An Independent Review of 6 Essential, and Essentially Free, Apps for Writers

Oftentimes a free application can do 90%-100% of what you need to do for business. And many of these programs are simpler to use than AdobeⓇ or MicrosoftⓇ Office programs. Thanks to entrepreneurial software developers, we now have a host of cheap or free software alternatives to the leading graphics and content development applications. As a copywriter, graphic designer, and painter,  I really appreciate these cost-effective tools – most of them browser-accessible as Chrome extensions.  All of these programs are cross-platform and many don’t require you to sign up on their platform to access them. So support independence and take a free preview. (PS: this is an independent review…no kickbacks!)
A rough concept for Big Data Analytics captured from Conceptboard.
Illustration: Vectr does a lot of what Adobe Illustrator does with vector illustration capabilities. You can upload jpegs into the design. It lets you measure as px, pt,decimals, inches, etcetera. Better yet, it only took me about 10 minutes to figure out how to use Vectr, but the menus are a bit confusing and I couldn’t find my files until I back-arrowed to the beginning.
Image Editing:, despite the primitive look of its website, Paintnet makes photo editing super easy. It is professional grade, but lacks the heavy-weight abilities of Adobe Photoshop or Gimp. Gimp is also free but I wouldn’t recommend it to the casual photo retoucher who doesn’t want to lose their hair.
Sweet Office Suites:  When my Microsoft Office Suite programs wouldn’t recognize my printer, I simply switched to LibreOffice or OpenOffice, both totally FREE open source software. The word processing functionality and GUI are very similar to Microsoft Word. You can save files back and forth with the .docx extension, and differences in format translations are minor. LibreOffice embeds fonts, too. These sweet suites all provide presentation, drawing, calculation, database and spread sheet programs, too. I’ve been happy with the seamlessness of the spreadsheet and drawing program formats, but less so with the presentation software. Here’s a 5-point comparison between LibreOffice and OpenOffice from Cindy Grigg, who writes about productivity software.
Take note of note-taking apps:  I use both the Evernote chrome extension and Microsoft’s OneNote for gathering references, clips,  and making notes. I like Evernote’s upfront choices of what format you want to clip; a bookmark, a URL or summary or complete article. However, I have used OneNote on my desktop for several years, and have about 6 “notebooks”. PC Mag gives a good overview of Evernote and similar note-taking apps.
UX/UI design: Traditionally (if such a thing exists in web design), the creative part of the process includes a wireframe (e.g., an image or set of images which displays the functional elements of a website or page, typically used for planning a site’s structure and functionaliy)  then a separate visual mockup with copy greeked in. However, clients inevitably want to see copy in the layout, and many don’t even read the manuscript. JustinMind, MockPlus, the recent addition of Adobe XD , and several others reviewed recently at the Prototypr blog offer free trial subscriptions. JustinMind (free trial, $29 a month subscription) is the only one I’ve tried. It was easy to share with the other stakeholders, who were able to insert comments. Yet it was a bit buggy and difficult to fix for someone who doesn’t understand math functions or slept through Algebra. However, my client could now see the page and linking dynamics–and provide more meaningful feedback–before it went to programming for their AEM content management system.
Organized Brainstorming: Conceptboard is an online collaboration tool I’ve used for sharing concepts and collaborating with clients. The idea is similar to a whiteboard, and who doesn’t love a whiteboard for team concepting! Everyone’s comments are available for viewing and sharing through a handy comment tool that resembles stickies. It’s easy to memorialize changes and look back and scroll through comments for earlier iterations in the development of the project. You get a generous 50 Mbs per upload for free (forever, they say). Anyone you collaborate with has to accept your invitation and create their own account, or you can purchase a team account which includes bigger file uploads, video conferencing, and project management features.
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