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06 August 2009, 11:14

Open source stars for Mac OS X: Part 1

Open source isn't just for Linux users, there are many excellent free open source applications available, ready to run, for Apple Mac OS X too. Part 1 of this 2 part feature takes a look at alternative browser, mail, messaging, productivity and image editing applications.

by Chris von Eitzen

Please see "Open source stars for Mac OS X: Part 2" for an overview of alternative audio, video, burning and encryption applications and much more.

It's a relatively easy task for open source developers writing for Linux to port their applications to OS X or even to write new open source applications just for OS X. Apple's Mac OS X is based on the Mach kernel with a BSD wrapper, using specific parts from FreeBSD's and NetBSD's implementation of Unix that were later incorporated into Nextstep. It uses GCC as a compiler and the Common Unix Printing System (CUPS), a standards-based, open source printing system that was developed by Apple. Mac OS X uses its own native graphics system, but also supports the X Windows System graphical interface. (Both CUPS and the X Windows System are used by the majority of Linux distributions). There are a plethora of open source applications available online for virtually every platform and Mac OS X is no exception.

While, for good reason, most of the limelight is normally taken up by a few core applications, there are also other less well-known projects working on niche applications that are releasing amazing programs for the Mac platform. Some of the applications have a strong corporate backing, others only have a thriving community behind them and some rely completely on donations from their users. Mac OS X default installations and new systems already come with several applications, but they may not be to the taste of every user. This feature, the first of two, provides an overview of some of the best web browsers, messaging and email clients and productivity and graphics applications. If you prefer to see what the applications we'll be discussing look like in action first, check out the slideshow below.

Web Browsers

Every Mac OS X system comes with Safari, Apple's web browser built on the open source WebKit browser engine. However Safari may not be the browser of choice for every user. An obvious and popular alternative to Safari is Mozilla's Firefox web browser, recently updated to version 3.5.

Firefox is a fast, award winning browser that includes state of the art web technologies, supports tabbed browsing and is fully customisable. Users can customise Firefox with various free add-ons that can add a variety of new features and functions, from mail notification add-ons to web development tools. The add-ons function also lets users change the look and feel of their browser with different themes changing the browsers colours, layout and standard buttons. Firefox 3.5 supports over 70 different languages and in-depth details about its major new features can be found in the "What's new in Firefox 3.5" feature article from The H. As Firefox is such a popular web browser, several other open source browsers for the Mac are based on it. (Download - License: MPL/LGPL/GPL tri-license)

Alternatively Mozilla also provides an "all-in-one internet application suite" called SeaMonkey that includes a web browser with advanced email and newsgroup support, an IRC chat client and HTML editing support. SeaMonkey 2.0 Beta 1, the latest development version of SeaMonkey, builds on the heritage of Netscape Communicator and previous Mozilla Application suites and is based on the same core and web features as Firefox 3.5.1. It features a new download manager that supports cross-session resumable downloads and much improved feeds. SeaMonkey is a customisable all-in-one tool that's perfect for users who don't like to have multiple applications open at the same time, or simply prefer to have everything in one place. (Download - License: MPL/LGPL/GPL tri-license)

Camino is a Mac OS X only browser that's based on Mozilla's Gecko rendering engine and aims to provide the best possible experience for Mac users. Camino features everything that you might expect in a Mac application, including a simple and streamlined interface that the project calls "Mac Style", AppleScript support and more. The Camino Project's goal is to make the browser powerful, functional and elegant – allowing users to browse the web, without the browser getting in the way. A helpful guide is available for those users looking to switch from Safari to Camino that includes several tips and tricks to smooth the way. Users interested in the next generation of Camino should have a look at Camino 2.0 Beta 3, a preview release of what will become Camino 2 that features several major updates, such as improved Spaces support, AppleScript capabilities and performance improvements. (Download - License: MPL/LGPL/GPL tri-license)

Heavy social networking users should take a close look at Flock, a self-proclaimed social web browser that includes several Web 2.0 features that you may not find in most other browsers. Features like the People Sidebar and My World integrate with social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Bebo to show all of your friends in one place and display the latest feeds, friend updates and photo/video updates. Flock 2.5 is based on the 3.0.x branch of Firefox. It adds support for the popular micro-blogging service Twitter and integrates Facebook Chat as a new Instant Messaging service. The Media Bar and Photo Uploader make it easier for users to search for, browse and upload photos and videos to and from various media services, such as Picasa and Flickr. As with Firefox, Flock lets users customise their browser with several extensions and tool bars that can be used to enhance the browser. Flock even supports most of the extensions from that are compatible with Firefox 3. (Download - License: MPL/LGPL/GPL tri-license)

Like Apple's Safari web browser, Shiira is based on WebKit and is written in Objective-C and Coca, one of Apple's native object-oriented application program environments for the Mac. Shiira, Japanese for the common dolphin-fish, is a Mac only browser that has the lofty goal of being "better and more useful than Safari". Shiira features several themes with various coloured icons and, as with Camino, is aimed at being a simple and easy to use browser. The browsers tabs appearance can be customised and the Tab Exposé feature works much like the Exposé feature in Mac OS X, allowing for easier tab navigation. (Download - License: modified BSD)

Next: Messaging and Email

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