Scads of Free Software for the Mac
If you think podcasts are only put out by over-the-edge vegans and corporate executives with every word approved by a public relations committee, check again. Whatever niche topic you're craving information on -- business or personal -- probably is represented among the hundreds of thousands of podcasts now available. Podcasts are among scads of free offerings that heighten a Mac user's experience.
Sure, we all know about the highest profile open source applications available for the Mac operating system. Firefox probably jumps to mind first, followed closely by its e-mail partner, Thunderbird.
However, worthwhile as they are, applications whose development is supported by the Mozilla Foundation are just a small piece of the Mac freeware movement.
Open source and freeware developers are coming forward with a whole host of apps -- big and small -- for the Mac faithful to use for free or at very low cost. If you need a way to export your Address Book contacts for import into Google's Gmail, you can find it. Looking for a down-and-dirty family tree program? It's out there. Here are a few of those that solve problems many Mac users experience. You can find scads more by typing "free Mac software" into your favorite search engine.
All Together Now
However, AIM isn't the only game in town. Enter Adium, a free instant messaging application for Mac OS X that can connect to AIM, MSN, Jabber, Yahoo and other chat platforms -- even some of those used by large corporations, such as Lotus Sametime.
Users can sign onto as many chat services as they wish with Adium, although you'll have to sign up for a particular service if you want to chat with other people who use it (that is, you won't be able to chat with Yahoo users unless you have a Yahoo chat account).
The beauty of the application is that it brings all your chatting into one interface -- a relief for those of us that interact with people at a variety of organizations and therefore use several chat services every day. Interestingly, Adium served as a mentor organization for Google's Summer of Code 2006, hosting six students who contributed significant development work to the project.
Leave it to a former Apple employee to solve one of the Mac OS's annoying little problems. Usually, the Sleep feature of OS X is a welcome help to those of us who forget to close our PowerBooks or power down our desktop machines.
However, let's say that you're burning DVDs of your company's newest promotional video (or your family vacation pictures) and want to walk away from the computer for awhile. Your choices are to mess around with your Mac's sleep settings, which is not very convenient and must be reversed when you go back into "always-forgetting-to-sign-off" mode, or to find a way to keep your Mac awake.
Ben Haller, founder and sole developer at Stick Software, has the solution for us. His freeware application Jiggler moves the Mac's mouse periodically to keep it from going into sleep mode; it also keeps the screen saver from launching.
The tool knows if you've been using the mouse, so it won't jump in when you're working and jog you to another cell in your spreadsheet. You can also set it to jiggle only when a blank CD or DVD is in the drive or only when playing music through iTunes, making it customizable to your specific headache moments.
In the Loop
A few years ago, only the most hard-core blog and news addicts even knew what RSS was. Now, really simple syndication is the de facto standard for scanning news outlets and learning when new content hits a site. For some time, NetNewsWire has been one of the most popular dedicated RSS newsreader applications available for Macs. The full version costs a mere US$29.95, and many a heavy Internet reader wouldn't be without it.
Some Mac users don't know, though, that NewsGator Technologies, maker of NetNewsWire and several enterprise-class RSS utilities, also distributes a version of NetNewsWire for free. Called "NetNewsWire Lite," the application reads news feeds in a variety of formats, including RSS alternative Atom.
OpenOffice for the Rest of Us
OpenOffice's open source project bringing the full functionality of a multi-application productivity suite to the masses certainly has generated buzz. However, Mac users -- in addition to struggling with our own issues with releases of the proprietary Microsoft Office suite on the Mac platform itself -- took a back seat in the office suite push.
Now, volunteers with experience on the OpenOffice project (but not with Sun Microsystems' funding provided to the OpenOffice project) have ported the entire OpenOffice suite to Mac OS X.
However, this is definitely a case of "user beware." The developers state right in the FAQ document that bugs continue to be found in NeoOffice -- both little ones and very big ones that can cause the applications to crash.
If you're a shrink-wrap devotee who likes to have an 800 number to call with questions 24 hours a day, this is not the suite for you. However, if you're a die-hard supporter of open source alternatives to ubiquitous Microsoft Word and Excel, you'll find that NeoOffice does indeed open and edit files created in those applications.
Of course, no listing of free software available for the Mac can ignore the big daddy of them all: iTunes. Available from Apple itself, iTunes is distributed in both Mac OS and Windows versions. Sure, you can connect to the iTunes Store and buy music with it, but you also can do plenty of fun stuff with it for free.
Podcasts, for example, are proliferating, and many are available through the iTunes service for no charge. Click on the "Podcasts" link in the iTunes Store main menu and then choose the "Power Search" option from the box on the right side of the screen.
You can search for shows by title, topic or keyword. If you think podcasts are only put out by over-the-edge vegans (watch it, I'm a vegetarian) and corporate executives with every word approved by a public relations committee, check again. Whatever niche topic you're craving information on -- business or personal -- probably is represented among the hundreds of thousands of podcasts now available.
Read All About It
If you like audiobooks, you should know about a project endeavoring to make those public domain books archived by Project Gutenberg available as audio files for free. Librivox.org has a large group of volunteers reading chapters and entire works into audio files and uploading them as MP3 files and podcasts in addition to a variety of other formats.
To use Librivox recordings from within iTunes, click on the "Subscribe in iTunes" link from the main page for any work in the Librivox catalog. (My current favorite is Edith Wharton's "The Age of Innocence," read by Brenda Dayne.) Go download a few books and listen to them while you're installing your new free software.