great free apps for mac os x 10.3.9

I bought a new laptop in my freshman year of college. Since I am a cheapskate and a computer junkie, I decided to get an Apple PowerBook G4 with Panther (OS X 10.3) instead of a MacBook with Tiger (10.4) to both save money and curb my addiction to the Internet and useless things on Windows such as the old-school Chip’s Challenge and Gunbound.

(Un)fortunately, I got fluent in Mac in about a week and am now a big fan. My Internet addiction has been exacerbated by all the beautiful and reliable Mac apps out there. I have very little incentive to pay for a piece of code when one can find so many wonderful and powerful programs for free on the Internet, so the following recommendations are all for free software.

My criteria for this list is as follows:

– Mac OS X 10.3.9 compatible
– Very fast*
– Doesn’t crash
– Doesn’t freeze*
– Good-looking
– Simple*
– Easy to use

The ones with asterisks* indicate that these criteria can be compromised if the app is strong enough in the other features. For example, Skype freezes for a minute during login, but it otherwise fits the other criteria very nicely. And NeoOffice isn’t the fastest app, but it sure as hell beats Word in price, Mac-friendly design, and stability.

Apps I Like

Skype – The ubiquitous VoIP app. Hangs a bit on login for me, but it’s got a skinnier interface and better call quality and is more internationally-friendly than Gizmo. I love its cute “call ended” sound effect.

xPad – A worthy replacement for TextEdit or Stickies (or both). Nice use of the drawer feature for organizing all the text documents– it keeps things from looking disorganized like Stickies. Plus it’s got autosave on exit like Stickies. I love this app to death.

iTunes 4.7 – Before they added all the memory-hogging features (videos, album visuals and crash-inducing Gapless Playback) and went corporate on our asses, iTunes was a great, fast, and easy-to-use app, plus ourTunes made filesharing in college that much easier. Do the world a favor and downgrade.

NeoOffice – Mac version of OpenOffice. Hefty, but fewer crashes than my pirated version of Microsoft Office or the free but buggy AbiWord. I also love the Dock icon– it’s a pirate ship!

Seashore – Mac version of Gimp, an open-source Photoshop. Fewer features but faster. It’s got all the basic image editing you’d need, like resizing (Scale) and cropping as a new file (Select, Copy, then New from Pasteboard).

Camino – Mac version of Firefox. Fewer features but faster. I decided to give up Firefox because it’s slow and eats up so much of my memory and my time– I mean, do I REALLY need ten RSS feeds and a weather forecast in my bookmarks bar?

VLC – Can play both music and videos, handles DVDs well and can play lots of things fullscreen (like .avi!). It often crashes for formats it doesn’t support, but that’s often ‘coz the formats are either proprietary (like RealPlayer) or buggy.

Honorable Mention Apps

Celtx – I can’t believe this is free. If you have ever written a screenplay or had an idea for a movie, you’d appreciate how much is packed into this powerhouse of a media pre-production app. The pre-made info fields for songs and characters can be a little too restrictive, esp. for the first-time writer, but if I used this more often it definitely wouldn’t be just an honorable mention.

Books – It’s a database for your books! And you can input info based on ISBN, which is crazy useful because there’s so much crap to fill in. It’s still a little glitchy because it was translated from German (and stubbornly uses Amazon Germany to look up ISBNs no matter what you do), but if you don’t mind looking up books by hand, you’re golden.

mini-apps i like

I define mini-apps as applications that only do one thing, but do that one thing very well.

Big Clock – A large clock that’s handy on laptops for timed presentations, and can be converted to fill the entire screen. Easy to use, but read the ReadMe first.

Rebuild (iPod Shuffle Database Builder) – This was a must for my new Shuffle after not being able to run iTunes 7 on my computer. It lets you drag and drop MP3s into your shuffle (like a detachable drive) and you just have to run the database builder in Terminal. One catch: files with weird characters (like umlauts or any Asian language) won’t be playable, so you have to rename them.

MP3 Trimmer – If your cell phone has Bluetooth and can play polyphonic ringtones, this is a simple app to use. It’s for MP3s only, but you can get around that with a converter.

Keyboard Cleaner – Freezes your keyboard so you can clean it or let your cat pounce on your keys. Sure, you could turn your computer off to do this, but who’s got the time for that?

iPodDisk – Lets your Mac mount your iPod like a disk image, so you can copy files off of someone else’s iPod. All the song names are intact and organized in the same way that they were on the iTunes that the iPod was loaded from.

Tomato Torrent – A BitTorrent client for Macs with the funniest dock icon ever.

AppDelete – An app that deletes apps and all their associated files. No more hunting for random folders and ghost files!

Stuffit Expander – WinZip for Mac. Well, all it does is expand stuff. But I never need to zip anything, anyway.

Battery Health Monitor – A simple capacity monitor made for iBooks and PowerBooks. (According to this app, my battery was supposed to have died years ago…)

Xinema – All it does is allow you to play QuickTime movies fullscreen, but that functionality can save you the $30 you might have wanted to shell out for QuickTime Pro.

honorable mention mini-apps

Caffeine – An app that doesn’t let your computer go to sleep. Useful for watching movies, but in 10.3.9 you have to force quit it from the Activity Monitor.

iClock – It’s a wonderful app– it puts world clock times in your menubar clock’s drop-down menu, plus it has alarm clock functionality with whatever sound file you choose. The catch? It’s $20 to register, and lots of the features get disabled if you haven’t registered. I’ve had it for 800 days and I still have two world times in the menu and the alarm clock. That’s all I needed, so it’s cool. But still– shareware. Ugh.

Fun Apps I Like

Bullet – Lets you shoot up your screen when you’re frustrated, bullet holes and all.

BinClocken – A good-looking binary clock. “Plus, I was drunk when I wrote it.” XD rocks.

Heart Monitor – I like visualizing stuff– I have the activity monitor pie chart perpetually running in my Dock to see how much system memory I’ve got. This heart beats in time to your CPU usage.

Oregon Trail – The original game (I think this is the Deluxe version). You need to start the OS9 emulator to run it, but it plays perfectly once you do.

BigFoot – A pair of feet that walk around your desktop. They sometimes play with the window edges, or with your mouse pointer. The settings are really funny: ‘Walking speed’ goes from Yoda to Michael Johnson, ‘Gregariousness’ goes from Greta Garbo to Charlie Sheen…

Goban – If you like playing go but are too chicken to play other people, this app is fun to try. (I can only beat the computer on a 9×9 board with a two-stone handicap.)

Okay, this was a really long list. I’ll post some other time about awesome 10.3.9 features and web applications that’ll give Google Apps a run for their money. In the meantime, I should probably give you an update on how I totally screwed up and didn’t realize that registration for Paris-Sorbonne for this coming year ended in January. x_x


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This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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