Just so it's clear: I am not an IT expert. I have never studied computers or taken a computer software-related course (with one exception). I do, however, like figuring things out and have become very adept at using the software I need to use and troubleshooting both the software and hardware I work with.
Enough of the "productivity suite" crap; most people use an office package for writing (and I'll look at presentations and spreadsheets separately)
- Just to get it out of the way: I think WordPerfect 5.1 is the best wordprocessor ever made. And apparently I'm not alone, although I don't think I would go to these lengths to keep using it. The last version of WordPerfect for DOS was 6.x, and — quite frankly — it's been all downhill ever since. These days WordPerfect is available from Corel. Windows only.
- I'll admit it; I use Word on a daily basis. Currently I have the Office 2004 version running on all my Macs, but imagine I'll upgrade to 2008 soonish. I have now installed Office 2008 on my MacBook Pro, and the first thing that strikes me is how much faster the progams load. But the appearance bugs me — I was so used to Office X/2004 and I can't find a way to make Office 2008 look the same. The formula bar in Excel is especially bothersome.
- I've also tried NeoOffice, and have it installed on two of my computers. I also encourage my students to use it so they won't get caught in the Microsoft upgrade trap. I use for about 15% of my work.
- Open Office is a great-looking product, and while earlier versions were not quite up to Office standards it's constantly improving. Since the only way to run the current version on a Mac is under X11, and NeoOffice is a Mac port of Open Office, I've yet to run it through it's paces. Apparently Open Office v.3 will be Mac native so I'll be testing that soon after it's released.
- For certain tasks it's better to have specialized software. I am working on a novel and use Jer's Novel Writer. Get it, it's good.
- I also write scripts, but will deal with screenwriting software in a separate section.
TV, film & video — screenwriting and production management
- I've worked a lot as an AD and good scheduling software is a must. To date, there really is only one standard: Movie Magic or EP Scheduling. EP is simply the newer release of Movie Magic. There is a low-budget alternative called Gorilla, but I have never tried it. Also, the excellent screenwriting package Celtx has a built-in scheduler but it's way too lightweight for professional use.
- The first screenwriting software I used was Scriptware. I clung to it for long time, but when I started working on an intel Mac and could no longer run classic I had to find an alternative.
- Final Draft bills itself as the industry standard in Hollywood, and I suppose it is. It's also expensive and bloated and although I've used it lots I would not recommend it unless you really need all the super-duper features and ability to send scripts to Hollywood producers in a format they can edit.
- Recently I came across Celtx, an open source screenwriting package. It uses industry-standard formats, has lots of helpful extras — including a way of collaborating on scripts on the internet — and is free. I've ditched the other software I used and have converted my scripts to Celtx.
TV, film & video — post-production
Considering how heavily I've been involved in film and TV post, I've done very little editing. What I find myself doing mostly is helping editors figure out how to achieve a certain task or effect. As a result my impression of post software is a little wonky.
- iMovie HD is a pretty good little video editor. We use it a lot at Atlanten and our students produce som pretty good work for real-world clients. Unfortunately iMovie 08 is a bit of a dumbed-down version, but thankfully Apple offers a download of the old version for those who bought a machine with '08 preinstalled.
- For those looking for something affordable that can do a little more than iMovie, Jahshaka is promising. I downloaded and played with it a few months ago, and think it's worth trying out. Given that it's free under the GNU gpl, you'd be hard pressed to find a better deal.
- Many years ago, Avid pissed me off. At the time they were just avout the only non-linear editing game in town — sure D/Vision and Lightworks were used by some, but really Avid was the undisputed king and industry standard. As a result, they felt no need to support filmmaker education and were pretty superior about it. So I turned to a fledgling little piece of not-ready-for-prime-time software called Final Cut Pro. I've since presided over the purchasing of FCP systems at both the Canadian Film Centre and Atlanten vgs, and would not consider buying any other system for film and video editing.
- The industry standard for sound editing is Pro Tools. This is the only software I have actually taken a course to learn — at NOTAM in Oslo — and it's used in both music and film production.
- The only thing I have come across that even comes close to the functionality of Pro Tools is a nifty open source programme called Audacity. While it is not a true replacement for Pro Tools, it offers an impressive array of features and is more than powerful enough for independent / no-budget filmmakers who want to spice up the audio on their project. I first came across it when I was looking for a tool to digitise my LPs.
- I have some students who have been creating very impressive work with Blender recently. This is a truly impressive open source app for those who want to play around with 3D animation — highly recommended!
- I was recently pointed towards an open source 2D animation app called Pencil. It's free and looks like it would be a lot of fun for animators.
image editing, graphics & layout
For many casual users, something as lightweight as iPhoto offers enough image editing tools to satisfy, while Word and it's competitors let you mess around with basic layout, even offering handy templates. These tools are so lightweight, however, that anyone with a little ambition to mess around with images and layout will want to look at additional, more powerful tools.
desktop publishing (layout)
- I've mentioned elsewhere that I consider Ventura Publisher (v.3.x) the ultimate layout software. Unfortunately it never made the transition from DOS to Windows in any successful way and was bought by Corel, and I have not used the Corel version.
- At Atlanten, we use Adobe InDesign. It's professional quality and powerful. The main competitor is Quark XPress, which has been around on the Mac forever.
- For those looking for an open source alternative, there is Scribus. It comes with good reviews, although the Mac port requires some tinkering on the part of the user. Not for the casual computer user, but very powerful and feature-rich and free.
- The granddaddy of all image editors is Adobe Photoshop. It is powerful and feature-rich and used in graphic design companies all over the world. Note, however, that while it has tools for adjusting image colour, exposure, contrast, etc. it is not designed to be a digital darkroom but is better suited for editing and image manipulation.
- An excellent alternative to Photoshop is the open source GIMP. It has a large and growing user-base, and while it may not have all the features of Photoshop it is very powerful. It runs on a Mac under X11 (which is included with all OS X versions 10.3 and newer, but must be installed as part of a custom install). A main knock against GIMP has been that the interface is not like Photoshop, but an alternate version called GIMPshop addresses many of these issues.
- Apple makes a truly outstanding digital darkroom software called Aperture. It provides all the tools amateur and professional photographers need to "develop" their pictures.
- I still have a lot of graphics files I created in CorelDRAW v.2.x. Once upon a time it was the best draw programme available, and it is still one of the leaders. Unfortunately Windows only.
- Adobe Illustrator is — like the rest of the Adobe CS package — a high-end, powerful alternative for drawing and illustrating.
- Once again, there is an open source alternative: Inkscape. It is designed to compete with Illustrator and CorelDRAW.
The Mac package of iTunes, Quicktime and DVDplayer is pretty impressive and handles most things one can throw at them, but I like to go my own way and have a few extra tools I use — for video, anyway. iTunes works so well for my music-playing purposes I have never bothered to look for an alternative, altough I never use it for video content.
- Since so much content on the net is Windows media, Flip4Mac's WM Components is an absolute necessity. It works with both downloaded and streming media.
- Many consider the GNU gpl package VLC to be the best media player out there, no matter what your operating system. It plays just about everything you can throw at it and is very stable.
- Recently a competitor for VLC has emerged: Miro. It has a much nicer interface that VLC and through partnerships like the one with NRK beta it offers easy access to online content. I started using it for all the video content on my machine in March 08 and have not used any other players since.
- An absolute must if you deal with many different video codecs, MPEG Streamclip is a tool for converting virtually any kind of video to any other. It even gives you the ability to change from one colour system to another, alter frame rate, switch between interlaced and non-interlaced and adjust image quality. If converting to .dv, it even gives the user the option of splitting the file into 1.9GB segments, the maximum file size for use in iMovie.
spreadsheets, databases, presentations and the like
- I've used Excel for almost as long as I've been using computers, and remain convinced it is the only truly good piece of software released by Microsoft. I use it for budgets and simple databases, but before I acquired Movie Magic I had also developed a strip board and the other forms needed to create a production schedule. The best call sheet I've ever used was also an Excel template, and I use this even when using MM for creating the schedule.
- My exposure to database software has been fairly limited, but at VFS we used FileMaker Pro for purchase orders, invoicing, inventory and inventory tracking. It worked extremely well.
- We have a fairly extensive library of books at home, and I am in the process of cataloguing them. I've tried several home library databases before concluding that Books is the one for me.
- Like so many others in need of presentation software I know too little about their potential. I've used PowerPoint since it comes with Office but have yet to push it far enough to find out what the limitations are. Open Office Impress (and it's NeoOffice mac version) seems to be a good alternative.
- Macworld has a thorough review comparing Powerpoint to Apple's Keynote. The third page also gets into the open source alternatives. Reading this I begin to understand why so many Mac-folks swear by Keynote.
- In my classes I stress the use of mind maps for brainstorming around mediaprojects, but have always considered it a pen-and-paper activity. While this is an area I am not yet convinced computers can replace the old-fashioned method, I recently downloaded and am testing an open-source mind-mapping program called FreeMind. So far it is remarkably easy to use.
I spend a lot of time on the net, and good software is important to me. I've tried a lot of net browsers since I first downloaded Mosaic in 1994, and today I rely on 2:
- Most day-to-day surfing and RSS feeds I use Safari. It works well for most surfing needs, is pretty fast and stable.
- For some sites and certain tasks, including editing this site, I use Firefox. I like that it's open source and it's more powerful than Safari for certain specialized tasks. Simple things like changing languages for the spell checker, etc. are simpler in Firefox than Safari. The only reason I don't use it full-time is that I do find Safari a little speedier for basic surfing.
- I used Netscape for many years, first on my PC running Windows 95/98 then on a Mac under OS8.x, but dropped it not long after AOL acquired it.
- As for others, Internet Explorer was always a flop on the mac and I never liked it as much as Netscape on the PC. I was excited by Opera when it first appeared and have tried it several times. Never liked it enough to replace whatever browser I was using at the time. And as for Flock, well, the look and philosophy don't appeal to me so I've never bothered to try it. Camino is another option on the Mac, but altough I downloaded it I never really tested it.
I've been using an email client since '97 and have tried several alternatives over the years:
- Eudora is the original and still the best. Although Eudora never kept up with the bells and whistles of the competitors, for sending, receiving and managing email there is simply no other software as good. I was gutted when I learned Qualcomm was discontinuing it — but somewhat reassured when I found out it would continue as an open source project. I'm currently using the open source version of Eudora on my iMac at home, but so far the performance is disappointing compared to the original.
- Apple's Mail came of age with OS X, and I currently use it on my MacBook Pro at work. It's ok, but lacks some of Eudora's clever features. I like the integration with iCal and Address Book.
- Microsoft's Outlook and Outlook Express are the standard in the Windows world; I've used both but not since 2002 and I never liked them then.
- Microsoft makes Entourage as part of it's Office for the Mac package. It's much better than Outlook, and very powerful. Like much MS-ware it's a little bloated and can be slow, but the collaboration tools are excellent.
- I've tried Mozilla's Thunderbird, but never really warmed to it.
- One I'm keeping my eye on that looks promising is Chandler. Looks like more of an organiser than an email programme, but I'm curious to see what the release client will look like.
personal information managers
- I was given a Palm IIIe in 2000 and my days of buying paper organisers were over forever. Within a month I had entered all my contacts into Palm Desktop and was happily using the calendar and to-do list for all my work and personal appointments.
- When I began working in the Film Progamme Equipment Room at Vancouver Film School in 1997, the Macs there came with Now-up-to-date. The calendar feature in this package remains the most powerful calendar software I've ever worked with, but I was never too keen on the address book feature, and never considered it for personal use.
- I kept using Palm Desktop for a long time in order to keep my Palm synchronised, but when I bought a LifeDrive in 2005 I also invested in The Missing Sync and ditched Palm Desktop in favour of Apple's built-in Address Book and iCal. Works great.
- Outook, Entourage and Chandler — all mentioned above — are all p.i.m.s; Entourage is excellent and I relied heavily on it the years I worked at The Canadian Film Centre.
Although there are people out there who will claim Macs are perfect and never, ever crash, that's just not the case. Bad things can happen, and often at the worst possible time. I tell my students they are responsible for keepin an up-to-date backup og their work. Machine failure is no excuse for not being able to deliver. I have not yet installed Leopard on my Macs but hear good things about Time Machine.
- iBackup is a nifty little utility to simplify backups.
- Carbon Copy Cloner has been around for a long time and works well.
- ClamXav is a free virus utility. Remember: although there are at present no Mac viruses, this will prevent you from unwittingly passing on a windows virus.
- Virusbarrier is a commercial virus utility.
- TechTool Pro is an absolute necessity for anyone who relies on their Mac(s) for their livelyhood. It has saved me more than once.
- DiskWarrior is the perfect companion to TechTool. Also absolutely necessary.
- OnyX is a handy troubleshooting tool
- Q -- kju is a free PC-emulator for Mac. It allows you to create a virtual Windows or Linux environment that will run in a window. There are commercial alternatives, but if you only need a pc-compatible environment once in a while why pay for it? Main drawback is that it is slow.
- Portable OS X lets you put a full or stripped-down version of OS X on a USB- or Firewire drive or create a bootable custom CD/DVD.
I'm not a huge computer game player, but there are a few that I've enjoyed over the years:
- Snood's motto is "forget life, play snood" and it is addictive, but I lost interest a couple of years ago.
- Battle for Wesnoth is a free, open source role-playing adventure game.
- Freeciv is another free, open-source game, similar to Civilization. It looks interesting and I intend to dowload and try it.
- Tale-of-tales is a computer game maker; they seem to concentrate on poetry rather than adventure and is worth a look for those looking for something a little different.
- Many years ago I played both Myst and Sim City, but that was in the day I had a PC at home, and I've never felt a need to buy the Mac versions. Sim City now exists as an open source project here.
- Exile and it's sequels were a classic rpg for the Mac (and Windows versions exist too). Spiderweb software has since released a major overhaul of the game called Avernum, which has also spawned several sequels.
- I have a long-standing interest in astronomy, and am an eager user of Stellarium. It is free and open source, and gives you a planetarium on your desktop, including a way of entering your location so the sky you see on the computer is analogous to the sky you see outside. Fantastic.
- Celestia is a really nice companion to Stellarium. Unlike the latter, which limits you to the surface of the earth, Celestia allows you to travel through known space. Time to boldy go where no one has gone before!
- iChat and MSN Messenger are both well-known chat clients, but the one I use is the open-source Adium. Nice, clean interface and supports a wide variety of accounts.
The following are a list of sites where you can find out more about different software, read reviews and find new and interesting tools to dowload to your computer.
- FreeMacWare — free. mac. software. Doesn't get any better than that.
- Versiontracker — you can find almost anything here.
- FreeSMUG — free, open-source software Mac users group
- i use this — social networking for software users; see what everyone else is using.
- Open Source Mac — open source software for the Mac
- Macworld reviews — sooner or later it will be reviewed here.