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.

TextEdit

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

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.

OpenOffice

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.

iGTD

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

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Appleapple mac

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

Ryan Faas

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?