March 5, 2010

MacHeist nanoBundle2 Review

MacHeist is a website that sells a lot of Mac applications in a bundle for less than the normal price of one of the individual apps. In the case of the currently running "nanoBundle2" promotion, it's seven applications that would retail for $266, on sale together for a total of $19.95. These aren't trial versions or crippled licenses; they are the full monty.

How can MacHeist do this? Well, the involved app developers get a lot less money for their app, but they're getting less money from a lot more people. Plus they gain a larger userbase and get broad exposure from the promotion. The current bundle contains a number of handy-looking creative applications and is live until March 9th, so I thought I'd review the software contained therein from the perspective of a writer/designer/filmmaker/blogger. To get your money's worth you've really only gotta find one of the seven applications useful; is the nanoBundle2 worth a Jackson?

Impressions upon visiting the MacHeist website:

  1. Man, this is some nerdy shit.
  2. Wait, why wouldn't I buy this? The entire bundle costs less than the even the cheapest application. As a multi-hyphenate who uses an embarrassing number of Mac apps over the course of an average day, surely I'll find one of these useful.
  3. They're raising a lot of money for charity; 25% of all purchases go to a worthy cause. At the time I'm posting this, the ticker's up to $131,000 raised from nanoBundle2 and over $2 million in the site's history. Cheap apps and you're helping save the world (you can choose which charity your 25% goes to, or distribute it evenly among the 11 options)!

I pull the trigger.

The seven bundled applications are MacJournal, RipIt, Clips, CoverScout, Flow, Tales of Monkey Island, and RapidWeaver. The final two apps require a certain number of purchases to be unlocked, so you're incentivized to tell friends to buy the bundle. I didn't realize RapidWeaver was included in this "maybe" category -- they have a threshold of 50,000 sales to unlock Monkey Island, but don't explicitly list the number for RapidWeaver, which is either unintentionally bad design or intentional deception. See the image at right -- on first glance, is it clear that Flow is included but Rapidweaver isn't? If you're going to put a "will be unlocked" dialogue under Monkey Island (which I couldn't care less about), you should do the same for RapidWeaver. Sorry, but this is Design 101. Anyway, RapidWeaver was the main reasons I was interested (it's also the most expensive app at $79), but let's see if any of the first five are useful.

The apps

Clips

This looked pretty handy. I've been using Jumpcut as a clipboard manager, which allows you to keep track of dozens of bits of cut/copied text, instead of the default system clipboard, which only allows you to paste the most recently copied item. I was hoping Clips would be a more advanced version of Jumpcut, as right now I only use Jumpcut for temporary copying and pasting; for frequently-used snippets of text like URLs, html code, and canned email responses I use Apple's built-in Stickies. Clips seemed to offer a unifying solution, but I'm sorry to say: upon initial use, it just didn't work. It would only remember the most recent thing I copied, which defeats the entire purpose of using it; perhaps I'll figure Clips out in the future, since I officially own the software now, but first impressions are not good. Plus, Clips tries to do too much -- there are three different ways of displaying your clips, two different hotkey options, and two different display options (dock or menu bar) -- honestly, guys, the hallmark of Mac is simplicity. I want you to figure out what works best for 90% of your users, and present that to us as the default functionality; don't make me choose from eight options the first time I start it up. It should "just work," and it didn't for me. On its own, Clips retails for $27.

MacJournal

For the past four years I've been using Mori to keep track of ideas, organize initial outlines, brainstorm, and keep a journal. It's not a great program, but its simplicity is its virtue, and I'm used to it. However, Mori hasn't been updated in ages and it seems development is at a dead-end. Thus my interest in MacJournal; it's a similar program, but more fully-featured, and has a long history of development and support. First impressions of MacJournal are very good; it has a great full-screen writing mode (up until now I've been using an old freeware version of Writeroom for this functionality), it plugs into a number of blog services for posting to the web, and for keeping a journal it really seems like the app to beat on the Mac. If you're looking for a journaling program -- meaning, jotting down your thoughts, making them searchable, and keeping track of when you wrote what -- MacJournal makes the nanoBundle worth it alone. However, I'm looking for more of a brainstorming/outlining program, so my search for a Mori replacement continues -- more on this another time. Normally $40.

RipIt

RipIt bills itself as "effortless DVD importing." It does what it says -- you pop in a DVD, hit "Rip," and it takes care of the job for you, automatically ripping the main feature and excising the menus and extras. For a lot of people, this fits the bill and will be a valuable cog in the MacHeist machine. However, by default RipIt generates .dvdmedia files, which play fine in Apple's built-in DVD Player software but don't afford you the greatest flexibility (in preferences, you can switch it to generate VIDEO_TS and AUDIO_TS folders). I prefer the free and open-source Handbrake, which allows you to customize file format, compression, and subtitling options; I pretty much knew going in that I wasn't going to use RipIt because of the Handbrake elephant in the room. For grandma, however, RipIt might find a home. Normally $20, although it looks like the free version lets your rip 58 DVDs before you'd have to register.

Coverscout

Coverscout is an application that, uh, scouts covers. Covers for your albums, that is -- its goal is to get rid of as many of those blank placeholder images you see when that "totally legitimate album you paid money for" shows up in iTunes without any pretty artwork. The registration is kind of a pain -- you have to create a login and jump through some other hoops, which wasn't the case with any of the other apps. While the program works -- it correctly pulls your library from iTunes, logs into various online databases to find missing album art and assigns them automatically -- as you'd expect with multiple sources, album art sizes tend to vary and the accuracy isn't anywhere near 100%. This can make for comical discrepancies between genre of music and the resulting album cover ("Ain't no Half Steppin" by Big Daddy Kane pulled a cover for "Christ is Come" by a Christian band named Big Daddy Weave). If you want to go through your albums one by one -- my library yielded over 1,000 coverless albums -- you have a chance at ending up with accurate covers... but do you really care enough to do that? Either way, don't expect to "select all" and hit the "magic" button (you'll probably break your internet connection if you do, as Coverscout doesn't seem to have a queuing system, instead hitting the servers for all of your selected albums all at once). I got tired of waiting and quit the program, resigned to my placeholder-filled music library. Coverscout is normally $40, which seems overpriced given iTunes is free and includes basic "Get Album Artwork" functionality. SongGenie, a different program from the same company that fills in missing metadata like album title, year, and track number -- which would probably ensure more accurate covers -- is another $30. Seriously guys, you want someone to spend $70 on software that does nothing more than dress up already-existing music files? Bundle the two together for $30 and then we can talk.

Flow

Flow is a file-transfer program which works with FTP/SFTP as well as other protocols like Amazon S3 and MobileMe. This had appeal to me, as I've used the free FTP program Cyberduck for years -- encountering a host of bugs along the way -- and eventually paid $30 for Transmit when Cyberduck became unreliable. Flow intergrates with the Mac OS much more nicely than either of the aforementioned apps and promises URL copying (meaning, you can upload a file to an FTP server and automatically copy the file's URL for sharing). This is handy for sending clients links to files -- but as soon as I got Flow's URL copying working, I realized Transmit offers the same feature. I will say this -- Flow has a chance at becoming my default FTP program, and I would use it over Cyberduck if I hadn't already bought Transmit.

As for the "unlockable" apps -- Tales of Monkey Island and RapidWeaver -- the former is an adventure game and the latter is a template-based website construction tool. I don't have much to say about the former as I'm not much of a gamer, and I was a Senior Designer at MTV for three years so you wouldn't think RapidWeaver would be of any interest to me, but it's the "rapid" part of the latter that is appealing -- I have some upcoming transmedia projects for which I'll need to launch a lot of sites very quickly, and in the quantity-over-quality department I'm interested in comparing one-off RapidWeaver sites to those based on Wordpress themes. If MacHeist makes their goal -- whatever it is -- and RapidWeaver is unlocked, I'll put it to use and add a review later.

Conclusion

Overall, I had no problems getting the apps installed or registering them; they are indeed what they promise, 100% full and legal applications for a fraction of the price. MacHeist is on their A-game with this stuff; they've done a great job offering appealing applications at a very enticing price, and the concept of "unlocking" apps at a certain number of sales is brilliant marketing -- free Tweets all around! Not to mention, in a world of so much pirated software, it's nice to support smaller application developer. Additionally, MacHeist raises a lot of money for charity with each promotion, which is the icing on the cake.

Normally I consider $30 to be the reasonable price point for a single desktop Mac application -- I've paid $30 for several useful apps in the past couple of years -- so $20 for seven apps is a no-brainer. For my own needs, however, I'm not sure that I'll regularly use any of the first five (I do hope to find RapidWeaver useful, though). Clips is a nice idea, but it's not there yet. RipIt would make a nice gift for the computer illiterate in your family, but if you're reading this you'll probably be happier with Handbrake. Coverscout is only handy if you're a constant iTunes gardener. However, I do feel MacJournal and Flow are solid apps worth the price of admission on their own if you're looking for a journal or FTP program. After all, you've only got to use one app to make the bundle worth your while; I hope this review was helpful in determining whether you'll find use for one -- or more -- of the nanBundle2 apps.

The deal is live until March 9 at MacHeist, and now features three more throw-in apps if you tweet.

Your Comment

2 Comments

Thank you for mentioning Mori. I’m grateful that you find it so compelling that you’ve stuck with it for four years. MacJournal is no second-rate app, having set the standard at its introduction and was the first note app I used on a regular basis myself before I acquired the rights to Mori. But, as you say, they are not quite in the same category.

However, I disagree strongly that Mori’s development appears to be at a dead-end. I released another alpha of the next version a few days ago (March 4, 2010) and have been working on doing a weekly (Sundays) update until the final release. Info on the pre-release version is at http://apokalypsesoftware.com/products/project/oneill.

So you’re primarily interested in using Mori for brainstorming and outlining? Improving the UI for this has been one of my biggest goals for this release. But I’m more interested in making it malleable to respond to your workflow as you follow the flow of your ideas, so I’d love to hear more of your thoughts along this area. Perhaps in another posting on your blog or Mori’s user forum (http://apokalypsesoftware.com/products/forum/mori)?

Again, I thank you for the mention and this opportunity to respond.

Alfonso Guerra
President
Apokalypse Software Corp.

March 6, 2010

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