If you've never used a design app or 3D-modelling tool before, fear not. SketchUp makes the entire process simple.
Using a range of tools, draw the shapes you want and then drag them out to create 3D objects. Ideal for decoration planning, basic design work or providing mockups of home improvements, SketchUp is the ultimate design tool for beginners.
As well as creating designs for your home or office, you can create 3D models and add them to Google Maps. Once you've installed SketchUp you're guaranteed to spend hours playing with the infinite possibilities it affords.
So you need an office suite that can handle spreadsheets, word processing, design and presentations. Do you go for Apple's iWork or Microsoft's Office? Both cost at least £50 and offer many pros and cons.
Or you could opt for OpenOffice that costs… well, nothing. Unbelievably, OpenOffice is a complete set of office tools compatible with most formats of office file and available for Mac that won't cost you a penny.
Ideal for students, home users or businesses not ready to take the plunge on a full site licence for commercial software, Open-Office is a great alternative to iWork and Office.
GNU Image Manipulation Program. That's the official title of this app, which makes you realise why the creators opted for GIMP as the name for this powerful graphics suite.
It's like Photoshop for free, and is a true labour of love for its developers who have carefully crafted it over time to produce one of the most fully featured pieces of free software available for Mac OS X.
Whether you want to retouch photos, create graphic designs or experiment with 3D, GIMP offers it all and more. Before you fork out for an expensive graphics app, spare the time for this 78MB powerhouse to download.
While GarageBand handles the creative aspects of Mac audio-editing, Audacity is a free option for recording, editing and adjusting audio files.
If you want to quickly split an MP3, convert the format of an audio file or digitise tape or records, Audacity is really easy to use and it's also capable of a number of additional tricks too. If you are after more advanced techniques, Audacity can even offer tools to speed up and slow down audio, work with multiple tracks at once and clean up audio files with a variety of effects.
Those who are serious about their audio editing can even add VST plug-ins to Audacity, in order to further enhance its already brilliant feature set.
Considering the fact it's a free application, Audacity offers some very professional tools and is an ideal choice for those who need a fast and effective editing option when GarageBand isn't the best solution.
There are built-in Sticky Notes in Mac OS X but they don't offer nearly as many features as those found in SketchBox. This app's simple interface allows you to create multiple notes, sketch on them with a pen, add text and even set alarms for individual sticky notes.
The main screen shows all of your available notes and, if you wish, you can even build storyboards from sketches you have drawn. The app is free but is no longer updated by the developer. It is also known to have incompatibilities with Snow Leopard, however we're yet to find any.
We've found SketchBox to be a great way of jotting down our creative ideas – it's small and lightweight, so you don't have to wait ages for it to load and risk losing that precious moment of inspiration.
Being able to do a quick sketch and add text at the same time is the digital equivalent of jotting things down on a table napkin – the traditional first step of every great idea in the world!
Anxiety's intent is to produce the opposite emotion to its name, when used correctly. Working with Mail to-do lists and your iCal schedule, Anxiety provides a small floating window for you to quickly add reminders to and check off when you're done.
These are then added to your Mail and iCal lists so you can access them on all of your synced devices and cross them off as you go.
One of the main advantages of Anxiety is that unlike many list managers, it's very lightweight. Easier than a sticky note and far more accessible, Anxiety shrinks into the background when not in use.
So why is this app in the Creativity section, you ask? Well, how can you be creative if your mind is full of all the things you have to do? By removing the little niggles of life you'll find you have more time to dream up more imaginative solutions. So, take the first steps to a more organised you and install Anxiety today.
Best free Mac system tools
AppFresh scans your system for installed applications and then lets you know which of them have a pending update. You can then choose those you would like to install and those to leave be.
It sounds simple but this extremely easy process can be a real time saver that allows you to take control of the update process when you have the time rather than be dictated to by your software.
You can also switch off common and infuriating update checkers like Microsoft's AutoUpdate software. More time, less annoying messages and pop ups. Now that's fresh!
A lot of apps throw a ton of files across your system, taking up space. Even when you remove an app, these files remain.
AppCleaner hunts down these lurking files and removes them along with the app. You can even set AppCleaner to watch out for when you next drag an app to the Trash and hunt down all of its associated files for removal as well.
To avoid accidents, you can tell AppCleaner to protect certain apps from deletion, plus every deleted file is kept in a log so you can see exactly what you got rid of.
Growl is a notification tool that can alert you to all sorts of happenings on your Mac, from new emails to software downloads. Notifications can be customised and appear discreetly at chosen positions on your Desktop with a small amount of information included.
A wide range of apps support Growl notifications including Twitter clients, Dropbox and many more. Custom plugins are also available for Mail and Safari to notify you of new messages and completed downloads.
When you don't have time to launch an app to check things, Growl is a great solution for quick updates.
Sometimes it just feels like there's something wrong with your Mac. Maybe websites are loading slower, apps are being sluggish or the fans keep turning on. It's at this point where you will need to follow that nagging feeling and check that everything is in order. And iStatPro is the perfect way to do this.
This handy Dashboard widget monitors all sorts of information on your Mac, from CPU usage to temperature, and should help you pinpoint where things are amiss. The interface is customisable via simple drag and drop, and you can set exactly which reports are shown on the screen and which are not.
Easy to understand graphs and charts explain network use and memory assignments, and there's even an iPhone app that displays live stats for your Mac on your phone's screen. For peace of mind or some serious system analysis, your Dashboard and iStatPro should be your first port of call.
As Mac users, we don't really need to worry about viruses on our platform. Sure, there have been a few pieces of malware that have presented a risk, but they're the exception, rather than the norm.
However, it pays to make sure you're protected. Sophos knows this and, alongside its commercial offerings, provides Sophos Anti- Virus for Mac Home Edition as a free download.
The unobtrusive software works quietly in the background using very little memory protecting you from viruses, Trojans and worms. There are none of the annoying popups we've come to accept from security software and you can customise how and when the app scans your system for maximum subtlety.
26. Stuffit Expander
Stuffit has been around on the Mac as long as we can remember and has always been on hand to perform one of the simplest but often awkward of tasks – unzipping a compressed file. While Apple's Archive Utility does much the same job, Stuffit has a wealth of available preferences including automation, virus scanning and expanding to specific folders.
Perhaps most importantly, it will unzip certain compression formats that Apple's built-in decompression can't handle. You'll find it's an invaluable tool to have when somebody sends you something compressed on a Windows computer using an obscure compression tool.
Don't forget, a premium version (called StuffIt Deluxe) is also available that enables you to compress files in a number of ways. It can make some documents up to 98% smaller than their original size! It's also particularly good at compressing JPEG files, which are often used for photos.
Love or hate Google you can't fault its browser, Chrome, which is all about speed and efficiency. With a unified URL bar that works for search as well as web addresses, it's a clean and snappy browser that takes advantage of your Mac's power to bring you the sites you need quickly.
Offering tabs, extensions and themes, Chrome provides all the features you need combined with its trademark pace. Security features see you protected from malware and phishing, and the software is automatically updated with security patches. A great alternative to Safari if you fancy a bit of a browser change.
You may not have to use an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) client very often but on those occasions when you do you surely don't want to have to pay for it.
Fortunately there's Cyberduck, which won't cost you a penny but provides all of the features you would expect in a paid-for client including Keychain access, SSH security features and Quick Look previews.
The app even allows you to edit files on the server if you need to make last minute changes to your upload. Built for the Mac, Cyberduck is Bonjour compatible so should find FTP and WebDAV servers on your local network.
How many times have you got to the office and realised you left an important document you were working on at home. It happens the other way around too. What if you're on the road and forget to load the right files onto your laptop?
Dropbox rids you of these worries by providing you with online storage that's accessible from any of your computers and even on your iPhone or iPad. Simply install the app on your Mac, drop your files into the shared folder and work on them wherever you have an internet connection. Forget USB drives and email attachments, this is the easiest A completely free FTP client for speedy transfers. way to work.
One of the easiest ways to get the latest updates from your favourite sites is to make use of RSS. You can do this in Safari and Mail, but for a truly brilliant experience, check out NetNewsWire.
The app syncs with Google Reader or can run on its own, and gathers the RSS feeds from all of your selected sites into an easy-to-read list with notifications when new posts are available.
With a wide range of views and export options to Instapaper and del.icio.us, NetNewsWire provides everything you need to keep on top of breaking news from your chosen sources.
First published in MacFormat Issue 231
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