“The Mac is geared towards creatives.” That’s what you hear most often when a discussion turns to the benefits of operating systems. But what exactly are those fantastic apps that appeal to us creative folks?

Other than the well known giants of Adobe Creative Suite, there are many other software gems with plenty of functionality (and a far lower price tag). Today I’ll be showcasing the giants in the design software world, and a few alternatives that may actually suit you better.

Read on for a showdown of the essential Mac design software – whether it’s for the web, bitmap, or vector design (and I’ve thrown a few apps for developers in for good measure too!)

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Office 2011 brings plenty of improvements over previous versions, but it’s still far from perfect. And despite the overwhelming dominance of Microsoft Office across Windows and Mac, it certainly isn’t the only suite of office-style tools available.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of the iWork suite. After a sluggish and frustrating first release, I think that it has improved in leaps and bounds. I use Pages and Numbers almost exclusively for all my word processing and spreadsheet work (though I prefer to write in something simpler most of the time).

Another alternative is the excellent OpenOffice, which recently celebrated its 10th birthday. This has really become a viable contender in recent years, and version 3 felt considerably more “at home” on OS X. If you’ve never used OpenOffice before, it’s definitely worth taking a look at.

So, which suite of “office” style applications do you use? Like me, are you an iWork fan? Or do you think that Microsoft Office still leads the way in this area? Share your thoughts in the comments – I’d love to hear what you think!

For years, the mind mapping software market has been perceptually dominated by FreeMind. I say perceptually, because it seems more people have been recommending it than actually using it. Despite its ubiquity on free software alternatives lists, FreeMind is an awkward fit in the OS X environment. It’s cross platform, which often means “looks sub par everywhere”. It’s Java based, so performance is unpredictable.

And, most importantly, it’s not MindManager.

MindManager was never born as a FreeMind alternative. It’s existed on Windows since 1994, and on OS X since 2006. This is mind mapping with a totally native interface, and a novel idea for system integration. Let’s see how it performs.

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A few weeks ago, Apple gave a sneak peak of the next version of Mac OS X, 10.7 Lion. Not a whole lot was revealed about the new operating system beyond a new way to access applications dubbed Mission Control (Dashboard + Expose + iOS-style application launcher).

One of the bigger announcements was the introduction of an App Store for Mac OS X. The same way you browse the App Store for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad applications, you can now purchase, download and install applications for your computer.

With the overwhelming success of the iOS App Store, an App Store for the Mac seems like a natural progression. Not only will it provide a seamless way of browsing and installing applications for the end user, it allows Apple to snag a piece of Mac application sales.

Many things have already been said about the Mac App Store since it’s announcement. Questions have been asked and answers have been speculated. No one really knows how it will turn out, we can only guess based on the continuing success of the iOS App Store and the recently released guidelines.

There are certainly a number of benefits to such a system, for both the user and the developer. There are certainly a few things to be wary about as well…

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I’d like to take a few moments to say thank you to our weekly sponsor, Billings Pro. Every time I ask Mac users about the software they use for managing clients, projects, and time tracking, one name always comes up. Billings.

The basic version of Billings is perfect for freelancers and small companies – but if you run a larger organisation, it’s definitely worth taking a look at Billings Pro. This advanced version offers powerful time tracking, synchronization between different computers, and the ability to review and approve invoices. It’s a powerful beast.

I know that I’m not alone in thinking that Billings is one of the best tools available to the Mac-using freelancer, and the Pro version takes the functionality on offer to a new level. Check out the full overview, and go download a trial to give Billings Pro a try!

Satellite radio has come a long way since its creation many years ago, and now the two main companies – Sirius and XM – have merged to become Sirius/XM Satellite Radio. There are many ways to get this content in your car or home, but getting it on a Mac can be problematic.

Fortunately, there’s Pulsar, an application by Rogue Amoeba that makes streaming satellite radio to your Mac easy. Once you’ve made the switch to Pulsar, you’ll never want to listen to satellite radio on your Mac any other way again.

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In July of this year, Apple announced the 27″ LED Cinema Display and, as most of us would expect, it isn’t a cheap piece of hardware.

Apple has a reputation for producing high quality products – and no one can deny that. There is often a good amount of discussion as to whether they mark their prices up simply because they know the Apple fans will pay for it, or because their products are actually superior to their competitors.

Right now, Apple sells only one computer monitor – the 27″ LED Cinema Display. It specs out (we’ll get into that in a bit) very well and comes in at a beefy $999. In the day of bigger and bigger displays and cheaper and cheaper prices, Apple goes against the flow here a bit by staying at a higher price point.

The question is, do you get what you pay for?

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Mail.app is fabulous, fast, and dependable for every-day email communication needs. But now that many of us use Gmail for personal and professional use instead of an IMAP or POP account, Mail isn’t necessarily the perfect solution any more. A lot of Gmail’s productivity-enhancing features aren’t available on the desktop.

This isn’t just the case with Mail, but a lot of email clients lag behind when embracing Gmail. How awesome would it be to have a native Gmail client that goes above and beyond the competition? Read on to find out how close the newest Mac Gmail client, Sparrow, comes to fulfilling your dreams of email nirvana.

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Winners Announced!

Congratulations to our five lucky winners, who are:

  • Misha
  • Ragnar
  • Susan Vincent
  • Josh Baltzell
  • Phil Höfer

We’ll be in touch soon to let you know how to claim your prize!

Old Competition Announcement

Although I’m used to giving away software here at Mac.AppStorm, it’s always good to have a change of pace from time to time! Today we’re giving away five products from The Lucky Labs – you’ll be able to take your pick of any single item in their store, be it for your MacBook, iPhone or iPad.

The Lucky Labs make some really fun-looking covers and skins for your Apple gear, and you’ll be the envy of your friends with a stylish, funky graphic on your MacBook lid…

Entering is really easy – just leave a comment on this post! We’ll randomly pick the five winners in one week, and will send you an email to explain how to submit your request for a free product.

The Lucky Labs are happy to ship anywhere in the world, so this one’s open to everyone. Good luck!

It’s time for another “Ask the Editor” post today. A big thank you to everyone who sent in their questions – it’s great to have the chance to help you out with your Mac-related queries and quibbles.

Some of the topics covered this week include gaming on the Mac, jumping to the beginning or end of a line, sharing photos with remote family, and setting up your Time Capsule. Read on to find out what my responses are (and how you can submit your own questions for the next article!)

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