Affordable CS5 Alternatives

The best affordable Adobe CS5 alternative is the academic version — e.g. CS5 Web Premium costs $1799 retail, $599 to upgrade from CS4 (more from earlier versions), and $549 brand new at Academic prices. Design Standard is $1499 vs $449. (There are even cheaper “Student & Teacher” options, but they can’t be upgraded and shouldn’t be used for commercial work.)

To understand how good a deal this is — Web Premium includes Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Photoshop Extended, Illustrator, and Flash. Coda, Photoline, and Intaglio would cost $280, and this doesn’t give you a Fireworks or Flash replacement. And to say that Photoline and Intaglio aren’t full replacements for Photoshop and Illustrator is a huge understatement.

If you aren’t eligible for an academic discoun, then things get more complicated.

The core components of Adobe CS5 are:

Photoshop: there’s no real alternative to Photoshop if you use Photoshop’s high-end capabilities. If you don’t use any of them then you can get away with a much cheaper program, such as Photoshop Elements, Photoline, Paintshop Pro, Acorn, Pixelmator, or even The GIMP. If you want natural media style painting abilities, Photoshop is actually not the best choice, and you should look at Painter or Art Rage (or Sketchbook Pro if you’re using a Tablet PC).

Illustrator: there’s a very good free alternative to Illustrator if you’re willing to live with an X-11 app, and that’s InkScape. Despite being X-11, it actually is very usable (more usable in some respects than Illustrator). Otherwise, there’s Intaglio, Lineform, Zeusdraw, VectorDesigner, and EasyDraw among others. (Sorry, but I’m not familiar with Windows alternatives, and Googling didn’t really help — ah Macs, so starved for software.)

Flash: while there are third-party Flash development tools (SWF is a pretty well-documented format), most are jokes or one-trick ponies. If you want to do serious work with SWF, you’ll need Flash, and you’ll probably need Photoshop and Illustrator since no other graphics tools are well-integrated with Flash.

After Effects: there are lots of alternatives to After Effects, but they’re all in the same price ballpark. If you’re a Final Cut Studio user, Final Cut Pro and Motion pretty much match After Effects’s feature set and are well-integrated. Similarly, if you’re an Autodesk/Avid user then why are you reading this paragraph?

Premiere: there are no good free video editing packages that I know of, although if you don’t need Premiere’s capabilities there’s iMovie and Final Cut Express (on the Mac).

Soundbooth: many, many alternatives, including the free and quite good Audacity.

On Location: there was a really awesome program called On Location, way back, that was essentially like Spotlight only over ten years earlier. This isn’t it. This is essentially a utility for capturing, adding metadata to, and otherwise managing digital footage when on a shoot, and I don’t know of any obvious alternatives (certainly no cheap ones).

Dreamweaver: if you’re not a hardcore Dreamweaver user (or, for example, a Cold Fusion developer), chances are you don’t need it at all. There are plenty of free and cheap web development tools out there. I’d recommend Coda for technically-savvy Dreamweaver users who are looking for an alternative and would like to give up their training wheels.

Contribute: I haven’t used Contribute, but from what I understand it’s a simplified web content editor aimed at people who essentially want to populate templates created by someone else. I don’t really like any of the desktop web development tools aimed at non-technical types, but if forced to pick one I’d probably pick Rapidweaver. Personally, I think this kind of thing is best handled using web-based content management tools such as WordPress.

Fireworks: Fireworks is a strange product. On the one hand most of its functionality is superfluous and it has a truly terrible user interface. On the other hand it has a number of — for UI designers — almost indispensable functions, notably pixel-centric vector drawing tools. If you need it, you need it.

InDesign: the only real alternative to InDesign is XPress (which, if anything, is more expensive and comes from a far more obnoxious vendor), unless you’re not using InDesign’s higher end capabilities, in which case your word processor (notably Pages) is a great alternative that you already know how to use.

Acrobat: again, if you need it you need it. Otherwise, not. Personally, I can’t stand Acrobat and don’t even want Acrobat Reader on my computers; for Mac users there’s Preview and the Print-to-PDF function both of which are far more pleasant to use than Acrobat (until you get technical). There are many better alternatives to Acrobat Reader, until you need to do something complicated, like fill in forms.

MacHeist Nanobundle 2

Well, Macheist has come and gone again, and now I have a couple of gigabytes of new software (mostly Monkey Island) on my notebook’s hard drive. The usual rule with Macheist (and similar deals) is that you only buy it if there’s a product you’d cheerfully pay the fee for in the bundle, and on that basis this bundle was a great deal for me: I’m a sucker for Monkey Island (even though I never really cared for the threequel). I’m also glad to see Telltale Games shipping Mac products (I hope they port the Sam & Max titles: I will cheerfully pay retail for any Sam & Max title until I become jaded, but I’ll probably buy the Wii version otherwise…).

I did end up installing all of the other programs, although some got uninstalled pretty darn quickly.

MacJournal is a really huge program for keeping a journal. I have a cloud-based solution for doing this called WordPress and — unlike MacJournal — it is accessible from anywhere (including my iPhone), it’s free (and open source), it lets me make some journal entries public while keeping others private, has a comment system, does version control, automatically backs up to the cloud, and doesn’t take up a metric buttload of hard disk space. (Uninstalled)

As a side note, MacJournal is a fine example of an attractive, functional, easy-to-use useless piece of software the like of which does not exist for Windows. If you found a niche product like this for Windows it would be a horrible piece of crap. MacJournal is quite lovely — it’s just not useful to me. All of the pieces of software in the Macheist bundle that I’ve installed and used have been very polished, stable products. It’s a testament to the quality of Apple’s indie software ecology, and I think it must be quite terrifying for Microsoft which cannot itself produce such polished products let alone attract third parties to do so.

Ripit is a program that does one thing (rip DVDs to hard disk) and does it very, very well. I have not quite reached the point of ripping my entire DVD library but when I do, I’ll be glad I got a license for this. (Installed but not used, yet.)

Clips is an intriguing little hack that monitors you clipboard and then automatically keeps the last N clipboards around for use at the touch of a key. I think this is a great idea and pretty well-implemented, but it just never occurs to me to use it. I’m running it though and maybe, one day, I’ll actually use it. It’s a lot like multiple-undo, I think — one day you’ll realize you (a) use it all the time and (b) get enormously annoyed by a program that doesn’t have it. (Installed, running, but not used yet.)

CoverScout is an intriguing iTunes add-on. I haven’t installed it yet but I have high hopes that it will actually help sort out my iTunes cover art situation (my wife and I ripped our entire CD collection two house moves ago, and many of the tracks have very odd cover art having been incorrectly identified by iTunes at some point. As I understand it, CoverScout’s sole purpose in life is to fix this kind of thing, so I’m hoping it’s good at it. (Not yet installed.)

Flow I’ve already discussed. I think I may be in love. At minimum, Flow makes Little Snapper irrelevant by doing what Little Snapper does for screenshots for — basically — everything. I still use Transmit without thinking, though. (Installed, used, kept.)

Rapidweaver is a program I’ve considered and rejected in the past. It’s a very similar program to Sandvox (which I also own and don’t use), perhaps a little better put together and with generally more attractive (and, as far as I can tell, flexible) themes. Unlike Sandvox, it seems to have built up a fairly solid third-party plugin ecology and might actually be a useful product for someone looking for a template-based web development tool. More attractive and flexible than Sandvox, produces much lighter weight pages than iWeb (although also much less flexible graphically). Rapidweaver has also been sitting at version 4.3.1 for a rather long time (it used to be one of those programs that would get revved every few weeks) — perhaps the developers are losing interest. (Installed, messed around with, probably will be uninstalled.)

Tweetie is one of those non-solutions to non-problems. Indeed, since it’s a desktop Twitter client it’s something of a meta-non-solution to a meta-non-problem. I installed it and played with it for a few minutes — the fact that it was not especially obvious how to make a new tweet was a very discouraging sign (I did figure it out…). But at least it’s small. (Installed, used, kept… for some reason. Oh, that’s right, it’s 2MB.)

The Macheist folks also snuck in three bonus programs for promoting them via Twitter (further alienating me from Twitter). One of the programs — Tracks (installed, used, kept) — is a very well thought out iTunes remote (in particular it offers Spotlight-like access to your iTunes library from a menubar widget) but the other two — Airburst Extreme (Uninstalled) and Burning Monkey Solitaire (Not downloaded) — are wastes of hard disk space as far as I’m concerned.