Free Alternatives to 10 Popular Commercial Mac Applications

Jackson Chung 17-09-2008

free apps for macs We all love free apps. MakeUseOf is all about free apps! Why pay for certain applications when you can get another which works almost (or just) as well for free? While there are a few applications which have no free counterparts, you can most definitely find a majority of others which carry one or several alternatives that performs about the same tasks; and it won’t burn a hole in your pocket!


For your convenience, I’ve managed to gather a short list of the most frequently used Mac applications and provided a free counterpart for each of them. Hopefully, they’ll serve you as well as the paid versions.

This is MakeUseOf’s edition of Software for Starving Students.

Commercial app #1: AppZapper $12.95

AppZapper is an uninstaller. Mac applications are very simple to install: it’s a straightforward click-and-drag over to the ‘Applications’ folder. Uninstallation is supposedly just the same, dragging the application to Trash. But there are always remnants of the application in System and Preferences folders. An uninstaller finds these remnants and removes them as well. AppZapper is the best in the game.

Free counterpart: AppCleaner
There are hardly any noticable differences between these two applications, even if you put them side by side. AppCleaner works just as well as AppZapper.

appzapper mac


Commercial app #2: Parallels Desktop for Mac $79.99

Parallels Desktop for Mac is a virtualization program which enables installation of multiple operating systems in a virtual environment. Use this to install Windows, Linux or any other OS while running Mac OS X at the same time.

Free Alternatives to 10 Popular Commercial Mac Applications vbox logo3

Free counterpart: VirtualBox

Jason has covered this program in great detail. Check out his post 1 Free Program to Run Windows on your Mac Read More to learn more about using VirtualBox and what it has to offer.


Commercial app #3: Xslimmer $12.95

Xslimmer is a program which removes unnecessary architecture from Universal Binaries. Because of Apple’s transition to Intel, developers had to make their programs cater for both PPC and Intel processors. It will also remove unwanted localization (language) files to drastically reduce the amount of space used by the application.

Free counterparts: TrimTheFat, Monolingual
TrimTheFat will only remove the PPC architecture from applications leaving the Intel side of it. Then use Monolingual to remove unwanted languages. Monolingual can also remove unneeded architecture but this feature is very unpolished and there are some reports that Monolingual causes severe damage to Intel Macs. Do not use Monolingual for that purpose, although removing languages works without a glitch. So, two free apps to replace Xslimmer’s functions. Using these two applications, you can very well free up several gigabytes.

xslimmer mac

Commercial app #4: CoverSutra 14.95€

CoverSutra is an iTunes controller and scrobbler which provides a beautiful album art jewel case on the desktop. But 14.95€ is too much money to pay for something which will only help me control my music.


Free counterpart: GimmeSomeTunecoversutra mac
Although GimmeSomeTune is free, in many ways it could possibly be better than CoverSutra. GimmeSomeTune can automatically fetch album artwork and lyrics, scrobble to and has global hotkeys to control almost every aspect of iTunes.

Commercial app #5: $29.95

TextExpander allows you to use customized abbreviations to “expand” frequently used phrases and text-strings. This application is valuable when you are always finding yourself typing the same line of text repeatedly such as in HTML editing.rapidowrite

Free counterpart: RapidoWrite
I honestly can’t tell the difference between TextExpander and RapidoWrite. To pay or not to pay?

Commercial app #6: Awaken [Broken URL Removed] $12.95

Awaken is an iTunes alarm, when it goes off, it will play a preset playlist. It can also be set to sleep your Mac after a certain time period is over, allowing you to listen to music while drifting off into slumber.


Free counterparts: iTunes Alarm, iTaf
I’ve covered this topic of alarms for iTunes before. iTunes Alarm and iTaf are very capable to perform the same tasks as Awaken, perhaps even more!

itunes alarm clock

Commercial app #7: iWork $79, Office 2008 for Mac [Broken URL Removed] (Home and Student Edition) $149.95

I’m sure we all know what Office 2008 is. iWork is the Mac productivity suite which comprises of Pages (word processor), Numbers (spreadsheet) and Keynote (presentation).

Free counterpart: NeoOfficeneooffice for mac
NeoOffice is a full set of office applications and is a port of OpenOffice created specifically for Mac OS X. Some may argue that the interface is not as polished as it could be but we’re looking for productivity here. NeoOffice has just been recently updated and performs quicker among other enhancements. If what you’re looking for is a capable word processor (which is the most often used application within a productivity suite), why bother paying so much when NeoOffice is free?

Commercial app #8: Paragon NTFS for Mac OS X $39.95

If you are in a community where you’ll get exposed to a Windows NTFS formatted hard disk (like student life), you’ll definitely need to have NTFS support on your Mac. One method to do this is to buy Paragon NTFS. The other way is completely free!macfuse

Free counterpart: NTFS-3G with MacFUSE
I’ve explained how to use NTFS-3G in my first Macnifying OS X post Macnifying OS X: Introduction and working with NTFS Drives Read More . The NTFS-3G project has come a long way since it first started. The driver is pretty stable now and there is even a ublio version for better performance.

Commercial app #9: Photoshop CS3 $649

Photoshop is an image editing tool which is incredibly successful because it is simply so capable.

Free counterpart:
Right, this is a very touchy topic. So, let’s get this straight: No free application will ever be good enough to completely replace Photoshop. There are always alternatives if you’re not looking to spend $650 to touch up your photos. This is one of them. is specifically ported to Mac OS X so don’t mistake it with GIMP. Before this, running requires X11 to be installed but there is now an experimental native version which doesn’t need X11 to run. I’ve tried it, takes a little long to launch but it works. I don’t mind waiting a bit and saving $650.

Free Alternatives to 10 Popular Commercial Mac Applications gimp

Commercial app #10: Cha-Ching [Broken URL Removed] $40, MoneyWell $39.99

These two applications are personal finance managers, and pretty good ones at that. But they cost a bomb. I don’t know about you but I’m hardly willing to spend $40 to manage my finances.

Free counterparts: Cashbox, Mini$
Simple, easy-to-use, straightforward, free. That’s all I need. Granted, Mini$ and Cashbox are not as fully-featured as Cha-Ching and MoneyWell, they don’t have the fancy frills of schedulers and buckets styles but they still manage to help me keep track of my finances.

Free Alternatives to 10 Popular Commercial Mac Applications my minimoney

So I hope that this list prevented the major hole in your pocket which could have been if you paid for these applications. Are there any other applications you use which I didn’t list? Maybe you would like to find out if the application you were thinking of buying has a free alternative? Shoot away in the comments!

Related topics: Adobe Photoshop, Digital Alarm Clock, iTunes, NTFS, Uninstaller, Virtualization.

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  1. megapixel
    January 30, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    So happy to have found this page. It is always great to know that there are free alternatives instead of having to pay for apps.

  2. Pete
    November 11, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    Superb post - greatly appreciated, thanks

  3. güney servis
    October 8, 2008 at 3:51 am

    thanks very good.

  4. Simon Elliott
    October 2, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    Nice list and I will be sure to give VirtualBox a go.

    I have a few hundred more apps on the homepage of my site - and thought you might like to check it out.


  5. Goobi
    September 22, 2008 at 8:01 am

    Good list. But Gimp and NeoOffice, a serious no no. I'm too comfortable with Photoshop and iWork to even think of those.

    And you forgot another free application to uninstall applications. The OS X trashbin!

  6. woko
    September 21, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Seashore is a GIMP port without the X11 shenanigans. Quick and fast. I am a NeoOffice user, but the current Open Office 3.0 release candidate is a direct port to OS X. Pretty snappy. NetNewsWire is great for RSS as is Cyberduck for FTP.

  7. Leandro
    September 19, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Awesome list. Just installed VirtualBox that I didn't knew that it allows seamless windows.

    We want second part! :)
    Thank you!

    • Jackson
      September 20, 2008 at 6:42 am

      Part 2? Really?

      • Leandro
        September 20, 2008 at 11:31 pm

        Of course.

        I've just made the switch to mac and I found your post very useful!
        And why not an Essential Mac Software post. :)

    September 19, 2008 at 11:36 am

    for itunes control, i like SizzlingKeys

  9. Billco
    September 18, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    Maybe I'm just stubborn but if you want to save money, why would you spend a fortune on a Mac when the PC has a much wider range of free software available AND the hardware is several times cheaper ? Particularly if you use Ubuntu Linux as your OS, you can have all of these features plus a very stylish appearance using Compiz Fusion, and it's all very easy to use.

    The Mac is a high-end platform, with high-end costs.

    • Jackson
      September 19, 2008 at 12:58 pm

      For me, Mac is just a pleasure to use.

    • Adrian
      May 28, 2009 at 1:16 pm

      "why would you spend a fortune on a Mac when the PC has a much wider range of free software available?"

      1. You don't have to cypher through 5,000 freeware or shareware apps that perform the same function.
      2. Most of which are about as helpful in a professional workflow as the backend of a donkey.
      3. You run a high risk of malware intrusion. ESPECIALLY with PC freeware. Choose wisely.
      4. Developer support is slim to none.

      With a Mac those issues are VERY rare.

      "Mac is just a pleasure to use." +1

  10. etcher
    September 18, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    Any free Quark or InDesign alternatives?

  11. website designs
    September 18, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    We all love free apps. MakeUseOf is all about free apps! Why pay for certain applications when you can get another which works almost (or just) as well for free? While there are a few applications which have no free counterparts, you can most definitely find a majority of others which carry one or several alternatives that performs about the same tasks; and it won t burn a hole in your pocket!

  12. malte
    September 18, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    You can pay to use Unison to download newsgroup posts.

    Or you can use Hellanzb [] which is free and much better!

  13. mobile247
    September 18, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    great tip! downloading appcleaner and gimmesometune now :) more free alternatives please! :)

  14. alex
    September 18, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    A great instead of for BBEdit and other costly html editors for mac is Smultron. It sounds like some sort of sci-fi vegetable, but it's a great mac app that's incredibly intuitive, simple, and functional. I used Taco HTML editor before and loved it for a while. Recently, it's become buggy and inconvenient, especially when compared to great PC apps like HTML-Kit. Smultron is definitely a mac app, and probably won't do the trick for beginners, but for seasoned HTML gurus, Smultron is where it's at.

  15. Daniel
    September 18, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    The best free iTunes alarm clock is Alarm Clock 2. What makes Alarm Clock 2 a cut above the rest is that it is not dependent on iTunes. iTunes does not need to be running for the alarm to work. It will retrieve your iTunes playlist of choice and it starts playing. The author has a good explanation on why this is really important and all the technical aspects of it.

    I believe Aurora is based on Alarm Clock 2 so that tells you how solid this program is.

  16. Jesse
    September 18, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Another good Photoshop replacement is Pixelmator. Pixelmator actually puts most of its workload onto the graphics card which makes its potential huge.

  17. Donald
    September 18, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    Nice list. Instead of TrimtheFat and Monolingual, I use an application called Trimmit that does both, i.e. trim universal binaries and remove excess languages. Its very small, fast, keeps a backup copy that you can revert to just in case the slimmed down app doesn't work as expected and free.

    • Jackson
      September 18, 2008 at 10:56 pm

      Ah, another hidden gem. Great!

  18. Me
    September 18, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Piratebay they are all free

  19. Joe
    September 18, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    For personal finance managers, also check out gnucash (via MacPorts) and Buddi ( )

  20. Travis Quinnelly
    September 18, 2008 at 8:06 am

    Awesome Jackson. You always seem to find those hidden gems of programs for the Mac. As a recent Mac convert, I always appreciate your posts. Keep it up!

    • Jackson
      September 18, 2008 at 10:55 pm

      Hey Travis! Welcome to the family. How's your Mac experience going? I'm sure that there are *some* frustrations. That comes with the territory. You'll learn to embrace them :)

  21. Jackson
    September 18, 2008 at 5:55 am

    I'm glad you guys liked it!

  22. Hentai Kamen
    September 18, 2008 at 12:59 am

    Thanks for the list. I gonna tell this to my sister who's a mac user.

  23. Chris - Zen to Fitness
    September 18, 2008 at 12:37 am

    Great post and word must be spread about it, you've been Dugg.... Loads of these are new to me and I'm a seasoned mac user so thanks very much for saving me the time and $$$. Thanks very Much!