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Ian Tromp

Ian Tromp is a freelance writer who lives in Birmingham, England. Among other publications, he is a regular contributor to MacFormat.

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For a long time, I have been a very happy user of Microsoft Money. Since making the switch to a Mac, I’ve played the field, but still haven’t found a money management application that really meets my needs (or is fun enough to keep me coming back). There’s no going back – Microsoft announced last year that they would no longer be marketing Money, and they’re planning to stop support for it in January 2011.

The Mac programs I have tried include MoneyDance (very nice, and capable, but doesn’t really look like a Mac app), Cha-Ching (pretty, but simplistic and superficial), and iCompta (the quiet little guy at the back of the class, powerful and easy to use). The application I’ve used longest is iBank; having won several awards, it’s an excellent application. But I’m still not entirely satisfied.

I’ve known of Jumsoft’s Money for several years, and now and then given it a brief try, but never in much depth. Recently, I decided I really ought have a proper look at it – read on to see my conclusions.

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Kids and computers go together like peanut butter and jelly. Or like crayons and white-painted walls… My point is that kids start using computers earlier and earlier, and many of them become very adept and quite precocious at an extremely young age.

There are significant dangers out there: the online world is a new place to be concerned about what your kids are up to, and we’ve all heard too many stories already of youngsters getting into trouble online. Happily, your Mac comes with a few bits of protection built in, and there are some good applications available to help you extend those controls.

I’m going to talk you through three different ways that you can go about putting in place better online safety precautions: via OS X’s built-in Parental Controls, with an external application, and by getting to the heart of how your computer interfaces with the internet, by taking control of your DNS settings.

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Dear freelancer, listen up – this is important: You need to track your time and expenses. Nowhere is the axiom “time is money” more obviously true than in the life of a freelancer. If you don’t pay enough attention, you will find money dribbling away – in unbilled hours you spend on projects, and in the extras that you could be claiming (travel and other expenses). That’s where time-tracking software becomes useful.

I freelanced for a very long time before I ever used such an application, and my experience is that having one makes life a whole lot easier: I know where I’m spending my time; I’ve calculated hourly rates that work for me, so I know which projects are worth continuing with, and which I should set aside; and I’m easily able to generate good looking, professional invoices.

There are many different applications available for Mac users, as well as some great online options. I tried a few, before settling on Marketcircle’s Billings 3, which has been my time tracking app of choice for most of the past two years. Stunt Software released On The Job 3.0 a little over a year ago, and although it’s been mentioned a few times on Mac.AppStorm, we’ve never given it a proper review. So, with no further ado, join me after the jump, and I’ll tell you why I’m switching.

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I’m just getting to the end of my sixteenth year of using email. In this time, I’ve used around twenty different email addresses and have usually operated several accounts at once. Email accumulates incredibly quickly and I, as I’m sure many of you to, have many thousands of email messages on my MacBook.

For years I did what most of us do: stored messages in various well-pruned folders. I then moved to rely on Gmail’s labels and its awesome search capabilities. Eventually I moved on from Gmail to FastMail, started using Mailtags, and took the step of tagging my messages, getting rid of folders, and dumping everything into a single archive. Sadly, Mailtags hasn’t quite made the jump to Snow Leopard yet (and I’ve had problems with the beta), so I’m waiting for a full and final update to be released. Until that happy day, I’ve been pleased to spend the last week experimenting with Rocketbox, and I can see this little app becoming a fixture in my email workflow.

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There’s a kind of paradox to using a tool to explore itself. It brings to mind “Zen questions” about the eye seeing itself. But what I’m doing is far less grand or confusing. I’ll simply be using a writing app to write about itself. So, as I describe it, I will work with it and be able not only to tell you about its features, but also about the experience of actually working with it.

Thoughts is a very handsome new writing/notebook app from the memorably named green&slimy, an Austrian team of two (which of course raises the question of who is green and who slimy). The hook for readers of Mac.AppStorm will obviously be the app’s styling and design features, but let’s see if it’s actually any good for a working writer.

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Why bother? Given that your Mac comes with built-in universal search that makes it a snap to find documents, messages, images, or any other kind of file anywhere, why would you invest in an application like HoudahSpot?

That must be a question that the developer has asked himself time and again. And it has to be the first question any writer asks in starting on a review of the app. Stick with me as I walk you through what HoudahSpot does and how it does it, and I will give an answer to that fundamental question.

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The quest for the perfect information store is unending. Many of us long for a single place where we can put everything so that it’s easy to find and work with. Of course you could use various folders in a complex directory structure – I did that for years, nesting folders for months within folders for years within folders for particular areas of interest.

Needless to say, this soon became unworkable! So then I broke down my intricate folders and dumped everything into a single big ‘Archive’ folder, trying to rely on Spotlight to find what I needed. That worked better, but I sometimes found it difficult to track down what I was after.

My system’s gone through a few more transformations since then, and I have tried several different apps along the way. Together is one of the best I’ve used, and it has some features that might make it the ideal solution for many people.

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Mekentosj is a delightfully geeky company, specialising in science and research related software. Although they publish a few other applications, they’re best known for Papers, which won an Apple Design Award back in 2007.

The app used to be billed on their website as ‘Your personal library of science’, a subheading I’m pleased to see they’ve changed now to ‘Your personal library of research.’ Previously, it stood a chance of getting stuck in a kind of science-ghetto, where it might seem less interesting to others who would definitely benefit from it.

For researchers and students across all disciplines, writers and journalists, or basically anyone who needs a reliable focus and storehouse for their research, Papers is a great application and has few – if any – real competitors.

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Let me say right at the outset that I’m not an obvious choice for reviewing this application. I’m not a designer, and I don’t currently work on maintaining any websites; I have little use of software for working out effective color schemes in my day-to-day life and work. These facts might make me either entirely the wrong person to assess ColorSchemer Studio 2, or just the right guy.

I used to be involved in running the website of a big local authority, and I have seen first-hand the damage that can be done by untrained eyes when the thought arises “Wouldn’t it be nice just to add a little splash of color to this page?” With ColorSchemer, this needn’t be such a big problem any more.

This is a really clever app that simplifies the work of coming up with effective and attractive color combinations for websites or any screen design work. You don’t need to be a professional designer to appreciate its great features or to find it useful whenever you do need to work with colors.

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So you were one of the lucky ones who received (or bought yourself) your first Mac over the holiday period. Congratulations, and welcome to the Mac community! Perhaps, like more and more people, you’ve made the move from that other operating system – you know, the one that’s a little more popular, but also not quite as well-designed, and more prone to security issues.

The one where you’re considered a brave person to go online without the full metal jacket of antivirus, antispam, antimalware, and firewall in place. If so, then chances are that you’ve already started thinking about what you need to do in order to protect your new machine from viruses, trojans, and other kinds of nasties that you may have encountered previously.

Many will tell you not to bother – Macs don’t get viruses, right? It’s true to say that there are fewer such issues with Macs (after all, smaller market-share means less incentive to antisocial types), but it’d be foolish not to take even the most basic precautions in order to keep your data and your personal information safe.

When I made the switch, I immediately went in search of the kinds of protection I was used to having in place before I would bring my computer anywhere near a network connection of any kind. But friends talked me down, reassured me that I didn’t really need the same level of protection for my shiny new MacBook. But they did offer a few little tips, which I will pass on in this article, just to cover the basics…

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