How to Be a Productive Cheapskate


When I finally splurged and bought a new MacBook last year, I was dismayed to find that none of my software was compatible. I became maniacal about avoiding having to buy new Microsoft Office, Adobe PhotoShop and Dreamweaver, the three software applications I use daily in my work. Then I bought a PC laptop. There was no way I was going to fork out big bucks for PC-compatible software. What was a cheapskate to do?

I put the word out on Twitter seeking solutions that wouldn’t break my bank but could give me the functionality of word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software, photo editing and web site authoring. My Twitterpals came through with some pretty workable – and very affordable – solutions:

  1. NeoOffice & OpenOffice for office suite software
  2. GIMP for photo editing
  3. Coda for web site authoring and editing

Here’s how I’m doing so far…

NeoOffice (Mac)

Wow! A full-featured suite of office applications that works purely off donations. Gotta love free, open-source software. Not to be a complete and total cheapskate, I did make a donation for access to word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, and database program. I’ve been using the first three constantly and after a short transition period, got used to the slight changes in interface and placement of features in the drop down menus. I’ve had no trouble importing my old documents or saving documents in formats that anyone else can read. I love the Export to PDF feature – it has totally integrated creating PDFs into the system. Sweet!

The downsides: I haven’t figured out how to shut off their feature that automatically completes the spelling of a word. It tends to guess wrong and then I can’t move on to the next word without clicking around that page. Sometimes, I forget to save the document as a more universal format and send a .odt file, driving a few clients batty as they try unsuccessfully to open it. And I have to admit, the program crashes on my often, but luckily their file rescue feature works well. I’m sure there is a patch that will fix this, however, I’m one of those people who is totally adverse to upgrading so I suffer a little for it.
OpenOffice (PC)

When I had my shiny new PC, I was relieved to learn that NeoOffice also has a PC version. Okay, I admit the PC version came first, but regardless, I ended up with the same workable solution to avoiding the big name software packages that would have tore a hole in my wallet.

GIMP (Unix, Windows, Mac)

With my MacBook purchase, I gave in and drove through the snowy streets of Alaska to an actual computer store (gasp!) to buy an actual box of software – PhotoShop Elements. I saw that it was on sale in my (shock!) local newspaper. Now don’t go getting any ideas that I’m always this Luddite-ish. I just have my moments. With the PC, however, I was not about to go out and repeat this action. Thank goodness there is GIMP – The GNU Image Manipulation Program. Too bad I didn’t look into it earlier – could have saved $49. (Yeah, I know. Cheapskate).

I’ve done some basic photo manipulation so far and my limited use of the program is not for its lacking but because I’m still having a difficult time adjusting to Windows. Now before you start thinking I’m anti-PC, I’ll have you know I learned to use computers back in the dark ages – BW (Before Windows). A Wang, to be exact. My second computer was an Amstrad 1640 with dual floppies because back then, nobody thought computers actually needed hard drives so everything was done by inserting floppy disks (yes, they were floppy), back and forth, until a program loaded. Sigh…those were the days.

Despite limited use of GIMP to date, I am still grateful to have it.

Coda (Mac)

This is a new addition to my cheapskate suite of workable software solutions. I just needed something for quick and dirty web site editing. Being from the old school where hardcore editing straight in the HTML doesn’t scare me, I dove right in and started using this product to add a link on a page or remove an image. Piece of cake. I was able to get Coda working and linked up to a client’s FTP site in minutes, something that I’m still not managing with Dreamweaver which is on my old PowerBook G4.

I’m of the mind that if I have to read instructions, your software just isn’t intuitive enough. So far my Cheapskate Suite is passing my intuitiveness test. And I’m productive with money to spare. But please, don’t forget to donate to your favorite programmers so they can keep fighting the good fight.



You should give the free version of Aptana a good look for your HTML editor. While I have found the PHP plugin a bit lacking, Aptana is one of the better IDE’s I have used for pure HTML/CSS markup.

Pete Smith

Coda is $79… ($69 for Transmit owners).

(Caveat: I mostly do PHP work). I personally use Eclipse the the PDT plugin. I see ActiveState’s Komodo Editor is going open source though.

Both work on both PCs and Macs; I like to use the same tools across platforms when possible.

Dan Oblak

Great little list — I think in reality, yours is more realistic than mine, which was an attempt to ‘cover all the bases’. Truth is, I really only ‘live’ in two basic functions: text editing (I still do all my HTML by hand) and image editing. Everything else is just to keep others’ work within reach — which OpenOffice does well enough. Well chosen!

Aliza Sherman

Oh, and Lawrence, I switched over to Macs in the early 80s because my sister – a graphic designer – threatened to stop talking to me if I didn’t. Haven’t looked back since.

Aliza Sherman

Hey Web Working Biker – I could not imagine putting Windows on my Mac although I know people who have done it and have mixed feelings about it. My Macbook just doesn’t have the juice to handle it either – yeah, I got the cheaper one!

Hi Lawrence – Well, I wasn’t actually trying to review the software. If you noticed, I was listing a “suite of open source solutions” that cover the bases for me.

Mentioning the old PCs I knew and loved back then wasn’t trying to prove I was smart, just OLD.

And my take on WWD isn’t that it is a bunch of instructions at all which is what makes it so useful. I think it gives a nice balance of reviews, tips, personal anecdotes, ideas, heads up on news, and pointers to things that could make any of our work easier.

My schtick isn’t reviewing software – I’m not SMART enough for that. I talk about what I’m actually doing day-to-day in my Web working life because that’s what I know. I’ll leave the actual reviews or How-To’s to the smart ones here. ;-)

Lawrence Salberg

Aliza says, “I’m of the mind that if I have to read instructions, your software just isn’t intuitive enough.”.

Huh? That sort of defeats the purpose of webworkerdaily, doesn’t it? The whole point that you think you can not read instructions on programs as complex as the Gimp because it should just work, apparently like magic, kind of makes me wonder why you would bother to write articles on webworkerdaily telling us… what?… exactly? How to do things that might not be apparently intuitive?

I think I see why you are a Mac user. To make token references to “PC’s” by drumming up relic machines with floppy disks is, I’m guessing, some attempt to deflect any criticism of your smarts. I hope I’m wrong. I hope you didn’t just get enamored with the cute Mac sneaker commercial and are an Apple fanboy/girl trying to garner our respect with outlandish statements that you shouldn’t have to read the instructions.

Whenever I hear these “should just work”, “should be easier”, “why does it work this way?” remarks, I can’t help but hear my Apple fanboy friends voices echoing in my head – full of opinion and future-ideas, but unable to work in the present without a cute interface or hiding all the “advanced” options from them.

Come on guys. This was a bogus article. You could have given us a more substantial review of these apps and your experience of them. I admire your effort to be free of licensed software that we are all bound by, but if you think your softball review here is going to convince anyone to leave Dreamweaver or Photoshop (the millions of people who have read the instructions, plus bought a half-dozen books on them, also), you’ve got another thing coming.


I’ve been using pagespinner since back in the day and still love it best of all the web editing software I’ve tried. Haven’t used coda for much besides some database editing though so I might check it out.

A Web Working Biker

You could have just used Boot Camp from Apple and installed Vista or XP on your MacBook. A lot cheaper than going the full Wintop route.

Ah, buyer’s remorse…

But yes, NeoOffice is a good Mac Office substitute. And I think you get a big discount on iWork ’08 (like half price or something, which takes it down to $40) when you get a new Mac too, and aside from unfortunately using the Quartz codec for .pdf export, iWork is an even better alternative.

That Quartz export really grinds my gears though, to quote Peter Griffin… It renders any PDF you make basically worthless on anything but another Mac — I mean, come on Apple! WTF were you thinking? Why even bother to create a PDF export that no one but you can open!?

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