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Get your thinking caps on, MacHeist is back

Software bundles seem to be all the rage nowadays, but in my humble opinion, MacHeist is still the best. It doesn't just lump a bunch of apps together for special price, but instead, it turns getting a discount into a game.

As a recent Mac switcher, I was utterly confused by MacHeist 3, the first edition in which I participated. Someone told me to check out the MacHeist bundle, so I went to the web site to see what applications it contained. But the site didn't tell me. It soon became clear that I was going to have to work for my software!

The whole idea, if you're not familiar with MacHeist, is that you need to complete a series of challenges, labeled "heists," in order to get free software. Yes, free. As in what lunches aren't. And the software isn't anything to sneeze at (neither are lunches, by the way), as there are always some real gems to be found.

UPDATE: We took the 4 from the title as it is currently unknown whether this is actually MacHeist 4 or an early bundle offer.MINOR SPOILER ALERT

The MacHeist experience begins with some teasing and a small taste of the good stuff. If you visit the web site today, for example, you'll see the "MacHeist Early Warning System" with a view through a telescope. To get the first free app, you'll need to enter in the correct coordinates -- that yields a glimpse of an asteroid apparently intent on impacting something, as noted on the page's Countdown to Impact timer (viewable once you enter the right digits). Those lucky, or resourceful, enough to figure it out are able to download a free copy of DaisyDisk, a $20 utility with a slick interface to display file and folder sizes graphically.

END SPOILER

According to my math, the real fun will begin with the official start of MacHeist 4 at 7:00pm EST on Thursday, November 5th. After that, if history is any indication, visitors will be given heists to complete, yielding more free Mac and iPhone/iPod software, along with discounts on the final bundle. This is what sets MacHeist apart from the other bundles like MacUpdate and The Mac Sale.

The heists are spread out over a variety of participating Mac-related web sites, and incorporate some very clever web programming. In fact, the MacHeist web site itself is usually an interesting site with a few awesome tricks. The design is consistent and adds to the "game feeling" that surrounds what really is just a marketing method to sell software cheaply. The folks at MacHeist definitely have impressive design skills.

Typically, you don't just go to a listed affiliate site, click on a banner link, and get your reward. As I said earlier, you have to work for your software. The MacHeist site serves as a method to get sparse mission instructions that lead to the other participating destinations. Once on the third-party page, MacHeisters are often left on their own to figure out what to even do. Some of the missions have proven to be pretty difficult in the past, at least to those of us who are puzzle-challenged. But, as often happens on the Internet, a community has developed to share ideas, discuss the heists, and yes, even cheat. Not that I would know anything about the cheating.

But the fun doesn't end with the final heist. When the missions are complete, there's a fantastic group of apps that anyone can purchase. That bundle is usually a great deal with a few pieces of expensive software and a collection of smaller apps. In the past, prices have been around $50 for the entire group, with a sizable portion of the revenue going to a worthy charity. For those that completed all the missions, there's usually an even deeper discount. You have to hurry, though, as the MacHeist Bundle is available for purchase for a short period of time, usually only a couple of weeks.

What's in store for this MacHeist? Sorry, but I wouldn't tell you if I even knew. This really is an experience that lasts for several weeks and is worth following along. Sure, you could wimp out and just ask the community for the answers, but then you'd feel guilty using the resulting software. You didn't really earn it, after all.

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Software bundles seem to be all the rage nowadays, but in my humble opinion, MacHeist is still the best. It doesn't just lump a bunch of...