Category Archives: Reviews

Affordable Photo-editing for Mac

Mac users who are looking for a more affordable alternative to Photoshop Elements might take a look at two very nice options: Acorn [$29.99] and Pixelmator [$29.99]. Both are very capable editors with a full spectrum of features, but they are both quite different from what you may be use to with Photoshop Elements.

Acorn workspace and toolbar.

The Acorn workspace is deceptively simple. In addition to the basic toolset, there are a large number of filters available through the Filter menu to both enhance your photo and to add a number of artistic effects. There are also vector drawing tools giving you Illustrator-style capabilities. You can use these tools not only to draw, but to arrange text along a curve and add other interesting effects. For those of you who enjoy Photoshop’s custom brush feature, you’ll be right at home with Acorn. Not only can you add those same brushes to Acorn, there is a built-in brush designer so you can make your own.

How Acorn works – and the terms used to discuss features – are often quite different than those used by Photoshop so it will take some time to adjust. They do offer an extensive user guide and support page full of information. Take an Acorn test drive first and see if it fits your photo-editing style.

Pixelmator workspace and tools.

The Pixelmator workspace is a beautiful place. The various panels look quite familiar to a Photoshop user, but you’ll find them floating on your desktop rather than confined in a single work area. This app also has an amazing toolset of features and filters including vector drawing tools and a huge number of “instant” filters. You can quickly turn a photo into a sketch or painting and the Effects Browser makes it easy to find and apply them. One tool I enjoy when using Pixelmator for creating scrapbook-style collages is the alignment tool. It’s similar to what you’d find in Keynote or PowerPoint for making sure things are lined up correctly and quite handy.

Pixelmator supports Photoshop brushes and takes advantage of OS X’s Automator to perform some amazing tasks for you. The latest version supports both the Retina display and iCloud storage.

This app is probably an easier transition for Photoshop users, but there will still be an adjustment period while you learn how things work. They provide a complete support facility with in-app help, video tutorials and blog to help you make the most of the app. You can take a test drive before you buy to see if it fits your workstyle.

Both of these apps are quite affordable and very capable alternatives to Photoshop Elements. Yes, there is an adjustment period and yes, you may not find either suits the way you work. However, if you are tired of re-purchasing your photo-editor every time there’s an update, one of these apps could make the change worth the effort. It won’t cost you a thing to try them and see.

And, if you’re wondering . . . this photograph is the inside of one of the glass bottom boats found at Silver Springs in the 1950s. The three adorable bathing beauties in the back right corner are my cousin, my sister and I. The boats have been refurbished a few times since then, but they still sail the springs and provide an amazing look into the depths of one of Florida’s biggest springs.


Mountain Lion – Notes and Reminders

There are many things to like about Mountain Lion – the latest version of Mac’s OSX operation system – but often it’s the little things that users quickly learn to love. For me, it’s Notes and Reminders. These two simple apps have quickly become indispensable tools to keep my life organized.

Reminders is a shopping list, errands list, chores list and more. As you see here, you can set up as many reminder categories as you need. I can set due dates for tasks or chores and Mountain Lion’s notification system will remind me they are due. Reminders can be set to automatically sync with iCloud so I can view and add reminders from any of my devices. And, once iOS 6 is released, reminders can be set to notify me based on location too. That means that when I go to Target, a notification will pop up on my phone reminding me what I came here to get. The Reminders app is integrated with Siri on the iPhone which means all those great ideas I get while driving can be now captured – hands free! Is this heaven?

The Notes app is a digital notebook that’s always with you and always up-to-date. It syncs via iCloud to your iOS devices so you can add, update and review your notes from just about anywhere. On the Mac version, you can even “rip out” a note (by double-clicking on it) and pin it to your desktop so it’s always in your face. Notes supports Mountain Lion’s dictate functionality so you can add to your notes by talking to it. On the Mac, tap the function key (fn) twice to turn dictation on and start talking. On your iThings onscreen keyboard, you’ll notice a microphone button just to the left of the spacebar.

You can style your notes with fonts, lists and other rich text features. Notes also supports adding links, photos and file attachments and you can share a note with others via email or the Messages app.

I am just beginning to work with Notes, but I’m already delighted with its capabilities. While it takes almost no learning effort to get started, you’ll be surprised to discover lots of ways this app can keep up with your daily workflow.