Free / FOSS / Libre software for the Mac

(This took a different turn due to the sentence below, so changing the title and posting the other text to another thread.)

The new thread: Other operating systems/containers (Linux, Docker, etc.) on Apple computers

I do think free software in general is a much-neglected topic on MPU (but I have missed a lot of episodes lately), and here on the forum.


Definitely agree - I feel like MPU always seems to cover the same software. I get that this is a forum for Mac users, but every time I come on here and I see discussions around the same macOS-only, paid, closed software, and disparaging more cross-platform solutions, I feel a little bit frustrated.

Maybe this forum just isn’t the place for me though - I respect people’s software preferences, and I don’t mean to say that any of the MPU software faves are bad products, just that I feel a large segment of good apps are ignored because they aren’t the MPU fave or aren’t perfectly designed for macOS at the expense of other platforms. To me, it feels like there’s a lot of focus on tiny details that aren’t really important, compared to not enough focus on the big-picture items that are - but once again, this is probably just a personal preference and not representative of the MPU community at large.

re: Docker - been exploring it lately, once I clean up a few of my Typescript projects I plan to Dockerize some of them to make deployments easier :slight_smile:


I think part of the problem is that as MPUs, we tend to develop workflows that are far too complicated. I was talking to a friend the other day about task managers, and he said to me, “y’know, I’m not convinced that there’s something task management related that a single person would need that’s not covered by just formatted lines in a text file”. And I thought about it and I concluded he was right - nothing I need in a task manager can’t be done with just symbols and text. The fact that I use a task manager isn’t really a need - it’s an indulgence, and spending too much time trying to optimize these kinds of workflows is far less productive than just doing work.

Personally, I favour Obsidian because although it only handles text, it actually handles text well, in a way that lets you use other tools if you find that they are more powerful. There are a lot of notes apps out there, but I haven’t found one that keeps everything as plaintext like Obsidian does - this is why i think Obsidian has an obvious advantage over its competitors.

I agree - see above, once again, I think this is the kind of thing where focusing on the tiny inconsequential details of our workflows leads to our downfall. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else - but I’m trying to correct for it nowadays.


YES! There is so much great FOSS software, I would also like to see it highlighted more. Of course, I’m biased. I used to serve on a Linux Foundation Work Group on FOSS licensing (a protocol called the Software Package Data Exchange or SPDX) for a while. And I’ve given presentations on legal issues involving open source software to computer science students. I’ve even distributed a software library on Github that performs various date calculations.

Despite my bullishness, I’ve found that living and breathing in the IOS/iPadOS world makes adoption of some open source tools harder because of lack of availability across platforms. That said, I still use quite a bit of FOSS tools on my Mac.


So what free tools do you all like to use?
I think Obsidian is well known and much discussed.

What else?

I use:

  • Emacs (of course you all expected that)
    • along with doom which comes with org mode, which ties into @ThatNerd 's mention of plain text task management.
  • Textmate is a great editor, and has been around a long time. It was once a pay application (I think I bought it), but is now free.
  • I use a lot of command line (and other) programs installed using homebrew.
    • z is awesome. It remembers your n most-used directories (that you’ve cd'ed to), so you can just type, e.g. z doom and change directory to ~/.config/doom, or for me, z aim2 to change to /Volumes/Data/Research/aim2.
    • fzf is a fuzzy search tool for the command line. Written in go, it’s stupid fast.
  • Karabiner-Elements to remap keyboard keys, like CapsLock to Ctrl when held, and F19 when tapped (to launch Raycast).
  • Raycast my application launcher of choice. Lots of capabilities, and I’ve only just scratched the surface. Free for personal use, free or paid for teams.
  • Thunderbird email is really nice. Fast search, tags, smart folders, rules, sensible shortcut keys, etc.
  • Brave a web browser based on Chromium, which is what Chrome is based on. Google adds tracking and other things to Chrome, so if you want/need Chrome without the big brother additions, use Brave.
  • SpyBuster is an anti-spyware app. When running, it monitors for network activity destined for Russia. It can also scan apps for embedded signs of Russian destinations for your data. I stopped using because it is based in Russia. They now have an iOS app too. While not an official product, SpyBuster was created my one (or more) of the developers at MacPaw, who are based in Ukraine.
  • Tailscale a zero-configuration VPN that allows you to safely access, say, computers at home while out and about. After installation, you get a unique IP address for each device. You can then use Connect to Server in Finder to connect to your computer. It’s based on Wireguard and is well-respected.

That’s a good start.
How about you all?


I recently heard about accounting software that uses plain text files (no, really).

Ledger (est. 2003) is one. A transaction looks like this:

2015/10/12 Exxon
    Expenses:Auto:Gas         $10.00
    Liabilities:MasterCard   $-10.00

Hledger is another. They even have $100 bounties for bugs found.

Beancount is another, written in Python. They have a web interface called …wait for it… Fava.

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Some free (though not necessarily FOSS) applications I use every day; nothing that hasn’t been discussed here before, but

Cryptomator - For cross platform encryption with minimal fuss. Moved all my personal data inside. Very happy with how it’s working.
NetNewsWire - I missed having an RSS reader, downloaded this out of nostalgia and love it. I don’t need any feature it doesn’t have.
Anki - A flashcard service with an extensive userbase and plenty of features.
Kodi - I won’t pay for more than one streaming service (and even that may go soon) so I’ve gone back to my old media server days. I’ve found myself ripping DVDs again so Handbrake is seeing a lot of use.
Clockify - I never got on with Toggl but clockify has stuck with me and allowed me to keep up the time tracking habbit.

I also regularily use;
Audacity - I used to use Logic back when it came on CD but now this more than covers my modest audio recording and chopping needs.
ViDL - A youtube video downloader. I mainly use it for downloading mp3 audio versions of concerts. The website just gave me a certificate error so I didnt link.

Some of this software is VERY ugly. I actually like this; while I appreciate the beauty of an app like things, I also love the fuggliness of audacity and anki.

@JohnAtl thank you for linking tailscale; this is very interesting to me right now.


There is history there and I’m guessing you’ve been around long enough to have lived through it. If companies big or small do things repeatedly that feel user-hostile they will get a poor reception from some of us.


+1 for beancount, and especially Fava

I used it for a bit….but forgot to keep adding to it. Really cool though!

Yeah. That was always true for me in Quicken too, back in the day.

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If you are looking for a semi-consolidated list, take a look at Open Source Mac Apps.

I’ve used it for a while whenever I need a one-off/rarely used solution if I can’t be bothered with paid apps or trials. Some are good solutions, others are better served with paid apps. And some are a bit more complicated that require you to install additional dependencies. But also note that some of the apps listed are practically abandonedware, with latest release from 2017 or 2018.

Some of the apps I found from the site:

  • Gifski - convert videos to gifs
  • Macdown - markdown editor
  • Netnewswire - RSS feed
  • MTMR - custom touchbar (though I have since used BetterTouchTool)
  • Openemu - I use it to play old pokemon games

Another app that is a great alternative to handbrake is Shutter Encoder. It’s free but you can always donate to the developer. There are tons of features built in. I’m a very big fan of this software and it should be more present.

Just a quick comment on Adobe, you almost need an industry shift to get out of Adobe if you work in the industry. It’s no longer about your individual needs but your clients’ and vendors’ needs. There are still projects that require the use of Premiere in their specs because that is what they use in-house. You can’t run away from PS when all your clients and vendors are sending or requesting PSD files. While Affinity is fantastic at a great price, it’s still a gamble whenever you use it to edit or export in PSD. I rather pay for certainty and peace of mind (especially if it’s work), than stress over a coin toss. Unfortunately it is what it is and we have to make do. You need alternatives that target the enterprise market if anyone wants to enter this space.


Two applications that I’d like to add to the list:
Skim - a blazing fast pdf reader/editor;
Hammerspoon - automate everything on your Mac. Extremely underrated, not in the least by the so called ‘Automators’.

And an honorable mention for Fluor.


Reading this as “FOSS” then:

I’ve moved all of my workflow over to these apps over the past year or so, and am extremely happy with the result.


History which is long gone and things change. Time to move on.

So if you’re not writing Lua scripts, or pumping out code, you’re not automating? When I was at a different point in my career I would have had the time to use something like this. Now? I just need stuff done; if there’s an app that makes it easier I’m going to use it. Wish sometimes that I had more time with hands on keyboard…

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Zerotier uses a custom(roll-your-own) protocol where Tailscale uses Wireguard (open source)
So if you’re not comfortable with software that cannot be verified independently then I’m not sure Zerotier is the right choice.

I’ve used Zerotier as well in the past, and liked it a lot. For me it was a bit too fiddly to setup and manage, and Tailscale got around some NAT issues better. But in the end we have very good choice as overlay networks go, so pick your poison :slight_smile:

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I didn’t read it that way at all. I agree that Hammerspoon is potentially a very useful tool for automators, and should be mentioned. Not that it’s the be-all and end-all of automation, or right for every automator or every task (like any tool).

I also think Hammerspoon can be useful for people who don’t want to code, given the existence of premade “spoons”. It definitely has a tougher learning curve than some tools, but it’s quite powerful

I use it alongside KM and other apps. I actually find Hammerspoon more straightforward sometimes than KM, at least for some kinds of tasks.

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Not really. For example, in the video that @JohnAtl recommends What makes you (still) excited about a new OS version? - Software - MPU Talk, Simon Sinek tells an anecdote about Microsoft not knowing what game it is that they are playing. (At about the 4 minute mark.)

Well, he was also talking about his Zune.

So, back to free stuff…