8 Mac apps for $40?! Is the Productive Macs bundle worth it? [expired]

Productive Macs bundleEvery once in a while, a group of Mac applications are pulled together in a bundle and offered for a ridiculously low price. Productive Macs is one of those, and it offers you 8 Mac apps for the price of $40. Is it worth it? This review will tell you.

In short: Unless you already have a good information management workflow in place, the Productive Mac bundle is a good investment. DEVONthink and HoudahSpot are two alternative systems to organize all kinds of files – either in a database or through tagging. MacJournal is a great tool for organizing your writing projects, and MailTags seems to be a good way to expand your info management workflow into your email inbox.

The rest of this review gives you some more background on how the eight apps bundled in the Productive Macs offer fit into academic workflows.

 

Where is the hook?

Bundles like Productive Macs are especially great if you are just starting out with the Mac, or if you haven’t bought much software yet but want to “come clean”. You might be dazzled by the steep discount: $40 instead of $290?!! Can this be true? It sounds almost too good. However, this offer is legit, since you are getting full versions. In some cases (e.g., MacJournal), the apps were just updated, so you know you are not buying the rotting tomatoes nobody else wanted.

So although an offer like this might sound like too good to be true, there is no hook (at least not in this one). I bought several bundles in the past, and I never had any issues.

 

Are the apps useful for academics?

But are the apps bundled in Productive Macs any good? And more importantly, since this is academiPad here, are these apps useful for academics, students, and other people in Higher Education? Will they assist you in your research, teaching and learning?

I must say that in comparison to other bundles, I like Productive Macs ones because they stick to their name. Many apps in this bundle can indeed boost your productivity, especially when it comes to managing and organizing information and files.

Sure, you might not be using four of the eight apps, but that is the case for any bundle. The important question to ask is how many of these apps would you use on a regular basis? If you answer this question with “two”, “three”, or even more, this bundle is for you.

UPDATE: June is bundle month, apparently, as MacUpdate has just unveiled its 11 Mac apps bundle for $50. It includes Parallels (running Windows on Mac), BusyCal (calendar), and ScreenFlow (making screencasts). I might check it out later for myself because of ScreenFlow, but my initial reaction is not as positive as with the Productive Macs bundle. The MacUpdate bundle might be for you if you have a particular need for any of the big apps included in the bundle, but it is not such a nice package like the Productive Macs bundle that helps you to establish a whole (information management) workflow.

UPDATE 2: Oh no, not another one! Bundle Hunt offers you 7 Mac apps plus 4 WordPress themes and some other web development stuff for $50. There are a few productivity goodies in this bundle: LittleSnapper (screenshots), Typinator (shortcuts for text nuggets), DefaultFolderX (improves the OS X saving dialogue, including tagging), and Keyboard Maestro (automate keystrokes and clipboard management). This bundle makes sense of you want to squeeze every bit of productivity out of  OS X, or if you like the WordPress themes that come with the bundle. Overall it is a good offer, but I think the Productive Macs bundle is more helpful most people as it focuses on information management rather than OS X tweaks / web development.

Now back to the Productive Macs bundle. Let me quickly run through the apps, telling you what it is and then discussing whether and how it might be helpful in your academic workflow:

 

RapidWeaver

RapidWeaverRapidWeaver is a tool for creating webpages without any coding know-how necessary. Think about it as something like iWeb, just that it is continuously updated. I got RapidWeaver in a previous bundle, and although I never used it much, I found it reasonably easy to use.

RapidWeaver might be for you if you are planning on creating your own webpage to highlight your research or other projects. However, I think that blogging platforms such as WordPress offer a better way for academics to create their online presence.

Bottom line: While RapidWeaver is a big gun in the current Productive Mac bundle, I wouldn’t be too excited unless I was really into designing my own webpages. For most academics who just want to have a basic blog or webpage, there are easier solutions out there (e.g., WordPress with themes).

 

DEVONthink

DEVONthinkDEVONthink is an information management system that lets you organize and work with all your documents in one place, regardless where they come from: bookmarks, text files, images and PDFs. It has some artificial intelligence engine built-in, and you can integrate it with its companion app on the iPad (not included in this bundle).

Many academics who use DEVONthink are amazed by its capabilities. I checked it out two times over the last 5 years, but I never really made the jump because it seemed to be overblown for my needs. I am a big fan of organizing my files and information through tagging (see HoudahSpot and MailTags below), and since this works good for me I shied away from investing the extra time into DEVONthink.

To get some good advice about DEVONthink, you can check out what Jason Shafer has to tell you about his Digital Academic Workflow. In this really wonderful post he describes how DEVONthink fits into his workflow along other academiPad’s favourites such as Sente, MindNode, and Dropbox.

Bottom line: DEVONthink is one of the main reasons for buying this bundle, but be aware that there is going to be a learning curve ahead of you.

 

Printopia

printopiaWith Printopia you can access a printer that is connected to your Mac through your iPad or iPhone (when on the same network).

Sounds like a good idea at first, however: The whole idea is to integrate Mac and iPad so closely with each other that you have device-independent access to all your information and files.

Bottom line: This one is rather one of the “filler apps” of this bundle: A good-to-have app, but not a deal breaker.

 

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MailTags

MailTagsMailTags integrates with your Mail app and lets you attach keywords, notes, and date tags to email messages. This allows you to better organize your inbox and find past messages faster.

If you have to cope with a lot of emails, then this app might be good for you. It would certainly help you to accept the Inbox Zero challenge and to clean up your mailbox.

Bottom line: I have never used MailTags, but it looks like a nice app to be thrown into this bundle, since it expands the information management focus from files and notes into your email inbox.

 

HoudahSpot

HoudahSpotHoudahSpot is something like DEVONthink light. It does not require you to trust a proprietary database with your files, but lets you use the normal file structure of your Mac. Its main purpose is to be a better Spotlight: you can create detailed search queries to pinpoint any file you are looking for.

I looked into HoudahSpot a couple of years ago when I was setting up my tagging workflow. At the end, I went with Tags and Leap instead, but HoudahSpot is definitely something you should consider for managing your files (especially if DEVONthink looks too enormous for you). Since I looked at it last time, HoudahSpot also added a decent tagging support, which makes this app a good addition to your information management. This is how the tagging works in HoudahSpot (quoted from the developer’s webpage):

“HoudahSpot 3 adds the ability to tag files. Tags are non-hierarchical keywords assigned to files. They serve a similar purpose than folders. The crucial difference being that a file may be assigned several tags and be located by any of them. … The HoudahSpot Tray is where file tagging happens. The Tray is available from any application. It hides at the edge of the main screen and is activated by moving the mouse to the edge of the screen. The HoudahSpot Tray lists favorite tags as well as tags recently used by HoudahSpot or another OpenMeta tagging solution.”

Bottom line: If DEVONthink wasn’t a good reason for you to buy this bundle, then this app is.

 

Trickster

TricksterTrickster lives in your menu bar and gives you fast and easy access to your recent files, folders and applications.

It is an update to Blast, which I have installed on my Mac since a previous bundle. Trickster does not seem to do much more than Blast does, and to be honest, I don’t use Blast that often, since most recent files are still there when I reopen the application to work on them.

Bottom line: Nothing to get excited about.

 

MacJournal

MacJournalMacJournal describes itself as “the world’s most popular journaling application for the Mac”. It also has an iPad companion app, and there is also a WinJournal for – you guessed it – Windows users. Only the Mac version is included in this bundle.

MacJournal is one of the worst marketed applications out there. I got this app in a previous bundle and didn’t use it for a year or so. But then I tried it out one day, and it immediately became a fixed component in my information management and writing workflows. Don’t be fooled by the talk about birthdays, graduations and other great moment of private life you can read about on the MacJournal webpage. This is an app for academics at work (can someone please tell MacJournal?)

I use MacJournal for taking and storing notes (in conferences, meetings), organizing the chaos that happens during writing my dissertation, collecting ideas for posts on academiPad, and sometimes even writing in its distraction free environment (although I nowadays prefer ByWord or iA Writer).

Yes, you could use individual Word or Pages files to organize your writing projects and ideas, but I rather have my notes separate from all the other files that clutter the finder. Plus: you can sync MacJournal with the iPad companion app via WiFi (and hopefully soon via the cloud) to carry all your notes and unfinished chapters with you.

Bottom line: MacJournal is great for organizing your writing projects, and it alone justifies the price of this bundle.

 

Voila

VoilaVoila lets you take screenshots and offers some editing tools. It is like Command + Shift + 4 on steroids: You can capture complete webpages even when they don’t fit on your screen, and taking screenshots of menus is much easier.

Unsurprisingly, Voila makes sense if you are taking a lot of screenshots in your work. For example, if your research involves analyzing webpages, Voila would be a quick and elegant way to build your dataset. Beside that, another use of Voila is to create manuals or other documents for guiding someone through a series of steps (that might be useful if you hold an administrative role). Unfortunately, Voila is limited to screenshots and cannot be used for making screen casts.

Bottom line: While this app has some use for research and teaching, in many occasions other apps or built-in OS X functions will work just as fine. The main exceptions in my view are capturing webpages and creating manuals.

 

Is the Productive Macs bundle worth it?

In my opinion, the Productive Macs bundle fits the bill for academics. It is mainly geared around information management apps, and if you haven’t spent time on reflecting on your information workflow yet, this bundle is a good occasion to get into that.

Productive Macs has both a heavyweight version (DEVONthink) and a feel-good version (HoudahSpot) for managing files, so you can try out both system (for several months if you like) until deciding which better fits your working style. The apps for managing your emails (MailTags) and your writing projects (MacJournal) are great additions to round off your information management workflow.

These three to four apps alone make the Productive Macs bundle a great deal. Unless you have already a good info management system in place, this bundle is for you. But hurry, because the bundle expires on Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 8:00 AM (GMT/UTC time).

This bundle is not for you if you already have a good workflow in place for managing your files and writing projects (why change a winning horse?). For example, I am not buying this bundle because I already own MacJournal and I am happy with my current information management system. If you want to check out the apps I am using (sorry – I don’t have a post for that yet), these are Leap for browsing files and Tags and DefaultFolderX for tagging files on the go. Like HoudahSpot, these three apps allow me to manage information and files using the traditional file system of OS X. The biggest difference is that Leap is a replacement for the Finder, while HoudahSpot is more a replacement of Spotlight.

Do you have a colleague or friend who has just started out with the Mac? Or someone who seems to be in urgent need for an updated information management workflow? If so, please share this article.
Disclaimer: All images by respective developers / companies. The link to the bundle is an affiliate link.

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