If you are running a Mac with either Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6) or the new Lion (OS X 10.7) then you have access to the Mac App Store. This is where you can find all sorts of software applications (Apps). You can choose from productivity, graphics, games, utilities, etc. No longer do you have to drive to the store or order online and wait by your mailbox. Now you can download new software directly to your Mac and have it installed for you.
Apple decided to take the popularity and ease-of-use of the iPhone/iPad App Store and bring it to the Mac operating system. If you have an iPhone, Touch, or iPad then you know just how simple it is to buy and install software. Just like the App Store on iOS, the Mac App Store keeps track of all your purchases so you don't have to buy them over and over again. You buy it once and it's yours. One of the best features of the Mac App Store is that it tracks software updates for you. This is all done automatically and you can choose to update just certain Apps or let it update them all.
After you have used the Mac App Store you will likely come to the same conclusion I did that this is going to be the place where we buy most all of our Mac software. There are certain things that you can't buy there because certain limitations Apple puts on the software developers, but that is a very small portion of Mac titles. That said, there are plenty of titles available, plus Apple's own software - Final Cut Pro X (which is only available through the Mac App Store), iWorks, iLife, Aperture, and OS X 10.7 Lion.
Third-party software developers make up the bulk of what is available on the Mac App Store. Some big name titles include Bento from Filemaker, Scrivener from Literature & Latte, Photoshop Elements 9 from Adobe, and Final Draft 8 from Final Draft, Inc. These three titles range from $45 to $200.
What makes the Mac App Store even better is the long list of free software. I'm not talking about trial software, something that you install and runs only a few times or a few days. These are full Apps that cost nothing. Some do have built in advertising, but that can be a small price to pay if the App is really useful.
To access the Mac App Store you need to be running Snow Leopard 10.6.6 or later. If you have an older version of Snow Leopard, just run the Software Updates utility and get the 10.6.8 updater. The Mac App Store is a part of OS X Lion.
When you open the Mac App Store program it should remind you of the iTunes Store, which is pretty much what it is based on. If you are in the 'Featured' tab, you will see what the most popular Apps are for the day. The section we are interested in can be found in the lists on the very right. The first list is the top 'Paid' Apps and just under it is the top 'Free' Apps. Click on 'See All >'. Doing this should bring up a large list of the top 'Free Apps' - my Mac App Store showed me the top 180.
This list shows titles in all the different categories - Games, Productivity, Reference, Utilities, Social Networking, etc. Some of these you will probably recognize, like Opera - an alternative web browser, or Kindle - the Amazon book reader App. Some great titles you may not recognize like MovingPhotos - an amazing animated photo viewer, or Cloud - a super simple way to share files.
Here's a list of what I think are some of the best in the latest Top 180 Free Mac Apps (as of 10/26/11). Uberstrike HD (g), Cloud (p), Full Deck Solitaire (g), Kindle (r), Twitter (sn), Evernote (p), iProcrastinate (p), Skitch (p), Motion FX (ent), Wunderlist (p), SketchBook Express (gfx), Smart Converter (v), Moonlight Mahjong (g), AutoCAD WS (p), Stuffit Expander (u), Doodle Hangman (g), Typist (edu), Opera (p), TextWrangler (d), PDF Converter Free (p), MovingPhotos 3D Free (ent), SketchBook Copic Edition (gfx), EasyFind (u), ResizeIt (gfx), HDRtist (ph), Tiny Expander (p). g=games, p=productivity, r=reference, gfx=graphics & design, ent=entertainment, v=video, u=utilities, edu=educational, d=developer tools, and ph=photography
Free is good. This doesn't mean you should limit yourself to free software. Some of the 'free' titles will also have a paid version available. This allows you to check out a title and if you really like it you can check out to see if the paid version does more. It might be worth the upgrade.
Many of the Apps I buy for iOS are either one or two dollars. On my Mac, that is a bit different. When you get into Mac Apps like Apple's Aperture ($79.99) or Final Cut Pro X ($299.99) we're talking some real money. It is real easy to just click away buying cool Apps for your Mac. Trust me, they do add up really quick. Luckily, there are plenty of titles to choose from that are under $20. Plus, there are times when titles go on sale. Checking a site like dealmac.com can help you find them.
The Mac App Store is definitely one of the things I love about OS X Lion. The ability to have access to a huge software library, literally at your fingertips, is really amazing. The fact that all the software I get from the Mac App Store is so easily updated is just icing on the cake. And when you can get a ton of software for your Mac for free, you can even afford to buy that cake and eat it too.