25th annual Editors' Choice Awards: the complete list
While iCal is enough for many Mac users, for many others it really isn’t. But when you outgrow iCal, where do you go? The answer for most would-be switchers has been “nowhere”—until BusyMac released BusyCal 1.0 ( ).
Billing itself as “iCal Pro,” BusyCal’s interface does look an awful lot like Apple’s own software at first glance. But under the surface, BusyCal offers features iCal can only dream of. For example, out of the box it syncs with Google Calendar, with support for offline editing and syncing alarms from Google events. If Google Calendar isn’t your cup of tea, you can also share your calendars between multiple copies of BusyCal on a local network, via Bonjour. There’s support for multiperson editing. And because BusyCal uses Mac OS X’s Sync Services system, it can also seamlessly transfer your data to MobileMe and the iPhone, letting it effectively slip in and replace iCal without your missing a beat. There are plenty of other nice touches, including rich-text support, embeddable sticky notes, location URLs for events, a handy list view, and integrated weather forecasts.
The sum of these improvements is a product that many of us have made our default calendar program. It did more than revive a dormant product category; it established itself as the category leader.—Dan Moren
When FileMaker introduced Bento in 2008, the personal database application had just about everything a casual user could want for organizing data, from pre-assembled templates to dynamic access to Address Book, iCal, and Mail data. About the only flaw—and it was a doozy—involved Bento’s pricing: users who bought the original Bento 1 had to pay the full $49 price tag to upgrade to Bento 2. FileMaker took a lot of heat for that decision, but to its credit, the company listened to the critics. When Bento 3 ( ) debuted this past fall, FileMaker offered a $20 rebate to all existing users.
But there’s more to this latest version than a reasonable upgrade policy. Bento 3 added iPhoto integration and the ability to share data with others on your local network—both welcome additions. With the addition to 128-bit AES encryption to secure that data, Bento continues to set the standard for personal database programs.—Philip Michaels
These days, we all have files all over the place—our computers at work and home, desktops and laptops, Macs and PCs, and even iPhones. Keeping track of which files you’ve stored where and making sure you have the files you need when you need them can be a hassle. Dropbox solves this problem by giving you access to files no matter where you are or what device you’re using.
Once you install the free Dropbox app on your Macs and PCs, you throw the files you want access to into your Dropbox folder. They’re then automatically synced to other machines on which you’ve installed the app; it’s also stored on Dropbox’s remote servers. So even if you’re on a friend’s computer, you can still log in to the Dropbox Website and get your files that way. The free Dropbox iPhone app gives you direct access from your phone.
Dropbox does more than sync files. It also keeps track of changed documents, so if you need an older version of a file from the last 30 days, you can get to it. Or, if you want to share a file with others, you can drop it in the Public folder; Control-click (or right click) on the file in the Finder, and you can copy a download URL for pasting in e-mail, Twitter, or Facebook. Dropbox also supports easy photo galleries: Just drop photos into the Photos folder.
In addition to all that, Dropbox is free to try. The trial account gives you 2GB of storage. Beyond that, it’s $10 a month for a 50GB account, $20 a month for 100GB. It’s one of those services that, once you use it, you wonder how you did without it.—Jason Snell
free to $20 per month; Dropbox
Everyone has things they need to get done. So the fact that there are scores of to-do-list programs for the Mac should come as no surprise. Some of these programs are simple but limited; others are very powerful but require hours of study just to get started. Of all the task-management programs we’ve seen, Things 1.0.4 ( ) strikes the best balance between power and usability.
Things lets you define multiple to-do lists (which it calls projects). These lists can contain one-off, repeating, and scheduled tasks; the Projects view graphically displays your progress on each. There’s also a general inbox for uncategorized tasks, along with a unique Today view that includes items you’ve manually marked for completion today, as well as Project items that are due today. You can attach notes, links, and tags to individual tasks, and then search for that data; you can filter any view by tag, schedule, or both. The nice thing is that if you don’t want to use these features, you don’t have to. Things also has an excellent iPhone counterpart, the $10 Things app, which syncs with the Mac version.
Of course, everyone has specific needs and preferences that will steer them toward a particular to-do-list program or another. But Things’ combination of ease of use, great interface, and flexibility make it as close to the ideal Mac to-do app as we’ve seen.—Dan Frakes
$50; Cultured Code
When it comes to modifying PDFs, SmileOnMyMac’s PDFPen 4.5 ( ) fits neatly between OS X’s free Preview and Adobe’s $449 Acrobat Pro ( ). At only $50, it goes well beyond Preview’s PDF processing power, yet it offers some of the same features you’ll find in the much more costly Acrobat Pro.
It enables you to insert images, text boxes, comments, and links to other pages in the same document. You can also remove the background color from imported images (great for inserting your signature into documents), edit text, and draw almost any shape. PDFPen 4.5.2 adds an improved OCR engine, better scanner support in Mac OS X 10.6, and multicolored highlighting.
PDFPen may not be the most exciting product among this year’s Eddys, but it’s certainly one of the most useful.—Rob Griffiths
Adobe Flash is the Web technology we love to hate. It brings browsers to a crawl, reduces battery life, makes laptops overheat, and is reportedly the number one cause of application crashes in Mac OS X.
You can’t just block Flash outright; it’s sometimes useful. That’s why we love ClickToFlash. Used in Safari, it replaces each bit of Flash content on a Web page with a plain-gray box. To view that Flash content, you click on the box. In other words, ClickToFlash lets you choose what Flash content you view.
Best of all, ClickToFlash is not a hack; it’s an official Internet plug-in. For many of us, ClickToFlash brings some much-needed sanity back to our Web browsing.—Dan Frakes
free; ClickToFlash Team
Every few years, a game comes along that pushes the Mac gaming industry in an exciting new direction. Braid ( ) is that game this year.
It’s a complex, genre-defying masterpiece, hard to label and even harder to beat. The premise is simple: You guide a character (Tim) through obstacles, collect puzzle pieces, and rescue The Princess from a “monster.” But the more you play, the more the questions pile up: Did Tim lose his love or did he forsake it? Does the Princess even exist? Why can Tim manipulate time? Braid does everything good entertainment should: it captivates you, tantalizes you, and keeps you coming back for more.—Chris Holt
By now, you probably have a decent collection of DVDs at home. But those discs have their downsides: They’re easy to lose and damage, and they take up lots of shelf space; playing them on a laptop eats up precious battery life; and (because of copy protection) you can’t easily watch them on an iPhone or Apple TV. Thankfully, The Little App Factory’s $20 RipIt ( ) addresses all of those problems in one easy-to-use app.
Using it is as simple as inserting a DVD into your Mac’s optical drive, clicking Rip, and then going for a walk. When you get back, you’ll have a bit-for-bit copy of the DVD—in the form of a VIDEO_TS folder—stripped of all copy protection. You can then put that folder on your iMac’s hard drive for safe keeping, on your MacBook Pro for on-the-road viewing, or on a DVD as a defense against your kids’ jam-covered fingers. You can also send that folder to another application that will convert it into something you can watch on your Apple TV, iPhone, iPod, or other device.
True, if you just want to convert a DVD for an iPhone or Apple TV, the free HandBrake can usually handle decryption as well. But, because RipIt's updated frequently, it works with movies that can trip up HandBrake and MacTheRipper; it boasts a 99.9999 percent success rate with support for 117,000 different discs. In other words, it just works.—Jonathan Seff
$20; The Little App Factory
Logic Express 9
Ask the typical passer-by to couple the word “starving” with a profession and, just as typically, “musician” will be the response. Which is why we’d like to honor Apple’s Logic Express 9 ( ), a workhorse bargain.
What makes it such a deal isn’t so much the price tag as it is the value you get for your money. New in this year’s edition, and adding to the program’s already impressive feature set is the following: The Amp Designer feature, which lets you mix and match 25 speakers and amps (and “record” the results with three different microphones); Flex Time, which allows you to easily shift audio tidbits to change the rhythmic feel of a phrase; Pedalboard effects that provide players with virtual “stomp boxes” that can be triggered in real time with a MIDI or USB controller; Varispeed recording for slowing down a project so you can more easily play a tricky solo; and a Drum Replacer feature that allows you to use recorded drums to trigger better-sounding drum samples.
Welcome cake icing though those new features may be, the application’s existing features alone make it a worthwhile investment for musicians who’ve reached GarageBand’s limits. GarageBand may be extremely capable (and extremely free with every new Mac), but Logic Express 9 provides professional-quality tools with professional-grade flexibility. If you can’t express your deepest musical thoughts with Logic Express, there’s a good chance they’re not worth hearing.—Christopher Breen
I might not know graphic layers from layer cakes, but I still have to spend some time every day working with images. And when I do, I usually turn to Acorn 2.1.
This lightweight, inexpensive image editor has all kinds of features that you might expect to see from a professional-level product—multilayer editing (including layer groups), vector shapes, and a boatload of snazzy filters. Its smart crop tool and Web export feature are both invaluable in my daily work.
I’m also a huge fan of the layer-based screenshot capability introduced in Acorn 2.0; [it snaps a picture of your screen and gives each application its own layer, making it easy to isolate just the elements you want.
Added to the most recent versions is powerful scripting (via JSTalk and AppleScript) and plug-in support. Acorn is no slouch in the performance department, either, with full 64-bit support and the ability to offload intensive tasks to your Mac’s graphics processor. (Those features mean the program works only with the latest version of Mac OS X, Snow Leopard.)
Acorn is notable for what it leaves out, too: a refined UI makes the program friendly and easy to use, so you don’t have to go hunting for a particular feature. It may not have everything that Photoshop does, but for many of us, it has everything we need.—Dan Moren
$50; Flying Meat
At first glance, Picasa 3.5 ( ) looks like an imitation of iPhoto. But what sets Picasa apart is the ingenious way it helps you organize your photos and how nicely it works with other programs.
For one thing, Picasa frees you from the need to maintain an iPhoto-like consolidated library file. Instead, it scans your system and finds image files wherever they’re saved, leaving them in their original locations. Picasa also makes it easy to upload, e-mail, and blog about your photos. Integration with the free Picasa Web Albums is incredibly convenient—you create an album, add pictures and captions, and upload. If you set an album to sync, all changes you make in the desktop app will be reflected online.
Ultimately, Picasa is about giving you power over your digital photos; it helps you manage your photos while letting you work with any other photo app you want. That light-handed approach makes it a refreshing alternative to iPhoto, and a natural Eddy winner.—Heather Kelly
Corel’s Painter is designed to be the ulti-mate digital art studio. Painter 11 ( ) offers more speed than past editions, but also a slew of new brushes, resizable palettes, PNG support, and more. It’s an Eddy-worthy upgrade.
Painter 11 significantly expands the RealBristle Painting System introduced in version 10, with 40 new Natural-Media brushes. When used with a graphics tablet, it recognizes brush angle and speed. There are other welcome improvements: Corel has revamped Painter’s selection and transform tools, a new color-management system works more efficiently, and Painter’s workspace is more intuitive.
The result is a fine improvement on an already fine product. Painter 11 is indeed the definitive painting program for the Mac.—Jackie Dove
FontExplorer X Pro 2.0
If you’re a designer or pre-press professional, or if you just have more than a casual interest in managing your fonts, you need something better than OS X’s Font Book. For our money, that something should be FontExplorer X Pro 2.0 ( ), an advanced font-management tool that’s surprisingly easy to use.
If you’re familiar with iTunes, you’ll immediately understand FontExplorer X. Font sets are on the left, a font list is on the right, type samples sit at the bottom, and details about your selected font are in the lower left corner. It’s superfast in importing and displaying fonts in WYSIWYG mode. It surpasses other font managers in the level of detail it displays, the level of control it allows, and the ease with which it shares and exports font configurations. And almost every feature—from the details displayed in the window to the way it behaves when you add, remove, activate, or deactivate fonts—is customizable.
In other words, it’s that rarest of products: Powerful enough for professionals, but simple enough for everyone else.—Jackie Dove
25th annual Editors' Choice Awards: the...