Not all great Mac tools are confined to the hardware and software aisles at your local Apple Store. You’ll find this trio of favorites online.
Over the last four years, Apple’s iTunes Store has ruled the online roost for purchased music, and for good reason—its tracks and albums are affordable, its selection is great, and the music is easy to find and download. But it left room for improvement in the form of higher-quality audio encoding, removal of copy protection, and a more flexible pricing structure. Then Amazon MP3 came on the scene—not only did the online music store offer all of its wares in unprotected MP3 form, but it provided them at a higher bit rate than that of iTunes’ protected tracks (though at the same rate as unprotected iTunes Plus tracks). And Amazon offered all this for prices usually lower than what iTunes was charging at that time. Amazon has provided us with two valuable services. It offers a high-quality alternative to the iTunes Store—and it was instrumental in pushing Apple to slash the price of iTunes Plus tracks and strip the copy protection from independent artists’ releases. Competition is a beautiful thing.—CHRISTOPHER BREEN
Microsoft Office may still be king of the office—Apple’s beefed-up iWork notwithstanding—but Google is taking a stand with its own collection of business apps. The difference is, these productivity tools—known collectively as Google Apps—live online. Using Google Apps, families, businesses, and educational institutions can create a customized Web portal that combines e-mail (Gmail); group scheduling (Google Calendar); collaborative online writing and editing of documents, spreadsheets, and presentations (Google Docs); chat (Google Talk); and Web page building (Google Page Creator). You control what’s there and who can access it. And best of all, the basic version is absolutely free. It’s got its quirks (like incompatibility with Safari as of this writing), but Google’s online suite is certainly ready for real-world use—we put it to the test at Macworld by using the Docs feature to edit our digital Superguides and consolidate our Leopard coverage. Google Apps isn’t ready to topple your desktop-based suite—not yet, anyhow—but it is an impressive and well-implemented glimpse into the future of online tools.—JONATHAN SEFF
Google; Standard Edition, free; Premier Edition, $50 per user, per year
Between camera phones, Wi-Fi–enabled cameras, and the general rise of social networking sites such as Flickr and Facebook, photos are increasingly heading straight from the camera to the Web, bypassing traditional image editors in the process. But that doesn’t mean these snapshots wouldn’t benefit from a few nips and tucks. That’s where Picnik.com ( ) fits in. This online image editor connects with social networking sites, blogs, and even your own hard drive to let you access photos and make sophisticated edits. For example, in addition to handling the basics—exposure, saturation, and red-eye removal—you can paint on a blur effect, draw notes and doodles, apply frames, and enhance colors. Even more impressive is the speed at which all of this happens—the site is as responsive as a desktop program. Picnik’s also smart: when you save the files, you can choose to overwrite the original or keep both versions. Close your browser, and your work-in-progress will be waiting for you when you return. Best of all, this Web-based editor is free (though a $25-a-year premium site offers more-advanced editing tools and other features).—KELLY TURNER
Picnik; Basic version, free; Premium version, $25 per year