10 essential free Mac apps

You’ve already spent a lot of money for the privilege of using a Mac. Do you really have to hand over even more of your cash to get apps that’ll push the hardware? The answer is no, of course.

There’s a top-notch selection of free software available on the internet and in the App Store. Whether you want to create an illustration or a publication, plug some functionality gaps in macOS to work better for you, or you want to use your kit in more parts of your daily life, there is – to paraphrase Apple – (probably) a free app for that.

We've been using Macs for decades, and have identified the cream of the crop. Here are 10 of their essential choices.

1. Email: Spark

Spark is an email client designed for collaborating with teammates. You can work together on message drafts, share messages via a URL, and chat inside the app. It’s smart enough to tell the difference between promotional emails and regular messages and give the latter more prominence.

You can snooze messages, and a quick–reply feature allows you to respond with an emoji. Built–in widgets allow you to see recently opened emails, calendars, and reminders. It’s the ideal email client for collaborative working.

2. Backup: Superduper

SuperDuper started out as a way to clone your Mac’s hard drive, but it has since evolved into way more than that. You can configure clones so they are bootable — acting as an emergency backup if the worst happens and your Mac breaks completely.

The clone can be stored on any volume, partition, or disk image — though if you want to use it as a safety net, it’s best to back it up to an external hard drive that’s unplugged and stored safely. You can even clone Time Machine volumes.

You can create as many clones as you like as often as you like without paying a cent. However, if you pay $27.95, you can unlock the Smart Update feature that incrementally updates clones, and schedule cloning operations. The paid–for version is also scriptable.

3. System settings: TinkerTool

Deep in macOS, there’s an array of ‘hidden’ settings that would normally require a trip to Terminal to change. TinkerTool allows you to make changes more easily. Want to change the default location or naming convention for screen grabs? TinkerTool can do it.

4. Utility: Franz

Having trouble keeping up with friends and colleagues using different messaging platforms? Try Franz. It’s a messaging client that allows you to connect and chat on popular platforms like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, Slack, Skype, and several more.

5. Photo editor: PhotoScape X

Want a good photo editor but put off by Photoshop’s price? Give this app a go. It’s free, but don’t let that fool you — PhotoScape X is an accomplished app that’s ideal for light editing. It’s great for quick edits and fixes and to spruce up your collection of snaps. There’s a paid–for Pro edition too, but the free version is solid.

6. Utility: HiddenMe

MacOS's Stacks can help solve desktop clutter, but most of us still have files lying around. HiddenMe allows you to hide them at the tap of a button, saving you from accidentally showing that receipt when you show a friend something on the Mac.

7. GIF maker: GIF Brewery

GIF Brewery allows you to create and share GIFs from videos. You can make a screen recording within the app or import a video. You can then crop and resize the video, set the frame rate or total number of frames, apply filters, and add captions or overlay images. Once you’re done, you can upload GIFs to Gyfcat to share with friends.

8. Search: Alfred

Alfred is best thought of as a Spotlight alternative. As well as launching apps and searching, though, you can also use this efficient little helper for system commands like emptying the Trash, and you can create custom searches. You can also drag files straight from Alfred to the Finder or another app.

9. Productivity: Be Focused

Be Focused is based on a simple premise: concentrating is hard. As such, this neat little app allows you to break your big goals down into smaller tasks and set a timer for each one. Start a task by pressing Play and the timer counts down, motivating you to stay focused on what you’re doing until it hits zero.

10. Password manager: Dashline

Password managers are pretty much an essential tool for anyone who spends much time online and wants to use secure passwords. The free version of Dashlane allows you to store, and automatically fill, up to 50 passwords.

You can also store other sensitive information like credit card details, payment information, and secure notes. Your data is secured using AES 256–bit encryption. Dashlane also has a dashboard that displays information on the ‘health’ of your passwords.

Features like syncing across devices, a built–in VPN, and Dark Web Monitoring are available with a subscription, but the free version is excellent.

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