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What is The Mac Orchard?

The Mac Orchard collects together all of the most essential Internet-related applications for the Macintosh in one handy location, to facilitate your exploration of the many programs available.

Internet applications include all software whose primary function involves transferring data over the Internet for human consumption. This includes email programs and web browsers, among many other types of software.

The Mac Orchard is a bit different from other software archives or download sites you may have visited. Rather than providing a mere search interface to a mountain of software, it is designed to be explored so that you can efficiently compare related applications. Generally, people come to The Mac Orchard when they are looking for a piece of software to address a particular communication need — like an email application that supports Hebrew, a web browser that supports offline browsing, or a program for setting up an FTP server. The site groups related applications together for easier perusal and comparison. (More information regarding what makes the Orchard a bit different is covered in Frequently Asked Question #2.)

This Help page provides a brief overview of two components of the Orchard that you will use most frequently: the home page and application pages. For further information, please see the Frequently Asked Questions page.

The Home Page

The Mac Orchard home page is where you will typically begin your experience.

Across the top of the home page — and on every page of the site — are links to basic utilities that will help guide your experience from time to time (such as this Help section). These links include:

[Home page visual guide]

The "body" of the home page is broken into three distinct columns:

  • On the very left ( G ) is a list of applications that have been updated in the past week. This section is typically updated once every weekday morning before I depart for my day job, although I occasionally make updates at other times. Underneath this list is a link to an RSS newsfeed ( H ) that can help keep you apprised of these updates via your favorite RSS newsreader (if you have one!). These listings include the full version number of the new release, which will often indicate alpha, beta, or release candidate ("rc") status of "pre-release" software. When I have been tracking a beta release on the Orchard the a final (non-beta) release arrives on the scene, I append "final" to the version number for clarification.
  • The middle column of the home page ( I ) highlights news on the Orchard that goes beyond application updates. This might include some editorial commentary, information about new features, site updates, or other news items of note. The middle column also links to a featured topic of discussion in the Orchard's Forums ( J ).
  • At the top of the the right hand column ( K ) is a box containing links to each of the Orchard's 16 primary application "category" pages, with a general description of what you can expect to find in each of these sections. This is the ideal place to start if your goal is to peruse and compare email clients, web browsers, or other applications in an "apples-to-apples" manner (pun unabashedly intended — as a matter of fact, this is the reason I call it The Mac Orchard).

(Note to users of older Macs: As of the late 2005 redesign of The Mac Orchard, all of the Orchard's category pages focus on applications that will run on Mac OS X. If you are running an older Macintosh, most — but not quite all — of the applications that will run on your computer are grouped together in the "Classic" applications page.)

Below the list of category pages is a search box ( L ) that will enable you to perform a full-text search of the Orchard's entire collection of applications. This is useful if you want to look for all programs that pertain to a particular term that is of interest to you. For example, a search for "spam" will link you to a variety of applications across ALL of the Orchard's 16 categories, including email clients, spam filters (which, by the way, are listed on the email applications page), servers, and more.

This search capability is available from the right hand column of every page of the site.

Above the right hand column is an expandable menu ( M ) (also available from every page of the site) that will enable you to quickly navigate from one application category page to another. If you expand this menu, it will re-collapse when you load a new page in an effort to stay out of your way.

On the footer of the home page (and on every page of the site) is another group of links ( N ) to the Orchard's 16 application category pages that is useful if you don't want to scroll back up to the top of a page to use the expandable menu.

Anatomy of an Application Page

Each of the hundreds of applications listed on The Mac Orchard follows a standardized format.

Applications may be listed either in groups (such as on the 16 "category" pages) or by themselves. In either case, all application pages have the following elements in common:

  • An indicator of the primary category the application(s) fall under ( O );
  • A drop-down menu that enables you to quickly navigate to a specific application in that category, or to view "ALL" applications in that category ( P );
  • An expandable menu ( Q ) that will enable you to quickly navigate from one application category page to another. If you expand this menu, it will re-collapse when you load a new page in an effort to stay out of your way.
  • An "Also See" box ( R ) that contains a search box as well as links to guide you to information that may be of assistance.

[Home page visual guide]

Application pages may also include the following additional information in the right-hand column:

  • A Related Links section ( S ) to take you to other web sites that provide more information about the type(s) of applications you are reviewing;
  • An Also Consider section ( T ) that lists applications that are newer and of potential interest, but which I haven't yet selected for permanent inclusion on the Orchard.
  • A Built Into Mac OS X section (not shown here). Mac OS X has a huge number of Internet applications built into it (several server applications, for instance) that I don't specifically cover on the Orchard. This sidebar item (when available) provides a brief over of these.

At the top of each application listing is the program's name ( U ). A golden apple next to the name ( V ) indicates that this application is worthy of particular attention (this is called a "Drew's Pick").

To the right of the application's name is a short list of basic information about the program, presented using a series of colored, graphical indicators ( W ). These indicators may include any of the following:

  • A link to the official home page of the application;
  • In the case of commercial software, a link to the company's web site;
  • A link to the application's official release notes as listed on the application's web site (when available), which document the many changes and improvements the software has seen (I do, however, try to list the changes in the most recent release right within the application's description on the Orchard);
  • A link to screen shots of an application, if the author(s) provide them on the application's official web site;
  • License information, including pricing details, when it is available.

Software is released under a huge variety of licensing schemes, from "freeware" all the way on up to boxed, fully commercial offerings. With a few odd exceptions, software on The Mac Orchard tends to fall into the following categories:

  • Freeware, which is released without charge.
  • Shareware, which I generally characterize as fully-downloadable, paid software that is not produced by a corporation, and which you may try without charge. Many such programs will require payment if you desire to use them beyond an initial trial period, but some will ask for payment on an honor system. Please recognize that these authors work very hard at what they do, and that they deserve to be paid the (typically very fair) fee that they ask for their labor.
  • Demoware, which is similar to shareware, but where the file you would download when purchasing the "genuine" product is not quite the same as the file you would download to try out the software.
  • Open source software, which is software released under one of any varieties of open source licensing, and which may or may not require payment for use (but is quite typically free). Source code is generally readily available for these applications, and I link to this source code within the application's download listings whenever practical.
  • Commercial software, which is generally paid (but sometimes free) software that is produced by a corporation and which may or may not be available in a downloadable format. Quite often, companies make "demonstration" versions of their commercial software available that allow you to try the software before you buy it, in a spirit that is essentially identical to the shareware model described above. Commercial software licensing can be quite complex, and it is typical for me to discuss the details of a particular commercial product's pricing within the body of the application listing when this is the case.

Underneath the application's name is an indicator of the latest version number of the software, along with the date (if I managed to capture that information) on which this version made its appearance on the Orchard ( X ). It is not uncommon for there to be multiple "current" releases for software; for instance, there may be a current version for Mac OS 9 and a separate current version for Mac OS X. I do not specifically describe the nature of these "multiple releases" in this area of the application listing, but I do describe them in detail in the description and download sections that are presented immediately below.

The body of the application entry ( Y ) provides a high-level overview of the software, along with critical details about its functionality, including information on what's new in the latest release. Where possible, I try to provide commentary regarding what makes the software useful or different, in an effort to help you best distinguish the software that may be right for you. I also discuss special system requirement-related issues if they exist.

After this description, I include user reviews, which supplement my own information with insight from other Orchard visitors ( Z ). I provide all readers with the ability to submit their own reviews to me from within this section as well ( AA ). The reviews you submit are not automatically posted to the web site; I read and select only reviews that provide useful information that will contribute to visitors' understanding of the applications. These reviews may be positive or negative, but I do look for reviews that are well-articulated and succinct.

At the very bottom of each application is what I like to call the "business" end of the listing: the area where you can download the software itself ( BB ). Where possible, I try to make each download link as explicit as possible, noting the minimum operating system requirements (if they are an issue) or other pertinent information. When there are multiple "current" releases of an application (see above), I indicate the version number next to the download link.

There are a few other pieces of information that I include next to the download links to better describe their nature:

  • "680x0" applications ("Classics" only) run on very old Macs that don't use PowerPC chips, but use Motorola 680x0-series chips instead.
  • "Power Mac" applications run only on Macs that use PowerPC chips.
  • "Fat" applications ("Classics" only) will run on Macs that use 680x0 or PowerPC chips.
  • For more recent applications that will run on Mac OS X, I try to indicate whether the application is written using "Carbon" or "Cocoa" development frameworks for those who may care. For esoteric technical reasons, some people prefer to understand which of these frameworks the application was written with. For instance, most "Cocoa" applications are able to take advantage of Mac OS X's built-in spell checking, whereas some "Carbon" applications will also run on Mac OS 9.
  • "Universal" applications are Mac OS X applications that will run on Macs that use Power PC or Intel processors.
  • "Darwin" applications are "command line" applications written for Mac OS X's UNIX component, which is known as Darwin. These applications do not have graphical user interfaces, and should only be of interest to "power" users.
  • Some other applications are "cross-platform" applications (that is, the very same software may be downloaded for operating systems other than Mac OS) written in one of any number of programming languages, such as Java or Perl. I make every attempt to note these details next to each download link.

Pre-release downloads. At the very bottom of an application's downloads may be a separate area containing links to pre-release (sometimes called "alpha" or "beta") versions of the software. A stylized "Beta" label distinguishes this section. I provide these links for those who may be interested in testing new features in an effort to help authors iron out bugs and issues in these new releases, but sometimes these releases fix bugs that may make the "current" release(s) unusable for some.

More Information

That's about it! If you have made it this far, you are a very determined reader indeed. For information beyond what is included in this page — such as information about me or the reasoning behind many of the decisions I have made in putting this site together — please see the Frequently Asked Questions page. Thanks for visiting, and get browsing!

Also See . . .

Can't find what you're looking for? Try a search:

Also, if you have an older Mac, be sure to check out the "Classic" applications page for more options.

Finally, take a look at ALEMIA if you think you know that name of an application, but aren't quite sure.

Other Sites Worth Visiting

If you're having problems with a piece of Mac hardware or software (or with Apple's latest system update), author Ted Landau's MacFixIt is the only place you need to go.

Traditionally, Mac OS has been a fairly secure operating system. Mac OS X, however, introduced a UNIX underpinning that is more vulnerable to security holes than Mac users are accustomed to. Two sites are worth bookmarking to keep on top of the state of your Mac's security: Apple's very own security updates site and the web site, which features regular articles on potential security vulnerabilities Mac users should be aware of. For security issues on all computing platforms, however, no site is more important than the CERT (formerly the Computer Emergency Response Team) web site at Carnegie Mellon University.

For the latest scoop on what's happening in the world of Macintosh, there is a triumvirate of sites that, together, will keep you truly current: Ric Ford's inimitable MacInTouch; the nicely-designed and complete MacCentral; and MacNN, which has become a Mac news powerhouse, covering rumors, tips, and stories relating to the Mac community at large.