Best free Mac software
The best things in life are free, it turns out, and while Macs cost a lot of money (although we think they're worth the premium price tag) Apple fans don't have to break the bank to fill their computer with decent software.
In this feature we're going to look at the best free software choices for Mac owners, running the gamut from minor but useful utilities to antivirus packages and productivity software. We've also got a great free game, but if you're into gaming, bear in mind that we have a separate article covering the best free Mac games.
Cliff Joseph, Kenny Hemphill, and Lucy Hattersley also contributed to this article.
If you want to know how to update your apps on your Mac, read this: How to update all your Mac apps.
Best free Mac apps: best free Word processor for Mac
Writer is the word processor element of Libre Office’s free office suite. It will open .doc and .docx files and offers all the styling and formatting tools you would expect, and you can mail-merge documents. There are also downloadable extensions that add features to Writer.
You can download Libre Office Writer here.
Read about the best Mac word processor apps here: Best Mac Word Processors
Best free Mac apps: Best free antivirus for Mac
Sure, Macs don't have a big problem with viruses, but it's not going to make you popular if you forward one to a PC wielding friend, so here's our recommendation of a free anti-virus app for Mac.
Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac costs you nothing but detects 99.17% percent of threats. It does have a minor impact on performance, however. Sophos Anti-Virus also requires of you only that you cough up some personal details.
You can download Sophos Anti-virus here.
Read about more Mac antivirus apps here: Best Mac antivirus software
Best free Mac apps: Best free VPN for Mac
If you are looking for a way to access web content that's locked to certain countries (say iPlayer when you are holidaying in the USA) a VPN is the tool for you.
The free version of Total VPN is limited to three locations and there's limited usage, but you can use TotalVPN on your Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Windows, Android and more.
The Total Premium Plan lets you access more than 30 locations with completely unrestricted browsing.
Read our round up of VPN apps here: Best VPN for Mac
Best free Mac apps: Best free Mac game
There are so many free Mac games on the Mac App Store and elsewhere, and many of them are supurb (read our complete run down of all the best Mac games here: Best Mac Games.)
If you are looking for just one game, we recommend Hearthstone. It is an online game where you collect cards. That might sounds boring, but it's got around 40 million players who think otherwise.
You earn cards by playing daily quests, and you can battle other gamers to win rare cards.
It's easy to pick up and has an amazing community of players. There are in-app purchases, but you can get by just playing the free game.
Best free Mac apps: Best free mail app for Mac
This open source email client from Mozilla allows you to bolt on add-ons, potentially infinitely expanding its functionality depending on what you require.
It also offers a number of helpful features by default and built in instant messaging, offering support from multiple networks including Facebook, IRC, Twitter and more.
We have a round up of Mac email clients here: Best Mac email apps
Best free Mac apps: Best free software for photo editing on the Mac
Google Photos is free to use - all you need is a Google account (which is free).
Your photos are stored in Google's cloud, uploaded via a Mac app you need to install that'll not only upload all your photos, it will also monitor your system for new photos and offer to upload them too.
You can upload as many of photos as you want, for free, literally without limit. However, if you want to upload full original-quality images - perhaps free up disk space - you'll need to use Google Drive space. You get 15GB for free which might be enough space for you, but you can pay for more if you need it.
One of our favourite Google Photos tricks is its ability to recognise the content of photos automatically, based on neural network identification and metadata.
Best free Mac apps: Best free software for video editing for Mac
Films edited in Lightworks include Pulp Fiction, LA Confidential, The Kings Speech and The Wolf of Wall Street so we're not talking about a tiddly app here. Lightworks is billed as "the professional video editor for everyone" and it is available as a free download for Mac.
The free version offers a seven-day renewable licence that you can activate immediately once you have registered and installed the software; you just need to sign in and you can start editing. The licence supports importing of a full range of video, audio and still image formats.
Lightworks Free offers some powerful editing features generally only seen on expensive, professional editing systems; including realtime effects, titles and even multi-camera editing. The free version can import and work with high resolution footage (up to 5K), but one of its limitations is that you will only be able to export up to 720p HD, with optional upload to YouTube. (You can export up to 1080p HD resolution, but only if you're also uploading directly to Vimeo, Lightworks' "preferred upload partner”)
You can get Lightwords Free here.
Read about the best video editing apps for Mac here: Best video editing software for Mac
Best free Mac apps: Best free cloud storage and syncing software for Mac
Microsoft OneDrive is Microsoft's cloud file syncing and sharing service.
OneDrive places a folder on your Mac, and any files you drop into it will appear in the same OneDrive folder on any other Mac or PC you own (so it's great for syncing home and work files). You can also use the OneDrive app for iOS to access files on your computer.
There are other services available, notably Dropbox and Google Drive but none as much free storage as the generous 7GB you get free with OneDrive.
Best free Mac apps: Best free audio editor for Mac
If you need to perform basic editing functions, such as trimming or cutting, on an audio file, Audacity is excellent. Whether you're producing a podcast, cleaning up a Skype interview or narrating a video clip, Audacity can do the job for free.
You can preview Audio Units and VST effects in real time, and remove noise from recordings. There's also a feature caled Spectral Selection which allows you to click and drag to select frequency ranges as well as time periods.
It lacks the spit and polish of paid-for apps, but if you just need a tool to get the job done quickly, Audacity is ideal.
Best free Mac apps: Best free address book app for Mac
Looking up details of a contact remains annoying a Mac. You're forced to use the Contacts app, which feels like it's from the last century.
The free CoBook app adds an icon to the menu bar that, when clicked (or if you tap Ctrl+Shift+Space) lets you search instantly for a contact card. Details are shown in a pop-out box akin to QuickLook.
By clicking icons at the bottom you can instantly email the individual, or message them, and more. New contacts can be added simply by typing their name and hitting Enter, and existing contacts can be tagged too.
Read our CoBook Contacts review
Best free Mac apps: Best DJ app for Mac
If you fancy yourself as a DJ but can't justify shelling out for the likes of Traktor Pro, CrossDJ Free will give you an excellent taste of what it's like behind the decks.
You can import tracks from your iTunes Library, or anywhere else as long as they are MP3, AAC, AIFF, FLAC or Apple Lossless files. And there’s a mixer with three-band EQ, volume faders, cross-fader and level meters. Add in beat matching and support for external USB controllers (though not those made exclusively for use with Traktor DJ) and there's plenty here to get you started.
There's no automatic cueing or cross-fading, and no automatic key detection. And you can only use two decks instead of the four supported by professional DJ software. But as a free app, it's excellent.
Download: CrossDJ Free
Best free Mac apps: Best free FTP client for Mac
If you're interested in FTP apps, CyberDuck is an oldie but a goodie - and can be downloaded for free. If you go to the Mac App Store, it'll cost you £17.99. Go to the website cyberduck.io, however, and you can download it for nothing, although a donation would be greatly appreciated by the developer.
CyberDuck allows you to transfer files to and from FTP, SFTP, and WebDAV servers, as well as Amazon CloudFront and S3, Google Cloud Storage, and Rackspace Cloud Files.
You can bookmark servers and drop the bookmarks onto the Finder for quick access, and edit files on the server using a text editor like TextWrangler.
There's no two-pane view, like the one found in ForkLift and Transmit, which does make it less convenient to move files from your Mac to to an FTP server. But other than that, CyberDuck is excellent.
Best free Mac apps: Best free note taking tool
There are several excellent note-taking tools for the Mac and iOS, including Microsoft's OneNote, but Evernote puts them all in the shade. While the premium version offers some excellent and powerful features, the free version is ideal for most people’s needs.
You can create multiple notebooks and 'stack' them to keep them organised. Notebooks can also be shared, and you can even chat to colleagues from within the app.
Adding notes from a browser on iOS is done through Share Sheets, and on the Mac through the Evernote Clipper. The Clipper allows you to grab a URL, a full page, or a simplified version of the page which saves just the content you want.
Notes created in the app can be text, images, or audio recordings and, because it's scriptable, you can create Automator actions to, for example, Print PDFs directly to Evernote.
Whether you're researching an essay, planning a new kitchen, or managing a small project, Evernote is a terrific tool.
The constant nudges towards upgrading to Premium are a little annoying, but they're a small price to pay for such a useful app.
Best free Mac apps: Best free RAW image processing app for Mac
If you don't want to pay for a subscription for Lightroom, and Apple's culling of Aperture has left a hole where your favourite RAW image processing app used to be, give Darktable a try.
Like Aperture, it's a non-destructive image editor for RAW-format photos. Darktable doesn't hide its database roots the way Lightroom or Aperture do, but don't be put off by that. Once you've come to terms with its way of working, it's got plenty to offer. In Darktable's world, photos are records, and edits or searches are operations you perform on them.
Images are managed in the Collect module, which allows you to import, tag, rate and search for images using a number of different fields, including metadata.
As you would expect, other modules allow you to crop and rotate, recover shadows and highlights, and perform curves adjustments. There are other modules for correcting tone and colour and adding effects, frames, watermarks, and vignettes.
Its modular nature means its easy for the developer to add new features, so Darktable is constantly evolving.
Best free Mac apps: Best free password manager for Mac
We all know we should use different passwords for everything. And we all know those passwords should be difficult to guess. We also know we should never write those passwords down. Unless you've got a phenomenal memory, however, squaring that particular circle is likely to be beyond you.
That's where password managers come in: they allow you to create - and indeed will help you create - secure passwords you never have to write down. Instead, they're stored in an encrypted database in the app.
There are a few good password managers for the Mac, but Dashlane is the only one that's free. It has browser plug-ins for Safari, Chrome, and Firefox that allow you to create secure passwords on websites and to auto-fill username and password fields for sites whose details you've stored in the app.
It also has sections for payment data, like credit card numbers and bank account details, secure notes and receipts.
Its dashboard, which alerts you in no uncertain terms to the relative security of the passwords you've chosen, is a little bit nanny-ish, but other than that, Dashlane is an excellent free password manager.
If you want to sync passwords with your iPhone or iPad, you'll have to pay for it using an in-app purchase but other than that, the Dashlane is free to use.
Best free Mac apps: Best free battery monitor for Mac
Keeping an eye on your MacBook's battery is generally a good idea, and the ability to see technical details can help diagnose issues that might lead to a replacement.
Battery Health shows just about every detail you could need, such as the original capacity and current capacity, as well as the number of charge cycles - all of which are used by OS X itself to work out if a battery is healthy.
The app adds an icon in the menu bar that, when clicked, opens a dialog box full of the information. Simple and effective.
Download: Battery Health
Best free Mac apps: Best free home movie post production app
Blackmagic's DaVinci is the defacto standard tool for colour-grading Hollywood movies. So it's no surprise that Resolve goes big on colour correction.
That's not all this free version offers, though. There's enough here to edit and post-produce your home movies and a great deal more besides.
It has a multi-track timeline which will be familiar if you've ever edited video, as will its media bins.
Other features and interface elements may not be so familiar, and there is a learning curve. But if you want to take your movies a step beyond iMovie without paying for the privilege, DaVinci Resolve is an excellent place to start.
Download: DaVinci Resolve
Best free Mac apps: Best free app for hiding desktop icons
It's a bit of a random one but useful nonetheless. HiddenMe does little more than add an icon to the menu bar which when clicked reveals a menu from which you can choose to hide all the desktop icons - ideal if you're taking a screenshot, or if you're giving a presentation.
Read next: 12 Mac Dock tricks
Best free Mac apps: Best free music recording software
If you make music on a Mac, you have two options: use a free but limited tool such as GarageBand, or spend a small fortune on a fully featured digital audio workstation (DAW) like PreSonus Studio or Logic Pro X.
Now, however, there's a third option, PreSonus' Studio One Prime, a cut-down version of the company's flagship DAW. And cut down doesn't mean lightweight. Importantly, it's not a demo version and doesn't time out. Nor does it nag you to upgrade or limit the number of songs you can create.
There's a 1.5GB samples library and nine effects plug-ins, though you can't add your own third-party plug-ins. You can record and mix unlimited tracks and easily pull in backing tracks, virtual effects and plug-ins from the Studio One browser.
Among the best features in the DAW are real-time stretching, re-sampling and normalisation; comping single and multiple tracks; and multi-track transform.
Studio One Prime has more of a learning curve than GarageBand, but it's much easier to get to grips with than a professional-class DAW and is ideal for anyone who's grown out of Apple's app.
Download: PreSonus Studio One Prime
Best free Mac apps: Best free file converter for Mac
We live in a world of confusing media file formats and iPads, iPhones and even QuickTime Player demand MP4 video and MP3 audio when it comes to content you download manually.
Should you end up with any other file format then the free-of-charge Smart Converter will convert it quickly and easily with a drag and drop - and can even convert files for non-Apple devices such as (spit!) Samsung phones and tablets, and games consoles.
Download: Smart Converter
Read next: How to play any video file or codex on a Mac
Best free Mac apps: Best free calendar app for Mac
Many Sunrise fans were unsure what to expect when the app was bought by Microsoft last year. And if you read the reviews on the App Store, you'd fear the worst. Sunrise remains, however, a hugely capable and powerful calendar app. The key to Sunrise is the way it links with your other accounts. So, it can pull in data from your iCloud and Google Calendars, and, naturally, from your Office 365 account if you have one.
Sunrise can also hook into your FourSquare account, though, and display a record of how many times you went to a given during the month - as long as you check into that place on FourSquare. Sunrise can also display note reminders in Evernote, tasks from Wanderlust, milestones in GitHub and even the latest tweet from someone with whom you have a meeting scheduled.
You can also add calendars for national and religious holidays and events for stock market-listed companies around the world.
Best free Mac apps: Best free code editor for Mac
Need to write or edit code or script? Then you'll know word-processing tools like Word and no-frills text apps like iAWriter aren't up to the job.
The de facto standard tool on the Mac for a couple of decades has been Bare Bones Software's BB Edit. And while other tools, such as Panic's Coda, have done a great job of providing alternatives, BB Edit is still the go-to for many Mac coders.
Text Wrangler is the free, cut-down version of BB Edit and offers many of its best features. It packs in syntax colouring, code folding - where you can show and hide sections of code - and direct access to files stored on FTP servers. Need to edit a CSS file on your website? You can do it directly on the server with an FTP app and TextWrangler.
There are one or two tools missing; you can't read and write files to and from Zip archives, for example, but Text Wrangler is a hugely capable, and free, text editor.
Download: Text Wrangler
Best free Mac apps: best free unzipper for Mac
A complete and utterly necessary app for any new Mac, The Unarchiver adds support to OS X for most popular compressed file types, including RAR, Stuffit and 7-Zip.
It works in the background just like the built-in zip decompress tool, momentarily appearing whenever you double-click an archive file and then disappearing just as quickly.
Even better, it's entirely free. You can buy The Archive Browser on the App Store for £2.99, which lets you look inside and selectively extract files from archives, but it's not necessary for most people.
Download: The Unarchiver
Best free Mac apps: Best free Mac app for disk ejecting
If you use a MacBook and frequently attach external drives such as a Time Machine disk when sitting at your desk, you might know the annoyance of having to eject each manually before you take the MacBook elsewhere. unDock fixes the problem by adding an icon to the menu bar that, when clicked, automatically ejects all USB, FireWire or Thunderbolt storage devices. You can also define a keyboard shortcut.
unDock is £1.49 but a free version is available (unDock Lite) lets you eject a single device - which is good enough for most usage scenarios.
Download: unDock Lite
Best free Mac apps: Best free media player for Mac
VLC is an essential tool for viewing all those videos QuickTime refuses to play, including WMV and AVI formats. It supports lots of audio formats that neither QuickTime more iTunes will play, too. These include Ogg and FLAC.
The key to VLC are the decoding and encoding libraries, which provide support for a huge number of video audio formats across different platforms, including OS X and iOS.
The iOS version, which is also free, allows you to play video and files in many different formats not supported natively by iOS. It can sync with cloud storage like Dropbox, or stream from a NAS box or remote server.
The OS X app itself allows you to create playlists of videos and save them. And there are multiple controls for fine-tuning video playback, including: brightness; contrast; gamma; and saturation. You can even crop videos, add text to them, or zoom into a specific part of the screen.
VLC is by no means the only free media player for OS X. We've already mentioned MPlayerX, which is very good. And Switch, which has several features aimed at professional users, is also strong. But VLC's versatility and its support for a huge range of formats is hard to beat.
Best free Mac apps: Best app to finding out who’s using your WiFi
An app with a splendidly descriptive name, Who Is On My WiFi tells you, erm, what devices are using your WiFi connection. Useful for seeing if the kids really have shut down their computers at bedtime, or to see if strangers have hacked your WiFi password, this is essentially a network scanning app.
However, it's much easier to use than most and you can mark entries it discovers as Known or Unknown, as well as give them names. It shows via a Dock badge how many devices it's found, so you can leave it running to keep an eye on things. (Set the scanning interval in the app's Preferences dialog.)
Download: Who Is On My WiFi
Best free Mac apps: Best to-do list and task manager
To describe Wunderlist as a task manager would be to do it a disservice. But even then, compared with apps like Things, with which it shares many features, it offers the same power for free.
What's more, while other apps charge you extra on top of their regular price tag if you want to sync tasks on your Mac with those on an iOS device, Wanderlust does that for free too.
You can create lists and tasks, decide how to view them, add sub-tasks and notes, reminders, and make tasks recur. Wanderlust is designed around the Getting Things Done (GTD) system of working, but you don't need to adhere to GTD and can use it as an ad-hoc task manager, or a basic project management tool.
You can share lists of tasks on Facebook or by email, and the only thing you'll ever have to pay for is if you want to work collaboratively with large groups of other people.
On top of all that, it's very easy to use, syncs instantly across all your devices, and looks great - even allowing you to choose from a number of background images.