The best free open-source software for Mac OS X

If you live and work on a Mac, you'll want to try these 10 killer open-source apps

Most Mac lovers love the Mac for the carefully wrought user interfaces and the crisp design, and never pay attention to the open source at the heart of the operating system. But underneath this beautiful facade is a heart built upon the rich -- if often chaotic -- world of open-source software.

If you want to go through the pain and joy of building the OS yourself from scratch, you can even download the open-source core of Mac OS X known as Darwin.

[ See the slideshow summary of the 10 best open-source apps for Mac OS X. Read about the winners of InfoWorld's 2009 Best of Open-Source Software Awards. ]

That's just the foundation. There are thousands of open-source tools available for the Mac, some built for the Mac alone and others that are translations of software created for other operating systems. Some are aimed at a niche of programmers or scientists, but a good number are supremely useful tools for everyone.

This list includes just 10 of the most essential open-source applications for a Mac, all precompiled, polished, and ready to run.

Downloading the software is just the beginning because many of them have yet another layer of openness hidden inside. Several of the applications have their own built-in environment for extending the software. Some accept plug-ins, some have pop-up windows for writing short extensions, and some have both -- so you have even more options for customization.

In many cases, you're not just getting an open-source tool; you're getting a range of options to add to that tool.

Fix your Mac with AppleJack

Why is one of the simplest ways to mend a sluggish Mac is to "fix the permissions"? Who changes the permissions on my files? Shouldn't I know? Shouldn't I -- what is that word? -- give permission for the change? What good are permissions if some gremlin can just come in and change them without asking me?

One way to fix the permissions and perform a host of housekeeping chores is to run AppleJack, an open-source tool that triggers many of the standard housekeeping scripts like disk repair and cache cleanup. The only limitation is that you need to run it in Single User mode (hit Command-S at startup).

Open-source Mac software: AppleJack
AppleJack can resurrect a dead Mac by cleaning up the detritus left by system crashes.

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AppleJack won't ask you how you want to set the permissions because, well, that would shatter the myth by letting you, the system owner, know what's going on. So don't worry your pretty little head. The permissions will all be fixed and your Mac will run faster and smoother. If you ask too many questions, you'll end up burning the time you've saved by making your Mac more efficient -- so don't.

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