10 free tools for getting work done on your Mac

Some of the best options for doing office work and managing your time and money are free

Microsoft's recent "Laptop Hunters" ad campaign is centered on the idea that Macs are more expensive than PCs and that the cost of core business and productivity tools for the Mac add to that expense. While the premium cost of Apple's hardware will always be part of the Mac vs. PC debate, the truth is that you can get a lot of work done on a Mac without spending a lot for software -- or, indeed, anything at all.

In this guide, I'll look at 10 free and donationware tools that you can use to accomplish virtually any common office or personal productivity task.

Word processing and office suites

Working with word processing documents, spreadsheets and presentations has long been a primary use of computers. Mac users have a range of paid options for creating and editing such documents, headed by Microsoft Office for Mac (US$149 to $399, depending on the version) and Apple's iWork ($79), but there are also a number of open-source and free options.

TextEdit

The first option, for word processing only, actually comes bundled with Mac OS X. Although TextEdit is generally considered a basic text editor, it does support styled text and multiple fonts.

The most recent version of TextEdit, included with OS X Leopard, can open and edit files in rich text format (.rtf), Microsoft's old and new Word formats (.doc and .docx), and the OpenDocument format (.odt) used by OpenOffice. With Mac OS X's global spelling- and grammar-checking capabilities, it can serve as a replacement for Word, provided you don't need to use any particularly advanced features like footnotes or change tracking.

NeoOffice

NeoOffice, a Mac OS X port of the open-source OpenOffice suite, is available for both Intel and PowerPC Macs. It features word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, and database tools that are fully interoperable with the various file formats of Microsoft's Office apps (including the Office 2007 XML formats), with the exception of Access databases.

NeoOffice has been available to the general public since 2007 (though earlier beta builds existed as far back as 2003) and was the first fully Mac-specific port of OpenOffice. Its interface varies a bit from Microsoft Office (and can sometimes seem a little less intuitive or polished, though no less functional), but it offers access to a complete range of features, including support for templates, change tracking, styles/formatting, spelling and grammar checking, and notation of documents. Once you get used to the interface, NeoOffice can easily serve as a complete office suite.

OpenOffice

Last October, OpenOffice.org released its own Mac port of OpenOffice. Not surprisingly, OpenOffice's interface and functionality for the Mac are identical to NeoOffice in many ways.

There are, however, a couple of differences. For instance, the current release of OpenOffice doesn't support the Office 2007 XML file formats. It also seems to run a bit slower than NeoOffice on most Macs. On the flipside, OpenOffice does offer a slightly more intuitive interface in some areas, such as a more detailed dialog of options for creating new documents with a gallery-style view.

Although both OpenOffice and NeoOffice are good solutions and you may want to try both, my personal preference is for NeoOffice, primarily because it offers slightly better performance.

Project and information management

Good task management can be important both at work and at home. Whether you're naturally good at managing things or your desk is a clutter of notes on everything from Post-its to napkins, these tools can help you organize projects and to-do lists.

iGTD

Based on the [[xref:http://www.davidco.com/what_is_gtd.php|Getting Things Done|What is GTD

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Ryan Faas

Computerworld (US)
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