Gina Trapani writes on LifeHacker:
One of the drawbacks of switching from Windows to Mac is the smaller selection of free software available for OS X. Sure there’s tons of fantastic Mac software out there, but most of it isn’t free – unless you know where to look, that is.
If she were coming from the Linux world to the Mac, I’d understand her. Third party software for Linux is much freer than on the Mac as a general rule, but Windows? That’s completely contrary to my experience.
When I switched from Mac to Windows for my primary writing and development machines circa 1995-1997 (gradual changeover), one of the most annoying things was the huge amount of payware crap I had to put up with compared to the Mac. The Mac was full of great free-beer software like Newswatcher, BBEdit, Disinfectant, Fetch, Eudora, StuffIt Expander, and too many casual games to count. Most of this was flat-out free. Occasionally something was shareware with a little “I have paid” checkbox you could check to turn off the brief nag messages. Some of these products have since released payware versions (BBEdit, Eudora) but they’ve always kept a genuinely free-beer version available. Heck, Eudora’s even gearing up to go free-as-in-speech.
By contrast when I migrated the Windows world there was little to no genuinely free software to be found. TuCows was nothing but a bunch of money-grubbing nagware. Programs you downloaded made you wait for at least 30 seconds before you could use them unless you paid them $30 or $40 or even $50 a pop. I don’t object to paying for good shareware, but most of them were clearly inferior to the Mac equivalents. (cf. WinZip and StuffIt or UltraEdit and BBEdit) At least half of the products labeled as shareware weren’t. They were crippled or time-limited demos with an online order form instead of a shrink-wrapped box. Genuinely free-as-in-beer software was few and far between, and most of it flat out sucked.
Times have changed a little bit since then. With Mac OS X I can once again use a Mac as my main development machine. Mac developers have picked up a few bad habits from the Windows world. Nag screens are more common on the Mac than they used to be, though still far less common and annoying than in the Windows world. More importantly the genuine free-as-in-speech hacker ethos is infecting both the Mac and Windows so there’s a lot more really free software on both platforms these days. Much of it has been ported from Linux.
But overall the bottom line is clear: independent software1 on the Mac averages both better and freer than on Windows. CyberDuck is a better FTP client than anything you can get on Windows, payware, shareware, or free. Vienna is superior to any free-beer Windows feed reader, and equal to the payware ones. TextWrangler is a better text editor than any Windows text editor I’ve ever seen. XCode is as good or better than native free Windows IDEs.
Sure the Windows world has a higher absolute number of programs. That just means there’s a larger pile of crap to dig through to find the relatively decent ones. Maybe there really were and are some great independent free-beer Windows programs out there, but if no one can find them because they get lost of a sea of junk, how is this a good thing? The large market share of Windows means does sometimes mean it has more specialized software you just can’t get on the Mac. That’s why I switched for a few years. But the standard programs that exist on all platforms are far more often free on the Mac than on Windows, once you rule out programs that are too hideous to be taken seriously.
If the choice were between good Windows software I paid for and crappy Mac software I got for free (or vice versa), then I’d open up my wallet and pay for the good stuff.2 What’s shocking is that’s not the choice I have. I can have good software on the Mac that I get for free, sometimes even better Mac software that I pay for, or crappy software on Windows that I always pay for. That’s no choice at all.