Stone Studio 2006
Stone Works is a bundle of consumer applications that makes it a one-stop shop for the digital age. Its engine room is Create, a web and DTP tool offering effects and illustration tools. Create feeds into six other applications, the goal being that consumers needn’t fork out for pricey standalone web-authoring, graphics and publishing packages. Let’s take a look at its component parts.
Create is a vector-based drawing program. It’s useful for beginners and home users – lacking the muscle of Illustrator and FreeHand, it’s really not pitched at high-end users. This multi-faceted application has shades of Illustator, PageMaker and Softpress’s Freeway, allowing publishing to the web, print and PDF.
Its tools allow for the drawing of shapes, and its text-formatting features stretch as far as ligatures and kerning, meaning there’s enough fine control to produced polished-looking text documents. DTP offerings include master pages, for locking down page furniture, and text can be linked from box to box.
Create’s handling of graphics is also fully rounded, offering all the tools (Bézier, Freehand, Line) and effects (Outline, and Blended and Pattern fills) that are likely to be required. Probably its single best feature is the drag-&-drop-driven Image Well, which allows for instant file-type conversions, and the easy creation of custom styles and effects. It’s a real productivity boon.
Create’s approach to web publishing is similar to that of Freeway, in that there’s no need to know HTML; multi-page websites are generated in a single click, including the table of contents and navigation bars. It offers WYSIWYG precision with nested, editable tables, but for those who wish to dabble in code, it has an Expert mode for adding custom HTML.
This provides a quick way to create web animations. Saving as an animation in Create launches GIFfun, which converts files as an animated GIF.
This is Stone Studio’s nod to the digital hub, tying in digital photography with our desire to publish online image galleries. It offers iPhoto-like features for organising images into slideshows – complete with transitions – and it, too, can publish galleries in a single click. In some ways it offers more flexibility than .Mac galleries with their miserly caption spaces, because captions can run to story length and be in Rich Text Format. A feature called Library Trees means you can automatically create linked, hierarchical websites from nested folders and subfolders of photos.
A user-friendly but powerful PostScript-to-PDF converter, this is in many ways the highest-end tool in the bundle. You can convert any image format to PDF via drag-&-drop. Its features run from the basic (combining multiple files to create a single PDF and adding security settings) to the advanced (combining colour separations into a composite). PStill’s automated PDF Workflow features give it real worth as a workplace tool. This is based on watched folders, that can have custom preference sets to repurpose the PDF for specific purposes. PStill’s default preferences include Factory Standard, Publish to Web, Text as Outlines and Prepress. PStill is server-based, so you can make the watched folders available on the network.
TimeEqualsMoney is a time-tracking and billing application that can track and bill for expenses, pause time entries, and summarise information for multiple clients and projects. You keep track of time and expenses on time cards, using a new time card for each client. If working on multiple projects for a client, you can choose to use a time card for each project. A Reports feature summarises hours worked, expenses, earnings, and other salient information, such as shares, tax, and unpaid items.
This wraps a drag-&-drop interface around standard Unix archiving and compression utilities. PackUpAndGo creates archives in a standard format that can be opened on any platform. There’s also an ASCII encoding option for files destined for email transmission.
Most documents created in Mac OS X – particularly those created by Cocoa-based applications – can be safely archived. The advantage of using PackUpAndGo is its use of non-proprietary standard formats. It can be accessed through OS X’s Services menu as well as through the application itself.
The programs that comprise the $299 Stone Studio are available as standalone software for a combined price of $1,265, which suggests we’re not really meant to be buying these applications separately. But who cares about the sales strategy when what you’re getting for your money offers so much for so little. Create alone can be used for page layout, web- page creation, and illustration. It’s perfect for low-end users keen to gain creative know-how without the hefty price tags and precipitous learning curves of pro packages such as InDesign, GoLive and Illustrator. Create’s interface may have a childlike air about it but this doesn’t detract from the rich, user-friendly feature-set. When the other components are factored in, Stone Studio becomes even more compelling – particularly PStill, which is a viable workplace PDF solution, and TimeEqualsMoney, whose money-management muscle significantly broadens the bundle’s appeal.