Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cooking Software - An Early Evaluation

Some of you may know that for years, I've been using MasterCook software to organize my recipes, store my menus (yes, that's right. I keep track of what I serve people when they eat here. I don't like serving people the same thing twice), and separate recipes I want to try from recipes I've tried and definitely want to keep. I've been a loyal customer up until this year. The software was familiar, fairly user-friendly, and met my needs pretty well, although it wasn't very pretty.

But as someone IN the software industry, I know you have to keep on your toes, keep up with the trends, fix bugs, add enhancements, and WORK to keep your audience. And sadly, MasterCook has not done any of these things. Near as I can tell, the last time the software was updated, besides a couple of patches for bugs, was four or five years ago. I'm not going to bore you with all of the industry changes that have happened in that time, but I will tell you that if you haven't bothered to make your software compatible with Windows 7 yet... well, you don't care much about keeping customers.

Granted, MasterCook is only about twenty bucks. But it's pretty useless to me if some of the major features won't work on the latest operating systems. Plus, their restore function absolutely stinks. I've had three major hardware crashes and replacements this year, and every single time, I've had to do a pretty heavy amount of tap-dancing to get my recipes back into the software when I've reloaded it. And every time I did it, I lost all the images. Frustrating doesn't even BEGIN to cover it. I consider backup/restore functionality basic to a software that stores as much data as this, and it ought to be simple. Maybe other people don't have a problem with it, but it sure didn't work for me, any of the three times I tried to use it.

So after reading some reviews, I decided to give Living Cookbook a whirl. I downloaded a free trial, which is a VERY nice feature. I'd have been royally pissed if I'd spent thirty five bucks on it to find out, for example, that I couldn't import my stuff from MasterCook. But it could. Not elegantly, by any means. I had to do them each individually, which was a pain in the buttocks, but it did at least get them all moved over eventually. First thing I did was test the backup and restore, and it works fine.

There are some things I like better about MasterCook, and some things I like better about Living Cookbook, and some things I don't like about either one - for example, I think that they should give some good graphic artists a crack at helping design layout and flow. Living Cookbook is very data driven and the gui is not beautiful. It's OK. But it's basic file structure. There's no way (that I've found yet) to browse recipes by looking at pictures, which is kind of how I like to get inspired most of the time. See what I mean? Kind of boring. Easy to navigate, but not exactly pretty to look at.

Their menu feature isn't as easy to use, either, but I'm getting used to it. The shopping list shows way too much crap (I'm not going to sit and enter cost of things per oz., and I don't want that on a shopping list column), and it took me a while to find how to hide things on the list. It SHOULD be a simple right-click and hide when a column is selected, but it's buried in menu functionality.

For now, I'm reasonably satisfied with it. I'll let you know as I use it, but it looks like this is the one I'm going to be sticking with. They do update it, the Help is pretty good (coming from someone who writes Help for software, you GOTTA know I'm picky about that), and it's pretty well-organized. I have my cookbooks set up again the way I like them - by course and split into "To Try" and the ones I'm keeping. I'm about finished switching between the two of them, and should go full blown with Living Cookbook this year. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

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