(If you're impatient, go to thriftmac, by far the best curated list of Mac freeware I've found. For my rants and raves, read on.)
There's (Probably) a (Beautiful, Free) App for ThatI've used Macs personally since 1995 and Windows professionally since 2001. There is undeniably more freeware and low-cost software for available for Windows machines than for Macs. But I'm not convinced there's actually more *good* software. This is a bit subjective, but I find that when I search for a free Windows utility to accomplish this or that task, most of my time is spent filtering the list to the one or two apps that don't completely embarrass themselves. On the Mac there may only be three apps that even try, but chances are that two of them will be serious solutions and they will all look and feel better than their Windows counterparts. Consider, for example, the case of WinDirStat and GrandPerspective:
I attribute these differences to the fact that Mac developers are snobs. They choose to work on and develop for a minority platform because they believe it's better. They're keenly aware of what makes a Mac app a Mac app, and they make sure their own creations live up to their expectations. Windows, on the other hand, is what people use and develop for by default. So you get way more apps that are written simply to accomplish a certain task without consideration of how best to accomplish that task or present that functionality to the user. That's how you end up with this UI:
|Bulk Rename Utility|
(Incidentally, Bulk Rename Utility is actually pretty handy if you can figure out how to use it.)
So all that was just to say that there *is* good Mac software out there, and you generally have to do less sifting to find it... unless you're searching on the Mac App Store.
The Mac App Store is HorribleThe Mac App Store is horrible as a discovery tool. Suppose I launch it with a general question like, "what are the most popular free Mac apps for developers?" Here's the first screen I see:
|App Store Main Screen|
|App Store Developer Tools|
But I know there's some amazing software out there, and some (though by no means all) of it is on the App Store, so I keep looking. Clicking the "See All" link takes me to a page that looks promising because I can page through all apps in the category and I can sort! But look:
|Developer Tools "Sort By" Options|
So I look around some more. Back on the Developer Tools page, I click the "Developer Tools Apps" header on the "featured" section. That gets me a different list, sorted by who-knows-what (there's no "Sort By" option), but apparently featuring highly-rated apps. Lovely. I wish I knew the algorithm, but this gets me somewhere at least. But I start clicking through apps and realize that many of these are very special-purpose. Maybe they're "good" apps, but the fact that a fully-featured text editor like BBEdit shows up halfway down the list after ~30 clipboard managers strikes me as unintuitive. For all I know, my Top 10 developer apps are scattered across the first five pages because there are fifty really popular color pickers apps. And I have to process that many pages of color picker apps to find them. Gah. But okay, I'll give it a try. I click the "Next" link at the bottom of the page and... it does nothing. The App Store says I'm seeing page 1 of 5 (items 1-180 of 798), but I can't navigate to Page 2. Awesome.
So I try another of Apple's curated lists. The Developer Tools page has a link in its sidebar to "Top Free" developer apps. I click that. I get a page with 68 apps that I can supposedly sort by "Name" or "Bestsellers":
|Top Free Developer Apps|
Changing the sort option appears to do nothing. But this is at least a small enough list to scan through. Note that all I have to go on here are the app name, developer name, rating, and icon. No description of what the app does, so if that's not obvious from the name, I have to click each icon individually to get the app's description. Many I don't click simply because the icon is ugly (I'm a Mac snob, after all) and the name doesn't immediately interest me. I may be missing good apps I'd download if there were any descriptive text whatsoever in this display.
There is no Page 2. I don't know Apple's selection algorithm for this page, but it seems better than the sort options available on the "All Developer Apps" page. I wish I could go to that page and sort by this algorithm.
If you know the exact functionality you're looking for, you might think to search for it via the Search box in the upper right. Let's try that. I'll enter "Text Editor." Here's what I get:
And since I'm shopping on a budget, what I really want is the top free text editors, not the top text editors. How do I get that list? It looks like I can't.
What's really frustrating is that there are a lot of great Mac apps on the store. Unfortunately, the best way to find them is to hear about them elsewhere and then follow a direct link to the store from the developer's website or search for the app by name in the App Store. That's kind of sad.