Your Mac ships packed with free Mac software. Among the free Mac apps you'll find: Pages for word processing; Numbers for spreadsheets; Notes for jotting down ideas, creating lists and saving links to webpages; Mail for emails; Safari for browsing; Preview for editing PDFs; Calendar for appointments; Reminders for your To Do list; Maps for planning journeys; Messages for your texts; FaceTime for video calls; Photos for your photos; iMovie for your home movies; iTunes for music; GarageBand for recording music; even a calculator, the list goes on.
There’s also the Mac App Store app, which opens your Mac up to a world of other apps, many of which are free and worth installing. The Mac App Store is the place to look if you want to download free Mac apps. With so many free apps already installed on your Mac you might think that there’s not much more you need, but there are some gems in the Mac App Store. Here are our top App Store apps, best of all these essential Mac apps are free!
A word of warning: there are lots of ‘free’ apps on the App Store, but many of these aren’t really free, they are trials with limited features and will attempt to get you to spend money and upgrade. Assuming you are just on the look out for functional free apps, here are our recommendations in alphabetical order.
If you're into gaming, bear in mind that we have a separate article covering the best free Mac games. If you want to know how to update your apps on your Mac, read this: How to update all your Mac apps.
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.
If you think you might need an FTP app, 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.
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
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.
Want to turn something into a GIF? GIPHY Capture is a handy tool for converting videos, or anything you can see on your desktop, into a GIF. We often use it to produce GIFs for our tutorials. All you need to do is position the GIPHY screen over whatever you want to record and you can create a GIF.
GIPHY Capture’s available from the Mac App Store here.
Evernote describes itself as a note pad, organiser and journal. Download the app and set up an account for free. You can create notes, drag in documents, PDFs, photos, videos; scan things in - and convert them to digital notes that you can search; and add clippings from the web.
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, managing a small project, or just want to get organised, Evernote can help. Sure, you could just use the Notes app on your Mac, but Evernote offers a few extra tools that should make managing projects, or just day-to-day life, easier.
While the premium version offers some excellent and powerful features, the free version is ideal for most people’s needs.
The constant nudges towards upgrading to Premium are a little annoying, but they're a small price to pay for such a useful app.
Download: Evernote from the Mac App Store here.
As an alternative to Apple's iCloud Photo Library you might like to try Google Photos. It is free to use - all you need is a Google account (which is also 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.
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.
Libre Office Writer
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
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
If you like to listen to radio stations try out the myTuner Radio app. Save your favourite stations - from anywhere in the world. You can also listen to your favourite podcasts. You can also see the latest chart information and listen to previews of the tracks.
myTuner Radio’s available from the Mac App Store here
Photo Effects (Lite)
There are a number of effects you can add to your Photos in the Photos app, but if you’d like a few more, the lite version of Photo Effects offers a few. Fun effects include Acrylic Comic, Blue Print, Pop Art and there are lots of animated effects available too. You can turn the intensity of effects up or down and save your result.
Photo Effects is available from the Mac App Store here.
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
You’re probably using this marvellous app for finding out what track is playing on your iPhone, but there’s also a Mac version of Shazam.
The benefit of the Mac app is that you can set it to Auto Shazam so that it can be always listening out for music, that way when it hears a tune it will identify it for you, and you can always browse through the tracks it identified later on.
Of course, with Apple having bought Shazam it may well be the case that this functionality gets built into the Mac in the future.
It’s available from the Mac App Store here.
If you are feeling artistic Autodesk's SketchBook is a great sketching app. We’re not particularly artistic, unfortunately, but now that this app is free (Autodesk stopped charging for it in April 2018) we thought we’d give it a shot.
You’ll find much more than painting and drawing tools. You can also drag in images you want to notate, and, most useful for us, adjust the size of and also save in various file formats. You can also use it to create animations.
It’s available from the Mac App Store here.
We cover the best pro photo editors here.
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
We use Slack at work so the Mac app is an essential. If you aren’t already using Slack it’s a great way to communicate and collaborate with your colleagues via Channels relating to specific projects.
Download Slack, sign into your workspace using your workspaces Slack URL and your email and password and you are good to go.
Slack’s available from the Mac App Store here.
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
Speedtest by Ookla
If you don’t have the most reliable broadband connection, this Speedtest tool is a handy one to have on your Mac. You can see your upload and download speed and determine whether it’s what you are paying for.
It’s available from the Mac App Store here.
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
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
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
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.
Wondering where to go on holiday to escape the cold weather? This handy map will show you the temperature at various Netatmo weather stations around the world. Alternatively zoom in to see what the weather is like where you are now.
The only disadvantage is this map is realtime, so you can’t see what the weather will be tomorrow - obviously - but it will help you decide whether you need a jumper.
It's available from the Mac App Store here.
If you use WhatsApp on your smartphone you will benefit from installing the free WhatsApp Desktop app on your Mac.
Once you have downloaded it, you need to open WhatsApp on your iPhone. Next, tap Settings and select WhatsApp Web/Desktop, then print your phone at the screen to scan the code - you may need to click to reload the QR code.
Now your WhatsApp messages will be available to view on your Desktop.
WhatsApp Desktop is available from the Mac App Store here.
Who Is On My 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
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.