Is OS X open source

Professional software on the Mac: open source alternatives

Christian Rentrop

Apple is involved, even if only on a small scale, in the open source scene. Conversely, the Unix system macOS is of course ideally suited for porting Linux to the Mac. We'll show you some great open source alternatives to popular Mac software.

MicrosoftOffice for the Mac costs 149 euros, and those who need Outlook even have to shell out 279 euros. The photo editing Photoshop Creative Cloud subscription even costs 23.79 euros per month - including cloud compulsory. And many other programs are also quite expensive, whether as a subscription or a one-time license. Therefore, if you want to equip your Mac with the necessary tools, you are usually looking for free alternatives. But even Apple's Mac App Store doesn't really offer many options here: Apple's free iWork suite is available for simple office tasks and tools such as Pixelmator or Affinity, which are significantly cheaper than Photoshop, for image processing.

The problem with the file formats

However, all these programs have two huge disadvantages: They often have significantly fewer functions than the "original" - and usually work with proprietary file formats, ie file formats that can only be opened by this one app. The problem with proprietary file formats is that the files can no longer be opened if the program disappears from the market. Anyone who has ever tried to open Apple Works files in Pages knows what is meant. In theory, this is also the case with Microsoft and Adobe, but their formats are so widespread that they can be seen as a standard. But how can future-proofing be achieved at the same time without having to forego functions? This is exactly where open source alternatives come into play: On the one hand, they have the necessary range of functions and, on the other hand, they can usually be continued by any developer due to their disclosed source code. Disappearance is almost impossible. And old files can also be opened at any time.

Solutions for every purpose

In the past, however, open source software always had a taste: After all, it is more or less a matter of free "handicraft projects" by developers or development teams that are not professionally involved. The times are now over: Open source programs are now also powerful alternatives to existing solutions from major manufacturers on the Mac. Anyone who is not professionally dependent on Microsoft, Adobe and Co. can therefore rely on open-source, free software with a clear conscience - and save a lot of money! In the following we have put together a list of the most important programs and their open source alternatives: All programs are free and, like any Mac app, can be easily installed on the Mac.

01 Alternative to Microsoft Office: OpenOffice

It doesn't always have to be Microsoft: Although Microsoft has a market share of well over 80 percent when it comes to Office solutions, Microsoft Office has some serious shortcomings for the Mac. In addition to security loopholes that occur again and again, the program collection is above all expensive fun: The Home & Student version for private use costs “only” 149 euros. Alternatively, a subscription can be taken out for 69 euros a year. That may not sound so expensive at first, but of course it adds up over the years.

It is much cheaper, namely free of charge, with OpenOffice: The free office package for the Mac, which grew out of the MS Office competitor StarOffice, is professionally maintained by the Apache Software Foundation. For its part, it is also responsible for the extremely widespread Apache web server that largely supports the Internet. In this respect, it is extremely unlikely that the development will fray or that the program will simply disappear from the market. Especially since large companies like Google, Facebook and even Microsoft themselves support the work of the Apache Software Foundation. This makes Apache OpenOffice a real alternative to existing Microsoft products: The included programs Writer (word processing), Calc (spreadsheet) and Impress (presentations) seamlessly replace the Microsoft programs, but can do a lot more than, for example, Apple's Pages, Numbers or Keynote. Especially since OpenOffice can easily handle MS Office documents and even like the current Microsoft suite have an XML-based file format, which means that the files are future-proof.

Download link: OpenOffice for Mac

EnlargeYou can work with OpenOffice. It is a full-fledged MS Office alternative

02Alternative to Adobe Photoshop: GIMP

Photoshop was not the first in 1990, but in the long term it was probably the most successful image processing: Adobe is the world market leader in image processing, and rightly so in many ways. However, Photoshop has one major disadvantage: It is anything but beginner-friendly - and also extremely expensive. So two good reasons to look for alternatives to Photoshop. The already mentioned tools Pixelmator and Affinity are certainly useful alternatives, but the learning curve often increases with the scope of services - and so Affinity is no longer really beginner-friendly.

The situation is completely different with the open source alternative GIMP - the name stands for “GNU Image Manipulation Program”: For many years the program on the Mac spanned a shadowy existence because it was only available as a Linux port with the alternative user interface X11 . Not only did it look awful, it was also not really helpful for the service. But that is long gone: GIMP has been available as a native Mac app without additional software since 2012: GIMP version 2.8.2 and later can be easily installed in the Applications folder like any other Mac app. It is astonishingly small: the entire program file is just over 200 megabytes in size - no comparison to the memory hog Photoshop. Nevertheless, it is reminiscent of the top dog in many ways and can of course also handle Photoshop files.

Download link: GIMP for Mac

EnlargeThe Gimp image processing is superior to some commercial software.

03 Alternative to Final Cut: OpenShot & Shotcut

The Mac has always been made for video editing: Powerful hardware and good software support from Apple make the hardware platform the means of choice when it comes to video editing. Unfortunately, Apple is a bit stingy when it comes to the positioning of its software: In the entry-level segment there is the fairly simple and free iMovie, in the professional segment Final Cut is the ultimate. And in between? Well ... nothing. In times of Youtube, however, iMovie will quickly become too tight for many users, while the expensive Final Cut can quickly overwhelm unskilled users.

Fortunately, there are several open source alternatives. The best: OpenShot and Shotcut. Both programs are much more powerful than iMovie, both programs are of course available free of charge. Above all, OpenShot should make many users happy: The program, which is kept quite simple, is reminiscent of iMovie in its interface design, but has significantly more functions to offer. Shotcut has a different concept: For example, there is no media library here, instead files are dragged and dropped into the playback window or the tracks. The operation of both programs is unfortunately not entirely trivial. In addition, there are performance problems here and there with high-resolution video material, even on current hardware - an i7 processor is therefore strongly recommended. Functionally, both programs are more like iMovie without restrictions than a full-fledged Final Cut alternative. Still: Trying doesn't cost anything - and that's the beauty of open source software.

Download links:

Openshot for Mac

Instructions OpenShot

Shotcut for Mac

Shotcut first steps

EnlargeShotcut is a nice non-linear editing program.

04Alternative to Logic Pro X: Audacity

While the open source software does not quite come close to the quality level of current payment software when it comes to video editing, it is much further ahead with audio editing software: the Audacity tool can definitely compete with Logic in some areas. Certainly not in professional music production, but for example in audio editing - keyword podcast - or in post-processing of existing audio files: For example, when it comes to digitizing records or cassettes, removing noise and generally working with analog audio sources and digitize them. Such a program is lacking in the basic Mac configuration: Garageband was designed more towards music production, while Logic Pro X is in many ways too much of a good thing. Unlike many other more complex open source programs, Audacity doesn't have such a steep learning curve either. Audacity should therefore not be missing on any Mac that works with music.

Download link: Audacity for Mac

EnlargeAudacity is a powerful audio editor that bridges the gap between Garageband and Logic.

05 alternative toUltra Edit: Erbele

Some users might wonder what these mysterious text editors are actually needed for, which are constantly being searched for everywhere. After all, isn't there TextEdit? Well: Text editors are especially useful for developers who design websites or software: They display line numbers and color source text for a better overview. Of course, they can also be used to write texts and format them in Markdown, for example. While there are tons of free text editors under Windows, the Mac variants are usually sold as shareware like UltraEdit.

Not so Erbele (Swabian for “forest strawberry”): Erbele is not only practical, but also very interesting because of the history of its origins. The editor makes use of the idea behind open source software: Erbele is a fork of the Smultron, which is now chargeable. More precisely, Erbele is the continuation of the Smultron-Forks Fraise (French for, to be precise: strawberry), which was discontinued in 2013. Or the original Smultron, which has been taken out of the open source license. Your head smokes, doesn't it? Ultimately, the only thing that matters is that Smultron and Erbele are closely related - and Erbele is a wonderfully powerful Mac editor.

Download link: Erbele for Mac

EnlargeErberle is a powerful and slim text editor

06 Alternative toTransmit:Cyberduck

And another tip for web developers: FTP programs are also more of the paid type under macOS. MacOS can handle FTP, SSH and Co. in the terminal, but nobody really wants to use them. Unlike Windows Explorer, the Mac Finder can only read FTP, but not write to it. To transfer files to an FTP server, you need an FTP client. For example, if you want to upload a website to the hosting provider. Now under macOS there is the excellent, but also very expensive Transmit. Or the also not cheap YummyFTP Pro. The open source alternative Fugu has also not been maintained for seven years. So what to do

Well: Load Cyberduck! This also costs around 27 euros in the AppStore, but it is actually open source software. And that's why it can be downloaded legally and free of charge from the manufacturer's website. Cyberduck reveals another facet of open source programs: Open source does not always mean that a program is free. In the case of Cyberduck, however, you have a choice: You can use the free version from the website - or purchase a license in the App Store and thus support the work of the developers. Since Cyberduck is an excellent tool for all possible servers, this is also the variant we recommend if you use the program frequently.

Download link: Cyberduck for Mac

EnlargeCyberduck is available free of charge from the website. If you want to support the developers, you can use the paid AppStore version.

07 Alternative toAdobe Indesign: Scribus

Adobe Indesign is the ultimate when it comes to professional layout and typesetting. However, it does not necessarily have to be the expensive Adobe solution: The open source tool Scribus allows the first steps in desktop publishing - and that for free. The Pirate Party even recommends using this software for print material, and there are a number of publications that were actually created with Scribus. So the software is anything but a stranger to the professional layout business, even if the standard, of course, is still set by Adobe. Nevertheless: The program is wonderfully suitable for small magazines, school newspapers, party newspapers, church letters and similar publications and allows typesetting and layout with professional standards.

Download link: Scribus for Mac

EnlargeScribus is an open source DTP program - ideal for projects where Adobe products are not required

08 alternative toToast: Burn

Yes, they still exist: people who burn things on CD or DVD. And even those who believed they no longer needed any optical media will now and then come to the point where the 20 euro CD burner purchased for an emergency has to be used for the USB connection. In the vast majority of cases, however, the right burning software is missing. The ultimate tool in this regard is Toast Titanium from Roxio, but that is quite overloaded and, at almost 90 euros, anything but inexpensive for occasional burning. The open source alternative Burn is much easier and, above all, free of charge. The program offers the necessary basic functions, for example to burn an ISO file on DVD or CD or to create an MP3 or audio CD for the car radio. 1: 1 copies and even reading out CD images are no problem either. Practically, the operation is extremely simple, which means that Burn requires almost no previous knowledge. Connected DVD and CD burners, regardless of the brand, are automatically recognized by MacOS anyway. And even though Burn is no longer brand new, it still runs wonderfully on High Sierra and older macOS versions.

Download link:Burn for Mac

EnlargeBurn is a good burning program that should not be missing on any Mac

09 Alternative to Adobe Lightroom and Aperture: Darktable

And the open source scene has taken on another Adobe product: Lightroom, or in its good, old Mac version: Aperture. Both programs are or were professional RAW developers and image administrators, and Darktable also brings exactly these functions to the Mac desktop: Those who collect and edit images professionally will not be able to avoid such a tool. Apple let Aperture die in favor of photos, unfortunately photos are still not a real alternative to the powerful pro tool. And Lightroom? Well: Apple has officially named this as an alternative, but it costs a lot of money again, namely almost 12 euros a month, including the cloud requirement. Darktable is definitely the better alternative, because this open source tool is extremely powerful: In addition to the usual options for image processing, as we know from photos, there is the option of developing RAW files. Changes are saved non-destructively, in other words: Darktable does not change anything in the image itself like the comparable tools. Instead, the changes are recorded in an additional XMP file - just like it does photos, for example.

Download link: Darktable for macOS

EnlargeDarktable can do a lot that Aperture and Lightroom can do - but for free!