November 30, 2012 Free Mac Software

The Free Software Movement began less than a year before the release of the original Macintosh, but its affect on Macintosh software development and distribution was weak in the days before the world wide web. Starting with the release of Mac OS X, Mac users have benefitted from the larger world of free and open source software thanks to the cooperative power of the internet, and Mac OS X’s Unix underpinnings. Today, despite Apple’s desire to lock down distribution, the free software movement is even stronger on the Mac thanks to its increased popularity among developers, and powerful arsenal of built-in frameworks.

Unable to cover all of the free and open source software available on the Mac. I wanted to take a look at three Mac applications that are not only free as in beer, but free as in speach. Each of these three apps is a best of bread Macintosh application no matter the cost, and the despite the fact they have made the leap to other platforms in recent years.1

The Unarchiver

The Unarchiver is a much more capable replacement for “Archive”, the built-in archive extraction program on Mac OS X. The Unarchiver is designed to handle many more formats than Archive Utility, and to better fit in with the design of the Finder. It can also handle filenames in foreign character sets, created with non-English versions of other operating systems. I personally find it useful for opening Japanese archives, but it should handle many other languages just as well.

Supported file formats include Zip, Tar-GZip, Tar-BZip2, RAR, 7-zip, LhA, StuffIt as well as many other old and obscure formats.

The Unarchiver is a must have utility for the Macintosh System Administrators living in a Windows world. With The Unarchiver you can extract files from popular Windows archive formats including .ISO, .Bin, .CAB, .MSI, and even many .EXE self extracting executables. The Unarchiver is even more useful for legacy software fans like myself, because it can extract files from outdated archives like Stuffit, DiskDoubler, PackIt, Cpio, Squeeze, and Crunch. Graphic professionals can also benefit from The Unarchivers’s power by opening PDF and Flash files to extract embedded bitmap images, music, and sounds.

The Unarchiver is free from the Mac App Store, but consider making a donation to help the developer. The Unarchiver is one of the first apps I install on a new Mac, and miss when I sit down on a different computer. But thanks to its younger sibling [Archives], I can take some of the power of The Unarchiver with me on my iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad.


Transmission is a open source, volenteer-based, cross-platform BitTorrent client. I don’t know if Transmission started life out on the Mac, but as a long time Mac user I have a hard telling from the app alone that Transmission is available for several other platforms including Linux, and the web.

It’s fast, it’s extremely lightweight, and — even though it’s available for a variety of platforms — it behaves just as you’d expect a Mac program to. — Macworld

Transmission on the Mac is written in Objective-C. It uses Growl and Dock badging to keep you informed. Unlike other community based BitTorrent clients, Transmission doesn’t play games with its customers.

  • Transmission doesn’t bundle toolbars, pop-up ads, flash ads, twitter tools, or anything else.
  • It doesn’t hold some feaures back for a payware version.
  • Its source code is available for anyone to review.
  • [Transmission] doesn’t track [its] users, and [its] website and forums have no third-party ads or analytics.

I don’t use BitTorrent very often, but when I do I am glad I found Transmission. Its interface is clean and its icon looks at home in my Dock. It underlying engine is powerful, supporting features such as encryption, peer exchange, magnet links, port forwarding, watch directories, tracker editing, and per-torrent speed limits. Despite its power, Transmission’s ideal preferences have been set to default so it “just works.” Performance is better than any other GUI-based BitTorrent client I have tried, and most command-line based clients as well. Transmission doesn’t try to sell me anything, or have my activity sold to anyone else.

It does not matter that it is free. When you are looking for a BitTorrent client, Transmission is the best option on the Mac, or any of the many other platforms it is available on.


There is a lot of great competition between FTP clients on the Mac, but only one is free, open source, and comes in the form of a polished rubber ducky.

CyberDuck started life as a open source FTP client on Mac OS X, with a powerful backend, and a cute icon. Since then it has expanded to numerous other cloud protocols including WebDav, Amazon S3, Google Cloud Storage, Windows Azure, Rackspace Cloud Files and even Google Drive. Recently it even made the jump to Windows.

CyberDuck supports all of the features you would come to expect from an FTP client including first class bookmarking, external editing, directory synchronization, advanced security, URL translation, and the remote expansion and archiving of files over SSH. As a Macintosh application it supports Mac OS X technologies such as Bonjour, Keychain integration, Quick Look, Spotlight search, and Growl notifications.

Its interface has always appeared very Mac-like, even if it is missing some of the custom GUI elements that have become popular among modern Mac apps in recent years. I used to think of CyberDuck as an also-ran compared to commercial Mac clients such as Transmit, but in recent years my opinion has changed. CyberDuck has gotten better. If you live on the web, like all of us do, and are thinking about building a website, or starting a blog. CyberDuck is one of the best ways to get your files from here to there on the Mac. Despite what you might think of the rubber ducky icon, you won’t look bad doing it.

  1. If the free and open source community can pull off apps that look great on the Mac and Windows, then why can’t Adobe?