The best free open source software for Mac OS X

If you live and work on a Mac, you'll want to try these 10 killer open source apps -- InfoWorld's top picks

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When you fire up Fink or Fink Commander, it will download the latest list of packages. Following that, you can walk through the candy shop installing software. This generally works well, but it can get messy if you load up on programs. Fink will grab as many libraries as it needs, and the result can be pretty big. In many cases, Fink is smart enough to get the right version, but sometimes the libraries from one project will overwrite another.

All told, the Fink repository holds more than 10,000 packages, from programming tools to games. Perl, Python, and Ruby are probably most at home on Unix machines, so they're natural residents. Much of the Internet infrastructure runs on Unix, so many useful tools for plumbing the network, such as Wireshark, are here too. You'll also find several scientific and mathematics packages.

Fink doesn't do much itself, but the packages in the repository can take care of practically everything you might need -- if you are a command-line jockey or someone who isn't afraid of using your keyboard without a mouse. Fink really unlocks the power of the hidden Unix core of the Mac.

FinkCommander lets you scroll through a list of packages and choose the ones you want to install.

Learn the power of plug-ins with Firefox

Firefox is an essential browser for Mac users because it's a simple way to get some PC compatibility without running Windows in a separate virtual machine. Many Web sites are tested first on Internet Explorer, then on Firefox, and finally on Safari if the developer has time. Using Firefox on the Mac is almost the same as using Firefox on the PC.

There are deeper advantages. Firefox is often the first place that Web developers see their creations because there are so many useful additions that help programmers. For instance, Firebug and Web Developer turn any version of Firefox into an amazing tool for diving into the behavior of a Web page.

Add-ons like these are some of the 5,000-plus reasons why the Firefox browser isn't just an open source tool, but an open source ecosystem. The browser's source code is open, downloadable, and forkable, but the real openness lies with the plug-ins and extensions. The developers added a simple API that lets anyone write a small block of code to reconfigure practically any part of the user's experience. Add-ons like FastestFox speed up the browser by increasing the number of download streams, while Personas contribute new skins. And then there's Greasemonkey, which accepts simpler JavaScript plug-ins in case the main Firefox API is just too difficult. You can write JavaScript that acts upon the DOM as the page comes in, effectively giving you more control over the behavior of a Web page.

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