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Utility smackdown: Keyboard Maestro vs TextExpander

11/25, 9:49am

Two expensive apps, both alike in dignity

We have had rubbish smackdowns before. Really rubbish ones where if we didn't end up recommending every single thing in the fight, it was very close to every single one. It's not that we're too nice, though: it's that we pick excellent hardware and software for these smackdowns. This time, it's one on one. Mano a mano between two apps that have a lot in common and of which neither is so cheap that you'd buy them on a whim. It's Keyboard Maestro 7.0 versus TextExpander 5, both for OS X.


Hands On: Hootsuite 2.9.2 (iOS)

11/25, 7:21am

A dashboard for all your social media

You do spend far too long on Facebook -- hang on, we've just had a friend request -- and Twitter, and we have absolutely no problem with that. Well, time spent reading what your friends are up to is great, it's far quicker than phoning them up, or actually going to see them. Equally, reading the news on Twitter, or writing some brilliantly witty tweets, that's great. It's all the other faffing about, getting oneself to read and to write, that bothers us -- and that is where Hootsuite 2.9.2 comes in.


Hands On: Curio 10 (OS X)

11/24, 7:21am

Comprehensive and powerful note taking app gets updated

You should probably get some coffee: this may take a while. We've previously reviewed Curio Express 9.4.7 and found it so swimming in features that it was hard to really grasp all that it can do and we ended up inadequately summarising it as a notetaking app. However, the Express one is like a Lite, cutdown edition and now there's the full-blown Curio 10. It has so many features it can't contain them all and needs to spill out into an extra, free Curiota 1.0.


Hands On: Papers 3 3.3.3 (iOS)

10/25, 12:38am

Portable personal research library lets you find source papers on the go

If you're in college, you spend a lot of your time writing papers assuming you want to succeed. This is also true of scientists, humanitarians, and countless research-based jobs. Trying to organize all your source material is generally pretty difficult, but it doesn't have to be. Papers 3, a personal research library, is here to make your life a little easier, and we've been using it for a while.


Hands On: OmniOutliner 4.3.2 (OS X)

10/08, 10:44am

The Mac version don't get no respect

There's a new update to this outlining app for OS X, but even the makers say that OmniOutliner 4.3.2 is a minor improvement. It's just that sometimes, you need a minor improvement to remind you how much you rely on something. Even when we've previously enthused about OmniOutliner for iPad and iPhone, we've always gone "oh, yeah, and there's a Mac version too." Yet there are those of us on MacNN who use OmniOutliner for Mac every day.


Introducing two books from MacNN writers

08/08, 6:36am

Written by staffers, learn how to blog and publish

If you've been following our Wednesday Pointers column over the last nine weeks, you'll know that the column on that day was devoted to documenting the process of writing a book, and then turning that manuscript into a real, buyable, out-in-the-world e-book and paperback. That book, William Gallagher's The Blank Screen: Blogging, is now available -- and an e-book version of the columns has also been created.


Hands On: Vellum 1.2.5 (OS X)

07/31, 10:18am

It's about time we actually reviewed this

There's reviewing and there's reviewing. You know that the tiniest single-function utility gets examined, turned upside down, poked about with and possibly even shaken a bit. You also know that doesn't take long. There are things like Microsoft Word which take a month or more of serious use with betas and previews before more serious use with the final release. Then there's Vellum 1.2.5. We've had this software for about six months, maybe seven. You can't say we're quick with the news on this one, but complete, we are.


Pointers: Six tools for writing books

07/29, 9:38am

Replace that typewriter and make yourself an e-book

When you've done something once, you can fly through it the second time. Unless that second time is ages later, in which case you spend all your waking hours re-learning something you'd already sweated through. So entirely for you and not at all, not in the teeniest way for us the next time we write a book, here's what you need. It's what we recommend after a summer of working on this, followed up by one or two cases where your mileage may vary and anyway the alternatives are fun. Plus a few quick notes of lessons we learned, mistakes, and evidence -- actual evidence -- that all this works.


Pointers: Text Expansion in Microsoft Word 2011 and 2016

07/27, 9:26am

Speed up your writing by automating Microsoft Word

Say you write 30 invoices in Word every week. The amounts and the people you're writing to will change, plus over time you may get less and less polite. Word can't help you with people you have to send reminders to (sometimes, we'd like to see the "it looks like you're writing a threatening letter" feature) but it can speed up a lot of the repetitive work. Type a couple of characters, and you can have Word write out entire letters, with gaps for names and figures wherever you want.


Hands On: Phraselogy 2.0.6 (iPad)

07/23, 10:01am

It's no Word but this Drafts sister title is excellent

Agile Tortoise is the developer of four apps. We enthused about Terminology, we raved about Tally 2, we fair evangelise Drafts 4 daily. That leaves Phraseology 2.06, and of course after those three we went in expecting to like it -- but we also thought we might not. For Phraseology is a word processor, and we have already written thousands of words in the note-taking Drafts 4. A trip into Phraseology, therefore, became simultaneously a practical question of whether we needed it, and a more philosophical one of what exactly the difference is between a note-taking app and a word processing one.


Pointers: Summer Project -- e-publishing part 8, it's gone right

07/15, 12:08pm

The book is here

This is one of the moments when it feels good to be a book writer. There's no question but your first newspaper article, your first magazine piece, your first radio show, they are all fantastic -- but somehow a book is special. Maybe because of the pain it takes to get there. Last week the entire Summer Project fell over: every single thing I'd recommended so loudly, so cockily, it was all wrong because the book I'm writing simply wasn't any good. One hairy week on, it is. The Blank Screen: Blogging is a far better book than it would've been if I'd not stopped it to rewrite.


Pointers: Summer Project: E-publishing, part six

07/01, 2:49pm

Creating e-books and prepping paperbacks

You're at the stage now where you know you will never have to write another word of your book ever again. Meanwhile, we're at the stage of wondering how to break it to you that you still have some writing to do. However, we've decided to build up to that after taking you through the next stage of the e-publishing process. In this part of the Pointers Summer Project, we'll actually, genuinely, thoroughly produce an e-book. We'll also prepare the paperback, and you'll see why that takes a step more.


Pointers: Summer Project: E-publishing, part four

06/17, 1:30pm

Finally, some actual writing, and thoughts on software to use

Four weeks into the summer project, halfway through to having an actual paperback and e-book, only now do we get to do some writing. Maybe in the olden days, you could just get out your quill pen on day one and craft a masterpiece, but now that you're taking on the production of the book, you have a lot of other concerns.


Pointers: Summer Project -- E-publishing, part three

06/10, 7:20am

The fun part -- researching the book

We'll be honest. One reason for doing this entire series of articles about writing and publishing your own book is that we've read too many features saying it's easy. Get iBooks Author, get Scrivener, press Print, the end. That's always described as being so easy anyone could do it but we think that's so boring nobody would. Then when you see the junk that gets published this way, you know that nobody should. Instead, you and I are doing it right.


Hands On: Transcriptions 1.1 (OS X)

05/28, 1:06pm

Makes transcribing interviews less painful

We start the day thankful. We're running this Summer Project about researching, writing and publishing books and in looking up a link for you in it, we found that one of our favorite software tools has been seriously updated. We've no clue how we missed it, but we have transcribed so many countless, countless interviews using Transcriptions that we've worn it out. Now we've found Transcriptions 1.1. So thank you for that, and we'll keep a better eye out in future.


Living with: Drafts 4 (iOS)

05/27, 7:35am

Deceptively minimalist yet power-house writing app

Woke up one morning -- dah da dah duh -- with an entire short play in my head. As you do. I would like to tell you that I picked up my iPad, opened Drafts 4 and wrote the whole thing in one go, because that is what I should have done. Instead, as much of a fan of Drafts on iOS as I am, I tried writing it in Final Draft instead.


Hands On: Carbo 1.0 (iOS)

05/25, 12:03pm

Keep on using paper just a bit longer

Its full title in the App Store is Carbo -- Handwriting in the Digital Age and you're already thinking iPads, stylus or scribbling on the screen, but you're wrong. This is not another app about mimicking the experience of writing on paper, it's not really about replacing paper at all. Carbo is about letting you continue to use paper, but now use it in the digital world: take paper you write on and edit, copy or share it as you would anything you create online from scratch.


Hands On: BBEdit 11.1 (OS X)

05/12, 1:30pm

Is there anything this text editor can't do?

Sometimes you just need a pencil. BBEdit is not that. BBEdit is more like a lifetime of writing and editing tools compiled into one veteran application, and regularly updated with more. It got a shakeup with version 11, but now the new BBEdit 11.1 introduces still more features -- seriously, where do they keep finding features to put into this text editor?


Hands On: SmartDown 1.0.4 (OS X)

04/25, 8:00am

Text editor and outliner, all with Markdown

It's not as if you are stuck for applications to write in: whether you go for Microsoft Word or TextEdit, there are just about 40 different word processors for every man, woman and child on the planet. It's just that not many work in Markdown, which is a form of writing, a format, and a syntax that works well for the web. SmartDown is one of those, and it works very well.


Hands On: OmniOutliner 2.3 (iOS)

04/13, 7:04pm

It's now on iPhone too, go buy it

If you've never heard of OmniOutliner before, then one thing you need to know is that is an outlining app -- you're not surprised so far -- which is so good that it will convert you to using outlines. It very much surprised us first, as it tricked some of our most outline-resistant reviewers into using it for planning complex pieces. Then it downright startled us, because we began using it outside writing: we've planned vacations on this thing.


Hands On: Ulysses (OS X, iOS)

03/13, 2:56pm

The writing app beats Scrivener to the iPad

It's not as if this were Mac versus PC, not Word versus WordPerfect, not even Aperture versus Lightroom. Still, Ulysses vs Scrivener, a war of word processors, is a thing -- and Ulysses just took a big step ahead. These two applications give writers a complete and single package of tools for writing, research, and then publishing. What they have not given writers before was the ability to pick up an iPad and carry on where you were.


Hands On: Speechmaker (iOS)

01/21, 7:56am

Rehearse and deliver speeches with this prompter

True story -- we had an important speech to deliver, and we wrote it on Drafts 4for iPad. That's a very good application for writing, but we shouldn't have also read from it: because, standing at the lectern, facing 200 people, we scrolled down to the next bit and accidentally grazed against an on-screen button. Upshot: we had to deliver the last two thirds of the speech from memory, because we'd completely wrecked our Drafts 4 document. Speechmaker aims to avoid all that, and have you look fantastic while flawlessly delivering a speech the equal of Susan B. Anthony's On a Woman's Right to Vote or Martin Luther King's I Had a Dream -- the text of both of which are included in the app.


Hands On: Mazec – Handwriting Input Method (iOS)

12/18, 7:44am

Scribble on iOS like you had a old Newton and good handwriting

People must really dislike Apple's on-screen keyboard for iPhones and iPads, because the instant we could try alternatives, we got alternatives. Some seem different for the sake of being different. Some, like TextExpander's one, add useful new features -- yet take away some of the usability. But then you get the odd keyboard like Mazec, which tries to offer a true alternative. Rather than typing, you scribble with a stylus -- if you've got one, and haven't lost it -- or with your finger.


Hands On: Byword (OS X, iOS)

11/06, 5:44pm

Markdown editor makes rich text writing, blog content, or HTML text easy

Byword ($12 for Mac, $6 for iOS, but currently on sale for $10 and $3, respectively) is a straightforward text editor designed specifically for writing either plain (or rich) text or in Markdown, a style specifically designed for blog writers (or anyone who needs to provide text content with HTML tags for emphasis or embedded images, lists and so forth. It's available for both iOS and OS X, and uses iCloud (or Dropbox if you prefer) to sync documents seamlessly between devices with continual auto-save.


Briefly: Social networking for writers, Xtand review

01/27, 9:45pm

iPhone Developer Training

In brief: Mariner Software has announced a new social networking site that allows writers to post their own work or read and comment on material from other users. MacNN has recently taken a look at a device that holds an iPhone or iPod touch on a desk. The Just Mobile Xtand is stylized to complement the design of the iMac and Cinema Display, while holding the device in either the portrait or landscape orientation. Intrinsic Development Corp. has announced that it will offer another iPhone developer training course, as its previous series received a strong response.


Apps: SERank, OfficeTime, macVCR

01/08, 6:15am

PDF Shrink, viJournal

  • SERank 1.9 ($60) can monitor search engine rankings for any number of keywords and display the changes of a sites rankings over time. Users can track search engine rankings in over 50 different search engines world time and can graph changes in their personal sites ranking over time. The application can also create customized PDF reports reports for clients. Version 1.9 can now export data to CSV or tab delimited files for use with Excel or Numbers and can also customize reports by setting table column widths. [Download - 14.4MB]


  • Storyist 1.4 gets Office, Final Draft compatibility

    08/12, 9:10pm

    Storyist 1.4 released

    Storyist Software has updated its flagship story development application to include a host of features requested by users. Designed for novelists and screenwriters, Storyist 1.4 now includes a formatting inspector window, the ability to read and write in additional formats -- including Microsoft Word, Open Office and FInal Draft -- and improved import and export functions. New text tools automate tedious routine functions such as search-and-replace, changing font styles reformatting text.


    First Look: NovaMind Platinum screenwriting module

    07/24, 5:25pm

    F. Look: NovaMind Platinum

    Writing a script for a movie, TV show or the stage isnt easy. While there are plenty of scriptwriting programs that format text automatically, few of these help you to think creatively about your story in the first place. To handle both sides of the equation, you may need to use a screenwriting module like the one in NovaMind Platinum.


    Storyist intros novel and screenwriting software

    06/02, 3:10pm

    Storyist novel/script app

    Storyist has released the first version of its self-titled writing software, designed solely for Macs. The program is meant to aid in the creation of novels and screenplays, and in addition to a standard word processor, it includes a component called the Storyboard. This maps out a story using virtual index cards, which are in turn posted on a digital corkboard. Through the latter, writers can pick scenes to edit and rearrange them at will.


    Handwriting recognition for jailbroken iPhones

    04/17, 9:55pm

    iPhone writing recognition forum members have discovered a new utility for jailbroken iPhones which allows for handwriting recognition using a small grey area. The beta software can recognize both Latin and Chinese characters at the moment, transcribing finger motions into editable text on a yellow notepad-style document. User poetic_folly notes that installing HWPen requires the user to add as the installer source.


    Apple seeks handwriting engineer for iPhone

    03/28, 12:15am

    Apple seeks engineer

    Apple has posted the availability of a Handwriting Recognition Engineer position, citing the need for a dedicated employee for its Mac OS X handwriting recognition technology. According to, the individual would be responsible for enhancing the existing product, as well as extending the technology's influence to "other Applications and the iPhone," suggesting Apple is trying to recapture the feel of its Newton handheld platform.


    Patents: Multitouch device and control methods

    02/21, 11:00am

    Multitouch device, methods

    The US Patent and Trademark office today published five of Apple's patents, describing versatile multi-touch input device and control methods in a wide array of fields. The device appears to be an ergonomic multi-touch keyboard-style device that can accept a wide array of touch commands, including typing, resting, pointing, scrolling, 3D manipulation, and handwriting. The patents involve actions that are simple for the user to know and remember, while the system has little difficulty differentiating between the actions.


    Apps: Montage, FlightCheck

    12/11, 7:45pm


    • Montage 1.3 ($140) tool to create, edit, and manage screenplays on a Macintosh. The new release adds Leopard support, the ability to export Montage scripts to Final Draft (.fdr), the ability to export Montage scripts to .sex format for interfacing with production scheduling applications like Gorilla, EP Scheduling and CompanyMOVE and localized support for French, Italian, German, and Spanish. [Download - form]

    • FlightCheck Pro 6.1 ($500) preflighting solution for desktop publishing apps. FlightCheck v6.10 comprises numerous improvements and updates, including enhanced preflighting speed--up to four times faster than previous versions. The solution now recognizes QuarkXPress 7 files, and appropriately reports on font paths. In addition, improvements have been made to the software's PDF Ground Controls. And a new "Get More" button found in the Ground Controls pop-up menu, enables users to immediately access and download pre-defined Ground Controls based on output intentions and file specifications. [Download - form]

    • MultitaskingAssistant 1.0.2 ($58) personal information manager (PIM) type of software that functions as a personal organizer of task specific information at the point of interruption. The MultitaskingAssistant's purpose is to facilitate in the recording, tracking, and management of personal information at the point the user gets interrupted during a task. A task, by definition, needs to be accomplished within a defined period of time, tasks get interrupted all the time, and multitasking is a necessity in today's busy world. The MultitaskingAssistant will always have the right information in the right place, in the right form, and of sufficient completeness and quality to quickly bring the user back up to speed on any of there interrupted tasks. [Download - 560K]

    • miXscope 3.2.3 ($10) miXscope enables microscope and video camera users to take snapshots, create time-lapse movies, stop motion movies, or image sequences of the world around them. miXscope users can also add time stamps, text comments, image overlays, make measurements, add special effects, and/or draw on the live view images. This release improves the image quality for 60x and 200x magnification settings for the newer Digital Blue QX5 USB microscopes.[Download - 1.1MB]

    • message2net 1.2.4 ($25) a universal binary application for SMS- and phonebook management. The new version is ready to work with Leopard and fixes some minor bugs. message2net allows to send, receive and manage SMS-messages on a Mac OS X computer using a connected mobile phone and supports advanced features like multipart-SMS, group-SMS and direct Address Book and SIM card access. [Download - 2.4MB]



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