It’s been recently suggested that the era of free software is drawing to a close. My take is that free software will die a lot harder than some people seem to wish. In the Linux world, for instance, free software is the operative paradigm.
In the meantime, there’s a lot of really good free software available for the Mac and the iOS (and a great deal more that is very inexpensive).
Here are my picks for favorite free software on both Apple platforms. My choices naturally reflect the sort of things I do with computers, so these are not “best” lists, just applications I find useful and actually use.
My 12 Favorite Free iPad Apps
Dropbox – This is the app for the best Cloud file-synching service. DropBox beats the pants off Apple’s iCloud for ease of use, transparency, and backwards compatibility—it still supports OS X 10.4 and most other popular OS platforms for PCs, tablets, and smartphones. You get up to 2GB Cloud storage free up front, but can earn more free capacity through referrals from your Website. Great stuff.
PlainText Text Editor – Here we have an incredibly handy little iOS text editor. It doesn’t have a whole lot of word processing features, because that’s not the point of what it does best: creating and editing iOS text documents. Like all the best iOS text editor and word processor applications, PlainText links directly to DropBox. My main criticisms are that it can’t open documents that don’t have the text identifier suffix “.txt,” and has limited options for document storage. However, I typically use PlainText a dozen or more times per day.
Nebulous Notes Lite – More of a word processor app than Plain Text, Nebulous Notes Lite has the happy facility of being able to open and edit documents in Dropbox that don’t have the .txt suffix in their names. Needless to say, it also supports direct linking to DropBox. It’s not as powerful a word processing tool as Infovole’s troika of fee iOS text processors—TextKraft, Schreibkraft, and Easy Writer—but it’s definitely a handy tool if you write or work with text.
Google Search for iPad – Often better than a browser, Google Search is an iOS app for which I wish there was a version available for the Mac. I like it better than Google’s flagship Chrome Web browsers on either the iOS or OS X. It’s incredibly useful for quick Internet searches and research.
Dragon Dictation - Nuance’s Dragon Dictate 3 for OS X is a truly awesome powerhouse software tool, with a powerhouse price to go with it: $199.00. However, you can get a taste of what Dragon Dictate has to offer for free with Nuance’s cool free Dragon Dictation app for iOS. DD is pretty much just a simple, straight dictation transcription app. Did I say “just?” Its transcription accuracy is well short of what Dragon Dictate is capable of, but for a free iPad/iPhone app that you don’t have to train to recognize your voice, it’s pretty amazing.
Puffin Browser – Of course, the iOS has Apple’s bundled Web browser Safari (and it’s a good piece of software), but I also use several alternate browsers regularly, with the Puffin Browser Lite being my current favorite number 2. It’s the fastest iOS Web browser thanks to operating through a proxy server, and it has a nice feature set with several unique features such as a virtual trackpad. I’ve also found it quite stable.
Chrome Browser – Google’s Chrome is also a great browser, but the iOS version isn’t up to the standard of its big OS X sibling, yet. Bears watching.
Diigo Browser – Chrome-like, with annotation and offline reading, Diigo is an indie browser that in some respects out-Chromes actual Chrome’s iOS version. Stable, and with a deep feature set.
Atomic Browser Lite – I’m including Atomic Browser Lite somewhat presumptively, because I just discovered it recently thanks to a tip from a reader. In its early days with, I really like what I’ve checked out so far.
Photoshop Express – I don’t really like image editing on a touchscreen, and I much prefer to use Photoshop Elements, Pixelmator, SeaShore, or other real image editing software on a Mac whenever possible. But when the iPad is all that’s available, Photoshop Express is a better-than-decent free tool for basic image editing chores.
PCalc Lite Calculator - There are a bunch of great free calculator apps for the iOS, but the one I currently prefer is PC Calc Lite. It’s way more powerful and capable than what I need in a calculator, but it has a nice combination of an attractive, functional interface (with clicking sounds accompanying keystrokes), and useful features without succumbing to featureitis.
Just Type – This is a cool little alternative text processor notepad app with a configurable user interface and DropBox linking.
So there are my favorite free iOS software picks. What are yours?
In Part 2 I’ll profile my favorite free OS X software tools.