Macs

The 23rd Annual Editors' Choice Awards

Software winners

Of all the software released on the Mac in the past year—for pros and consumers, from major developers to one-person operations—these 18 applications stood out as our favorites.

Adobe Premiere Pro CS3

Digital video pros and enthusiasts shed few tears when Adobe pulled the plug on the Mac version of its DV-editing program in 2003. After all, it was hard to mourn the loss of sluggish performance and unwieldy controls when DV editors had more elegant tools at their disposal. So it’s to Adobe’s credit that when it decided to revive Premiere on the Mac, it delivered a program that had little in common with its awkward predecessor except for the name. The Intel-only Premiere Pro CS3 ( ) adopts a number of professional features, from an efficient interface to support for multiple and nested sequences. Gone is the limited approach to editing that dogged Premiere 6.5, in favor of an industry-standard model that editors can embrace. Premiere Pro CS3 takes a unified approach to transitions and effects, and the inclusion of the DVD-authoring program Encore CS3 offers one of the better DVD-creation tools on the Mac, now that Apple has seemingly lost interest in the DVD format. Adobe has done more than just correct past mistakes—it has introduced a completely new program to the Mac that broadens video editors’ choices.—PHILIP MICHAELS

Adobe; $799

Amadeus Pro 1.1

Once upon a time there was the MacRecorder—a rectangular box you plugged into a Mac’s serial port to record audio with your computer—and SoundEdit, the simple two-track editing software that accompanied it. SoundEdit spawned any number of inexpensive audio editors, including one of this year’s Eddy winners, HairerSoft’s Amadeus Pro ( ). And what sets Amadeus Pro apart? Certainly its wide-ranging capabilities, including extensive multitrack editing, waveform analysis tools, batch processing, click and noise repair, and support for just about any file format you’d care to throw at it. But then there’s the price tag: $40. There just isn’t an under-$50 audio editor as capable and intuitively designed as Amadeus Pro.—CHRISTOPHER BREEN

HairerSoft; $40

ArtRage 2.5

At one time the Mac market was littered with inexpensive paint programs. It still boasts plenty of high-priced, multi-featured options—namely Adobe’s Photoshop and Corel’s Painter—but where’s a dabbler on a budget to turn? Ambient Design’s $25 ArtRage 2.5 ( )—its price tag belies this natural-media paint program’s power. Not only does ArtRage 2.5 offer a wide variety of media (including oil, pencil, airbrush, glitter, and chalk), but you can extensively control that media by modifying such factors as a tool’s pressure and angle and the media’s softness and wetness. You can also choose the material used for the canvas, add layers, work with stencils (and create your own), and trace over imported images. Professionals and amateurs alike will find ArtRage 2.5 a valuable addition to their electronic paint box.—CHRISTOPHER BREEN

Ambient Design; $25

Billings 2.5

With Billings 2 ( ), Marketcircle adroitly walks the line between packing the time-tracking and invoice-creation tool with features and keeping it easy to use. Billings’ features give you the power to customize tax rates and invoice templates and track billable hours with a free-floating timer; at the same time, a setup assistant makes it easy to get started without any fuss. Version 2.5 improves integration with other programs such as Marketcircle’s business productivity manager Daylite as well as Project Wizards’ Merlin, and revamps the main window for ease of use.—PHILIP MICHAELS

Marketcircle; $59

DiskWarrior 4

DiskWarrior turns ten years old in fall of 2008, and in the past decade, no other utility has come close to challenging its prowess at repairing disk-directory problems. DiskWarrior 4 ( ) is no exception. The long-awaited Intel-native version of the utility adds features for ferreting out corrupted preference files, repairing OS X permissions, repairing and rebuilding access control lists, and repairing more types of disk problems than previous versions could handle. DiskWarrior remains as valuable today as it ever was.—ROB GRIFFITHS

Alsoft; $100

HandBrake 0.9

Here’s the dilemma: You’ve got a library full of DVDs you’ve bought and paid for and a slew of video-enabled digital devices (an iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV), but no way to get the former onto the latter, thanks to copy-protection technology that prevents you from ripping a DVD the way you would a CD. HandBrake ( ) can solve your problem. Just insert a commercial DVD, choose from HandBrake’s list of presets for movie-watching devices, and click on Start. After a period of time—which varies wildly depending on the speed of your Mac—you’ll have a space-saving video file you can watch on your Mac or sync to your iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV. HandBrake is also quite flexible and powerful: a Queue feature lets you rip the episodes from a TV-show DVD in sequence, and advanced users can choose from among myriad tweaks, options, and settings to get exactly the video size and quality they want. Can HandBrake be used for less-than-honorable purposes? Sure—but the same could be said of many programs in the age of digital content. That doesn’t take away from HandBrake’s usefulness in letting you enjoy the DVDs you own across other devices.—DAN FRAKES

HandBrake; free

iWork ’08

The search for a good all-around office productivity suite offering word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation programs no longer begins and ends with Microsoft Office. iWork ’08 now figures into the mix for a fraction of what you’d pay for the three-year-old Office. Keynote ( ) was already an impressive presentation tool; now it has gained path animation, text effects, and transitions. Once a limited page-layout tool, Pages ’08 ( ) now offers both writing and layout modes as well as a contextual format bar. And now there’s a spreadsheet program, too—the new Numbers ( ), which brings a fresh, multiple-tables-per-page approach to the spreadsheet market, enabling some truly impressive output. All three programs boast good compatibility—both reading and writing—with Office file formats, depending on the complexity of the source. And as you might expect, the entire iWork family excels at handling media, including pictures and video. iWork won’t replace Office if you’re a power user of the Microsoft suite, but for most users’ needs, it’s a great collection of programs at a super price.—ROB GRIFFITHS

Apple; $79)

LightZone 3.0

With Light Crafts’ LightZone ( ), you get an efficient, streamlined piece of software that offers a unique approach to photo editing for a good deal less than what you’d pay for Photoshop. The program’s signature feature, the ZoneMapper tool, lets you easily see the tonal range of your images by dividing your photos into 16 shades of gray that represent tonal differences of half an f-stop. Mouse over any shade, and the corresponding areas show up in the ZoneFinder display, a gray-scale miniature of the image you’re working on. To change tonal distribution, simply move your mouse within the ZoneMapper—a live preview of the image lets you adjust your pictures in real time. While ZoneMapper, which gets its name from Ansel Adams’ Zone System, is a marquee feature, it’s just one of a slew of other lighting and editing tools in LightZone that are just as intuitive.—JACKIE DOVE

Light Crafts; $250

Logic Studio

Apple’s Logic offering has always packed in plenty of features; the problem has been accessing them. Logic Studio ( ) has more than solved that problem. Take Logic Pro 8, the suite’s core program: it now offers a single-window design that allows users to do a host of functions without having to switch constantly between open windows. And even as it streamlines things, Apple continues to add capabilities. The new Main Stage turns your Mac into a live performance rig, and Studio Instruments includes 40 instrument plug-ins. Throw in Studio Effects, which includes a new plug-in that offers in-depth control over individual delay taps, and you have a comprehensive bundle of audio tools for professional musicians.—JIM DALRYMPLE

Apple; $499

Mac OS X 10.5

Appearing two and a half years after its predecessor—and later than expected, due to an iPhone-triggered delay—OS X 10.5 ( ) is the next step in the continuing evolution of the Mac’s operating system. And it’s quite a step, boasting more than 300 features and enhancements. Not all of those are major changes, but the OS X update known as Leopard features some real innovations—enough to make it a marked improvement over the already solid Tiger.

First and foremost in OS X 10.5’s parade of additions is Time Machine, a built-in backup solution that requires minimal user interaction. Because of its extensive backup options—an hourly backup of the last 24 hours, daily backups for the last 30 days, and weekly backups for everything older than that—and the fact that restoring files is a simple matter of pointing and clicking in its unique 3-D interface, Time Machine figures to alter Mac users’ backup habits significantly. Other features, such as Quick Look, which lets you preview files without first opening their parent programs, and the Spaces virtual desktops tool, will likely bolster your productivity. Existing features such as the Finder and Spotlight also get an overhaul in Leopard.

Mac users may not always appreciate what a massive undertaking it is to produce a major operating system update. Users on other platforms—we’re thinking of you, poor Vista adopters—can’t take it for granted that the latest version of their OS will always deliver more improvements than headaches. That hasn’t been the case with OS X, and Leopard continues that tradition. OS X 10.5 builds on 10.4’s strong foundation and adds a number of truly innovative features that make it a compelling upgrade for Mac users.—ROB GRIFFITHS

Apple; $129

MarsEdit 2

Dozens of different blogging platforms exist for letting everybody and their pet (and their pet’s pet, it seems) post their thoughts and musings on the Internet. But all these tools have one thing in common: they rely on often-clunky Web-based interfaces. Mac users who’ve come to expect a more elegant approach don’t need to wrangle with a browser, however—not when there’s a beautiful Mac-like program like Red Sweater Software’s MarsEdit 2 ( ) to make updating your Weblog as simple and intuitive as dashing off an e-mail. There’s something for everybody in MarsEdit, which offers compatibility with all the major blogging platforms. Power users will appreciate the ability to manage multiple blogs, upload images and files, and design templates that let you see what a post will look like before it goes live. Blogging newcomers will benefit from MarsEdit’s Start A Weblog wizard, which walks you through creating your own blog—it’s so simple that your pet’s pet’s pet can get in on the blogging act.—DAN MOREN

Red Sweater Software; $30

Merlin 2

Mac users aren’t accustomed to having a lot of choices when it comes to project-management software—at least not until this past year. That’s when a number of programs emerged on the Mac, giving project managers choices ranging from AEC’s venerable FastTrack Schedule to Omni Group’s promising OmniPlan. But it was Project Wizards’ Merlin 2 ( ) that caught our eye, thanks to its ease of use and intuitive features. Merlin’s single-user interface and side panels help you create quick Gantt charts and add associated details to project activities. Most of us were drawn to the Mac platform in the first place because of the promise of easily handling seemingly complex tasks; Merlin embraces that spirit and ensures that the most difficult part of your project won’t be dealing with the software you’re using to manage it.—PHILIP MICHAELS

Project Wizards; €145

Painter Essentials 4

Don’t dismiss Painter Essentials 4 ( ) as merely a stripped-down version of Corel’s Painter X. While it offers a friendly way to apply painterly effects to photos and create professional-looking note cards, bumper stickers, and posters, Painter Essentials has much of the power found in the pro-level Painter. It features a completely redesigned workspace—distinct from Painter X—which makes it a snap for new users to get started: the Brush Drawer makes it easier to identify and select brushes; there are new color and mixer palettes; and it has enhanced the photo painting system. Corel has also improved the “smart stroke” technology, which paints strokes to follow the form of the original photo. Painter Essentials now supports an expanded selection of paper textures, and if you need help, you can turn to the new tutorial-based guidebook.—JACKIE DOVE

Corel; $80

Popcorn 3

Roxio’s Popcorn may be the younger sibling to the company’s Toast Titanium CD and DVD burning software, but it’s no lightweight. Especially made for Mac users working with video content, Popcorn 3 ( ) lets you convert video files to different formats—burning them to a CD or DVD, putting them on your iPod, or transferring them to your Apple TV, PSP, or handheld. The prior version of Popcorn was already a solid application, but with version 3, Roxio added TiVoToGo support so you can take programs recorded by your TiVo DVR with you. Other additions include batch video compression, the ability to pause and resume video conversions (in case you need to free up your processor for something else), improved device support, and the ability to create custom disc labels using a bundled version of BeLight’s Disc Cover.—PETER COHEN

Roxio; $50

Reunion 9

Plenty of Mac programs help you collect and organize data on your family tree, but only Leister Productions’ Reunion ( ) combines stylish utility with ease of use. Leister rewrote the latest version to include some Apple-inspired features—the main window, for example, includes a search box that’s reminiscent of what you’d see in iTunes, iPhoto, and Safari. A multimedia window lets you store and display a variety of image and video files—plus it can present slide shows of your photos within the program. If you’re creating Web-based family trees, you can export those pages in CSS, which makes your pages conform to best Web practices.—JACKIE DOVE

Leister Productions; $99

Scrivener

I’ve tried most of the scores of creative-writing programs available, and the only one I’ve embraced is Literature & Latte’s Scrivener ( ). Since there are as many different approaches to writing as there are aspiring novelists, a good writing program has to be extremely flexible, and Scrivener is. You can break your manuscript into individual chapters, or edit it as a whole. A convenient Search function helps you track down that character you mentioned one time 70,000 words back. Built-in outline and corkboard views let you plot where you’re going, keep track of events and characters, and collect all the research you’ve been doing. Progress-tracking tools let you make sure you’re staying on schedule or give you a sobering view of how much more work you have yet to do. Put simply, Scrivener manages to offer a huge collection of features that make it an excellent writing tool, while having the sense to get out of your way and let you focus on your writing when it’s time to get down to business.—JASON SNELL

Literature & Latte; $40

VMware Fusion 1.1

Between Parallels Desktop and Apple’s Boot Camp, you might think that the field of programs for running Windows on a Mac is full enough. But VMware Fusion ( ), is a welcome addition for anyone who needs or wants to branch out to other operating systems. After all, a little competition never hurt anyone; in fact, Fusion’s features have already inspired new additions to Parallels (and vice versa). VMware Fusion also gives you access to VMware’s huge collection of appliances, ready-to-run software packages you can download and install with a double-click. The recent release of version 1.1 also brings experimental support for DirectX 9.0, enabling a number of newer games to run without resorting to Boot Camp. And if you already use Parallels, VMware 1.1 now includes a one-step Parallels importer that makes the conversion process easier.—ROB GRIFFITHS

VMware; $80

WireTap Studio

What with recording interviews for the Macworld Podcast, converting LPs and tapes to digital audio files, and capturing streaming audio from my favorite Internet radio stations, my Mac’s audio input port and Sound preference pane are rarely idle. While tools exist to perform the aforementioned chores, none is as easy to use as Ambrosia Software’s WireTap Studio ( ). Not only can WireTap Studio record any sound produced by my Mac (or channeled to it), it automatically does so with lossless quality and allows me to edit that audio nondestructively, in one of the most intuitive audio editors I’ve used. Add the ability to preview your recording’s sound at any available quality setting, and you’ve got an audio editor fit for even the most demanding user.—CHRISTOPHER BREEN

Ambrosia Software; $69

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