It’s Usable, or it’s Free

I just got a coupon code emailed to me for a product called Pixels 3D. Pixels 3D is a spectacularly capable 3D package for the Mac that’s been around for ages. Its feature list is competitive with almost anything I’ve seen (e.g. dynamic NURBS, caustics, volumetrics, particles, automatic rigging). And it sells for $49. My coupon offers a $20 discount.

So, I went to the website, downloaded a free demo, and reacquainted myself with the program. Let me put it this way, Blender has a more approachable and attractive user interface.

Based on the documentation, Pixels has features Blender can’t match, but I’ll be damned if I could figure out how to use any of them. It’s a very bad sign when Undo doesn’t appear to work. (I assume Undo does work in certain situations; I imagine users would be screaming blue murder if it didn’t.)

Anyway, Blender is free, on balance more capable than Pixels, and easier to use. Cheetah 3D is considerably more expensive ($149), has far fewer features, but is a joy to use. Almost any piece of software these days will have a free and/or open source competitor on one hand, and a fairly inexpensive and usable competitor on the other. The only way to stand out is to offer truly deep functionality (e.g. Photoshop) or outstanding usability relative to depth (e.g. Cheetah 3D). Merely having a lot of features is no longer compelling. (E.g. I wouldn’t pay for a GraphicConverter license today, a program I once considered indispensable but which is ugly and has always had an awful user interface.)