I'll be noting OS's (Operating Systems) with each of the applications I mention. No games, and no native Mac applications listed here (I'm sure there are tons of lists online for those).
I'll only briefly discuss Adobe software in this post. I can discuss my experience more in-depth at another time, but there's plenty of extended information on their website about the capabilities of their software.
Adobe Creative Suite (OS X, XP, Vista)
I use CS3 Design Premium which contains:
- InDesign CS3 (for page layout)
- Photoshop CS3 Extended (bitmap/ raster graphics editor)
- Illustrator CS3 (vector graphics editor)
- Flash CS3 (for interactive content, some animation)
- Dreamweaver CS3 (for website coding)
- Acrobat 8 Professional (for PDFs, including forms and enabling rights for Reader)
- Bridge CS3 (for previewing files)
I've used Quark Xpress before for page layout, and that's what I was taught to use in college. InDesign was launched after I completed most of my core courses, so I taught myself to use it. I found it easy to switch, and prefer the integration possible with InDesign. You can link ai and psd files in InDesign, but you need to be careful about this, as you're generally expected to only send eps and tiff images to press. If using unusal image formats, it's better to export to PDF for press.
Dreamweaver is primarily a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor. There's a text editor option that I use frequently (I almost exclusively use split view), but sometimes I switch to an external text editor (see below). The auto-complete feature for hand-coding is very useful, as are the validator and browser compatibility checker (I use the W3C validators afterward). I also love being able to change links site-wide. It really simplifies things.
I use Illustrator a lot for website mockups, and tend to make website graphics in Illustrator rather than Photoshop. For simple graphics, it keeps file sizes down while giving me the flexibility to make changes easily. I also use it regularly to illustrate my sequential art series, Green Corner. For corporate design, I use Illustrator when I can. I always use it for logos and branding elements like icons. Photoshop is not meant for that type of work.
I used to use older versions of Illustrator and Photoshop on Windows 98 (which prompted the computer to spontaneously die – really, one day it just gave up) and Windows XP (which enjoys crashing Photoshop). I found that, especially for Photoshop, you need extra RAM.
Crashes happened more frequently with XP for me, so I became a compulsive saver. It's also a good idea to delete your preferences (they get corrupted easily) for Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign at the first sign of tools acting strangely. You can find instructions by searching online for "delete preferences" followed by the program name and version. Add your OS if necessary to your search terms. After deleting them, default preferences will be re-created on re-start of the program.
Freeware. A text editor that I mostly use for HTML and CSS coding. It can be used for some programming as well. The "beautify" feature is useful for HTML coding, and lets you know if you need to fix anything. You still need to find the errors, but the indentation and number of errors to look for helps. Colour-coded tags make viewing the code easier on the eyes.
Works with Java, so it's completely cross-platform. Expects PC style shortcut keys to be used (Control instead of Command, for Mac users). I didn't have much luck changing them, so I reverted to the defaults. It's a minor thing, but you do need to be conscious of the keyboard shortcuts you use.
This should really be installed natively for Windows, but it isn't. It allows you to control which programs are allowed to automatically run. Those little utilities that launch on startup that you don't need to be on all the time? You can stop them. It can look a little intimidating, but take a look at the description and program name. If you're unsure, leave the settings alone. I usually used this to stop software associated with printers from running on startup (they're initiated when you use the printer anyway).
Character Pal (OS X widget)
Free. Reminds you of key combinations for special characters (keyboard and HTML). Quicker than using a reference PDF or printout.
Firefox (Windows, OS X, Linux)
Free, open source. I switched years ago from Netscape (another Mozilla browser). I like Apple's Safari as well, but the customizability of Firefox is very impressive.
Fugu (OS X)
Free, open source. Easy to use, secure FTP client.
Free. Converts bmp to gif and vice versa. Can also make gifs transparent (without needing a matte border for smooth transitions!). I'd like a Mac equivalent for this. I still need to define a colour for a matte border when saving transparent images for the web, and it just feels wrong.
Gimp (Windows, Unix, OS X with X11)
Free, open source image manipulation program. Similar to Photoshop.
Inkscape (OS X with X11, Windows, Linux)
Free, open source vector graphics editor. Similar to Illustrator.
InstantShot! (OS X)
Free. Screen grab utility. Similar to Apple's Grab and Microsoft's Snipping Tool for Vista.
Open Office (Windows, Linux, Solaris, OS X) and Neo Office (OS X)
Free, open source. An office suite that includes programs for word processing (Writer), spreadsheets (Calc), Presentations (Impress), drawing (Draw), database management (Base). Neo Office integrates native mac features (including regular keyboard shortcuts) so it's a better choice for Mac, but they're otherwise identical.
You can export nice PDFs directly from Writer, without having to own Acrobat Standard or Professional.
Pidgin (Windows, Unix) and Adium (OS X)
Free, open source. Instant messaging applications for running multiple chat services simultaneously. No voice or video support (they're working on it), so you need a separate application for those.
The Daily Grind (OS X widget)
Free. Simple to use timer. Press play to time, pause to stop. You can name and colour your timers as well.
Word Counter (OS X)
Free. Counts words. Application and widget versions available. Can work independently or in conjunction with other applications.
X11 (OS X)
Free. An Apple application, but not natively installed. It gives more options for software you can use and will be updated with Software Update like other Apple software. May also be on your OS X installer disc. Launches automatically when needed. Note that applications running with X11 will require more RAM and may run a little slower.
Zipeg (XP, Vista, OS X)
Free. Similar to Winzip and StuffIt. Allows you to preview the contents of certain archive files. You'll still need the free StuffIt Expander to open sit documents though.
Any more programs you'd add to the list? Please leave a comment.