6 Life saving freeware utilities for Mac OS X

After having moved from a PC over to a Mac, it can be difficult deciding what programs you need to get. Surprisingly, many of the programs you would have to pay for on Windows have superior free alternatives on a Mac so the initial outlay may save you money in the long run. I do ask that you donate to the developers for their hard work if you can, please remember they developed this for free and used their own time, so please show some appreciation. Let's get straight into the list:

1. TimeOut - This utility sits quietly for 30 minutes (or whatever you configure) then as the time approaches it begins to fade out your screen - allowing you time to save what you are doing. Your screen will then be completely covered and it will display a countdown timer telling you to have a break. You can configure all lengths of time and add sounds and micro-breaks more often in addition to your longer breaks. Your eyes will thank you and so will your wrists - no more eye strain or RSI. This is developed free so if you do get some use out of it please do donate to the developer, even $10 will help. They are also developing TimeOut 2 which you will get the full paid version for free if you donate now - minimum $10. You will get TimeOut 2 as soon as it is released. (AntiRSI is also free and similar though more basic - also donationware!)

2. Caffeine - Developed by Lighthead this fantastic utility allows you to do one simple thing. As the developers put it "Caffeine is a tiny program that puts an icon in the right side of your menu bar. Click it to prevent your Mac from automatically going to sleep, dimming the screen or starting screen savers. Click it again to go back." Want to leave the screen on for a certain reason or want to make sure your Mac doesn't go to sleep? Give it some Caffeine. I can't find a donation link on their website so I guess it's straight up freeware!

3. Carbon Copy Cloner - This is the best hard drive cloning and backup tool I have EVER come across on any Operating System and it is significantly better than commercial solutions which can be very costly. Your backups are made on block-level so everything is cloned and the backups are bootable. There are scheduled backups which I have never seen from any backup tool that work reliably, let alone from a free tool. Even more amazing is the inclusion of incremental backups meaning only new changes are cloned making very quick backups after the initial backup. You can also backup to another Mac on your network. Donations for this program are recommended as this would sell for at least $60 if it were commercial.

4. Flux - "Ever notice how people texting at night have that eerie blue glow? Or wake up ready to write down the Next Great Idea, and get blinded by your computer screen? During the day, computer screens look good—they're designed to look like the sun. But, at 9PM, 10PM, or 3AM, you probably shouldn't be looking at the sun. F.lux fixes this: it makes the color of your computer's display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.Tell f.lux what kind of lighting you have, and where you live. Then forget about it. F.lux will do the rest, automatically." I honestly thought this was ridiculous initially but now I have it on all my computers and my eyes are more relaxed and I'm not staring at the sun anymore at night. The developer also wrote Picasa before it was acquired by Google.

5. Handbrake - All those DVDs you have at home can now be ripped straight into iTunes and then synced onto your iPod to watch whenever you want. Just pop the DVD in and press Start come back an hour or two later and your DVD will be ripped straight to your hard drive. It can also transcode any video file into a different format. It is GPL-licensed and no donations are taken

6. VLC - Another GPL-licensed program, VLC is the best media player around. It is cross platform and available on Windows, OS X and Linux. It will open any file that you can throw at it without asking you for codecs or details - it will just work. It can also be used to convert video as a media converter and as a streaming tool too. 

Only free public-domain or independant software is above - there are thousands of other free programs but these are some that truly go further than any other commercial utility and do surely deserve a place. Also some programs like Handbrake and Carbon Copy Cloner are reason enough to get most Windows users to switch instantly - if only they knew.


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