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Why Is There No iLife-Equivalent for Windows?

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Seriously, it’s kind of a “d`uh” question. Apple released iLife for Macintosh in January 2003. Every year or so, the suite gets better, with no Windows developer offering anything comparable. Isn’t it about time?

I fault Microsoft for not developing something equivalent, although,  I concede, the company has the makings of a placeholder offering while working on something better (more on that in a few paragraphs). Microsoft should have stepped in when its partners didn’t.

Microsoft’s problem is simple: The company has fundamentally misunderstood business and consumer content creation needs for the new century. As such, Microsoft has set out on a trajectory that scarily reminds of IBM 20 years ago. Sure, there are individuals at Microsoft who understand what’s going on. But companies have personality—character formed by management, business policy, existing products and the situation of customers, among other factors. The Microsoft Hive Mind just doesn’t get it.

Perhaps Microsoft can be forgiven for its corporate shortsightedness. One of the company’s two most profitable products, Office, is widely used by businesses and, to a less degree, consumers. But who really creates documents anymore? Be honest, how many wordprocessing documents have you produced in the last week? Month? Year? Now compare that to the number of photos you shoot in any day, week or month.

Crumbling Stacks
Microsoft controls the last-generation application stack: Office-Windows-Windows Server. Office productivity suites defined PC computing during the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. There is enormous infrastructure and huge revenues tied up with this aging, and quickly becoming ancient, application stack.

The application stack of the present and future is in the cloud. Most people generate content on a non-PC device, manipulate or edit on a PC and share via the Internet—perhaps by email or more likely FaceBook or other online community or repository. Granted, text is often created on a PC, but who really uses Word, other than a few stuck-in-the-past businesses—and, of course, Microsoft?

The University School of Journalism requires Macs

The University of Missouri School of Journalism prefers students to use Macs

Wordprocessing is a commodity. The basic formatting features most people need are available in most any product using text—blogging platform, email client, instant messenger and online community, among many others. None of these products require a separate, dedicated wordprocessor, with Microsoft’s Outlook being one of very few exceptions.

The majority of content produced today is either textual, using features already part of the aforementioned products, or audiovisual. For example, the PowerPoint of the 2000s is the Web-hosted photo slideshow. Photos and videos easily top the list of content that most people regularly produce and want to share with others. Music is another, although for most of it there are sticky copyright considerations.

The New Stack’s Heights
Apple understands and has taken a commanding lead in both consumer and professional markets for digital audio, photo and video content creation. Apple controls an applications stack, too: Final Cut Studio-Mac OS X-Mac OS X Server, and it’s hugely popular among people that professionally produce content. There’s a smaller application stack, with iLife at the front end.

Microsoft needs to understand how important iLife is to the Mac, and how much more important an iLife-equivalent would be to Windows. Microsoft is a company of beancounters, of persistent analysis to justify this or that. By the numbers, Office and Windows are hugely successful products. But marketshare is shortsighted. In product branding and marketing, it’s not how many but whom that matters. Who is using your product. The whom is where iLife gives Apple huge pull against the Microsoft juggernaut. By controlling the dominant digital media content creation stack, Macs are hugely popular among important influencers.

"Cartoon" effect applied to video using iMovie `09

"Cartoon" effect applied to video using iMovie `09

Journalists are a great example. So are bloggers—and just about any Millennial vlogger on YouTube or video competitors like Vimeo or Viddler. Bloggers and today’s journalists often must product audio, photo, video and written content for the same stories. Real-time production demands tools that produce good content quickly, and many journalism schools have decided iLife is right choice.

University of Missouri School of Journalism requires students to have wireless-capable laptops and strongly recommends they use Macs rather than Windows PCs, because of iLife:

The faculty has designated Apple Computer as its preferred provider for two primary reasons: (1) Apple’s OS X operating system is based on Unix, which makes these computers far less susceptible to viruses than other computers. Viruses are a serious problem on university campuses. (2) Apple MacBook and MacBook Pro computers come bundled with iLife, a suite of applications ideal for learning the basics of photo editing, and audio and video editing. We’ll use those programs in several classes. Incoming students will receive information on recommended models and pricing in February of each year.

In May, the school added a new requirement: All incoming freshman must have either an iPhone or iPod. Supposedly, the requirement won’t be enforced. Oh? Then why have it at all? The point: Apple now has a virtual technology lock on journalists coming out of the University Missouri.

The school isn’t isolated in its Mac recommendations. For example, The Journalism School at Columbia University equally recommends Macs or Windows PCs, except: “For students involved in multimedia applications, we recommend using a Mac. Macs come with a variety of basic video, audio and photo editing tools.”

Windows Live Photo Gallery stiches a panorama

Windows Live Photo Gallery stitches a panorama

Bloggers and journalists are important influencers, who write about Apple and Microsoft products. There is inherent bias for the products they use. At one time the favoritism worked for Microsoft, but now for Apple.

I call out journalists, but pretty much anyone producing mixed media content will find a friend in iLife and not even a friendly acquaintance on Windows PCs. If there is a comparable Windows product to iLfe, someone show me. I haven’t seen it.

Tool Up or Perish
The question: Could Microsoft put together a digital media suite? Absolutely, Microsoft should do so, seeing as how none of its developer partners has. Microsoft executives must remember the fundamentals as they prepare to release Windows 7: Businesses and consumers don’t buy operating systems. They buy applications. Where’s the killer application for Windows 7? I don’t see one.

Perhaps, Microsoft considers Windows Live Essentials to be an iLife-equivalent. That’s a joke, right? Essentials isn’t nearly essential enough as put together now. Here’s the bare minimum Microsoft needs to match Apple’s digital media content products (not all from iLife):

  • Windows Live Photo Gallery (iPhoto)
  • Windows Live Movie Maker (iMovie)
  • Songsmith (GarageBand)
  • Windows Live Writer/Spaces (iWeb)
  • Windows DVD Maker (iDVD)
  • LifeCam Show Visual Effects (Photo Booth)
  • Zune Software (iTunes)

I’ll rate each Microsoft products against its Macintosh equivalent:

Windows Live Photo Gallery is a remarkably robust and flexible basic photo-editing product. The software isn’t as visually appealing as iPhoto `09, nor is all its power obvious. But it’s an excellent product for editing, managing, organizing and sharing photos. Joe’s Grade: Good Enough.

Windows Live Movie Maker (Beta) is a bland and disappointing video-editing application. There is absolutely nothing fun about Movie Maker. Its features raise the question: “What features?” Joe’s Grade: Fail, with impunity.

Microsoft Songsmith writes to music to your singing

Microsoft Songsmith makes melodies to accompany your singing

Songsmith isn’t a GarageBand-equivalent, but it doesn’t need to be. Songsmith does something different: Create musical accompaniments based on the singer’s singing. For now, Songsmith is good enough as an alternative. But Microsoft needs to provide tools for editing and producing audio podcasts, which GarageBand does well. Joe’s Grade: Good enough, for now.

Windows Live Writer isn’t an iWeb-equivalent. Microsoft’s software is much better. Apple provides tools for easily producing and publishing a Website. But there are limited designs and no real options for blogging. Live Writer lacks the flash, but is far more flexible and can produce correctly formatted posts for many, many blogging systems. Microsoft should add more whizzbang and better integration with Live Movie and Photo products. Joe’s Grade: The Better Choice.

Windows DVD Maker, which is included in “premium” Vista and Seven editions, isn’t even close to the same league as iDVD. Apple offers better templates, better graphics, better transitions, etc., etc. I don’t consider DVD authoring as a high-priority consumer product. That said, Microsoft has got to do better. Joe’s Grade: Fail.

LifeCam Show Visual Effects. Photo Booth is a fun, Mac OS X feature that spices up video conferencing and shooting home movies with the WebCam. Microsoft’s Visual Effects are a pretty good alternative, but people must buy a Microsoft WebCam to get them. Now how dumb is that when most laptops now ship with WebCams. Microsoft should plug the visual effects into Windows and make them available for use with any OEM-shipped WebCam. Joe’s Grade: Good Enough, if available.

Zune Software is no iTunes—and thank Microsoft for that! The once exciting iTunes is now confusing bloatware. By comparison, Zune 3.0 Software is remarkably streamlined and much easier to use; the three-column view works. Sure, there are missing features, like the graphic equalizer and cross-fading. The missing EQ is OK, because Zune offers a purer sound than does iTunes, which pumps up the bass. Joe’s Grade: Good Enough, for now.

But good enough isn’t good enough. Microsoft needs to package its digital media creation applications together as a single suite, offer tighter integration among applications and put in features that produce fun, exciting and sharable content. For example, iMovie offers an amazing array of enticing and easily applied video effects. Windows Live Movie Maker Beta has what?

Microsoft should ship its iLife-equivalent on a separate disc with Windows 7. Bundling will only cause the ire of trustbusters. Apple is reaching key influencers, who also happen to be the people producing this generation’s most important content. Desktop office productivity suites are the past. Digital media content suites are the future. It’s time Microsoft stopped living in the past, regaling in its Office legacy. Embrace the future, or become a footnote in history.

Photo Credit: MG Siegler


  1. Terry says on June 18, 2009

    One problem may be that, within Microsoft, if you can’t get people dogfooding your app, it may not get the visibility required to gain mindshare, resources, and future development. (Let’s not even get into marketing/evangelizing.) Every Microsoft employee has Office and uses it extensively. Gaining internal attention for a lightweight alternative that doesn’t serve daily business needs could be next to impossible.

    Even if these apps could get internal mindshare, sustaining development flies in the face of internal review and reward practices.

    That said, I think you left out some really useful Microsoft services that don’t (as far as I know) have equivalents from Apple: Live Sync (formerly FolderShare), Mesh, and Zune Social. The first two actually work really well.

    I’ve used Sync extensively for syncing oft-used files on multiple computers, making work files available for telecommuting without RAS/VPN access, and even for creating real-time off-site backups of personal files. Mac client, too, BTW.

    Mesh is similar, and the poor differentiation between Mesh and Sync confuses a lot of people. But it works well as an ad-hoc file sharing system. My work group used it to share production files between vendors in NY, OR, and India. Not perfect, but quick and easy when we needed it.

    Zune Social, in conjunction with Zune Pass, has a lot of potential that E&D really failed to deliver on. I should be able to suggest songs and share playlists more easily (which would instigate more people to get the pass for access to all those songs). There should be easier discoverability for friends. There should be better integration with social networks. All of these have the potential for building up a Zune network effect and self-priming marketing.

    But really, what’s needed is a Live Writer equivalent for Mac OS and iPhone. How powerful of a blow would that be against Windows?

  2. whatever says on June 18, 2009

    In other words – a Windows laptop isn’t a bargain at any price if it doesn’t do what you want. cheap shot – i know…

    What you’re proposing by saying a 3rd party developer should clone iLife is a gargantuan task – you would need a software house with extensive experience in audio, video, image and web content processing and creation. The closest fit i can think of is Adobe and even they would need to catch up or acquire audio technology. Who else is there that i’m missing, other than Apple obviously…?

    Unrealistic technical expectations aside, a smaller software developer would probably also be loathed to sink millions of RnD/acquisition dollars into an area that’s such an obvious candidate for a Microsoft software suite to appear and promptly send you bankrupt.

  3. I think the issue stems from the DNA. iLife is simple and elegant. It is nowhere near as powerful as the “Elements” products from Adobe, let alone full Photoshop or Premiere. Rather, iPhoto, iMovie and iDVD are simple yet elegant tools. Yet they aren’t overly simple – you can still get great beautiful results with iPhoto and iMovie.

    On the Windows side, most programs are measured in terms of the number of features. These look good on paper but don’t have the ease and elegance of the iLife applications.

  4. I had this thoughts similar to Joe years ago and was wondering why there is no such equivalent to iLife on the Mac. What I see is a probable solutions is actual to provide a workflow enviroment or application (let’s call it dashboard) that allows 3rd party to create hooks to the enviroment to provide a better seamless workflow similar to iLife.

    The benefit to iLife in my opinion are the ability to do something in one app and they easily export or import by another app to do other editing or stuff…

    How about this scenario on the Windows. Microsoft create the dashboard with workflow hook enviroment, standardize it and allows Pinnacle Home Studio (movie), Adobe Photoshop Element (picture) and other media related tools from 3rd party to hook up to this suite which can be sold for X amount of dollars. Within that bundled, it will allow work ‘seamlessly’ through some kind of export or import mechanism through the dashboard enviroment, sort of like a bridge.

    3rd party suite just need to hook it up to the standard and Microsoft can simple work that out and decide on the variation of the suite. Get OEM manufacturer to bundle that with every Windows 7 or later machine… It’s tested, it’s integrated and it’s working right out of the box for customer. Everyone company in those bundled suite benefits by the volume of sales.

    Updates to the application should be through that dashboard. I don’t know how feasible is that or how complicated it would be… but that certainly leave the experts like Adobe and Pinnacle to get their entry level suite out to as many home user as possible. Advance tools should be not hurt by this as the features are obviously lacking on those entry level tools, which are by the way very polish.

    Will it work?

  5. You describe a disturbing development environment, Terry. And you’re right to point out those other three services. But I see them as representing the new vanguard, products coming from guerrilla groups outside the Office and Windows mainstream.

    Microsoft needs to dedicate more people to incubation projects. Songsmith may not get much respect, but it’s a marvelously fun product and example of what more should come.

  6. You think so, Greg? I would chose iLife over Elements any day. iLife has evolved over six years of development. iMovie is simply outstanding for providing a good balance of fun features elegantly delivered.

  7. Microsoft is now getting very dedicated to Photo Tech again. before they had things like Photo Story and Digital Photo Suite. parts of both were pretty much used to create Photo Gallery. but photo gallery allows plugins and that makes it better than Google solutions as it was designed to be in the first place. i would have liked if they had continued with DPS

    New stuff from that are is Photo Pro Tools. from MS Research there is also Photo Collage

    Live Writer is indeed a GEM that also accept Plugins. i use 10 of them in WLW and its just marvelous. Blogo for the mac or Zoundry Raven are a very distant second place compared to WLW.

    Windows Live Movie Maker final will be launched with Windows Live Wave 4 as i was supposed to be Project Monaco (garage band equivalent) but it think the later may not arrive until wave 5. i have no clue what other thing they will include with WLS wave 4.

    Windows DVD Maker is the way it is because of two things that Microsoft will not risk on:

    2.-Anti Competitive Behavior with competing Products and with Partners..

    DVD Maker existence alone was damn struggle as i understand, it was meant to be more powerful actually but Microsoft backtracked because of the reasons above.

    The very same happened with OneCare and even if it was a EXCELLENT product that had a low cost of 1 to 1.5 dollars per computer a month for a suite that did everything and that once set the user had to do nothing for a entire year. they were forced to back out of the market by force via its antitrust overseeing, OEMS and Security companies

    there is Lifecam Show but you forgot that there is a complementing service called Live Video Messages.that is meant as complement of lifecam show

    There is also the omission of DeepZoom Composser from Expression.

    Live Mesh and Live Sync as already stated by other commenter.

    And yes WLS IS MEANT to be the iLife and Google Desktop Services from Microsoft. but it has a project road path of 5 Waves in order to get to what it is supposed to be the finished Rooster of software offerings.

  8. Perhaps Joe the penny may be dropping with you that Windows is for Enterprise while Mac OS X is for Home Users, Students and Creative Professionals. I fall into all 3 of those categories and it is one of the reasons that Windows 7 is no temptation for me. The Applications just are not there or 2nd Class for what I do.

  9. billybob says on June 19, 2009

    If “Businesses and consumers don’t buy operating systems. They buy applications.” then why did you choose price over applications at least 3 times?

    Does this post indicate that you might regret dumping the Macs?

    P.S. Did you try Dell Mega Picture Video Storage Library? I don’t hear great reviews but it might be worth a shot if you are stuck.

  10. The thing is that iLife now isn’t as good as it was. iLife 06 was really good. Since then, they’ve added so many features to the applications since then, that they’ve become complicated and bloated. Remember when iTunes was great at organizing your music? Now it’s a phone-syncing, movie buying/renting/playing, music store that can also play music. iPhoto has added so many features that I long for the simplicity of what it once was. Garageband is cool for the first few days, but then for most users never gets used again. iWeb is neat if you have MobileMe, though for most people, Facebook and free blogging sites make it pointless. iDVD is a very robust authoring app, but Windows DVD Maker is actually really useful for creating simple DVD’s, which is what I find I do most often. And iMovie was great in it’s previous incarnation, but I just can’t stand the new one. What should be simple isn’t, and every time I start it up, it takes five minutes to create thumbnails of my videos.
    I don’t think Microsoft needs iLife for Windows anymore than Apple needs Live Essentials for Mac. What I think the real question should be, is why doesn’t Apple include a series of short and simple games for the Mac? Do they not realize how important Solitaire and Mine Sweeper are to Windows users? But no. All Apple offers is Chess. So if I have an hour or two to spare, I can pull that up. Nothing beats a good, quick game of FreeCell, and that’s why Windows has 95% market share.

  11. Actually Windows has about 88% of market share, but 70% of that 88% is Enterprise so when we get down to people with a choice it’s 18% vs 12% and most of the 18% have never looked at an alternative (many of them don’t even know there are alternatives!)

    I enjoy playing Bejeweled 2 Deluxe on my Macs, very nice indeed.

  12. I don’t regret dumping the Macs, billybob.

    I made a choice of hardware applications, where Windows PC features met needs Macs don’t. My Sony VAIO wasn’t a cheap purchase, costing around $1,900 as a discounted outgoing model. It wasn’t a price choice. The Z590 offers much better screen resolution, integrated Sprint modem and other features I couldn’t get from Apple in a notebook of this size and weight.

    For my daughter, she had used a loaner MacBook that I planned to send back, and Apple asked returned after I was laid off from eWEEK seven weeks ago. I found her a comparable Sony laptop, and pink, for about $500 less than the MacBook she used. However, if the $1,199 MacBook Pro had been available then, I would have paid the extra hundred bucks for it. She was accustomed to the Mac and using iLife. But I didn’t have that option two months ago.

    For me, Windows 7 precipitated the switch. Windows 7 achieves an acceptable level of performance and stability so that I can just work, rather than waste time troubleshooting glitches. Most of the applications I use either run fine on Windows, or there are Windows equivalents close to Mac applications (like Adobe Lightroom swapped for Apple Aperture) or I use a Web-based app or service.

    There are many things I miss about the Mac. Do I have major regrets? No. Will I when Snow Leopard ships? We’ll see.

    I will say this about Windows applications: Email client selection sucks, and Microsoft deserves blame for that. I’ve used many, many email clients over the years, and Outlook is at the bottom of the pile. Unfortunately, Outlook’s market success–pushed on by businesses running Exchange–made the pile smaller. There are few good choices left. I’ll soon be taking all my email, and much of everything else I do, to the cloud. But that’s topic for a future blog post.

  13. you think OutLook 2007 is bad?. umm..ok. have you tried out Office 2010?.

    you also have the choice to use Windows Live Mail or outlook alternatives like Evolution or even Thunderbird or Zimbra Desktop.

  14. I agree with Avatar X. M$ simply can’t get away with the sort of bundling that Apple can. Even if M$ charged $79 for a comparable product that did all the stuff iLife does, 3rd party vendors would yell anti-trust quite loud. As such, the whole Morro play will be interesting to see develop. Symmantec and McAfee have made noise, but they may start yelling once Morro goes into public beta next week. From what I’ve read, it should be a very compelling free product. Ultimately, M$ has to cripple anything consumer centric. It won’t be until Apple, Linux, and Andriod grab about 20% market share before M$ won’t have to cripple these bundled apps. Bethatasitmay, it still doesn’t excuse M$ from not offering an integrated, well defined, and somewhat more useful and elegant solution for all Windows Home and higher versions.

  15. Nothing will change on the bundling issue until Windows marketshare drops below 50% which is highly unlikely due to the inertia in Enterprise computing. Linux or OS X would have to be 100 times better than Windows for a change to occur. Mind you, on price, Linux is starting to look very attractive for Enterprise.

  16. That’s not correct. 70% of 88% is actually only 61.6% (0.7*0.88 = 0.616). So when we get down to people with a choice it’s 26.4% vs 12%.

    Your point remains though (if the initial assumptions were right).

  17. Sorry I worded that badly. My fault.

    Microsoft has 88% of the market.

    70% of the market is Enterprise computing.

    OS X and Linux have 12% of the market

    So my figures of 18% vs 12% remain.

  18. @Avro

    I still find 18% vs 12% in home computing is unrealistic. You assume that 100% of enterprise computing is on Windows (the 70% is a subset of the 88%), but I don’t think that’s true. And if that’s the case, then the 18% becomes larger and the 12% becomes smaller.

  19. No it doesn’t. You are looking at 30% and that is how it breaks down.

    And all Enterprise computing is not entirely Windows, but I would imagine that both Linux and OS X would find it hard to stretch to 1% worldwide given the numbers involved.

  20. it is very compelling. i have had it for the last 3 days and it is a mix of OneCare engine with Forefront. they are related anyway but not it is a actual mix that even is already stated that it got 3 new things that are going to be added to forefront.

    the funny thing is the whole story of OneCare.. i already detail part of it. but before the whole struggle started it was starting to do better in retail channels and it also began to get ahead of all free av and basic home solutions. OneCare is still the engine of security for Hotmail and there going to be OneCare for small businesses, server and for WHS that never went to be. i hope that they allow installing of Microsoft Security for those scenarios now.

    The biggest loss in Microsoft Security is for XP and Vista since it don’t comes with managed firewall.

    Windows Advisor(beta) is what was supposed to replace the part of onecare that did tune ups and it also meant as a way to resolve conflicts for XP.. it has not been updated.. so who knows if it is still going to be released.

    But as i said OneCare 2.5 was just awesome. really sad to see it go all because of symantec, mcfee and OEM’s pressure (since symantec and mcfee paid a lot to bundle trails with new machines)

    But as i also said. just they being able to make DVD maker does what it does was a fight since that is another market with lots of OEM money and Companies like nero, roxio, windvd, etc,etc. that is how things are unfortunately.

  21. billybob says on June 20, 2009

    Sorry, but you really haven’t convinced me that people buy applications (as you stated before). All of those comparisons were based on features and price (aka value) not applications.

    Where are the Windows equivalents of these applications?

    Garage Band – Great for recording podcasts, I don’t think that there is anything which is as easy to use on Windows. Even you borrowed your wife’s Mac to record your last audio podcast.

    iMovie – I think you have proven there is no competitor on Windows.

    Time Machine – Windows Backup and Volume Shadow Copy are nowhere near Time Machine in their usability or backup capability. The registry is still a thorny issue.

    Proper user privileges – Both Mac and Linux have proper account separation and the applications are designed with this in mind so you rarely see a password dialog. Windows just uses a placebo to make it look like it is secure when UAC is nothing to do with security.

    Web Browser – IE8 is junk, to get a good browsing experience on Windows you have to install a third-party browser which lacks the integration of IE8. Doesn’t it seem strange to you that Microsoft cannot write a decent browser?

    Which applications did you want when you bought all of the Windows PCs? Your answer did not mention applications at all (except Windows 7 which is not really an application). Otherwise how do you justify your statement that people buy applications?

    P.S. All email clients are broken, email is broken. Once you are in the cloud you might start looking at Google Wave for your blogging and communication. The demo looked very cool for bloggers.

  22. I have been an avid user of MAC OS X (from the beginning); Linux (the debian strain) and Windows (I am a former MCSE). I switch back and forth freely – literally and even when on a Mac I always run Windows and Linux via virtualization – just more fun that way.

    I appreciate this article for its balance – so here is my take:

    There is no perfect OS. There is no perfect computer. There are no perfect applications.

    There are however personal preferences – and that is what this all comes down to. My wife, HATES iLife – she is a blogger, does crazy things with photos and does video content quite a bit – but at the end of the day she is more about getting things done (for her that means with tools that she knows and does not have to relearn) then being cool.

    Does that mean what she uses is better then iLife? Sure it does – for her.

    At the end of the day, people like what they like and trying to convince someone to like a different computer system can be like convincing them that vanilla is better than chocolate when all they really want is strawberry.

    Oh and to Joe – for an email client that just works well on PC (and Mac for that matter) – try Postbox. It is the first email client that I actually like – based on Thunderbird, but with nice twist.

  23. The biggest factor in software is usually “What you used first”. Why? Because you learned to use that software. Other software may be good, or even arguably better. But if you don’t know how to use it, or are hard trianed to use other software that works even slightly different then the new software will never be able to stack up to your expectations.

    There are plenty more than even software pieces that are equivilent to iLife. Many of them have feature far and beyond anything iLife can do. And even many of the free, like Picasa for example, which outdoes iPhoto by a lot in many reviews. But unless they fit your style, or match your expectations and what you’ve learned over the years, it just won’t matter how good they are. You can always learn a new piece of software, but the purging of old habits for new is always a daunting task.

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