Apple Buyers' Guide: 14 Free And Cheap Mac Applications - InformationWeek

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Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner

Apple Buyers' Guide: 14 Free And Cheap Mac Applications

You don't have to shell out big bucks to get things done on your Mac. These tools will help you with instant messaging, writing, password management, and more.

Adium: Instant Messaging

Apple's built-in iChat software is great, but it's limited to users on AIM and the .Mac service. If you want to talk to people on MSN Messenger, Yahoo Instant Messenger, or other networks using iChat, you need to have access to a Jabber server.

Adium is free, open-source instant-messaging software that can connect to AIM, MSN, Jabber, Yahoo, Google Talk, Lotus Sametime, and more. Alas, it does not support voice or video chat. Adium provides a tabbed interface to group multiple chat sessions together to save desktop real estate. It also lets you set nicknames for your friends' user IDs, to help you remember that LuvStud457 is actually your creepy Uncle Norman.

TextExpander: Automated Typing

TextExpander automates the typing of text snippets that you use and re-use often: Your name, your e-mail signature, phone number, address, legal boilerplate, your company name, etc.

After you customize TextExpander, you only have to type a few characters, and TextExpander automatically types the rest. When I type "mmw," followed by a tap of the spacebar, TextExpander types my full name. When I type "iwksig" and space, TextExpander types out my e-mail signature. And so forth. TextExpander types plain or formatted text, and also pastes in images. It's priced at $29.95.

SplashID: Password/Account Management

We all have dozens and dozens of e-mail accounts, Web logins, application passwords, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, and other snippets of confidential information we need to keep track of. We don't want to keep those in plain sight on our computers. We could write them down, but what if the paper gets lost, or burned up in a fire, or stolen?

SplashID is a cross-platform tool for storing accounts and passwords which runs on the Mac, Windows, and more.
(click image for larger view)

SplashID is a cross-platform tool for storing accounts and passwords which runs on the Mac, Windows, and more.

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The best thing to do with that confidential information is to keep it in an application that encrypts it. There are plenty of options on the Mac; the one I use is SplashID.

I started using the Windows version of SplashID years ago because it synchronized with my Treo (which runs the Palm OS), enabling me to use it as backup for those essential information snippets and allowing me to consult the list when I was away from my computer. When I switched to the Mac early this year, I started using the Mac version of SplashID, and I still continue to use it, even though I dumped the Treo in favor of the iPhone.

SplashID is ugly, and it has a few features I'm not using, such as the ability to add icons to entries for individual accounts and the ability to categorize accounts. I just use it as a virtual cardfile of account information, including login IDs, passwords, credit card numbers, and anything else I need to have at my fingertips and encrypted. I can easily copy information to the Mac clipboard and paste it where I need it (which is almost always a browser window).

SplashID is $29.95, and available for the Palm OS, Pocket PC, Symbian, and BlackBerry mobile devices, and for both Mac and Windows desktops. Hopefully, Apple will allow third-party developers to build applications for the iPhone, and we'll see a version of SplashID for the iPhone.

1Passwd: Password/Account Management

Recently, I started trying out an alternative to SplashID: 1Passwd, a password manager that works as an add-on to your browser. It not only remembers your passwords for you, it also automatically fills them in to the appropriate place in browser forms. It remembers credit-card numbers as well, and automatically fills in forms. 1Passwd integrates with Mac's built-in password-saver, the Keychain, and it works across multiple browsers, which is great for me, because I frequently switch among Safari, Firefox, and Camino. 1Passwd also runs on the Palm platform, and there's a Web version coming, which will allow users to access their passwords from any computer, or from the iPhone. It's priced at $29.95.

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