Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I did!

As I mentioned in the previous post, I thought I would be comparing two competing image framing products. But after looking a little closer, found that they approached the subject in two very distinct ways, and in fact could both be weapons sitting side-by-side in the designer's arsenal. Today, we're going to look at the second of these two apps, EasyFrame from Yellow Mug software. The name and even the icon for the app are somewhat disingenuous. We aren't really dealing with frames here, but with edge effects. You accomplish this by applying a greyscale mask to an existing image, basically applying the look of the mask to the edge of your image. And EasyFrame is a as easy to use as its name implies.

The bare-bones interface minimizes the intrusion of the software on your creativity. The drawer on the left holds the thumbnail list of frames and a popup list of categories (both built-in and user-specified), which you can drag open and shut. The addition of a drawer button that toggles that function would be nice. The buttons along the top lack a certain design coherence, but they get the job done.

Everything is drag and drop. Drop an image into the main window, drop new frames into the frame drawer, even right from a web page! That's pretty dang convenient right there. Select a frame category, click a frame and presto, you've framed your image. Export controls are right below the image, readily at hand, simply drag the image icon on the bottom right to your desktop or into your application and you're done.

EasyFrame has its own Photo Browser (sadly only displays iPhoto images) and it also works with the iMedia Browser from Karelia. The app comes with many built-in frames, but a link on their website provides you with more than 125 free greyscale masks that you can drop right into the program. Here is the link:


http://graphicssoft.about.com/od/freedownloads/l/blframesmain.htm

There are but a few items on the downside to mention that mar the otherwise well thought out program. When switching from one set of frames to the next, you lose the current frame applied, which I find a little annoying, especially when trying to compare frame selections. And while being able to see thumbnails of the selections, you really can't tell how the frame will look until applied, so some way of comparing frames would be nice. A thought would be to implement a back button feature, which maintains a history of frames you have used in the current session, just like a web browser. Or the method I suggested in last weeks article.

When flipping the border horizontally, I seem to lose the image. When I flip back, all is well. If I try export the flipped image, I just get the frame. This happens with both built-in and custom frames. And you can't rotate a border, which you can sort of do using the auto-rotate feature, but that just orients the border based on the dimensions of the image, not on the subject of the image and sometimes doesn't work the way you wish. Another border feature wish would be to be able to grow and shrink the border. Sometimes the border overlaps too much of the subject and there is no way to adjust it.

Drag and drop doesn't always work with web page thumbnails, unless they are just scaled versions of the full size. But the full-sized ones work fine. Alas, there is no batch feature, so unless you are comfortable with Automator or QuicKeys, then you have to process your images one-by-one. Quitting the program doesn't ask you if you want to save your image first, you decide if that's a good thing or not. Since it's fairly easy to recreate an image, I could go either way.

The price is a scant $14.95, which easily puts it into the hands of home hobbyists and professionals alike. It can also work in concert with two of Yellow Mug's other software products, EasyCrop and FileChute for use with image cropping and uploading to your favorite internet site. In fact, you can get the whole kit and caboodle of Yellow Mug's nine products for only $39.95, the cost of ImageFramer alone. The demo is fully functional, only applying a watermark to your image. Try it out.

Conclusion? As I stated earlier, it was never a competition. These programs do different things and it might behoove you to be aware that both are available. I am still hoping for a drop in the cost of ImageFramer, even though it does more and is more polished than EasyFrame, but on the other hand, EasyFrame is simple and just plain works. Maybe it comes down to whether you want real frames or edge effects. Either way, both of these apps should fill the bill.

Afterall, I'm not a bad reviewer, I'm just written that way...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Honestly, officer, I'm being framed!

It was a dark and stormy night... wait, wrong story. I thought this was going to be a program draw down, a fight to the finish. Little did I know that the two image enhancing apps were going to shake and be friends.

I was looking to make some party favors for our upcoming SDF X (Screecher Double Feature X, for the rest of you – Halloween party). I had these great JPGs of 50s SciFi B movie posters. I wanted to throw some kind of border or frame on them, print them and then place them on popcorn bags for our event. So I went to the ever-useful Versiontracker.com and did a search. I came up with several options and as I looked them over, came up with a couple of guidelines: 1.) it must be a separate app and 2.) it must not be very expensive. There were a couple of Photoshop plugins that looked good but they were very expensive and I was just doing this for fun. I will list them for you at the end of the article.

But when I got down to looking at what I thought were competing programs, I was surprised to discover that they approached the issue of framing from two very different perspectives. The first product is ImageFramer by apparent software. They treat the image like a real photo or painting that you want to enclose with a realistic 3D frame with shadows, mats, directional lighting, the works.

First off, I want to say that the built-in frames are beautiful. It looks like you could reach out and touch them. If you're an artist and want to show off your work, look no farther. Or a photographer putting together a portfolio. They offer mostly traditional, ornate, carved, wood-based borders, but there are a smattering of alternatives and more from others online. Horizontal or vertical, the border resizes automatically to fit.

High marks for the GUI. The interface is simple, well-designed and easy-to-use. I was able to pretty much figure out the whole program without the aid of a manual. The toolbar has all the most used items, a sliding drawer provides the Variations pane and a Controls window which provides the frame browser where you can look at frames (organized into Sets and Collections) and tweak the image, frame and mat settings. I would split the frame browser into a separate window or a tab since it's a little tight for space. Which begs the question, why can't you drag out the corner?

An additional feature to consider would be an iPhoto browser or a general media browser to be able to see folders of images. A great option would be to use Karelia's free iMedia Browser, or have the app link to it. Gak! I can't drag from the iMedia Browser to the open ImageFramer window. Not sure if that's an apparent or a Karelia issue (after some research, it may be a Karelia problem. They are releasing an update next month, will let you know).

Come up with a great frame? Save it for use with other images or send to a friend to try out. Use yours or someone else's framing file by simply dropping it on the image in the open window. Or use the boring button in the toolbar (lol). Slick.

Another feature that's very nice is the ability to drag the image right off the window into another app or to the Desktop, saving it with the export settings and name of the image, although I had to play around with the keyboard to determine it was the CMD key. Of course, the manual explains this.
Batch processing? Yep. Select a bunch of images and drop into the open window. Watch out though, it changes the originals, so make sure to save a copy of them before proceeding, or change the saved file name in Preferences. Would be nice to be able to drop a folder of images on the window as well. The app takes a little while to process them but keeps you informed of the progress by a nice little window with a list of the images.

To give the programmers credit, they have a PDF that explains step-by-step how to import your custom frames or those of other designers. And there are many to be had online. But to be honest, I spent wayyy too much time mucking around with that and almost gave up, until I saw a screen shot of the folder structure. But it would be nice to have an import feature where you can give the app a zip file and let it parse out the files, or some other container-type import.

Build a style and them add it to the Variations pop out panel. Build more styles and then click between them to compare. If only it didn't crash every time I tried to modify the name of the variation or clicked back & forth, it would be cool (it seems that using the cursor to move between them is ok, though). What would be even cooler is a multiple up feature, where the image is divided into quadrants and you can pick up to four variations to compare simultaneously!

You can drop a framing file into the Variations window as well. Sweet! However, adding a file to the Variations window should use the name of the file. It currently uses the default name. Maybe the default name could somehow show some of the settings so the user can easily switch between them without renaming. Oops, just caught a problem. Adding a frame with a mat to Variations causes the mat to expand and it stays that way, losing the original setting.

And then of course, there is the price. For $39.95 we're talking more than a one-trick pony. GraphicConverter is only $45.00 after all (but it doesn't do borders). $49 for a family license and $69 for a commercial license seem more reasonable, considering the potential number of users. I would suggest a price of $20-25 for this.

There are a lot of nice things about this program. You can try a free version that just places a watermark on your image, but otherwise gives you the whole enchilada. However, I would wait for a couple of bug fixes and maybe a price reduction before buying. Remember, this was for a party and I didn't want to spend a lot.

This is getting a bit long for my typical post, so I will pick up with EasyFramer in the next one. Go ahead and try the free download of ImageFramer and let me know what you think.

Here are the links for the Photoshop plugins that do similar things:

ClassicFrames from Human Software
MagicFrame from Human Software
PhotoFrame 4.5 from onOne Software

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

It's Alive!


I am writing this week's article on the release of our second, official TeKno CMS-powered website, Hand Picked Selections (HPS). We (by that I mean Dave) have worked especially hard to provide the function and efficiency the client required in order to provide the most current information to their sales staff while also making it a pleasing and useful site for the consumer (thanks to Mary Chiodo of Chiodo-Modo Designs).

Almost the entire site is generated via PHP/MySQL. Mary designed the overall look, I coded the templates and Dave wrote the code that linked the templates to the CMS backend. Sunil Khanna from HPS and his team then entered the voluminous amounts of data that put the flesh on the skeleton of this site.

The Home page features the current 5 news items which link you directly to the stories, or you can view the entire list in a paged format on the News page. The Quick Links feature instant access to the most commonly used information, which by the way, are generated based on the actual content of the database, so it will reflect the current content of the site.

The HPS Top 20 Wines list is also generated based on Sunil's selections on the Administration pages, so the list will change as the current reviews of the wines change.

The Contact page displays a list of the current sales staff and the territories they cover. Notice that the states are links to the Find HPS Wines page for that state and the email links bring up the user's email application.

Find HPS Wines displays a map of the continental US and shows where HPS wines are distributed. Clicking on the state reveals the rep for the state, distributors and retailers.


The pièce de resistance are the last two data driven sections, the Portfolio and the Point-of-Sale Library (POS). This is where the meat of the data is found. The Portfolio covers the countries and regions from which come the wines that HPS carries and drilling down from country to region allow you to access specific information regarding the country, region and wine. When you come to the wine, you can see Technical Notes for the wine as well as access the promotional material in the Downloads tab.

On the other hand, the POS Library gives you access to the wines carried by each Brand and rather than provide detailed information on each, allows the promotional materials to be grouped in a table for the selection of wines associated with the brand. But you can still get to the individual wines by clicking their names in the first column. Notice the thumbnails for the images and PDF icons. The image icons are scaled versions of the actual files made when the admin uploads the files through the TeKno CMS interface.

The About and Character Counts pages are the only static pages on the site.

Also, notice the page names in the address line at the top. Careful thought was given to Search Engine Optimization (SEO), so even the auto-generated pages have "search friendly" file names.

Well that's pretty much the whole front-end of the site – what the user sees, but it's what's behind the site that really shines. Using a very simple, forms-driven interface, the admin can navigate all the major content areas of the site, pull up existing entries to view, edit or delete or add new entries. We have a real editing palette with tools customized for the client, pop-up date selector, thumbnails of attached images, links for attached items as well as related links at the bottom of the page.

This method of content management is a huge boon to the person administering the site. Sunil Khanna of HPS said on two occasions via email, "Ok, thanks for ... creating such a nice site and CMS system!" and after the official release last week, "So far the response to the site has been great!" That's the kind of thing you want to hear. We're currently looking at a couple of other clients who could take advantage of this technology. If you're company is interested, please feel free to contact us. And thanks for letting us brag a bit.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Bill & Ted's Bogeda Journey

Well ok, you caught me. I am neither Bill nor Ted, nor am I suffering from multiple personality syndrome. But I will be discussing a fun, useful and free application for checking out software, called, you guessed it – Bogeda. As the name implies, it's a virtual marketplace where you can browse new software in various categories, see reviews and awards, track your installed software and purchase/download your selections.

There were so many things to show you that I ended up taking quite a few screen shots. The interface for Bogeda is trés Mac. How cool is this? When you drag the window the hanging panels at the top of the home page sway. Ok, maybe not a critical feature, but as I so often mention, details and polish are everything to software. Most apps have great icons and they are show to their best advantage here. But be aware, the bad ones really stand out... lol.

Clicking on the button underneath each icon, you can cycle through the name, the price and the rating. Double-clicking brings up a screen with Description, Reviews and Press tabs as well as screen shots. If it's free, you can download the app right from this screen. If it's a paid app, you can purchase it through the respective company's online store and save the receipt right in Bogeda. There is usually a download button as well to get a trial version. You have the option to use the built in web viewer or an external browser. Not sure if the save receipt option is available using the latter.


A really nice feature, akin to Versiontracker's paid application
is the ability to track your installed programs and let you know when updates are available. The only issue I had was that Bogeda seems to only look in the Applications folder and I have my programs elsewhere. It would be nice to add other locations in the application's preferences.

So that's it. A straightforward, simple, free application that allows you to uncover previously unknown software gems that may be just the thing to aid in your productivity or entertainment. Check it out.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow... Leopard.

I finally made a computer purchase at the right time. My recent MacBook Pro purchase allowed me to take advantage of the Apple Up-To-Date Program, and purchase a copy of Snow Leopard (SL), OS X 10.6 for only $9.99 instead of the advertised $29.99. $20 saved is $20 earned, I always say. What is all the ballyhoo about SL you ask? Isn't this just an incremental update? The answer, in a word is "NO!"

For me, it boils down to a few simple things:

  1. 64-bit processing – The analogy can be made that we are going from a 4-cylinder engine to an 8-cylinder engine. OS X is finally catching up with the hardware and running in a faster, more efficient manner. Finder operations feel snappier and more responsive, items draw faster on the screen, programs launch and run faster (when updated to 64-bit of course). Working on your Mac just got a little nicer.
  2. Smaller Footprint – unlike the car analogy above, you aren't loosing space in your car with the bigger engine or getting worse gas mileage. Quite the opposite, in fact. SL takes approximately half of the installation footprint than Leopard does – quite an achievement. Now you add even more music, games and video to your computer's hard drive – or even work files.
  3. Intel Only – Well, many of you already have an Intel Mac. Go get a copy of SL. For G5 and earlier machines, you seriously have to consider whether to upgrade. Leopard 10.5 still runs and runs well and you know all the apps that currently run on it, will still run on it. G5 owners may want to still hold out a bit. For older machine users, now would be a great time to invest in a new Mac.

After recently installing SL on my machine, here are my findings thus far:

Install took about 45 minutes. Popped in the DVD and double-clicked and away it went, even less painful than the typically easy Mac OS install. Let's not compare it to Windows...

I had already been monitoring the state of my apps for compatibility with SL using versiontracker.com to look for updates, and had already installed many free updates to my commercial and shareware applications. You do use Versiontracker, don't you? So I wasn't expecting many issues. But there were some.

Please note that Apple released SL a tiny bit earlier than developers thought they would and were caught with their programming pants down. However, I applaud them for not pushing out a fix before they are fully tested. Nothing like a patch that doesn't work.

Application Enhancer (APE) from unsanity.com does not run on SL and therefore the following APE-based software wouldn't either – FruitMenu, FontCard and IceCoffee. I use FruitMenu a lot as well as IceCoffee. FontCard is becoming less of an issue as applications build their own font menus better. They are working on an update.

Microsoft AU Daemon installed as a startup item with Office 2004 cued SL to install Rosetta. I thought maybe that wouldn't be necessary so I uninstalled it. Found a newer version for Office 2008 on the Mactopia site, but it said the same thing. No great loss here, since I can use OpenOffice.

For those using Elgato's EyeTV and one of their hardware video devices, there is a nice little app to automatically find commercials in a program and mark them for you called ComSkipper. I needed to update that from the Google Code site. Poof! All better.

My Epson Artisan 800 wouldn't print after installing SL. There is a new printer architecture that polls the internet for updated drivers. That's fine, but it seems to break the currently installed driver, at least for this model/brand. I just deleted the printer in the System Preferences under Printers & Fax and re-added it. Works fine now. Whoa! And the scanning functionality is built right into the printer queue. Nice!

I use Apple's Remote Desktop software to access several of my clients' systems. It had to perform some strange installation/update witchery at the beginning, but afterwards behaved as normal.

Leister Productions' Reunion 9 genealogy (family tree) software required an upgrade that they were quick to contact owners about. It was also mentioned on Versiontracker. Downloaded the update the next day. Nice. These guys were one of two companies I know to contact their owners directly. Kudos!

The only money I had to pay was for Agile Web Solutions' beta 3.0 update to 1Password. I think they were planning the update anyway and got caught with several other developers with the early SL release, so they offered an Early Bird upgrade discount of $19.99 which is $10 more than what I paid for SL, lol. Not bad, considering.

RapidWeaver 4.2.3 does not work, they have a beta release of 4.3 available in their forums.

Vertical Moon's SWF 'n Slide Pro needed an update found here. And I needed to re-enter the serial numbers for each application (SWF Lock & Load and Text-Osterone). Annoying.

Quicken 2007 needed Rosetta, and not sure what to do here, I do use it but not sure I want to continue using it. I might try using iBank.

The utility Cocktail does not work with SL.

Discus labeling printing software, version 3.16 required Rosetta. They are currently on 4.23 and while they say it's compatible with Leopard, they don't mention SL. My version is an older piece of software anyway and I currently use Disc Cover 2.

The cell phone utility FoneLink requires an update not yet available.

This is a work in progress, so I don't want to keep adding to it forever. That's your job. Feel free to add your Snow Leopard experiences here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tell A Friend

So I'm telling you. Karelia Software, makers of SandVox, have a 48hr. deal going for 50% either the Standard or the Pro version of SandVox. It's definitely worth a look. If you use Google web tools, then the Pro version is for you, otherwise, go Standard and save even more. Fo this price, you won't be disappointed. Use the discount code "TELL A FRIEND". Check out my review here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Viva la Open Source!

Yes, muchachos, while my lime slice is slowly sinking towards the bottom of my frosted beer glass, let me speak to you of the desparado of commercial software, Señior Open Source! Bane to bloated, costly commercial software everywhere, cheered by the ranks of the unwashed (phew!) endusers. This type of software is free, available on multiple platforms, and strongly supported by developers and endusers alike.

Do you have to work in the Microsoft Office? Not sure if iWork will work for you? Want more features than TextEdit? Try OpenOffice! It's reads and writes to most popular formats (even some that MS Office won't read!). It even supports Microsoft's new .DOCX format. You can't beat that with a stick. Even comes in two flavors, the original and NeoOffice the first to deliver a Mac version of this productivity suite, which still supports the PowerPC chip. And they both come with equivalents to Word, PowerPoint and Excel.

And what's even better, OpenOffice is extensible, offering many plugins for additional features, templates, dictionaries, etc. This is the way to go for starving students, or for small offices looking to get multiple copies of software without the licensing hassles.

Recently, OpenOffice released version 3.1, which is a still more polished version of their software. A list of the improved features can be found here. I don't need to go into the specifics of each application, if you've used MS Office, you know how to use these. Have an old version of MS Office? Need a copy for a second machine? Don't want to pay for the upgrade? Or maybe just looking for a good deal? Check 'em out.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

David Goes Multifunction

Yup. I finally did it. After years and years of having a laser printer, ink-jet, fax machine and scanner, I decided to dump them all for a single multifunction printer. "Why now?" you ask. Well for several reasons. The quality and performance of these devices have really come along. You're not sacrificing the abilities of any individual device just to reduce the clutter in your office. Often, they will surpass the specs of your older devices and even offer some features that you didn't have before or weren't so convenient.



So after consulting Consumer Reports online, CNET reviews and MacWorld, I had it down to the Canon Pixma MX860. Let me tell you why:
  • 35 page auto-document feeder for faxes, scans and copies
  • built in auto-duplexing (prints on both sides)
  • wired and wireless networking
  • memory card reader
  • 9600 x 2400 max resolution
  • G3 fax machine
I even placed the order for $169.99 through Amazon. But as luck (and Fedex) would have it, the device never graced the entryway of my home. Lost in translation, I guess. Amazon (bless them) promptly refunded my money and I was back at square one. Do I just reorder, or do I look for something else? Well, what was interesting was that I forgot one critical feature that I use quite often that I would like in my printer that the MX860 did not address – CD/DVD printing. I make DVDs for both personal use and for my church and I like to print the info right onto the disk. So since I was using a Epson R200 to previously perform that task, I took another look at the Epson offerings and found the Artisan 800.




The Artisan 800 was a little pricier ($253.00), and had no auto-duplexer (which I would rarely use anyway), but it did have the print to media feature I was looking for, among these other features:
  • 38 page auto-document feeder for faxes, scans and copies
  • wired and wireless networking
  • memory card reader
  • 5760 x 1440 dpi resolution
  • print to media (CD/DVD)
And best of all, this one showed up! So here is the rundown of what I've used so far. The setup was pretty easy, if long. In order to use the wireless networking feature, you have to connect it first via USB (cable not included, and if you ask me is pretty dumb, since you can get cables for a song; even the MX860 even comes with one). I am told though it says the ink cartridges are partials, they are indeed standard ones, plus this package came with one additional black and a 4GB SD card.

The copy function is quite handy, since before I had to use my flatbed scanner to first scan and then print using my computer. Now I don't even have to have the computer on. Copies are remarkably crisp and print quite fast. The document feeder is nice to have as well.

Printing works fine, though I haven't tried printing a photo yet. Speaking of photos, I was able to poke my compact flash card from my Canon camera into the slot and pull up thumbnails on all the stored images. I could also print them all out or selected ones or even use the built in Photo Greeting Card Maker, pretty fun! I did try the thumbnails, which were fine, but haven't tried the other features yet.

Scanner was a little trickier to use, since the software defaults to a local connection and the actual method of setting the location is through a separate program installed in the Utilities folder called Epson Scan Settings. That's pretty weird. But once that was set properly, the scanning software worked fine. And now that it's native, my other apps can use it, too, via the Twain driver.

Another bump came with the media printing. For the life of me, I couldn't get the Epson CD or Disc Cover to recognize the CD tray, they would just print to paper. Annoying as all get-out. So I tried attaching the printer to the computer via USB. Whaddya know, it works! The media is inserted into a special tray that is between the paper tray the LCD control panel. You need to tilt up the control panel to get adequate access to the tray. At first I thought that I broke the tray, since I hit the tray button without first raising the LCD. But no, the tray was jammed somehow. But through the grace of God and some pushing and prodding, I got the tray seated properly and now it opens and closes fine. I hope that this was not a "feature" of the printer, because I hate the feeling that something you just bought is broken.

I then went back and re-installed the software for a local printer to see if that would install what I need for network media printing. And now that appears to work as well. It also seems to print faster on media than the R200 did.

I did get in touch with Epson tech support for both the media tray problem and the CD printing problem over the network. They were less than helpful on the first occasion and only slightly more helpful on the second (they also recommended the software reinstall).

So, all-in-all, the printer is now fully functional and I am fairly pleased. As usual, there are some downsides with using a Mac like no access to the memory card as a volume (there is in Windows), and no access to the Scan To (MC, OC, PDF, Email) functions unless you are connected directly to the computer via USB. I think that's a universal problem. If I find otherwise, I will edit this post. Otherwise, consider a multifunction with the features you need a definite option to reduce the clutter and make wireless network printing a reality.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A Marvelous Night for a Vertical Moon

This is the second installment of my review of the products from Vertical Moon. This one covers their Flash slide-show building application, SWF 'n' Slide Pro.

Everyone is using Flash these days. And just about 99% of the browsers out there support some version of it. But everyone is not a Flash programmer. Yes, Adobe Flash has a slide show object built into the application, but it's very basic. I want to do cool things like different transitions and layouts and images that link to other sites. SWF 'n' Slide Pro (SNS) does it all and then some. And get this — no programming.

SNS has much appreciated support for Drag and Drop from the Desktop or iPhoto. It also sports seven different layouts including Album, which has a page turning effect, an Image Strip (horizontal scrolling images) with and without mouse view (a feature that allows mouse control of direction and momentum), Strip View (that has horizontal scrolling thumb nails you click on to display enlargements) with and without mouse scroll, a Simple slide show and a simple Strip Show (maybe I should rephrase that).

There are a multitude of customizable features, and I mean multitude. In fact, there are so many, with some applying to individual slides or the entire show, that it can easily get confusing. The options are split into two tabbed windows, one for the show and one for the slides and that does help, but maybe a strategic use of icons or mini-animations would be a just the way to aid the user. Some of the key features are adding sound, captions, adding URL links to photos, linking the slide show to other SWF files or HTML pages, and support for a bunch of transition and image filter effects.

There have only been minor patches and no real significant updates since 2006, which means the interface is getting a little long in the tooth, but it's still very functional. It would be nice if they reorganized the interface for easier use and conservation of screen space. I don't have a problem with a 24" display, but others might. No support for Default Folder, which means you have to constantly navigate the Open and Save dialog boxes – annoying as heck. Uses the SWF Player 8.0 for file previews and we're on version 10.0 – it's not even Universal Binary, the preview player, that is, the SNS application is, however.


So, my conclusion? A great little app, with minor interface issues and for $65.00 gives you the ability to create Flash slideshows in minutes with no programming. That alone will save you huge amounts of time and if you're doing this for a living, time is money. You can recoop the cost in one job alone. You can see a sample of my use of the program on action here.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Eye of the Beholder

Been to eBay? ePier? Craig's List? What is the common denominator to these sites? In a word — ugly. They pay little attention to the aesthetics (good thing I have a spell checker) and just throw all the content at you in a big fat pile of... well, you get the idea. What are we Mac users going to do? Well, there are two applications out there at the moment that come swooping in from the mainsails like Errol Flynn (yeah, he was before Capt. Jack Sparrow).

The first is GarageBuy, free from developer iwascoding, also creators of GarageSale, a great product for selling your stuff on eBay and GaragePay, for tracking your transactions on PayPal. In order to use GarageBuy (GB), you need to have an eBay account. You can use an existing account or create one when you first launch the app. Then you must establish a connection between GB and eBay through the use of a token, which is downloaded to the app, essentially giving it permission to exchange data with eBay. This is a pretty painless process and you only need to do it once. The benefit of doing this is that you can search, watch auctions, and place bids without having to go into your browser to do it.

Ah, the Mac-ness. Similar in look to most Apple-made interfaces like iTunes, GB allows you to create, edit and save searches in the left column while the rest of the window is used for displaying the results. You can see the search results in either a Gallery, Table or Image view.

  • Gallery view shows you the image and vital info. Sort by clicking Time Left, Current Price, Buy it Now Price or Title, can enlarge the main photo.
  • Table view shows you the auctions in a one-line list. Sort by Type, Title, Current Price, BIN Price, Total, Time Left, Shipping, # of Items, Bids.
  • Image view shows you the auctions like Polaroids on a board, complete with cute little Post-it notes showing the price and auction title below like a caption.
All modes allow you to see ended auctions via a strike through the title. Nice touch there.

Then you also have the option of viewing the details of a single auction in either a summary or eBay page mode, as well as a tool-tip. You really get the most out of this app by maximizing your screen. You can send the link of a particular auction to your default mail app, even generate an iCal event or an AppleScript from the auction.

Problems? The only functional problem was the first time I tried switching detail view. Initially, it didn't show the eBay page, just a blank white screen. But then it started working and then all was right with the world. Couldn't reproduce it. Other thoughts? Well, I was going to say that GB is a little top-heavy when it comes to features, but they are so well implemented and unobtrusive that you can ignore them if you want and use them when you have need. And they do provide you with all the same eBay features, otherwise what would be the point? So, no, this is a great tool for keeping up with your eBay searches. If only they could figure out a way to jump to the app when you go to eBay in your browser...

Another online service, Craig's List is even worse in terms of design. Josh Abernathy, author of the app Marketplace, even says on the default page of his app, "Craig's List without the Ugly." And so it is. Much like GarageBuy, Marketplace (MP) offers Mac users a Mac-incentric way of looking at items for sale on Craig's List. But where GarageBuy has to worry about all the features that eBay has and reproduce them in their app, MP offers a simple clean, no-nonsense interface with just the right amount of pretty and functionality. No account required, no tokens, no linking to the website (Please note that this is not a problem with GB, it's a requirement of eBay. Craig's List has no such requirement.). Just search, scan the results and view the page. Look for items with photos only, with the same category and region options as Craig's List. Search titles and descriptions. Filter your results just like using the Finder or Mail (nice idea, that.) MP uses a tri-pane view to show the searches, results and details, which you can orient either horizontally stacked or in column view. Send promising listings to friends via email.

Only nit-picky issues have I found, like the current view not being checked in the menu and the lack of sorting options. I already exchanged emails to Josh regarding sorting and some implementation of a Cover-Flow like view, which he says he is considering for a future update. I guess the only downside is this app does cost money, $19.95. It was featured on MUPromo just the other day for $9.99 and then for an additional few days at $13.96. With GarageBuy being given away, it's hard to shell out the cash for this, but maybe if it was offered for $9.99, more people would be tempted. I think it's a great little app for any Mac user who uses Craig's List. I bought it.

Overall, I think free or very-low-cost niche market software is a great concept and I applaud the efforts of these and other small companies in making these products available. Show your appreciation by using and buying them and keep them making great Mac software. Now, if only someone could create an app like this that is site independent...