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Category: Product Reviews

Review of Visme

whiskey-and-wordsThere are a ton of products out there for creating graphics online. Why? Because we aren’t all great at creating graphics, posters, infographics, and other marketing materials. Sometimes we just need a program with a few templates pre-loaded, some decent graphics along with the ability to load our own, and some simple tools to get the job done.

Don’t get me wrong. This program, or any other like it for that matter, does not replace a good graphic designer, or make you one. I mean, it does not work that way for me anyway. I tell stories, sometimes using graphics, but I am just not a design genius.

True, Microsoft Office 365 includes some templates for posters, presentations, and other materials. But most users will tell you they pretty quickly download third-party templates and graphics to give themselves a more robust set of choices.

create-interactive-online-presentations-free-infographic-software-html5-animations-download-publish-visme-clipular

Visme is different from the start. Different from Canva and other programs, different than Buffer’s Pablo, a great tool for making simple images to share on social media, but not an epic design tool by any means.

Full disclosure before we begin. I was given a free trial of Visme to review. I had access to all of the premium features, something I recommend if you are going to create any number of graphics. I will also tell you this: I am a skeptic, and I have been given trial memberships to several business programs and apps in the past, and I certainly have not reviewed them all. Why? Well, because my mom told me if I did not have anything nice to say, to not say anything at all.

So you won’t hear about those programs from me. Some I used for less than a day. Some I tried, waited for updates, and tried again. When they didn’t work, I hit the uninstall button and moved on with my rather busy life.

Visme is Simple to Use

Every program or graphic design app says this, but in this case, it is true. Visme has a number of simple templates, is very clear about what you are trying to create, even allowing you to select your own sizes, graphics, titles, and animations. The initial menu is pretty easy to navigate.

That being said I am a pretty advanced software user. In this case, though, the interface was intuitive and ran smoothly and quickly.

Online Tool

Visme is an online tool, so no need to install some bloatware on your computer and slow down your processor and hard drive. You can even save your projects in the cloud, or download them, or do a combination of both.

Sharing your creations and embedding them in websites is simple as well. The code can be simply copied and pasted, even if you have no knowledge of coding websites or blogs.

Need help? It is just a click away, and the advice is good and easy to follow. I had some initial issues logging in, but they were quickly resolved in a few easy emails.

However, any review that simply offers undying positive praise to without pointing out the negatives is probably fake or paid. Here is a simple list of the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Intuitive and Easy to Learn
  • Online: no bloatware or storage issues
  • Ease of Sharing
  • Ease of embedding in websites or converting to other programs.

Cons:

Simple software. This is not Photoshop, nor does it make you a graphic designer. For simple graphics you need to create quickly, this program is great. However, don’t fire anyone, at least not yet.

Completely Online. We are all pretty used to be connected wherever we go. However, if you do find yourself in a hotel with no wifi, or for some reason your network is down, you can’t use Visme. You can access projects you have downloaded, but you will have to use another program to open them.

Subscription Service. Okay, this is something I have not historically been a big fan of, but I have adapted to Microsoft Office 365 and other programs offered this way. The cost is not prohibitive, but it will be a monthly expense. If you do a lot of presentations and make a lot of graphics and infographics, this tool is a great way to do it with minimal cost. Especially if you are a small business who has to outsource design. It’s just good to keep in mind that this is not a single-time cost, but an ongoing investment.

That being said, the advantage of subscription services is that if you don’t need them anymore, you can just stop paying for them, and move on to another software.

This is not likely to be the case with Visme.co. This is a program I will keep around. I certainly won’t use it for everything, but I do see myself using it on a regular basis for simple marketing materials.

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The Write Software: What can Scrivener Do for You?

ScrivenerNow that NaNo is over and you may be planning your path for the next year, which I hope involves massive word count goals and tons of writing, its time for the first step in talking about my favorite software in this series, Scrivener. The first step is determining what Scrivener is, and what it is not.

Scrivener does not replace your word processing program. Like WriteWay and CharacterWriter discussed earlier in this series, Scrivener is not a replacement for your primary word processor, whether you have chosen Microsoft Word or the popular open source OpenOffice. (See the comparison here). Scrivener is a writing tool, but for advanced editing and document creation you will need one of these other programs. You can export great documents with Scrivener (see below), and with every update it improves, but it does not have the money backing and developers MS Office does. If you are not using advanced features in Word you will likely not even miss them, but if you use comments and track changes (see here) you will still need to hang on to Word a bit longer.

Scrivener helps organize your writing and ideas. There are at least three ways to do this, and even more variations if you use your creativity. Whether you are an outliner, a corkboard user, or a punster who just writes scenes out of order from time to time or wants to document character descriptions, scenes, and other notes, Scrivener has formats and ideas that will work for you.

The project targets and statistics help keep you on task. Learning to use these tools can help you achieve your goals, breaking them up into reasonable short-term assignments. All of these tools keep you productive. By productive I mean writing more than organizing and fiddling around with separate files.

The search and collection tools are invaluable. Metadata for each scene makes these tools easy to use. With a little effort and set up time, these tools can literally save you hours of searching and speed editing. They can also help you prevent common continuity errors. Looking back keeps you from making mistakes that can cost you time wasted in edits, and at worst can get your work rejected by agents, editors, or publishers depending on your chosen route to publication.

Importing and Exporting is easy. Importing is imperfect: not all links and other features are imported from Word and other programs. But if you are just importing text, you will be fine. Headings and divisions are preserved, making dividing your manuscript relatively simple.

Exporting is not only easy, but it is quite powerful. You can create Word documents for editing, and even create ePubs and other formats easily once your manuscript is ready. Although these are the more advanced features, they work well for formatting provided some guidelines are followed. (An entire class).

If you are in the Boise area, we will be having a Scrivener 101 class on January 4th. (See the link here) If you are not in the area, a distance course will be available sometime later in the new year. Grab the trial version today, and give it a shot. Need help? Come out in January or stay tuned for more in the new year.

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The Write Software: WriteWay

If you have followed this series at all you know that I have my software favorites, and I’m not shy about saying so. Also you know that I try to evaluate these programs fairly, based on how affordable they are, how easy they are to learn, and how well they work. In most cases, I highly recommend you download demos when possible, and try the programs for yourself.

These creative writing programs do not replace your word processor. They are merely tools to enhance your ability to create. None of them write your book for you, and editing and formatting are best done in programs set up for that purpose. There are some better suited to writers and the way their brains work than others. WriteWay is one of those, although as you will see it is more suited to outliners than those of you who are “pantsters.”

priceAffordability: WriteWay Pro runs about $35-$40 although the reason for the timing of these posts is NaNo is right around the corner, and if you follow their posts and join the event on their website, you will often get discount offers on this and other programs (although you should have already been prepping for Nano. See this post from Kristen Lamb for more on preparing). This falls right in line with other software, including the one I use the most, Scrivener. It is less expensive than Character Writer which we explored here, but does not have the same features.


WritewayRibbonLearnability: The user interface on this program is very intuitive. The ribbon includes tabs for scenes, story boarding, characters, composition, research, and more. These pop open in separate windows that you can move and resize, allowing you to still work on your manuscript while viewing them, although the split screen is not as intuitive as it should be, and the placement of the windows sometimes less than ideal. That being said, one of the greatest features of this program is a word count/goal tracker.

Wordtracker

Clicking on this pops out a separate window like the one above. It allows you to set goals, both daily and overall, and tracks progress for you. To see where you really are for NaNo? This is a fantastic tool, and will either keep you on target or drive you to drink. As an author, either way you win!

One minor issue in this category is user support. The program makers do not have the best support system, there are not many forums online, and sometimes help just isn’t—well, that helpful. If you are a nerd like me, that’s okay. Most of the time you can figure it out. If you aren’t you might want to factor the help or lack thereof into your purchase.

Compatibility. Here is the Achilles heel of this software. You can save your work in some common formats, but there is no offering of this software for Mac. No, you did not read that wrong. A creative writing software that will not work on your Mac or the popular portable platform the iPad? Yep, unless you are also running Windows on your Mac (something we discussed here) you are out of luck.

The End (so to speak). So is this software worthwhile? Well it could be, but for the money features and support are somewhat limited. However, if you like the format, and it helps you be more productive creatively, it could be a good fit for you. My official recommendation? Look around the website, and download the demo here. Try if for a bit, and see what you think.

Just do it before NaNo. I catch you wasting your writing time playing with software in November, you may be in trouble.

Until next time.

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The Write Software: Character Writer

RedshirtexpendabilityCharacter Writer is currently in its 3.1 version, and while it will also help you organize your writing, it has some other very impressive features. It was my first foray in to the Writer Organization/Character Creation software.

Affordability: This software runs $69.99 normally, but you can often find it on sale and it is often offered at a discount during NaNoWriMo, at writers’ conferences, etc. You can download a trial version here with no time limit on its use, however some portions of the program are disabled, such as saving and printing. This does give you opportunity to see if this is something you might use. Sound a bit pricey? Read on.

Learnability: The opening screen looks like this:

CWScreenshot1

The User Interface is fairly intuitive. This software is primarily designed to help you flesh out your characters. How does it do that? It uses a method called Enneagram which is used by psychiatrists and psychologists to define the details of people’s character. Enneagram divides people’s personalities into nine distinctive categories with two subcategories in each. This allows you to explore the psychology of your character by adding disorders and distinctive traits. The program then helps you by providing editable details about that person and how they would react to everyday situations.  It also assists you in predicting how they would interact with other characters in similar circumstances. Plot ideas? Subplot ideas? You get them here.

Don’t have an idea for a character? Hit the Generate Instant Character Button. Now you have a basic character sketch with a name and some randomly generated details. Fairly useful for minor characters like Star Trek Red Shirts.

The Generate Story Points will create a possible scenario for your character, thus generating plot ideas for you. Don’t like that idea? Click again and create another story idea, or customize it with your own details.

Compatibility: This is a writing tool. This is not a word processor replacement, nor is it designed to be the place where you create your story. It can be a good companion, but exports and imported text are converted to rtf format. Your italics and clever spacing from your Word doc? Gone. That isn’t always a bad thing, but something you need to be aware of.  The built in “fully featured” word processor is far from “fully functional” but that’s not your primary reason to purchase. This is a creativity platform best suited in aiding and finding inspiration.

Bottom Line: Is it worth it? I’ve tried dozens of “clever” software for various purposes. This one works as promised, I still own and use it. If you have trouble fleshing out those minor characters or if you just want an easier way to do it, this software is right for you. The time and effort it may save you will in the long run pay for itself. Watch the video below for an overview.

Now get out there and sell some books. You need to earn $70. (Watch for the NaNo special offers. It is how I got mine). Until next time.

Character Writer 3.1 Overview from Writers Store on Vimeo.

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The Write Software: Which Office is Write for You?

So you’ve taken the plunge, and decided that Office is right for you. At least for some things. We’ll get to specific writing software later. Perhaps you already have Office 2010, or even the earlier version from 2003. You unbox your new computer, or open your new laptop, and decide to visit Microsoft Office’s new website, and find this on the products page:

Officeweb

Office 365? Office 2013? What’s wrong with my old Office 2010? What do I do now? It depends on what you need and what you want.

 

Affordability:

Office 365: How many machines do you plan to use Office on? Office 365 (Microsoft page here) can be loaded on up to 5 machines. This suite of Office (what I am using right now in a trial version) is an attempt by Microsoft to push Cloud computing: the idea being that then portable devices will not require as much memory, and you can work on even smaller devices, including your mobile phone. You do not have to put documents in the Cloud (your sky drive) but you can. This enables you to access them on any device that has Skydrive installed. (This is the Microsoft cloud storage. You can use Dropbox or Google Drive also.)

The primary con of Office 365 is this: currently it is compatible only with machines running Windows or Mac O/S. You cannot download Office 365 on your Android tablet or phone. It is not a perfect mobile solution. If you have a Surface or another Windows Tablet (Acer and HP both have great offerings in this category), an iPad or iPhone, a laptop or notebook (Mac or PC), or a Windows phone, it is compatible. This is not a solution so that you can edit documents on your Droid: however, Google has an answer for that we will explore in a later post.

Office 365 is a software subscription. You have to pay monthly or yearly (cheaper in the long run), but when upgrades come along, you are not buying a whole new suite, at least in theory. Also, the Home Premium of 365 includes more applications: not just Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneNote as the typical Home and Student, but it also includes Outlook, Access, and Publisher, all powerful tools.

Office 2013: Office 2013 is Office 365 for one computer only.  You pay once for each computer. Office Home and Student will run you nearly $140 (you can see the Office 2013 options here) A Professional Suite, including everything in Home Premium of Office 365 will run you close to $400. You can clearly see that Microsoft is trying hard to push the subscription service. I can see very few arguments in favor of this approach over 365, especially in light of Microsoft’s plans to roll out new software more quicly. (more on that in a later post).

Learnability and Compatibility are non-issues. The ribbon is still where it always was, with a few new options to explore. The new software continues to support all but the most outdated Excel formats.

WordWhat is wrong with my Word 2010? Nothing. The new Office does have some great features, a smooth interface, and it can read .pdf files now. Photos can be dropped anywhere in the document, better than the old alignment styles that had to be followed, and screwed up the formatting during edits if you were not careful. Links to other Office apps are easier from the insert line, and linking to online content has been streamlined. All of these things were possible with 2010, but primarily with the use of plug ins and secondary software. Compatibility with older formats remains, and the more advanced features of Word remain intact.  Other applications have been updated as well, and if you are running Home and Student, the addition of powerful tools such as Publisher (better than ever) and Outlook (for managing e-mail and calendars) may make the step up to Office 365 worth looking at.

Small or Mid-size business? There are Office options for small and mid-size business that are powerful and compelling, but unless you own a publishing company and manage a number of employees or contractors, it’s not worth the extra cost. (I looked into it in depth. For more info, contact me directly).

For authors: the new Office offers some powerful advanced features and some great organizational tools, but you don’t necessarily need to jump on them right away. If you intend to use more than one device, you like to have the power of the full Office suite mobile, take a look.

You might just find a solution that works well for you.

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The Write Software: OpenOffice vs. Microsoft Office

office vs openofficeThis may seem an unfair comparison, with Office a well-developed Microsoft backed software, and OpenOffice an open source free download. However, because of cost many authors are tempted to take this route. It comes down to the same questions we promised to explore in Part 1, and the issues we explored in Part 2 Mac vs. PC which you can view here.

No matter what platform you chose after part 2, or that you currently use, either software is available for PC or Mac.

Affordability. This is an easy win for the open source platform. OpenOffice is free, and can be installed on as many machines as you wish. Microsoft Office on the other hand, is not. Suites range from monthly subscription fees (with the relatively new Office 365 at $9.99 per month or $99.00 a year) to 139.99 for Office Home and Student all the way up to 399.99 for Office Professional. (See the Office buy page here) We’ll tackle which office suite you actually need later on, but suffice it to say that vs. the zero cost for OpenOfffice (downloadable here) the affordability choice is clear.

The OpenOffice suite contains Writer for document creation, Calc for spreadsheets, Impress to create presentations, Draw to produce diagrams and illustrations, Base for database creation and manipulation, and Math to perform mathematical equations and advanced functions. There is no e-mail client, although there are other options to manage mail. This is the equivalent of $200 of Microsoft Office software, or the new Office 365 subscription.

This alone explains why authors everywhere have chosen to use OpenOffice for years. Millions use it worldwide, although Microsoft still dominates the business market.

Screen shot Office and OpenOfficeLearnability. Both software suites have very friendly user interface modules, and offer user guides and tutorials. Because of the corporate backing of Microsoft Office and its corporate backing, there are more tutorials and support materials available. That being said, OpenOffice works on a very simple platform, and there are many forums and manuals available on line.  The manual for the new version is available here, but is still in the draft stage. The OpenOffice User Interface is very similar to Office. If you are a longtime Office aficionado, you will be up and running in no time.

In this category, Microsoft has the edge, but not by much. The only reason it edges OpenOffice is its widespread use and readily available educational support. Office has been king for a long time, and it will take time and innovation to unset it from the throne. However, remember when Word Perfect was the standard? Many of us struggled with the adaptation of the business world to Office. It is possible that another shift could take place, but more on that next.

Compatibility. Microsoft wants you to use their products and the plug ins and accessories for them exclusively. So there are times when quite deliberately they make it difficult for other programs to be compatible. It’s not cruel, it’s just business. That being said, let’s look at the issue in detail.

OpenOffice can open Microsoft Documents, even the new .docx formats, although occasionally some formatting or coding is lost in the transfer. OpenOffice can also save documents in the various Word formats. Its other components can open Microsoft formatted documents as well, with similar caveats. Word can also open and save in OpenOffice formats. Most features are compatible, and if you are doing simple memos or completed reports back and forth, it works well. Sounds perfect right? Before you download it and delete Word from your computer read on.

One of the primary features I use in Word as an editor, and even in my work on research and technical writing is twofold: Track Changes and Comments. OpenOffice has these features, and so does Office but the two are not compatible.  This is based on actual experimentation. If you save an OpenOffice document with track changes and comments, when you open the document in Word they will be lost. It is the same vice-versa. If you have a document with Track Changes saved in Word and you open the same program in OpenOffice, those features will be lost. What does this mean to you?

Quite often in business writing and editing, track changes and comments are how the authors and others working on the project communicate. If these changes disappear, a huge communication tool is lost, and it can take precious hours to “explain” things a different way or through more personal contact.

The solution? Well, since OpenOffice is free, you could get your client or your editor to download it and run both on their computer, right? Sure, but that creates issues. The programs tend not to play well together on a single PC, requiring finesse to set up default programs and avoid odd clashes between the two. Also, the client then has to remember that when dealing with you, they open documents a certain way as opposed to everyone else. A line on the OpenOffice website says: “Compatible with other file types for those still using Microsoft Office.” That is a large group of businesses, governments, and organizations.

Conclusion: What do you need? Microsoft holds the edge here, again barely. As a beginning author you can get by with OpenOffice, but when you enter paying markets it is often desirable to upgrade to the more commonly used Office. In the long run, the headaches it saves you will belay the cost. As more businesses adapt to open formats, and using Google Docs and other open source software becomes more common, it is possible that Office may be dethroned.

Even if you do go out and buy Microsoft Office, which of those fancy suites do you really need? We’ll tackle that question in our next segment.

OpenOffice isn’t out of the fight yet. Have your own experience to share? Let me know in the comments.

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The Write Software: Mac vs. PC

pc-vs-mac_dsc_8015_mhughes_croppedThis post is not to add fuel to the big overall debate of Mac vs. PC. It’s to explore it in only one area, that of writing. Also, it will not be conclusive. Why? There’s no “write” answer. There is a right answer for you, but your choice may not be the same as someone else’s. We’re going to evaluate the first step in the process of choosing the write software by looking at the primary machine options.

Affordability: Mac’s are more expensive than PC’s when it comes to initial investment. However, as far as long term viability is concerned, Mac’s tend to last longer. They are upgradeable, but so are PC’s. Another debate for another post: Mobile vs. Desktop determines which machine will work best for you. What else you want to do with your machine, and what kind of writing do you do? Do you need video capability? Graphics? Programming? What markets do you write for? Also which platform is best depends on what kind of software you want to run: Pages or Microsoft Word, Scrivener or other “writer specific” software, all of which we will look at over time.

The bottom line on affordability is this: if you already own a PC, switching to Mac will be costly. Die hard Mac fans will tell you that once you make the switch, you won’t go back to PC ever. So conversely, if you already own a Mac, including an iPhone, iPad, or other iDevices, switching to PC can be costly, and you can experience compatibility issues, but more on that in a moment. If however you are relatively new to the computer world, and you don’t already own software licenses and exclusive hardware, you have to look at your short term budget, long term budget, and what you think your future needs might be.

One final note that may sway you the Mac direction: Mac can run Windows in a couple of different ways. I won’t get into the tech details here, other than to say it can be done, so all of your programs could transfer. If you are determined to make the switch, this can be a way to solve some issues.

Another note is that you may not need anti-virus programs with Mac, although they are still a good idea, especially if you run Windows in some form on your machine. There just aren’t as many viruses written for Mac, primarily because government agencies and companies tend to run PC, and those people are better targets for hackers.

MacPCLearnability: How easy is each system to learn? I recently when through this debate, and here is the bottom line. The new Mac Operating System (currently Maverick 10.9 released this month) is very similar to the previous OS. It is fairly easy to adapt. The converse? Every time Microsoft updates an OS there comes with a learning curve and countless updates as they fix things they did not fix before the initial release. Apple tends to sort those things out ahead of time.

Other than that, most programs are written to be fairly intuitive. My word of caution: there are some programs that you need to spend time with before you truly become familiar with them. Spend an afternoon or morning on tutorials. If nothing else, they will teach you shortcuts and tricks you would not otherwise learn.

Either machine can be learned, and the more tech-savvy you are, the easier adapting will be. Mac is much more consistent than PC, and its operating systems are fairly intuitive.

Compatibility: This was the number one decision point for me, because of the other things I do, and who my clients are for certain products. Yes, you can run Windows and most Microsoft programs on Mac, but if you work in a dedicated PC environment, there are some file types that do not translate. You need to use different formatting for portable hard drives and thumb drives to be compatible. If it is just you, and you run all Mac products, you will fare well.

If you work with publishers and editors on a regular basis, you will still need Microsoft Office, at least Word. There are solutions for this dilemma, but remember, only 19% of people run Apple, and most businesses run PC. This means some of the features in Pages may not be compatible with Word, and advanced features commonly used like Comments and Track Changes may not translate. This simply means you must either by the Mac version of Office, or run Windows on your Mac. There are other program compatibility issues as well, and we will tackle those in later software posts.

This is one of the longer posts in the series. So what’s the bottom line? Depending on what else you do with your machine, and what others in your household run, you may want to stick with either Mac or PC. Also if you already own software and other compatible devices, you may want to also consider that.

Your short term budget may determine what you buy. Shop around, make hands on comparisons, and if you have questions feel free to leave them in the comments, or contact me here.

Until next time.

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