Shop Smart: Savvy Software Shopping

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You can save money on the programs that make your Mac a worthwhile helpmate. For our favorite low-cost and free applications, see "

">Software for Less."

Software Strategies

If you must have the latest and greatest version of a program, there are a couple of ways to get it at a reduced price. As we mentioned earlier in the article, the first is to go to school. Institutions of higher learning offer academic pricing on software, and the reductions can be significant. You can also search online auction sites such as eBay -- where current software titles are often up for bid -- and many of the sites listed in " Where to Shop Online."

Bundles If you don't already own a substantial library of applications, software bundles can be an economical way to establish one. For example, if you're getting started in the graphics business, Adobe's $1,299 Creative Suite -- which includes the latest versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, GoLive, and Acrobat, as well as Version Cue -- is tempting. (For more on the Adobe package, see " Adobe Changes Everything," November 2003.) But if you already own most of these applications (or don't need many of them), you may find Adobe's upgrade price, $549 for the Standard Edition, a little steep. (You must own a previous version of Photoshop to qualify for the upgrade.)

Another example of value in numbers is the $199 Big 4 Graphics bundle, a suite of Photoshop plug-ins marketed by Alien Skin Software ( ). Aladdin Systems bundles popular OS X utilities such as Spamfire, Labels X, LaunchBar, and ExecutiveSync in its two $49 Ten for X packages ( ). And Symantec's $130 SystemWorks ( ) costs less than half of what you'd pay for individual copies of the bundle's Norton Utilities, Norton AntiVirus, Retrospect Express Backup, and Spring Cleaning.

Don't Buy the Big Names You can save money by choosing software from smaller companies. Although Apple's $79 AppleWorks lacks the extensive feature set of Microsoft's $380 Office v. X Standard Edition ( ), it's a perfectly capable program for word processing, spreadsheets, and simple databases. Deneba's $400 Canvas 9 ( ), Corel's $429 CorelDraw Graphics Suite 11 ( ), and Stone Design's $299 Stone Studio ( ) pack a host of graphics and page-layout functionality into low-cost packages. Apple's $99 presentation application, Keynote, is far less expensive than Microsoft's $229 PowerPoint. And if you want to create or open Microsoft Word and Excel documents, you have a host of inexpensive alternatives -- including Apple's TextEdit and AppleWorks; Mariner Software's $140 MarinerPak, which includes Mariner Write and Mariner Calc (; and ThinkFree's $50 ThinkFree Office ( ). -- cb

The Bottom Dollar

Shopping -- especially shopping for Mac stuff -- should be fun. Follow our advice on ways to get more for less, and the good times won't be diminished by financial concerns; plus, you'll be amazed at the returns on your minimal investment. Thinking different is good, but shopping smart -- that is a necessity.

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