Whether the economy is soaring sky-high, wobbling like it’s been on a bender, or just plain cratering, one thing never changes--free is our favorite price. And these days, remarkable things can be had for zero dollars and no cents. Problem is, all the chaff can make finding the best free apps for Mac and iOS devices seem so hopeless that sometimes it’s just easier to pay up.
But with a little help, you can keep your wallet closed and your credit card ready for other battles. That’s why our editors sifted through the latest and greatest in Mac and iOS apps to highlight remarkable new software that’ll improve your desktop and mobile computing. We also shined a spotlight on two powerhouses of free: VoIP calls from Macs and iDevices, and Freecycle, an innovative web community that’s a terrific way to snag hardware without touching your wallet. And since we all devour music, videos, games, and books, we show you the latest, most modern ways to find free entertainment that doesn’t suck.
For newcomers to the Apple world, we’ve also highlighted the “classics” of free software that should grace every Mac, iPhone, and iPad—and then we wrap up with a visit to the Dark Side of free by uncovering some common scams that may have tempted you. Free Public Wi-Fi, anyone? Not after you read page six…
For every Skype, there’s a jillion wannabes trying to be “next.” But amid all that noise, diamonds in the rough are waiting to be discovered. That wait is over--here are 10 of our favorite new freeware gems…
Keep track of your daily errands and chores with Ticky, a tiny app that lets you drag completed tasks to the bottom half.
Errands and chores are easily forgotten during a hectic workday or lazy weekend, but Ticky helps keep you on point by listing your pending tasks, as well as those you’ve already completed. It’s dead simple, but why complicate the process of getting essential tasks done?
Take control of your BitTorrent downloads with this powerful and lightweight app.
Mac users have a wide array of BitTorrent options, but we prefer µTorrent, a lightweight and powerful app that lets you manage your files, allocate bandwidth as needed, and even apply various labels to active torrent files. Plus, you can view RSS feeds and automatically download torrents from them. Did we mention how tiny it is?
When TextEdit’s too simple and Word’s too heavy, Bean strikes a happy middle ground of ease and functionality.
This lean, mean, open-source word processor shines for Mac users who need something bigger than TextEdit but don’t want to bother with a hefty suite like Microsoft Office or OpenOffice. Casual users who need to view and edit Word docs from time to time will find Bean a perfectly suitable replacement.
Quiet Read makes it easy to save links for later reading by dragging and dropping them to the menu bar.
Keep stumbling across interesting articles but don’t have time to actually read them? Quiet Read helps in a big way, installing a small coffee cup icon in your menu bar (to go with your Caffeine cup already up there; see p24 for details). Simply drag any web link to the icon, and it’ll save the link for later viewing. You can also use a bookmarklet for easy saving while browsing.
CloudApp’s web interface lets you easily share files and links with pals and associates.
Sharing files and links is as easy as dragging and dropping with CloudApp, a web-based interface that lets you upload files of 50MB or less with minimal effort. Simply pull your files to the cloud-shaped icon in the menu bar, and they’ll upload to the site. From there, you can share a URL that lets friends and coworkers download the files in a single click. FTP, nice knowing ya…
Clearing sensitive information and securely deleting files from your Mac is a snap with Black Hole.
Clearing sensitive materials from your Clipboard, Recent Items, and Trash has never been easier thanks to Black Hole, which can trigger multiple processes with a single click. It also securely deletes files from your Mac and unmounts drives and disk images--a worthwhile app for cautious Mac users or anyone who conducts business from their laptop.
With DrawBerry, sketching out simple vector-based drawings doesn’t require an expensive graphics suite.
Looking to do some vector-based drawing but don’t want to invest in Adobe Illustrator? DrawBerry is a stellar option for dabblers. Its numerous tools are simple and easy to use, making it a cinch for just about anyone to sketch out and manipulate various shapes.
This simple iTunes companion lets you fall asleep to music or videos without worrying about them playing all night long.
Sleepytime is more than a slumber-inducing tea--it’s also the name of a helpful sleep timer for iTunes. This nifty app lets you choose how long to play music for, when to start fading out the volume, and whether or not to shut down or restart your Mac upon conclusion. It’s perfect for nighttime listening.
Taking out the trash gets some welcome streamlining with TrashMe.
TrashMe makes it easier to uninstall apps from your Mac by making sure every last file and bit of info goes into the Trash, too. Simply drag the application into the window, and TrashMe takes care of the rest. We also dig how it lets you add protection to any apps you don’t want to accidentally axe.
AppFresh monitors your installed apps for updates and includes detailed descriptions of each.
AppFresh keeps tabs on all your applications (even Apple ones), widgets, and plug-ins so that you’re always current with the latest updates and fixes. It even updates your applications without making you use each app’s individual interface. We like it so much we ran a complete how-to guide on using it in our Nov/10 issue.
Tons of artists are sharing their music videos on YouTube--it’s the new MTV. If you want MP3 audio from one of those videos, just paste the YouTube URL into Dirpy.com, and on the next page, click the Record to MP3 button. You can even isolate the exact portion you want.
If you’re connected to the internet and don’t feel like downloading something, check out Grooveshark (listen.grooveshark.com), Pandora Radio (pandora.com), Jango.com, Rdio.com, or Last.fm to play streaming tunes to your heart’s content.
If you’re familiar with BitTorrent, head to bt.etree.org for a searchable database of live shows by dozens of bands, including Wilco, Jack Johnson, and My Morning Jacket. Grab the torrent file, then use a client like µTorrent to download the music from other users while sharing the bits you’ve downloaded so far. Many of the shows are in FLAC format (an acronym for “free lossless audio compression”), so also grab a free converter like MacFLAC or All2MP3 to get your tunes in an iTunes-friendly format. If you’re not into BitTorrent, try the Live Music Archive at archive.org/details/etree.
Amazon’s massive MP3 store includes plenty of free tracks, but they can be a little hard to find. The best way is to start at amazon.com, select Music (strangely, not MP3 Downloads) from the Shop All Departments drop-down in the upper left, then look in the Browse sidebar for Free MP3 Albums and Free MP3 Songs links.
A helpful Free Music tab in the main navigation page lets you easily find the goods, or just surf to mp3.com/free-music. We recently found free tracks from Weezer, Willie Nelson, Radiohead, and The Roots.
Next page: Free Mac Software: The Classics »
These five greats of free Mac software belong on every computer you own.
Tweetie’s great design makes it entirely enjoyable to use.
Once you get the Tweetie desktop app, navigating to the Twitter website will be a thing of the past. Tweetie installs an icon on your toolbar, which lights up when you have unread tweets. It’s free if you use the ad-based version, but ads rarely show up, and more often than not, they’re advertisements for things you probably want. Score.
VLC has a small footprint and tons of options. Who could ask for more?
An open-source multimedia player and framework, VLC plays nearly every type of multimedia file, spanning the gap from DVDs to the latest streaming protocols. Though it’s simple and clean, its open source-ness means that it’s extendable in an endlessly helpful way.
Nearly all of these menus will change the look of Adium drastically. Awesome!
If you’re looking for an instant messaging application that connects with multiple chat clients, Adium’s your best bet. Feature-friendly and open source, it has tons of customizability options ready for download straight from the developer’s site (adiumxtras.com). And like fiddling with your desktop wallpaper, changing your Adium appearance options is good for a nerd-rush every time.
All this from simply typing the letter “S.”
Quicksilver is a quick-launch tool that enables you to open a program, search within it, or execute various actions—all with a simple keystroke. Its complexities are daunting at first, but we highly recommend learning it for the improvements you’ll reap in quick iTunes control and Mail searching.
If you prefer, Caffeine can also be placed in your Dock for easier access.
Remember all those times you were watching YouTube videos and your screen dimmed right at the good part? Caffeine is the simple solution for those moments when saving power is not a good thing. Install Caffeine, and a little coffee cup icon shows up on your menu bar. When the cup is full of java, your screen won’t dim; when it’s empty, it will. It’s simple, small, and we use it nearly every day.
RealPlayer SP for Mac (real.com/realplayer/mac) lets you download and save your favorite streaming videos. It’s perfect for grabbing music videos from YouTube and MySpace, and also works with iFilm, Google Video, CollegeHumor, and more.
Free and attractive video player Miro (getmiro.com) has a handy directory of video podcasts and supports subscriptions and automatic downloads. It also supports RSS feeds and BitTorrent downloads, but most of that content isn’t exactly being legally shared.
iTunes has even more video podcasts, including slick entries from HBO, PBS, The Onion, ESPN, CNN, Comedy Central, and tons of other TV networks--and you can’t beat the convenience of its automatic downloads.
Hulu.com is still the best, delivering loads of free ad-supported shows to watch. Picrap.com has a ton, too. And most of the networks stream shows on their sites now--abc.go.com, dsc.discovery.com/videos/, bravotv.com, and mtv.com are a few of our favorites.
Next page: How To (Maybe) Get a Free Mac »
Freecycle is a treasure trove of older computing gear--and everything else.
Freecycle’s goal is keeping unwanted items out of the landfill by helping people find new homes for their junk. At the same time, it helps other people find a used item they need--for free--and avoid buying something new. It may sound like a bunch of tree-hugging hippie jive, but more than 7 million people participate in nearly 5,000 local networks, and they give away a lot of stuff. Some of it is tech stuff--and you can even ask for stuff. Get started today, and you can not only declutter your drawers (someone needs those old FireWire cables, but it’s not you), but you can also keep an eye out for the Mac or iPod score of the century.
Freecycle.org will point you to your local Freecycle list.
Head to freecycle.org and type your city and state into the box to find a nearby group. When you select one, you’ll be sent to a page with a link to the actual group--in most cases, it’s a Yahoo Group. Sign up for the group’s listserv and opt for the daily digest so you get one email per day. For starters, just listen for a bit to pick up on the community’s etiquette and tone.
Mac parts and even Macs appeared in our search for "offer mac."
Freecycle has three main types of posts. Offer posts give something away. Taken posts let the other people know an offer is closed. Wanted posts are requests for specific things, hoping someone will have one they’re not using and can part with. No money ever changes hands. If you read the group’s messages online, it’s easy to search for just Offer or Wanted, or narrow down the results with keywords like Mac, laptop, iPod, and so on.
Be nice, just like your mother taught you.
People who offer items can use any criteria they like to select who gets them: politeness, sob story, first come first served, whatever. If you want to jump on offers right away, switch your group preferences to receive every message individually in your email. When you respond to offers, be polite, try to use good grammar and spelling, give your contact information, and don’t get upset if you don’t hear back. Some items attract a ton of responses, and the person might only reply to the “winner.”
Follow the etiquette--especially in the subject line--and be polite!
After you’ve been on the listserv a little while, maybe offered a few things to boost your karma, you can compose a Wanted request for the item you need the most. Again, be polite. Be specific when explaining what you need and why, but don’t insist on “this one thing or nothing,” particularly if it’s something high end. (Core i5 MacBook Pro? No.) If you have extenuating circumstances (job loss, theft, student, nonprofit), explain briefly. Thank people for reading. Hope for the best.
1. 667MHz PowerPC G4 laptop
2. Black leather laptop bag
3. iMac, circa 2000, needs keyboard
4. 256MB RAM for an iMac G5
5. Two nonworking iPod nanos
Next page: Free iOS Apps: The Latest & Greatest »
A steady stream of apps is added each day to the App Store, and loads are free. But which ones are actually worth installing and using? Yes, keeping up with the hip new apps is getting harder every day, but these 10 free apps won’t let you down.
Finally, you can have movies on the go without filling up your phone.
Netflix sure took its sweet time arriving on the iPhone, but now that it’s here, it’s hard to imagine life without it! Watching videos as you take the train to work has never been easier or more futuristic.
One app to sort them all!
App Shopper is an excellent resource for anyone who’s curious about what they should download on their iOS devices. Though reference apps like App Shopper are nothing new, the excellent sorting and filtering options of this particular app make it the premier iOS destination for your app-grabbing binges.
Learning about the planets is fun again.
NASA’S official app is the best way we’ve found to learn about our solar system. From the easy interface to the ubiquity of great information, this is not just another reference app, and kids and adults will get lost exploring its richly presented info and images. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize this belongs on your iPad.
Get your text on or troll the Lady Gaga fan club communities.
TextPlus keeps its app description short and sweet: “#1 free text and free pic messaging app!” Sweeping claim, sure--but for our zero cents, it’s right on the money. TextPlus allows you to send pics and texts, but more importantly, it also lets you hang out in “communities” that add an unexpected but well-polished social element.
iDisk might be a bit like Dropbox, but you can't go wrong with even more storage.
iDisk doesn’t make this list for being a new app (it isn’t), but because it recently implemented an absolutely rocking new feature. It now provides the ability to stream music straight from iDisk, which brings us one step closer to the “iTunes in the cloud” we’ve been dreaming about. As seems to be the case with most Apple software, it’s a cinch to use, and it’s free if you have a MobileMe account.
Cook's Illustrated makes us hungry. Really hungry.
Cook’s Illustrated has proven again and again to be the reliable source for all things food. They’re not swayed by trends or big names, and they consistently churn out quality recipes and cooking advice. The app comes with 50 of what they call their “best recipes,” which means if you’re the cooking type, you’re guaranteed to find at least a few recipes to add to your cookbook.
Learning how to do anything you want to do has never been easier.
Howcast has been on the iPhone forever and a day, but its journey to the iPad is extremely welcome. For the uninitiated, Howcast is an excellent resource for how-to videos ranging from staccato picking to changing your oil. Videos look crystal clear on the iPad, and the extra screen real estate makes those technical how-to videos a little easier to process and enjoy.
Epic Citadel is currently only a beautiful castle for you to explore. We can't wait for the whole game.
If you look at Epic Citadel as a showcase for potential (rather than a game), you’ll be blown away by Epic Games’ newest creation. Smooth controls glide your invisible character through a, well, epic citadel on your iPhone. Exploring the castle is a pleasure on par with the first time you fired up a game console and stared slack-jawed at the graphical glory.
Keep your frogs happy, and they'll breed lots.
Finding, training, and breeding frogs is the name of the game in Nimblebit’s excellent Pocket Frogs. Maintaining a habitat for your frogs might seem like nothing more than new-era Tamagotchis, but the game keeps it fresh with impressive graphics and addictive breeding gameplay.
Apple's Apple Store is a pleasure to navigate, whether on an iOS device or Mac.
The Apple Store app is the perfect replacement for browsing the Apple Store via Safari. If you’re like us, you like to fantasize about your next major Apple purchase, customizing and re-customizing it over and over until you’ve settled on one design. With the Apple Store app, all of that can be done on the go--it even has an option to purchase straight from your phone.
This e-book store (at wowio.com) lines up sponsors to give away certain copyrighted e-books and digital comics. The selection is limited but changes all the time. In a recent visit, we picked up the Neil Young bio Being Young and issue 1 of a new comic called Wanted.
If you like getting your free books the old-fashioned way--borrowed from the library--sign up at wowbrary.com for free weekly email newsletters of your local branch’s newest items, including links to borrow them. Bonus: Many libraries have e-books you can borrow online.
Visit bit.ly/9LIb0k for a page of 11,000-plus free e-books--it served up a whopping 15,883 on our recent visit. You can narrow your choices with multiple keywords, too.
Public-domain book in Google Books (books.google.com) feature a download link in the toolbar that lets you choose ePub or PDF format. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a way to isolate only the public-domain titles.
The granddaddy of public-domain books on the web, Gutenberg.org offers e-books in a spartan but easy-to-use interface.
Next page: Free iOS Apps: The Classics »
Every diet needs a staple. And every iOS device needs these five irreplaceable apps.
Load up your documents or photos from your Mac and read them on the go with your iPhone.
You can hardly flip a page in our magazine without reading about how much we heart Dropbox. That’s because Dropbox changed our workflow in a huge way. When you put a file in your Dropbox folder on any Mac or iDevice, it quickly syncs to all your other computers and devices with the Dropbox software. You’ll never have to remember to bring a file--or a thumb drive--with you again.
Opera's home screen beats Mobile Safari's every time.
Mobile Safari is fine for getting around, but if you’re looking for more pizzazz, Opera Mini is a must. This sweet little browser utilizes Opera servers from around the world to do all the browsing for you. It’s easier on the eyes, loaded with features Safari doesn’t have, and is unquestionably faster.
There's a review for every restaurant in Yelp.
Whether you enjoy fine dining or just want to find a hole-in-the-wall with great pizza, Yelp is a necessity. With over 12 million local reviews, nearly every restaurant you can imagine patronizing is here--and so are their addresses and phone numbers so you can make a reservation while you’re on the way.
Your iOS device just might be the world's best remote control.
Let’s say you’re at one side of the room playing music from your computer, but you want to change the song. You can get up, walk over and physically change the song on your keyboard. But that’s awfully 1995--and besides, physical exertion is for the weak. With Apple’s Remote app, you can control iTunes with your phone from the couch. Pass the Cheetos, would ya?
Progress bars like these take the mystery out of your remaining minutes.
If you’re on an iPhone in the U.S., you’re generally tied to AT&T. In that case, myWireless is an absolute must. This app tells you if you’re coming close to your monthly 200MB or 2GB data limit, how many minutes you’ve used, and when your next bill is due. It’s a total wallet-saver.
Our favorite site for losing an hour or 10 is Kongregate.com. We love the user ratings on the games, and the selection is exhaustive. Newgrounds.com and flasharcade.com are pretty great too, and of course there’s always Facebook and its infernally addicting Bejeweled Blitz.
Tons of downloadable Mac games are free or free to try. We found great selections at downloadfreemacgames.com, apple.com/downloads/macosx/games/, and thriftmac.com/games--mostly casual titles, but there’s definitely something for everyone.
Find ultra-creative titles from indie developers, including contest winners and finalists, at udevgames.com and Independent Games Festival (igf.com). The Indie Games Database at db.tigsource.com lets you filter for Mac freeware games as well.
To go beyond casual games, dip into the world of open source, where you’ll find high-quality shooters, strategy, racing, and everything else. A great place to start is the AppStorm’s amazing list of the 50 best free games (bit.ly/d4rppq).
Classic games no longer in development can still live on in emulation on your fancy, newfangled Mac. Start with Macintosh Garden (macintoshgarden.org), which keeps a meticulous archive of “abandonware” that is now free to use. You’ll need an emulator, but you’ll find lots of help and advice here too. Relive the glory days of Marathon, Monkey Island, and more!
Next page: Free Phone Calls & How to Avoid Freebie Scams »
If you’re still paying a phone bill, you’re missing out on one of our favorite ways to save money--so check out the latest ways to make free VoIP calls from your Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
Email and instant messaging have been free (or nearly so) for as long as they have existed. But sometimes text on a screen isn’t the best way to get your point across. Thankfully, you can put those pixels to better use with a number of services that offer free voice--and even video--calls for those times when you want to see and hear the people on the other end of the wires. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP for short), is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of transmitting your call over traditional phone lines, VoIP calls traverse the internet, making use of the data tubes that you already have--on your iDevice, both 3G and Wi-Fi work. With a decent connection to the internet, you can make calls that rival traditional telephone calls—without a land line and without spending an extra dime. You can use your Mac’s built-in mic and speakers, or if you plan on spending a lot of time on the virtual phone, invest in a decent USB headset for better call quality. On iPhones and iPads, the mic and speakers are obviously built in too, but with an iPod touch, you’ll need a pair of headphones with an inline mic.
An oldie--but a goodie.
The old-timer in the bunch, Skype offers free VoIP calls between Skype users. All it takes is a quick download to your Mac or iDevice, then registering for a Skype account. From then on, all someone needs is your Skype username to be able to connect with you via text, voice, or even video chat. Skype-to-Skype services are free, but the company offers a variety of paid add-ons, like a real phone number anyone can use to dial you up on Skype and very cheap worldwide calls to landline and cell phones.
iCall displays an ad when your call begins, but when its service is free, we can't complain.
If you’re looking for free VoIP calling from your iPhone, iCall is the way to go. The app version of iCall closely mimics your iPhone’s native Phone app, and it taps into Contacts already on your phone. There’s no monthly fee to make or receive calls, but iCall does come with a few caveats--namely, it displays ads when you make a call. And while you can receive calls on your Mac using a desktop client, you’ll get a shared number--callers will have to enter your iCall extension, rather than dialing direct. Free calls are also limited to five minutes, but paid plans remove these limitations.
Add your contacts across different networks on the desktop client.
Like Skype, VoxOx lets you make free voice calls between VoxOx users. But this new service, currently in beta, aims to become the hub of all your electronic communications. From the desktop client, you can add contacts on Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Google Talk, and many other services, giving you a simple way to keep up with everything and everyone, all at the same time. Calls (made by dialing a free number from any phone) aren’t free, but plans start at $2.45/month for unlimited calls to U.S. and Canadian numbers. The service was still in invite-only beta at press time, but the ability to consolidate all your contacts looks rad.
Now all your Gmail contacts are just a click or tap away.
Google Voice started out as a universal number that would ring all your phones, but the service has recently branched out into offering voice and video calls, right in the Gmail web interface you’re already familiar with. (There’s also a separate Google Voice web interface with more bells and whistles.) You can make free calls to any U.S. phone number, and your own Google Voice number lets you take incoming calls on any of your phones free of charge. And you can even pick the area code for your Google Voice number and search for digits that will be easy to remember. Nice!
You’re in the airport or local coffee shop, and you fire up your MacBook or iPhone. Your search for Wi-Fi yields, “Free Public Wi-Fi.” You jump on and realize you still don’t have internet access. What’s going on? Well, you’ve just been scammed by Windows XP.
Free Public Wi-Fi! But yeah, remember that if it looks too good to be true, it is.
A bug in early versions of Windows XP causes the OS to create an ad-hoc network of the last Wi-Fi network it was connected to. So as Windows XP use dies out, so should the “Free Public Wi-Fi” network…but that won’t stop the nefarious free Wi-Fi networks manned by sniffers. Sniffers hang out in public areas using seemingly free Wi-Fi hotspots to steal vital information and/or install Trojan horses. This is especially scary if you have File Sharing turned on.
A good rule of thumb is to check with someone at the place of business. Get the official Wi-Fi network name and ignore that too-good-to-be-true Wi-Fi network.
Don't believe Christa. She's totally lying.
You’ve probably seen the ads or spammy comments on Facebook. Even the MacLife Facebook page has had issues with these con artists. They promise a free iPad or iPhone for taking part in some weird survey, entering a contest or by installing a Facebook app. No one has ever gotten a free iPad or iPhone from these jokers. So do your civic duty and report these ads and comments as spam to Facebook.
We’ve all heard the FreeCreditReport.com band. They’ve entered the national consciousness with their catchy songs about the importance of keeping an eye on your credit rating. It’s like hanging out with your long-haired college friends in that band that practiced in your dorm singing songs about not being able to afford a sandwich. It’s cute, it’s funny, and it’s not exactly on the up and up.
Free Public Wi-Fi! But yeah, remember that if it looks too good to be true, it is.
Oh sure, you’ll get a credit report. But chances are, you’ll end up being signed up for their monthly credit-monitoring service. When you choose to get your “free” credit report from the site, the right-hand column displays some important information:
“When you order your free score here, you will begin your 7-day trial membership in Triple Advantage® Credit Monitoring. If you don’t cancel your membership within the 7-day trial period*, you will be billed $14.95 for each month that you continue your membership. You may cancel your trial membership any time within the trial period without charge.”
That’s right—now you have to opt out of a monthly service. Like the gym, music clubs, and the Norwegian cheese of the month club, you get lured by the promise of something great for free, and you end up with a monthly charge that they’re hoping you forget about.
Instead, head on over to the FTC’s official site, which helps consumers get their free annual credit report: annualcreditreport.com. It’s official, it’s really free, and you won’t be on the phone two months later trying to cancel a subscription.