When the new Apple Mac App Store launched on January 6th, I was at first really disappointed with the choice of free software available. However, there was a lot about the App Store itself to like.  One thing I really like about the Mac App Store is that it simplifies the software update process by making it extremely easy to update all of your purchased/downloaded software with one click (much the same way you update apps on an iPad or iPhone). I also like that it is tied to your iTunes account so that you can install the same software across several machines and keep them in sync without having to spend endless hours downloading the same software on each machine.

Now, I have not had a chance to do an extensive review of the accessibility of the app  (it is not part of iTunes but it’s own app accessed through the Apple menu or the Dock) but so far it appears to be good. The secret appears to be using the rotor to quickly move between the different sections.  In any case, I would think that a single app that supports VoiceOver, even if not perfectly, would be a much better option for someone with a visual impairment  than having to visit each individual website to purchase/download individual apps.

Of the paid apps, the standouts are Rapidweaver (a web design program I used to design my own website), Pixelmator (a graphic editor that should have most of the features needed by the average person who doesn’t want to mortgage their house for Photoshop) and the unbundled iLife ’11 and iWork ’09 apps (don’t use Numbers, fine don’t buy that one). Some of the software is available at a reduced price (Pixelmator is half price on the App Store). If you are a photographer, Aperture for only $80 (instead of $200) is a steal.

But this post is about the free apps, so here are the ones I have installed so far that I like:

  • Caffeine is a tiny program that runs in the menu bar and allows you to suspend your energy settings. It is perfect for when you’re doing a presentation or watching web video and don’t want to be interrupted by the screen reader, screen dimming and other energy saving features. Using the menu bar icon is much faster than opening the display preferences.
  • DropCopy allows you to copy files between any Apple devices, including your laptop or desktop and your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch (you will need to install a free companion app).
  • MindNode for Mac is a simple brainstorming/concept mapping app for those who are visual learners. The app doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of other programs such as Inspiration, but it presents a simple interface that is perfect for brainstorming ideas.
  • Alfred is now my favorite way to search my Mac and launch applications. It works much like Quicksilver. Press a key and a text box will open in the middle of the screen where you can type in your search term. I like that it is much simpler and appears faster than Quicksilver, which never really caught on with me.
  • TextWrangler is a pretty good text editor with features usually found on much more expensive editors (search and replace across multiple files, FTP and SFTP support, etc.).

So far the only program I’ve downloaded that I was not happy with has been Smart Recorder. I just didn’t find it that useful or easy to use. However, it is still on my list of Purchases, so if I change my mind and find a use for it, it will be there waiting for me to install it with just one click.

You will notice that my list has a heavy focus on utilities. Your list may be different depending on how you use your Mac.

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