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Yes, you can still download free Mac apps from the web

Windows PC owners are used to downloading an inordinate amount of free — and sometimes suspect — software from the web. One of our readers, and new Mac owner, B.N., writes in to ask if it's possible to do the same thing on OS X.

I've just bought my first Mac after using a PC for years. It's a fresh out of the box MacBook Air running OS X Yosemite. My old PC was equipped with LibreOffice, a free and open source office suite developed by The Document Foundation. I found LibreOffice for the Mac, but when I try to install it I get an error message that says the identity of the developer cannot be confirmed. This is as bad as the iPhone. Why won't Apple just let me run the software I need?

LibreOffice runs just fine on the Mac, but you may not even need it. New Macs include Apple's iWork suite of applications: Pages, Numbers and Keynote.

With word processing, spreadsheet and presentation capabilities, iWork provides similar functionality to some modules in LibreOffice. There are similar apps included in Microsoft Office, which costs money, or OpenOffice, another free software package available for download. Mac iWork apps sync with iCloud and sport identical functionality on iOS. But if you don't want to work with iWork apps, you don't have to.

You're running into a problem because Apple has employed safeguards to keep you from running malicious software accidentally: LibreOffice won't open because of the Mac's current Security & Privacy settings, which you control.

Apple will let you run the software you need. You just need to tweak the Mac's security settings. I downloaded LibreOffice from its web site, and when I opened it I got this error message:

Developer identity can't be confirmed

Mac app security settings should only be changed if you absolutely know and trust the software you've downloaded. I verified that I got LibreOffice from its official web site, so I trust that this app is legitimate.

Only ever override these settings if you know and trust the software you've downloaded.

Notice at the bottom of the Security & Privacy system preference that there's an option to run software from anywhere. If you consider yourself a power user, you can change this setting by clicking the lock icon in the lower left hand corner. I'd use this with extreme caution, but you know your skill level best, so decide if it's worth the potential risk.

To override Mac app security settings

  1. Click on the menu.
  2. Select System Preferences.
  3. Click on Security & Privacy.
  4. Make sure the General tab is selected.
  5. Click on Open Anyway.
  6. Enter your administrator password and click Unlock.

Go ahead and launch LibreOffice. It should open now.

LibreOffice home screen

Any trouble? Let me know.

  • One of yosemite's worst flaws. This pseudo-lockdown is bad for everyone. Consumers are unable to easily install apps that aren't 'blessed' by some high priest at Cupertino, and developers are thrown into total submission and dependency from Apple.
    Worst of all, this add absolutely nothing to overall system security. Truly malicious software finds many other pathways to run without notice. Also, I really don't think its a good piece of advice to praise IWork as an alternative to LibreOffice. iWork has a terrible track record with both backwards and most importantly cross-platform compatibility. I would never trust my documents to an app suite that is notorious for breaking its own format time and time again.
  • Considering how many issues windows has with maliware and spyware I'll take the extra security. Also there is a keyboard shortcut that lets you bypass this safeguard on the fly pretty easily. I work is a whole other thing. I don't hate it but I understand why you may not like it.
  • But Windows doesn't have that many issues with Malware. Wake up from your time capsule from 2004. There are 9 Windows PCs to every mac, and a lot of Windows PCs in developing nations and places like China are running pirated software which often comes with malware embedded in it. Yes, there is going to be a distorted view in the reporting, but Windows isn't bad at all for malware. I do not live in fear of Malware, and the recent versions of Windows has decent AV/AMW protections built into the Operating System. Microsoft upgrading Windows 7 users for free to Windows 10 will only help that. Really, Windows is fine and has been for quite a while, at least since Vista (sorry for those people who were reading the FUD and didn't upgrade, there were great benefits to be had in moving on from XP ASAP). I don't view my Mac as being any more secure than my Windows PC.
  • Yosemite has flaws, but it is a years old feature. This 'lockdown' is called GateKeeper and was not introduced with Yosemite. It was introduced in 2012.
  • One of the most ridiculous comments I've seen recently. jgballer's comment below brings some sanity to the discussion.
  • iWork is more analogous to Microsoft Works. That's why they called it iWork, and it was the successor to AppleWorks (which I think was the successor to ClarisWorks? This tune that Apple seems to be whispering where they seem to have convinced themselves that Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are replacements for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint... I'm just not seeing that.
  • You can also right click on it and select "Open" to bypass it as well. A lot easier than poking through the menus.
  • Don't worry about high priests. The default setting is a happy medium. It allows all apps, including those *not* blessed by "high priests" at Apple. All the developer needs is a (free) certificate from Apple so that a user can know that the app was developed by an identifiable developer. And if you want to run any software, even if it's not signed by a certificate, it's a simple click away. And I'm not saying it's impossible (there is no such thing as 100% security), but I've yet to hear of any malware bypassing the new "white listing" app settings. And I've used iWorks from its inception, and it's backwards compatible. The latest version still opens the older formats, at least for me. There are some features that aren't supported in the latest version (which was rewritten to be feature compatible with the iOS versions). But a similar thing happened with the latest version of MS Word. A lot of my old VB scripts won't run. Two steps forward, one step back, or vice versa. And the best thing is that you still can install Open Office or Libre Office if that's what you prefer. Just my 2¢
  • +1, thanks!
  • More like half a cent. First of all, you're confusing forward and backward compatibility. The format in the previous version of iWork is forward compatible, as they usually are due to how companies expect people to "upgrade" to the latest version. However, the native file format in the latest version of iWork is not backward-compatible at all with the earlier version of iWork. The files will simply not open. The older version is not compatible. You have to explicitly save to the older format to have it be usable in the earlier version of the software. Speaking of Word... Microsoft actually did this the right way. They had an Office File Format Compatibility Pack that you could install over Office XP and 2003 that made them completely compatible with the OOXML format. It could open an write to that format with no issues except where features not available in those versions of Office were used (and it would alert you in such cases). That's forward (Office 07 was clearly compatible with 97-2003 formats) and Backward compatibility. As fro the Word "VB Script" issue... Either you're lying or you're heavily overstating that. I'm going to assume the latter, because it's more common around these parts. Also, script compatibility across versions of software really are minor compared to rendering files unreadable by the previous version when saved in the upgraded version. The file is still able to be opened, and Office has a Script Editor and Debugger. Any changes in VBA going from one version of Office to the next are well documented, so this kind of breakage should be expected. Part of the reason why some businesses stay back a version (OS, Office Software, etc.) is so that they can deal with these types of "issues" less frequently with their apps and files. However, that has nothing to do with a file format being compatible. VBA is an embedded programming language, and a bad script doesn't render the file useless to your version of office. Fix it and move on. You can't "fix" an iWork File that simply won't open short of asking the person who sent it to you to send you an otherwise duplicate version saved in a compatible format. Any serious business-oriented office suite takes this seriously. Microsoft Office, WordPerfect Office (which also has VBA and has no issues with very old Office Files with VBA Scripts, BTW...) both make a big deal about both their backward and forward compatibility. Being able to easily interop with earlier versions of the software without breaking workflows and saving otherwise duplicate version of files is... Kind of important in an Office Suite.
  • +1 very well stated @n8ter#AC
  • "LibreOffice runs just fine on the Mac, but you may not even need it. New Macs include Apple's iWork suite of applications: Pages, Numbers and Keynote." That is the worst advice you can give to someone. Gatekeeper is more of an annoyance than a security feature. Just gives a false sense of security.