Apple will start its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) with several important software releases: iCloud, Apple’s upcoming cloud service, as well as the next iteration of its desktop and mobile platform, Mac OS X Lion and iOS 5.

Apple announced earlier that the focus of this year’s WWDC will be software, in particular iOS and Lion, and recent rumors claim that the next generation iPhone will not be announced at the event.

The really big announcement this year is iCloud, which is rumored to be Apple’s cloud service for music. In an announcement Tuesday morning, Apple confirmed that iCloud is coming as a “cloud services offering” but didn’t mention music or provide details. Recent reports said that Apple has signed a licensing deal with EMI and was close to signing similar deals with Sony and Universal, which would pave the way for iCloud. Apple’s music offering comes hot on the heals of announcements of similar services from Google and Amazon.

SEE ALSO: Steve Jobs To Participate in Keynote at WWDC

The WWDC starts Monday, June 6, at 10 a.m. in San Francisco. For more details, check out the conference’s official site, and don’t forget to check Mashable for coverage of the event.

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One of the most costly and critical sets of tools for any designer is software. Settling on the right tools for the job can be daunting, given the large and ever-increasing number of design software applications out there, ranging in price from free to thousands of dollars each.

We all know who the big players are — industry standards like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, or Corel’s Draw and Painter applications. Most of us probably use these tools on a daily basis. Good software, however, doesn’t have to be expensive.

We’ve discovered some great design software that you may not have heard of — and they’re all less than $50. Are these tools as robust and powerful as their pricey counterparts? Realistically, no. But they’re still great apps, especially given their price tags (or lack thereof). If you’re working on a small budget or just looking to try something new, check out some of the programs below.


1. Sketch


Sketch is a vector drawing application for the Mac platform. With a price tag of $40, it’s the most expensive item on our list. Sketch offers a streamlined, clean workspace and a robust set of features. You get all of the basic vector drawing tools you’ve come to expect, in addition to support for things like libraries and symbols, complex path transformation tools, smart objects, grouping and multi-page documents. Sketch is no Illustrator replacement, but for lightweight vector illustrations, it’s certainly a great alternative.

Platform: Mac
Price: $40


2. RawTherapee


RawTherapee is a free tool for managing and processing RAW photos on the Linux and Windows platforms. With it, you can read and convert camera RAW photos to a variety of formats.

RawTherapee’s image-processing features include support for ICC color profiles, bookmark-able change history and a whole slew of 16-bit image processing controls for adjustments like exposure, white balance, image sharpening, shadows and highlights and contrast. You can also crop, rotate and flip images and correct for simple lens distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting.

Platform: Linux, Windows
Price: Free


3. Opicon Font Viewer


Anyone who’s ever had to deal with large collections of fonts knows how quickly they can get out of hand. Though it’s been a while since its last release, the open-source, cross-platform Opicon Font Viewer offers a nice way to search and view fonts on Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems. With Opicon Font Viewer you can browse both installed and uninstalled fonts, mark fonts as favorites and preview fonts using your own custom preview text.

Platform: Windows, Mac
Price: Free


4. Pixelmator


Pixelmator is an image editor for the Mac operating system that’s been around for a while now, but it has generated a lot of buzz lately due to its recent success in the Mac App Store. Selling for only $59.99 (with an included free upgrade to Pixelmator 2 upon its release), this Photoshop alternative is one of the best lightweight image editors you can buy at this price.

Pixelmator has an extremely robust feature-set and a polished, familiar UI that’s easy to pick up on — it uses many Photoshop keyboard shortcuts. Pixelmator has all of the basic drawing and selection tools you would expect to find in any image editor, in addition to layers, layer groups, blending modes, retouching tools, painting and blending tools, pressure sensitivity support for graphics tablets, support for third-party filters and more.

Platform: Mac
Price: $59.99


5. Inkscape


Inkscape is a popular, open-source vector drawing application for Linux, Windows and Mac. While you won’t find more complex vector manipulation tools like Illustrator’s 3D transformations or gradient mesh tool, Inkscape does provide a solid set of vector drawing tools for shapes, paths and freehand drawing. Inkscape also offers a variety of object transmigration and manipulation tools, layers, object grouping and cloning, gradients and pattern fills, node editing and a full set
of text utilities. We think Sketch is a little nicer, but for free and cross-platform, you can’t do much better than Inkscape when it comes to vector drawing software.

Platform: Linux, Windows, Mac
Price: Free


6. ArtWeaver Plus


If Pixelmator is the Mac Photoshop alternative, then ArtWeaver Plus is the Windows Photoshop alternative. Priced at just under $40 (€29), ArtWeaver Plus offers a variety of standard drawing and painting tools, crop, fill, gradients and selection tools. It also has several more advanced features, such as pen tablet support, record and playback functionality for actions, image history, layers and layer groups, many effect filters, and support for a wide selection of file types, including PSD files.

For those who want to give the program a try or can get by with reduced functionality, there’s also a free version available for download, but we think ArtWeaver Plus is definitely worth the $40 price tag. Bonus points: We were able to run the software in Linux under Wine without issue.

Platform: Windows
Price: €29 (approx. $40)


7. MyPantone Palette


From the folks at Pantone, MyPantone Palette is a Windows and Mac utility for creating, organizing, browsing and sharing color palettes. The tool itself is free, but it does require registration to the Pantone website (also free), since it ties into its web API for palette sharing and indexing.

This is a fun and useful tool, handy for both web and print designers alike. Use it to create color palettes or browse palettes created by others when seeking inspiration for your next project.

Platform: Windows, Mac
Price: Free (requires free registration)


8. Scribus


Scribus is a free, open-source page layout program for Linux, Windows and Mac. A professional quality desktop publishing tool for print designers, Scribus can handle all of your pre-press needs and has been touted as a suitable alternative to Quark Express and InDesign.

In active development since 2001, Scribus boasts a clean, modern UI and offers features such as advanced color management, spot color separation and support for ICC color profiles. In addition to pre-press preparation and page layout, Scribus also has flexible, powerful PDF creation capabilities. More advanced users can take advantage of the Scribus API to create scripts to handle automated tasks using the Python programming language.

Platform: Linux, Windows, Mac
Price: Free


Conclusion


There is a lot of great software out there for designers. Prices range from zero to upwards of a few thousand dollars, but not all great software has to be expensive. We’ve highlighted a few of our favorite sub-$50 programs here, and they’re great for students, designers on a budget and those who want to try something new. Let us know what your favorite design applications are in the comments below.


Series Supported by VMware Fusion


The Cross-Platform Apps Series is supported by VMware Fusion. Built by Mac users for Mac users from day one, VMware Fusion 3 is the best way to run Windows on a Mac without rebooting. With a built-in PC Migration agent, it’s easier than ever to bring your entire PC to your Mac. With VMware Fusion 3.1, you can run you Windows apps like Mac apps using the most reliable Windows-on-Mac platform. Key features of VMware Fusion include:

  • Ultimate Windows 7 Experience. VMware Fusion is the first to enable the full Windows 7 experience, complete with Windows Aero and Flip 3D.
  • Switching Made Easy. VMware Fusion is the fastest way for users to bring their entire PC to their Mac without the added cost of a one-time use cable.
  • More Mac-Like than Ever. Run Windows applications like Mac applications with features like an “always-on” applications menu to find and launch Windows apps, even when VMware Fusion isn’t launched.

Users of previous versions of VMware Fusion or any version of Parallels Desktop for Mac can take advantage of upgrading to VMware Fusion 3 for a limited time promotion of only $19.99! This offer expires on March 15, 2011, so act now!


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Image courtesy of Flickr, David Salafia

More About: ArtWeaver Plus, Cross-Platform Apps Series, Inkscape, Linux, mac, MyPantone Palette, Opicon Font Viewer, pixelmator, RawTherapee, Scribus, sketch, web design, Windows

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The Cross-Platform Apps Series is supported by VMware Workstation, the most reliable, secure way to run multiple operating systems at the same time. To keep up with VMware Workstation updates, follow the team’s blog or find them on Twitter or Facebook.

For any web developer, making sure your workflow stays streamlined and efficient is essential. Even small projects can grow quickly in size and go through several iterations and stages of development. You want to have an editor that’s flexible but unobtrusive, source control that works, with lots of options, and tools to keep it all organized, just a few keystrokes away.

Last week, we took a look at some great Windows, Mac and Linux productivity applications that you may not have heard of. Now we’ll take a closer look at eight more applications for web developers. These tools have a variety of uses, but they all share one quality — they allow you to spend more time writing good code and less time dealing with project overhead.

Since we love efficiency so much, let’s dive right in.


1. Sublime Text



If you’ve been in the industry for any length of time, chances are you’ve heard of Sublime Text. Sublime is a powerful and flexible code editor with a robust feature set and a powerful Python language-based plug-in system, so you can further add functionality to the application. The $59 price tag may seem a bit steep (Sublime is free to try for as long as you like), but this program delivers.

With Sublime Text 2 Alpha currently available in Windows, Linux and Mac OS, Sublime offers up tools such as Goto Anything‚ a fuzzy-find utility that lets you quickly search and navigate to any project file, multi-select capabilities for fast multi-column editing, project management and instant project switching. It also offers many other features you’d expect a great editor to have — line syntax highlighting, regexp find and replace, and code snippets libraries.


2. Kate


Looking for something a little different? Kate is the default text editor for the KDE shell, but it’s also available for Windows and Mac (and works just fine in other Linux window managers).

Free and open-source, Kate has a wide array of great features for code editing. Some of Kate’s features include regexp find and replace, syntax highlighting and code folding, support for multiple encoding types, block selection and auto-indentation. Kate also has customizable keyboard shortcuts and a scripting language to extend the editor via plug-ins.


3. SmartGit


Git has rapidly become one of the most used and most popular version control systems around. The basics of Git are easy to learn, but its more advanced features can get confusing fast, especially when not everyone on your team is a die-hard code monkey. Enter SmartGit.

SmartGit provides a streamlined, powerful graphical interface for Git. Available for Windows, Linux and Mac, SmartGit (written in Java) makes browsing, cloning and committing to repositories easy, thanks to a familiar file browser interface and a graphical histories that easily diagram commits, branches and tags. SmartGit is free for non-commercial use, and commercial licenses start at $69, with bulk discounts available.


4. CSSTidy


Anyone who’s ever worked with CSS knows how quickly a stylesheet can get out of hand. Keeping your CSS neat and well-organized isn’t always easy, and utilities like Sass aren’t always an option. For situations like this, CSSTidy comes to the rescue.

This free, open-source application for Windows processes, cleans and compresses your stylesheets. CSSTidy can strip out duplicate rules, remove whitespace and comments, correct misplaced semicolons, and convert rules to shorthand syntax, and more. A quick run through CSSTidy before going live makes sure your CSS files are neat and fast-loading.


5. Toucan


Another great, free Windows application from the folks over at PortableApps, Toucan is backup, synchronization and encryption utility that will help you keep your private data secure and safe.

Make, restore, synchronize and encrypt all of your code and sensitive information (like all of those passwor
ds) quickly and easily using Toucan’s simple GUI. Toucan offers more advanced features, as well, including rules that let you specify guidelines for file management, a command line interface and a powerful scripting system using the Lua programming language.


6. Transmit


Sure, an FTP program may not sound very glamorous, but the $34 Transmit application for the Mac OS is the cream of the crop.

Transmit boasts a slick, intuitive interface with support for a number of protocols, including FTP, SSH and even Amazon S3. Other features include default permissions and auto-continue on error and a flexible UI that supports single or multi-panel layouts (with quick look and coverflow), which make Transmit’s remote file management seamless and simple.


7. MySQL Workbench


The name alone makes this free application for Windows, Linux and Mac sound like more of a powerhouse work horse than just another pretty GUI, and that’s pretty much exactly what MySQL Workbench is — a no-nonsense GUI front-end for the MySQL database.

Complete with administration tools and powerful query building and table management utilities, Workbench (which comes straight from the MySQL developers), offers a robust desktop application for interfacing with, building, testing, optimizing and maintaining your MySQL database.


8. Snippets


If you’re like most developers, chances are you collect code — those little bits of brilliance that crop up here and there, only to prove invaluable a couple of weeks down the road. At $39, the Snippets app for the Mac OS gives you some place to store all of those stray lines of delicious source code.

Snippets sits quietly in your menu bar and waits for you to come along and drop code into it. When you enter a new snippet, you’ll also have the ability to add labels (tags) for faster search and indexing. You’ll also be able to give each snippet a description. Clean, small and unobtrusive, Snippets stays out of the way until you need it and lets you quickly add, browse and search for just the right bit of code when you need it.


Conclusion


As a web developer, getting and staying organized is key. Good software helps you get work done faster and more efficiently, letting you focus on writing great code. We’ve gone over eight applications that go a long way in helping to achieve these goals — tools that let you edit, organize, back up and manage code across multiple platforms, but our list is by no means exhaustive. We’d love to hear about some of the great developer tools you can’t live without.


Series Supported by VMware Workstation


The Cross-Platform Apps Series is supported by VMware Workstation, the most reliable, secure way to run multiple operating systems at the same time. Winner of more than 50 industry awards, VMware Workstation transforms the way technical professionals develop, test, demo and deploy software. VMware Workstation is an integral component of any serious technical professional’s toolkit.

If you have an older version of Workstation, upgrade today to experience its new improved features. As a special bonus, you will receive a free copy of VMware ThinApp Starter Edition with the purchase of VMware Workstation. This offer expires on April 30th, 2011.


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Image courtesy of iStockphoto, kemie

More About: Cross-Platform Apps Series, csstidy, kate, Linux, mac, mySQL Workbench, smartgit, snippets, sublime text, toucan, transmit, Windows

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The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark. If you would like to have your startup considered for inclusion, please see the details here.

Name: Wallcast

Quick Pitch: Wallcast is a PC and Mac application that transforms your wallpaper into a dynamic collage of photos from you, your family and your friends.

Genius Idea: Husband and wife Eric Bouchard and Marie Asselin were visiting Paris after Bouchard sold his first company. As expected, the couple was fielding requests from their parents to send photos during their six-month trip. That, along with the observation that their parents’ desktop wallpapers were, more often than not, showcasing poor quality photos, inspired the pair to create a tool to make desktop wallpapers more dynamic, beautiful, personal and collaborative.

The duo worked with a small development shop in their hometown of Quebec to turn their vision into a reality, and in late December 2010, Wallcast was released. Wallcast is PC and Mac software that creates and continuously updates your desktop wallpaper from a pool of photos submitted by you or your friends and family members.

The initial setup process is a bit cumbersome, but once you upload a few photos and install the PC or Mac software, you’ll start to see Wallcast come to life. The wallpaper highlights five photos pulled from the photos you upload, e-mail or add via iPhone app. Your wallpaper will automatically refresh with new photos every 15 minutes, depending on your preferences.

The most powerful aspect to Wallcast is that friends and family members can submit photos to your wallpaper via e-mail or iPhone app. You’ll need to invite them through the website, but once you do, the photos they submit are added to your pool and automatically swapped in and out of your dynamic wallpaper.

An Android Wallcast app is also in the works. The app, like the existing iPhone app, will enable you to quickly capture and share photos with your wallpaper or the wallpapers of others. The Android version will also let you use the dynamic wallpaper on your device, a feature not available to iPhone users.

Desktop wallpaper may seem passé, but Wallcast almost feels like a more realistic implementation of a “private network” than the mobile private photo-sharing experience Path is attempting to engineer. It’s not inherently social in the way that social media denizens expect, but that’s intentional and the end result is something that is still both deeply personal and a shared experience with close friends and family.

Asselin and Bouchard initially planned to support photo integration with Twitter and Facebook, but quickly realized that wallpapers would get cluttered with junk photos. The two are, however, working on features that will allow you to selectively pull photos from social sites into your wallpaper collage. A browser plugin that will let you right click photos on the web and send them to your wallpaper is in the works, for instance.

At the end of the day, Asselin says the couple hopes that Wallcast will bring people closer through the one screen most of us stare at all day long.


Series Supported by Microsoft BizSpark


Microsoft BizSpark

The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark, a startup program that gives you three-year access to the latest Microsoft development tools, as well as connecting you to a nationwide network of investors and incubators. There are no upfront costs, so if your business is privately owned, less than three years old, and generates less than U.S.$1 million in annual revenue, you can sign up today.

More About: desktop wallpaper, iphone, mac, pc, spark-of-genius, startup, wallcast




Evernote’s multi-platform note-taking service really took off in 2010, but 2011 is shaping up to be the startup’s biggest year yet, especially given the big boost it just got after debuting in Apple’s Mac App Store last week.

Evernote CEO and founder Phil Libin tells Mashable that because of the new marketplace, Mac has outstripped Android and iPhone as the biggest platform for new user acquisition.

The Evernote team hurried to ready an app store compatible version of its Mac app in time for the store’s launch, an effort that has paid off nicely in downloads and new users. On day one, Mac registrations were up 1800% over a normal day, resulting in 40,000 new Mac users and 90,000 total downloads.

Compare the 40,000 figure with Evernote’s 30,000 average daily new users metric (across all platforms) — remarkable on its own — and it highlights just how instrumental the store was in bringing new users. Evernote was previously adding very few Mac app users per day, Libin says. Now Mac is the biggest driver of new growth.

Libin estimates that for the first full week post-Mac App Store launch, Evernote saw 300,000 total Mac app downloads. Roughly 50% of these downloads came from users who had never previously registered for an Evernote account.

The popularity of the Mac app is also contributing to an uplight in downloads of Evernote’s other apps, according to Libin. Users are now discovering the note-taking service on Mac and learning that they can use it on other platforms as well, he says.

Libin recognizes that these early numbers are likely not sustainable, but he does believe the Mac App Store will help the startup hit the 10 million member milestone — it hit six million before the end of 2010 — sooner than originally anticipated.

More About: evernote, mac, mac app store, macintosh, startup