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CFrag reviewed on 25 Feb 2014
CrossOver is the for-profit version of WINE (a windows compatibility layer) for Mac and Linux. So you can get the same for free. But paying for CrossOver does have significant advantages: 1) support 2) a much better software package. I should also mention that CodeWeavers is funding the development of WINE, so paying for CO benefits the whole community.

So, what does CO do? Basically, it allows you to run Windows software on your Mac in OSX *without* running a full windows emulator like VirtualBox, Parallels or VMWare. That means that you can run Windows software without needing a copy of Windows. Plus, CO has compatibility modules (they call them 'Bottles') for Windows 98, 2000, XP, Vista, and 7.

An important, though perhaps under documented, point is that you don't really buy CO - you purchase the right to run the currently recent version, plus all updates for the next 12 Months. After that you may continue to use CO, but you can't update, and you are no longer entitled to support unless you purchase a license extension. For a business these terms are quite acceptable. Private users may not require continued support; yet being able to have the most recent version of CO can be worth the admission fee.

Using CrossOver *can* be frustrating, because it assumes you know your way around in the particular brand of Windows your application requires - a presupposition that can prevent you from getting the results you need. If you don't know your way around Windows and the Windows software does not run from the get go (a rarity with old titles), you are pretty much screwed. That's where the service/support subscription comes in, and I've submitted a number of tickets to have them answered within 24 hours. That being said, the customization features of WINE are limited, which is both a boon and a problem if your software requires a particular feature.

How well does it work? Well, if you have legacy software that is standard, straight code and you need to access that software or data, it works really, really well. CodeWeaver's site has a compatibility DB where you can check on-line if an application will run; be advised though that this DB isn't always current, and new versions of CrossOver can break compatibility with older software. If you have legacy software that taxed the system at the time (usually games), used DRM, or non-standard graphics (e.g. GLide), results are mixed.

I was able, for example, to install Homeworld off the original CD, and could play it - but only in software rendering, and at 640x480x16. But all animations, sounds, and interface worked flawless, at full speed. Many other games, though, didn't run at all (Mechcommander 2 (a Microsoft Title), Ground Control, Red Alert, Independence War), others worked but were unplayable because they did not read input devices correctly (Freespace, Freesapce 2). Other titles ran, but were so old that their usability was null (Tribes, Starsiege) because their infrastructure did no longer exists - not a fault of CO, though.

As a general rule of thumb, compatibility increases when the software is younger and starts using Windows-based standard libraries. This continues up to a certain point where the performance trade-off with the WINE-layer (10%-20%) makes the game unplayable. Most productivity software (MS Office, Quicken, Visio) not only runs really well, but because it is officially supported by CodeWeavers, installation is quick and painless. For many other titles that are not officially supported, there are community-provided installers that help you navigate some pitfalls during installation and that makes using CO much, much easier.

If you are using Steam, though, CrossOver is a great tool. Many old games work well when downloaded into a steam bottle (they will install into the same 'Bottle' as steam), and this way you gain access to many classic game titles that are otherwise unavailable on the Mac. Newer steam titles work, but the newest usually don't because of performance issues. Older titles usually work well, but may require you to install an obscure Windows library - without CO support I would not have been able to do so. that way, I was finally able to play 'Far Cry', 'Nexus: The Jupiter Incident' and 'Sins of a Solar Empire' on OSX.

So, is it worth it? If you have a legacy app and need to access or import windows data, then it is definitely worth a shot (you have a trial period to see if it works), and well worth the price if it works. It's much cheaper to than to spring for a full Windows emulation plus Windows, and you can switch between windows versions. For me, it's a great help, and the cost for service is negligible compared to what I would need to pay had I used a Windows PC and some Windows expert to keep it running. And if you want to play some classic titles that are available on Steam, it's definitely worth a try.
[Version 13.1]


CFrag reviewed on 02 Oct 2013
Alright. Found this while maintaining my Mom's Mac. And I can't believe that I'm about to do what I vowed I'd never do: badmouth professional software.

Now, from the looks of it, MacKeeper seems to be aimed at PC-to-Mac converts who are used to having an app that regularly tells them that everything is well, and that gives them solace in this regard. To these people, MacKeeper may be a form of placebo. Peace of mind is a high good, and perhaps even worth the price.

Then again - my Mom is *not* a PC convert. She swears she doesn't know how it got on her mac (I believe that, but have to add that it means relatively little. She also doesn't know how other software gets on her Mac), so I guess it was downloaded automatically or after a click. After that, I guess she once started it because it looked legit, or because it was there.
Still, it ran, and promptly informed her that something was wrong. That was the end of my week-end.

Mac Keeper comes with an array of tools that are all designed to perform some kind of housekeeping. So far, so good. One important tool, however, is that since it got downloaded, it's first function is to sell itself by scaring the user into purchasing the full version (pretty much like some Windows AV tools operate). This would be the first knock.

But, from a professional point of view, the tools are not effective. On the Mac, if your performance tanks , there are four possibilities:
- An automatically started background task has become misconfigured and routinely gobbles up memory and disk space. This happened to me once with the otherwise stellar server app for my SqueezeBox. Activity Monitor and some knowledge is required to diagnose this; MacKeeper won't help here.
- Your disk is full. Usually because of Photos and Movies of grandchildren. MacKeeper's recourse is dangerous here, and ineffective - the best remedy is a new disk for a couple of bucks
- Your Mac has too little memory. MacKeeper doesn't help at all here, but contributes to the problem. Your best recourse would be to buy more Ram, or get a new Mac
- Your processor is out of oomph - too old. Get a new Mac, no amount of fiddling with MacKeeper or hand-tuning your OS will ever get around the cycles wasted by modern Apps. Deleting Flash will get you to the end f the Month, but a new Mac will do it.

I don't see any benefit in using MacKeeper beside the afore mentioned Placebo effect. The problem here is that after time, MK *will* indicate a problem, and then even that benefit is gone.

Sadly, I cannot recommend this app.
[Version 2.7]

1 Reply


CFrag replied on 12 Oct 2013
@Gskibum - agreed. So can a myriad of other hardware issues, e.g. a failing router in your network, high latency drives, a frame grabber working in the background hogging the IO etc. I did not mention those and others because MK can't help there. Stupidly, though, I did not mention that in the article. Thanks, Gski for pointing this out - I wish there was a way to amend my review.

CFrag reviewed on 29 Sep 2013
Mars Edit is a capable, yet simple-to-use editor for Wordpress (and other) based blogs. I'm only using it for Wordpress (self-hosted) blogs, so I cannot comment on how well it integrates with other blogs.

In the context of your blog, ME allows you to create and update articles as well as stand-alone pages. I like the ability to switch between HTML and Rich Text editing (I am *not* the world's greatest HTML buff), and seeing the results in the preview window updating live is a great help. Since you can do much of that from within WP itself, the killer feature of ME is being able to create articles off-line and later synch them to your Blog. During sync, articles (and static pages) that I wrote on-line are synced back to ME. I found that ME does this very well. Offline editing is important to me because I compose most of my articles on my *ooooold* laptop, being on the road, between meetings, or (usually) sitting in a quaint, but lovely Coffee Shop without internet access. I don't know why, but that's simply where I write best.

In a direct comparison with on-line editing from within WP I found that I prefer to edit my text in ME, and then upload. A personal preference, for sure, but still...

There are some minor quibbles or features that I wish ME would implement to make my experience even more pleasant (chiefly amongst them being able to select between templates for common wp templates like 'twenty-eleven'. Not everyone is able to extract HTML formatting from WP's templates and transfer them to ME. Well, at least *I* am not. Having that (or a template that is close enough) would really be the icing on the cake.

And now to my current pet topic:
To those who think that ME's price is 'too expensive': Please reconsider. I know that in the age of the App Store where the ongoing race to the bottom kills software fast it has become fashionable call software that cost more than $1 'expensive'.
But seriously, you as the customer have three options:
- Don't purchase because the value isn't right for you. Fair, but please do not comment on the software's features.
- Purchase because you DO find the value proposition justifiable. Then comment on the features, but do not say it should be cheaper. You got it's worth.
- Shut up, make a better product, and offer it for less. *That* is what 'real men' do. Guess why there aren't better offline WP editors available for less available on the Mac.
Personally, I find the price for ME to be well justifiable. It's rock solid. You get personal support from the Author, which I find very appealing. But most importantly: It costs less than 10 coffees (I average two at my coffee shop, so I spend more in a week on coffee than I have spent on ME in eternity), for crying out loud! Is that really expensive? Admittedly, my coffee is - but then I'm prepared to pay for that as well.

Ok, off the soapbox...
[Version 3.6.2]


CFrag reviewed on 01 Jun 2013
OK, I have to admit, I at first didn't 'get' alpha. As a PS user, I was unimpressed by its anemic functionality and simply didn't understand why my friend raved about it. Turns out, the way I used it was like using scalpel for welding. The results were accordingly. Alpha is nothing like PS, and I found out the hard way. Alpha's value comes from two unique features: it's use of real-time transparency (*blush* for not making the connection with the name for over a year), and resolution independence (this was the first thing I got wrong as a PS user): alpha can generate multiple resolutions of the same artwork in seconds - really useful for designers who need to create web, brochure, and poster art at the same time. This is where I save a lot of time.

Once I understood the basic premise, alpha became an entirely different beast. It's *not* a pixel editor and I don't know why I thought it is. It's a layout tool the likes of which I haven't seen before. Everything in Alfa is geared towards this: you round up pictures, drop them on the canvas, and then start arranging them. The built-in functionality to crop, zoom, pan and distort images seem lifted straight from QuarkXPress, and work really nice. The real fun comes when you switch to the blend manager - there are built-in generators for almost any regular blends that work in real-time. No longer do I need to create a layer with a gradient and apply as mask - alpha does in real-time what I need minutes to do in PS. THAT is alpha's strength. Plus, you can - also in real-time - change the way it combines images with whatever is beneath: multiply, subtract, dodge.

Something I didn't realize at first, but which I now wish PS could emulate is due to the way alpha works with images: it works completely non-destructive, a neat trick that looks like it was lifted from FinalCut. Anything you do you you can undo. The images you import into alpha remain untouched, and all effects you add are added to local copies. Plus, changes you make to source images automatically flow into the alpha document.

Then there are the other objects that work *exactly* like images. I was thunderstruck the first time I applied a '3D curl' effect to text and the app automatically generated the transparency mask for the *curled* letters. Now, *that* would have taken a lot longer in PS. Plus, text remains editable. OK, curled text is ugly, but as a tech demo it is excellent :)

Alpha comes with many image effects, and perhaps that is why I initially thought that it was a pixel editor. Effects are always applied to the entire image, and effect control is rather limited. Many effects are 'meh', most are OK, and two or three are outstanding. But effects-wise the app is nothing special.

Having raved about Alpha, there are a couple of issues, though:
-first and foremost according to cf/x it's a 32 bit application, limiting the canvas to somewhere around 12'000 pixels (40 inch @ 300dpi). Anything larger, and it takes a dive off the deep end. Related to this is that excessive grouping (the way I like to work) can also quickly lead to memory exhaustion. This can become very annoying with complex scenes.
- Then there are no layers. You can lock individual objects against changes, but they can be selected and e.g. accidentally be included in groups. Adding layers would be my strongest request.
- No multiple undo - not a biggie, since it is non-destructive, but still - it's 2013 and a single undo is a blast from 1995.
- No built-in color separation. I have to use Apple's Color Sync or PS on the result.
- Alpha has a steep learning curve and since it works almost exactly opposite to what I am used to, this was very frustrating. I recommend a 'PS transition mode' for designers who come from that direction.

All in all Alpha is a tremendously powerful tool - once you learn to use it right. I've seen people lamenting about the price. Now, admittedly, I got it during a MU promo, but as a professional tool the price is great for what it does, and once it saves you three or four hours of work, it's paid for. Non-professionals will have greater difficulties justifying the purchase. Oh - and if you are a photographer: download the demo, load the SED template and drop a few images. Now isn't that *way* cooler than using QX?

[my reviews seem to get longer and longer...]
[Version 2.0.5]


CFrag reviewed on 30 May 2013
Promising, not ready for prime time

This is a promising pixel editor, which visually emulates (at least some versions of) Photoshop (with it's PS logo in the upper left corner not too subtly) - but at the price it has a lot to offer - or at least promises to offer a lot.

The problem is that way too many interface quirks make using the App anything but a trying experience. Most dialog buttons don't work, or work only when you click multiple times. The new canvas dialog, for example, is one such offender. Since it's the first dialog you'll see (superimposed over an *existing* new canvas, by the way), the app does not make an impressive first impression.

But there is more, and the interface feels decidedly 'windows-esque'. When you try to close a window without saving you are given the options to "don't save", "cancel", and "save". Unfortunately, pressing 'cancel' does not work. oops. Click it again, and perhaps it may work (it worked for me on the third try).

Same with choosing a paint brush's color. A *modal* dialog opens, and it is footed with 'OK' and 'Cancel' buttons. You choose a color, and it is set. Click cancel, and instead of canceling, the dialog switches the cancel button to 'default', but DOES NOT CLOSE the dialog. You need to click again. Next time you change colors, it closes on the first try. Argh! This interface hates me. Many times I get the impression that the various dialogs try too much, be far too clever for their own good, only to trip you up.

All work is done in a *single* tabbed window. If you work like me (who drags artwork between windows and uses side-by-side windows on a work- and a reference screen) you are out of luck (come on! usable screens only cost a couple of hundred bucks, and everyone uses them nowadays!). Oh, and closing the window will also exit the application (I know that Apple supports this behavior - I hate it, having grown up with the Mac this behavior is alien to me, and infuriates me. ( *I* tell an app when to exit. That's why they call me a control freak.)

Using the Text Layer is incredibly counter-intuitive, and something I wish to forget quickly. I was unable to achieve the result I wanted. Everything lagged, and my clicks never registered where I thought they would. Worse, it showed selection artifacts from the layer I worked on before. When I tried to get rid of those I ended up in some kind of layer limbo where nothing I tried resulted in anything.

All this is really disappointing because the app looks exceedingly promising. This is a textbook example how a dysfunctional UI completely destroys an otherwise *really* interesting application.

Personally, and I know that I may be going against the grain here, but I wish the application was a bit more pricey *and* more robust. I know that nowadays developers are forced by entitlement-thinking customers to give away their software for next to nothing, but that hurts quality. I'm also painfully aware that this review does not help their case, so apologies for preaching.

To sum up: great potential, good features, *very* unfortunate UI. You should definitely download the demo and see for yourself, because my impression is personal, and your mileage may vary. And perhaps in the meantime BrainDistrict may have released a new version that fixed all issues. Plus, at 10 bucks every photographer or designer knows that it's worth a shot.
[Version 1.50]


CFrag reviewed on 20 Nov 2012
This is a *really* nice, simple app. All it does is present (or should I say: simulate) a nice, clear uncluttered background. In reality, of course my desktop is a mess, and there are usually more windows open than I can count.

Backdrop simply puts an image (be it a white pane, or the original desktop background, heck even a simulated background with documents, drive and dock) above everything, so your frontmost running application *looks* as if was the only app running on your Mac. The image extends to all connected screens, effectively covering your entire desktop.

To me this is important for two tasks - when I create imagery for documentation that some poor sod has to write, and when we create videos that show how to use an application (hey, there is a market for it - don't knock it).

Instead of having to to create a separate user or clean up my desktop (that will *never* happen), all I need to do is put up a nice empty image, and begin rolling the video (or in the case of stills, take screenshots).

But there's another, unexpected use I got out of this app: when designing or color grading images, I keep the theme color as a reference above everything else (some kind of 'full screen mode except it's not fullscreen) that blocks everything but the color grading app and constantly shows the reference color (easy to compare, easy to pick up with the dropper tool). Sure, only saves a couple of clicks, but they do add up...

I've been using Background for a couple of years now (from when its Icon still was a theater), and am aware that there may be newer, competing software available. I'm simply happy with this, and will stick to it until it breaks compatibility (I'm currently running on 10.6.8).

Definitely give this one a try.
[Version 2.2.1]


CFrag reviewed on 16 Nov 2012
A long, long time ago I played Railroad Tycoon, on a positively ancient Mac, and loved it. Sid Meyer has a knack for creating great games (Pirates! was another one I sank more time in than I care to admit. And then ther was Civilization...), and RRT was great. It's a real-time railroad AND business simulator (the latter part is what makes the game so interesting for people who yawn when looking at model rail roads)

Fast forward to a few days ago when I became aware that there now is a simlar game: Sid Meyer's Railroads... Curiosity got the better of me, and I purchased it. Well... I'm not exactly disappointed - but neither am I ecstatic. I've (already) spent a lot of time playing it, and it is definitely worth it if you, for exaple, compare that to what you'd get out of a cinema ticket.
The graphics are nire - really nice. The music is ok, and can be turned off (not eveyone likes period-realistic music, and a banyo positively grates on my nerves). The interface is a typical windows port that takes getting used to (to be honest though, the same was true for Railroad Tycoon).

The biggest problem, though, is AI, or more specifically, train routing AI. Never, ever, in a game should you design your track with a loop in it. The AI will invariably start routing your trains to never-never-land, running a LA-San Diego train through Utah, completely killing any profit, and - if you don't detect this soon enough - may even bankrupt your RR company (remember - a RR AND business simulator...). The problem here is of course that a circular track is one of the most efficient designs for many problems...

Another problem is with track laying - very soon after you start your first little route, you'll need to double-lay tracks to avoid dead-locks. Unfortunately, the way RR implements the UI for double-laying is so incredibly stupidly designed, that you'd end up laying unconnected (but connected-looking) tracks more often than not. Now couple incorrectly connected double-tracks with an AI that has gone off the deep end, and you end up with a very, very unpleasant - if not frustrating - gaming experience.

Multi-player is new for me, and so far I felt I'm not up to it, so I only played against the computer. Since computer players never make a mistake laying tracks, they will wipe the floor with you for the first few times.

Re-playabilit of RR is high because you can randomize terrain and tweak win conditions (like in CIV).

So, if you are prepared to put up with these annoyances - or if you simply love railroads (RR can be run in a 'Sandbox' mode where you can play completely unrestricted), RR will give you (or rather take from you) hours upon hours of fun.
[Version 1.0.1]


CFrag reviewed on 16 Nov 2012
I've been using 'collage' (non-PRO) for quite a while now, and upgraded to PRO a few days ago.

Basically, what collage (both versions) have over most of the other collage layout apps is *Speed*. That's why I use it after a shoot or event - select 20 images, drop them on collage, and boom! Collage automatically creates a layout. No templates needed. I then use in-app zoom and pan for touch up - and I'm done. The layout is usually good enough to present directly, and it saves me a ton of time when antsy clients want to have a preview. PS can of course do the same, but that would take me hours for what I can do in literally seconds.

collage has one drawback, though - it's somewhat inflexible with its layout, and can sometimes be downright quirky when you edit it. And it does not allow overlapping images.

collagePRO is essentially the same, except that in is more relaxed with the layout (images can overlap, rotate), but it retains most of the layout quirkyness. The PRO version also has backgrounds (images, textures), different frame shapes (for those who need it - personally I prefer boringly rectangular frames) and a really, really nice paper format manager. To me, that manager, coupled with the auto-layout is the real killer function in the PRO version. I can create multiple exports (calendar, greeting card, web page) of the same basic layout instantly. The HTML export option is nice, but due to its heavy use of javascript can be slow for collages with lots of images.

One major knock, though: no text. Although some templates look as if they use text, they in reality use pictures of text, cleverly added as a background image. I create captions in Acorn, and import them as pictures. Annoying.

Other than that, though, I really like the app as a *very* fast collage creator. If you have the time, try both versions because not everyone needs (or wants) the PRO version's additional features, and you can always upgrade later.
[Version 1.0.0]


CFrag reviewed on 28 Sep 2012
Although getting long in the tooth, Stuffit/Stuffit Expander is still a good combination. Stuffit Expander is free, and can not only expand '.sit' archives (that are getting rare indeed - there was a time where you couldn't look anywhere without getting run over by one :), but it also expands many more common (and less proprietary than '.sit') compression formats - including the venerable 'Binhex' ('.hqx') encoding (which used to be the MacOS analogue to base64).

The product has been through different owners since Aladdin originally published it in the late 80s, and it shows.
It seems that Smith Micro (the latest owner) is again investing into developing Stuffit, and I hope that the compression/expander duo (only the compressor is commercial) again rises in relevance.
[Version 15.0.4]


CFrag reviewed on 22 Sep 2012
You can shrink any PDF yourself if you use's "Save As" functionality and use Quartz Filter's "Reduce Size" setting.
So why would you need a tool like this? Simply because it gives you a much more fine-grained control over which aspects of the PDF are to be shrunk (reduced in quality), and by how much (Quartz's approach is brute-force, maximum compression).

PDF-Shrink uses an extremely ugly, decidedly Windows-ish interface that sometimes goes out of it's way to make the set-up process more difficult and technical than it needs to be.

However, after setting it up, the results are well worth it. We produce documentation that is to be read on-line and that usually contains a lot of imagery. Uncompressed the files are 80-100 MB. When we use Quartz for compression, the results are much smaller, but unacceptable.
Using PDF Shrink we control the quality of color images to be shrunk to 200 dpi, and greyscale to 150 dpi, which is well enough for both screen and casual prints. The file goes down in size to 5-8 MB, which is very, very nice.
[Version 4.5.3]

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