch at startup so you never have to think about it. You can set the keyboard shortcut it uses from the preferences, and you can even set the color of the search bar. A very small but useful app.

Tunes IconYou Control iTunes

Ycit-BtnsI’ve never been a fan of the multitudinous iTunes controllers–and will admit right up front that I’ve tried very few–but You Control iTunes is a very nice one, one I’ve come to like a lot. It resides in your menu bar, so it doesn’t intrude on your screen space. But in the four little buttons it puts there, you can play/pause, go back or forward in the playlist, or get drop-down menus that allow control of just about any aspect of iTunes. You can even customize the appearance of the buttons in your menu bar, choosing the best style and color from a long list provided within the app. YCiT also allows for an “overlay” to appear anywhere you want on the screen when a new song starts, showing the Song title, album title, artist, song duration, and even album art (if it’s in iTunes). And there are a ton of preferences you can set about what appears and does not appear and how it will appear; it is comfortably customizable. A very well-designed and unobtrusive app that tries harder to help you than it does to impress you with how slick the programmer is. The app is free, though you do have to get a registration code from the web site and enter it into the app.

Skype LogoSkype

Yes, I know that you know about Skype. Did you know that the Mac version with video conferencing is available? And that version 2.0 is out of beta? There’s even a new beta (v. 2.5) which allows for audio conference calls between up to 10 people (yourself and 9 others; video is still limited to two people). Skype works well between Macs and PCs, and allows you to conference by text, audio, and video chat, and it’s all free, so long as it’s computer-to-computer. You can also opt to pay for the ability to dial any telephone in the world, for prices cheaper than most if not all other call plans.

Also, Skype’s audio quality is much better than standard, it seems. My dad and I tried Skype as well as Apple’s iChat and AIM, and of the three, Skype’s audio quality stood out tremendously. So if you thought Skype for Mac wasn’t ready yet, it is–go get it.


For those of you studying Japanese: JEDict is the best Mac client for Monash University’s public and free J-E/E-J Kanji dictionary database. The app will serve as a humble Japanese/English and Kanji dictionary, allowing for standard lookup and Kanji finding by radical or term search. It’s not a really detailed dictionary–“definitions” are mainly lists of synonymous words, and there are no examples of use–but it will serve in most cases, or at least help some. The ability of the app to automatically insert whatever is in the clipboard to the search window is a nice feature. Version 4 is a nice upgrade to the interface. And it’s the best dictionary you’re likely to get for free!


Onyx is an excellent free app that will allow you to set preferences in your system that Apple has made possible but has not provided the interface for. You can show/hide invisible files and folders, turn off Finder animations and Dock special effects that might take up unnecessary CPU time, and change Dock preferences Apple doesn’t let you do (like aligning the dock to one side, or even putting it at the top of your screen!). You can change the scroll bar arrows, change the file format for screen captures, and even deactivate the Dashboard if it irritates you–or you can enable it’s “Developer mode,” which lets widgets exist outside the Dashboard. You can also do a lot more stuff that you might not even understand, including regular (and automated) maintenance, like repairing permissions. TinkerTool is an easy-to-use but powerful little utility that’ll let you customize your Mac even more. It does more than the free version of TinkerTool–more similar to TinkerTool’s big brother, which costs money.

Burn IconBurn

Want to burn CDs and DVDs just like Toast, but don’t want to buy or pirate Toast? Burn is a great secondary option. It gives you most of what you’re likely to use in Toast, but in a nice, free, open-source package. Make Data discs, Audio CDs or MP3 DVDs, make video discs as VCDs, SVCDs, DVDs, or DivX discs, and burn disc images on discs. The interface is simple, simpler than Toast. And while it may not have all the features you may want, it certainly has enough–as a free app!–to be useful.

Burn is one of a multitude of different apps on SourceForge, a haven for open-source software projects.


This is an app that I just found, but it seems to work and I plan to use it a lot. Aurora is an alarm clock for your Mac, using iTunes to wake you up. Like You Control iTunes, Aurora is one of many such apps, but I like this one now that I’ve found it. I haven’t tried too many others, but the ones I did try out, I never really liked that much, and some I couldn’t get to work right. Aurora works, and works well.

You can set any number of alarms that will activate at the days and times you set (you can select any and/or all of the days of the week, and set them to recur), even waking the Mac from sleep or even starting up the Mac if it is powered off (I haven’t tried that last one yet). You can set the Playlist that will start up, how the volume is handled, and what window will come to the front when the alarm goes off.

Vlc-IconVideoLAN – VLC Media Player

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this one before as well, but it’s a great app that you should use (including Windows users). It’s a media player that plays a lot more different file types than almost any other player out there. It still can’t handle Real Player files, but just about anything else is game, including DVDs. In fact, depending on the DVD drive in your computer, it might even be able to play DVDs from any region. It’s also unobtrusive and simple in design. There is one feature it lacks which I wish it didn’t: the ability to move frame-by-frame using the arrow keys (or by any means at all, as far as I can figure out). Other than that, it’s golden–and you should have it handy even if you prefer another media player, just in case you come up against something you can’t play otherwise.

QuickTime Video Playback Enablers

If you really like QuickTime and don’t want to abandon it, then here are two system add-ons which will make WMV and DivX files play in QuickTime, something they cannot do normally. The first is Flip4Mac, which will enable Windows Media Video files in QuickTime. The free version allows you to play the files and save them for playback on your Mac, but you can’t export as a different file type, even in QT Pro–that requires a paid version. But the free version will allow you to see any of these files, and it will even work inline within your browsers; it is a system extension which shows up in your System Preferences pane.

The second one is Perian, an open-source plug-in for the QuickTime player that enables it to play AVIs, Flash files, and a lot more.

There are a lot more apps I could list, but I’ll stop there for now. If you know of better apps than these, add your input in the comments; otherwise, just enjoy!

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  1. Antonio
    November 30th, 2006 at 01:43 | #1

    Onyx, Burn and Aurora look interesting. I’ll have to check them out. Flip4Mac is probably the thing I use most in your list. They have a new DVD archive program that enables you to store and playback all your DVD’s. It’s called Drive In. I think it will eventually be something you have to pay for, but they have a free beta version now at their web site.
    One other thing I find usefull for posting pictures is Gallerie. Free and excellent.

  2. November 30th, 2006 at 13:54 | #2

    You make me want a Mac more and more…you bastard! :-p

  3. November 30th, 2006 at 23:52 | #3

    Thanks for the list, Luis!

    I’ve been enjoying my recently acquired MacBook a lot, but I have to confess that it hasn’t been quite the life-altering experience I was led to expect. As a long-time Linux user, I can say that the UI is more polished on the Mac, but in some ways the constraints of the UI make it more difficult to use than Linux.

    Anyway, off I go to download JEDict, only to discover that it doesn’t download properly when clicking on the link that reads “JEDict 4.3”. Sigh. Apparently I need to right-click to get a “save link as…” type of shortcut menu to appear, but the MacBook only has one button under its trackpad.

    Would you mind explaining to me how Macs are supposed to be so hassle-free again? 😉

  4. Luis
    December 1st, 2006 at 00:00 | #4


    Probably a lot of what you’re frustrated by is not that the Mac can’t do something, but that it doesn’t act in the way you have become accustomed to work. You just don’t know how to do the Mac stuff yet. For example, you can right-click on a MacBook using the trackpad only; set two fingers down on the trackpad, and then lift up and tap the right finger while the left finger stays in place. A pop-up menu should appear.


    As for the download, that may be something else–I downloaded the same thing just yesterday (I had been using a prior version) and downloaded it without incident. How exactly did it not download properly? BTW, don’t be shy about emailing me when you hit a little snag like these ones.

  5. December 1st, 2006 at 05:57 | #5

    Probably a lot of what you’re frustrated by is not that the Mac can’t do something, but that it doesn’t act in the way you have become accustomed to work. You just don’t know how to do the Mac stuff yet.

    Sure, that’s certainly true. I’m not complaining that the Mac isn’t a capable platform, just that many of the default settings and/or things that you need to do to accomplish simple tasks seem somewhat counterintuitive—at least to me, at this stage. The right-clicking with the trackpad is actually a fairly good example. Upon reading your description, I found myself thinking, “And this is better than having a separate button because…two-finger trackpad tapping (after changing system preferences?) is so universally understood?”

    How exactly did it not download properly?

    Clicking the download link like you would any other link does not start downloading the file to the Mac hard disk, as my settings (in Firefox) specify, but instead seems to attempt to display the content of the JEDict43.dmg file in the browser, which ends up producing a lot of what looks like mojibake on the screen, but no file to save. :-(

    BTW, don’t be shy about emailing me when you hit a little snag like these ones.

    Thanks, Luis! Expect a long-ish e-mail from me soon. 😉

  6. December 1st, 2006 at 11:50 | #6

    why use namely when spotlight is built in and does the same thing and more.

    but thx for another good post. as usual, i appreciate your thoroughness.

  7. Luis
    December 1st, 2006 at 12:31 | #7

    “Counterintuitive” is a tricky concept when you’ve been trained in a different OS–after becoming so used to Windows, “intuitive” is pretty much equal to “how it’s done in Windows.” In using the qword to describe the Mac, I would use the word “intuitive” to describe how a person untrained in another OS might see things–and I would not claim that every Mac OS feature is intuitive. The right-click is an especially poor example of intuitiveness because it hits one one one Steve Jobs’ personal quirks against having a second button, so they have these work-arounds.

    Nevertheless, the double-finger tap is something that, I believe, if you were to use for a while, you would prefer quite a bit to using the right-button-click. It means you don’t have to move your fingers to the button or apply pressure or worry about which button you’re hitting. If you were to have been trained in the double-finger-tap on the Mac, and then moved to a Windows computer and had to learn the right-button-click, you’d probably be thinking, “why doesn’t Windows just use the trackpad move? It makes a lot more sense…”

    Another Mac trackpad move that I like: trackpad scrolling. You can drag two fingers along the trackpad to scroll in any windows, including left-and-right.

    As for the JEDict download, I noticed that this happens only in Firefox, not in Safari. Ergo, it’s not necessarily a Mac thing, but possibly a bug in Safari. I have noticed it before when using Mozilla browsers.

    You might want to switch to Safari, especially with the use of PithHelmet and SafariStand, which help it enormously. I’ll probably blog on those soon.

  8. Luis
    December 1st, 2006 at 12:34 | #8


    Yes, I know Spotlight can do the job, but it is unwieldily for the purpose. It won’t just find the app, it’ll find every file with that string in either the title or the content. A Spotlight search for “photo” only got my Photoshop, but not PhotoBooth or iPhoto or any of the other many apps I have with the word “photo” in their names. Yes, in Spotlight I could then “show all” in a new window and sort by type, but even then if the app were not in the top 5, I’d have to expand that list. Spotlight is good so far for a general search tool, but it is not good for searching and opening apps only. Namely is free, convenient, and specialized for apps. Why not use it?

  9. September 9th, 2007 at 16:28 | #9

    Okay, after having had the MacBook for nearly a whole friggin’ year now (has it really been that long already?), I finally set up JEDict today. It works nicely. Thanks, Luis! 😉

  10. Luis
    September 9th, 2007 at 18:23 | #10

    Better late than never! Cheers, and enjoy!

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