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Finding Mac Freeware and Shareware: A Beginner's Guide

Why would anyone need low-cost software? I’m sure that some people, after switching from the PC, realize that they need some software to put on their shiny new Mac and their pockets are now empty. Or how about students, who, after spending their last bit of pocket change on some yummy ramen noodles, don’t exactly have a few hundred dollars left for a graphic-editing application. Then you have people like me. If you were to ask one of my children what the family slogan is, they would respond, “Mommy and daddy are cheap tightwads.” My son thinks that moths live in my wallet and that Scrooge was an amateur compared to me. I’m cheap. I’ll admit it!

Not that I’m above spending hundreds of dollars on software I use every day, like Final Cut Studio, Microsoft Office, Adobe’s Creative Suite – all titles whose boxes are staring at me as I write this article. But how about a small application that only does one thing, like MetronomeX, a free audio/visual metronome for OS X. For that, you have the whole category called Shareware/Freeware.

According to the entry in Wikipedia, shareware is software that is "typically obtained free of charge, either by downloading from the Internet or on magazine cover-disks." The program is either a reduced-functionality version of a full application or game (crippleware), or asks the user to pay for the software after a trial period (nagware). There are also developers who don’t ask for money, but instead request that you send them a postcard or send an amount to a charity.

Freeware can also be classified as shareware, except it's, well, … free. Freeware and shareware should not be confused with free/open source software (F/OSS). Open-source software usually comes with the source code, so the user can extend the functionality of the program by coding their own functions and extensions. Shareware and freeware, however, usually do not include the source code to the application.

Now that you know what shareware is, how do you go about getting the stuff? There are many great places on the Internet where you can search for and download great shareware titles. We’ll go through a few of them now.

  • PureMac ( is a great location to start. It is updated regularly and excellently organized into categories and sub-categories. The software has small descriptions containing system requirements, etc. for each application.
  • ( is the download section of C|Net – a large publishing company. Their Mac section has a clear and understandable layout with sections for new releases, most downloaded, top rated and more. has approximately 4,500 Mac titles.
  • Tucows ( is probably the oldest website dedicated to shareware and freeware. They have a great mix of Classic Mac apps (OS 7-9) and OS X apps. They have their site organized by categories and sub-categories. Each category has a different application spotlighted monthly, with an expanded description of the app’s features. Tucows has mirrors – sites containing the same content as the “master” site – around the world, so downloads are usually pretty quick since there are multiple places to download from rather than just one site.
  • MacUpdate ( is a large site dedicated to Macintosh software downloads. MacUpdate is sorted by date of release, so the latest stuff is always on top. They have great filtering on their site, so you can narrow your search to graphics applications that are free, for example. MacUpdate has approximately 20,000 Mac titles.
  • VersionTracker ( is another huge Mac software site containing thousands of Classic and OS X titles. This site is also organized by date of release, so if you are the type who wants the latest applications, this is the place. VersionTracker also has a great category browser to narrow down your search for just the right application. VersionTracker also offers a service that automatically checks the software on your hard drive and notifies you of any program updates.

All of these sites offer great searching tools in addition to their categorized listings so you can search for the type of application at the perfect price. Many sites also offer reviews of the software – both from the sites themselves and from users. I often find the user reviews handy since I would rather let someone else have the pain of being the first to find problems in an application rather than myself. I also like to sort applications by number of downloads or popularity to narrow down a list of applications that either work well or others have had good luck with.

Now comes the part of the program where you learn a Valuable Lesson (insert ABC After School Special reference here). Shareware is just what the name implies – shareware. The developer – usually an individual coding into the wee hours in their basement, rather than a corporate code-monkey – has shared this often low-cost application with you. Now it is your turn to share with the developer. Where the professional version of Microsoft Office for the Mac retails for $499.00, most shareware titles are under $30.00 – quite a bargain! Shareware could better be described as “Trustware” since the developer is putting their trust in you to pay for software that you continue to use. Do you really like that password-management application? Do you use it often? Does it make your life simpler? Then let the developer know by sending them a check. Are you saving money by using an incredible shareware audio-recording application rather than one costing hundreds more? By all means, let PayPal show the developer how much you really care.

In the future, Free for All will be reviewing some of the best shareware/freeware applications. In this article, we wanted to give you an idea of just what the whole shareware thing was about. Come back weekly for a taste of what’s cheap – and good – in the world of Mac software.

Meet Your Macinstructor

A computer user since the early days, and a Mac user since the first Mac 128K, Wayne Linder currently works for a large storage and peripheral company after having several careers in the audio, advertising and IT fields. He helps run Utah's largest Macintosh User Group - UMUG - and is active on many computer help forums. He is also a member of the Air Force Reserves and enjoys working on his computer until the wee hours of the morning, even though his wife claims he should put down the bloody mouse and exercise a little. (In his defense, he just doesn't understand the concept of voluntary sweating. What's up with that?!)


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