10 free tools for getting work done on your Mac

Some of the best options for doing office work and managing your time and money are free

Microsoft's recent "Laptop Hunters" ad campaign is centered on the idea that Macs are more expensive than PCs and that the cost of core business and productivity tools for the Mac add to that expense. While the premium cost of Apple's hardware will always be part of the Mac vs. PC debate, the truth is that you can get a lot of work done on a Mac without spending a lot for software -- or, indeed, anything at all.

In this guide, I'll look at 10 free and donationware tools that you can use to accomplish virtually any common office or personal productivity task.

Word processing and office suites

Working with word processing documents, spreadsheets and presentations has long been a primary use of computers. Mac users have a range of paid options for creating and editing such documents, headed by Microsoft Office for Mac (US$149 to $399, depending on the version) and Apple's iWork ($79), but there are also a number of open-source and free options.


The first option, for word processing only, actually comes bundled with Mac OS X. Although TextEdit is generally considered a basic text editor, it does support styled text and multiple fonts.

The most recent version of TextEdit, included with OS X Leopard, can open and edit files in rich text format (.rtf), Microsoft's old and new Word formats (.doc and .docx), and the OpenDocument format (.odt) used by OpenOffice. With Mac OS X's global spelling- and grammar-checking capabilities, it can serve as a replacement for Word, provided you don't need to use any particularly advanced features like footnotes or change tracking.


NeoOffice, a Mac OS X port of the open-source OpenOffice suite, is available for both Intel and PowerPC Macs. It features word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, and database tools that are fully interoperable with the various file formats of Microsoft's Office apps (including the Office 2007 XML formats), with the exception of Access databases.

NeoOffice has been available to the general public since 2007 (though earlier beta builds existed as far back as 2003) and was the first fully Mac-specific port of OpenOffice. Its interface varies a bit from Microsoft Office (and can sometimes seem a little less intuitive or polished, though no less functional), but it offers access to a complete range of features, including support for templates, change tracking, styles/formatting, spelling and grammar checking, and notation of documents. Once you get used to the interface, NeoOffice can easily serve as a complete office suite.


Last October, OpenOffice.org released its own Mac port of OpenOffice. Not surprisingly, OpenOffice's interface and functionality for the Mac are identical to NeoOffice in many ways.

There are, however, a couple of differences. For instance, the current release of OpenOffice doesn't support the Office 2007 XML file formats. It also seems to run a bit slower than NeoOffice on most Macs. On the flipside, OpenOffice does offer a slightly more intuitive interface in some areas, such as a more detailed dialog of options for creating new documents with a gallery-style view.

Although both OpenOffice and NeoOffice are good solutions and you may want to try both, my personal preference is for NeoOffice, primarily because it offers slightly better performance.

Project and information management

Good task management can be important both at work and at home. Whether you're naturally good at managing things or your desk is a clutter of notes on everything from Post-its to napkins, these tools can help you organize projects and to-do lists.


Based on the [[xref:http://www.davidco.com/what_is_gtd.php|Getting Things Done|What is GTD

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Appleapple mac

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ryan Faas

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Crucial® BX200 SATA 2.5” 7mm (with 9.5mm adapter) Internal Solid State Drive

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Xiro Drone Xplorer V -3 Axis Gimbal & 1080p Full HD 14MP Camera

Learn more >

ASUS ROG Swift PG279Q – Reign beyond virtual world

Learn more >

D-Link TAIPAN AC3200 Ultra Wi-Fi Modem Router (DSL-4320L)

Learn more >

D-Link PowerLine AV2 2000 Gigabit Network Kit

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >


Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

ASUS VivoPC VM62 - Incredibly Powerful, Unbelievably Small

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Best Deals on Good Gear Guide


Latest News Articles


GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy


First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni


For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell


The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi


The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott


My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.


Latest Jobs


Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?