If you haven't heard of Balsamiq Mockups, get out from under your rock and go look. I'll wait.
Back? Cool, right?
One really cool part is they will give you a free copy if you ask, but the deal is you have to blog about it. So this is me blogging about it.
I heard about Balsamiq a while ago, but it never really clung to me. I never really had the need for it. I downloaded it and played with it for a few minutes, and then moved on with life.
Then we started to use it at work. It's a big hit there. They love it for making mockups of all the interfaces I have to implement. It's great.
Balsamiq allows you to make mockups the way they should be. Devoid of real style and color, but with the layout and workflow all sorted out. That's what the mockup is supposed to do. If it looks all pretty, those viewing the mockup will be preoccupied with the look, and not the usefulness of the design.
Balsamiq mockups look hand drawn. They are raw. You see a text box, some tabs, a cover flow. You don't see rounded corners, reflections, and fancy icons. If you are making mockups yourself, it forces you to think flow, and not style. If you are viewing mockups somebody else made, you can focus on whether or not the interface is sound, and not if it looks pretty, as they are two very different things.
So Balsamiq lets you make great mockups. Excellent. It's stable, runs on everything (it's Air!), and it's small and lightweight. It's great if you need to make mockups of any kind. I did have a few issues with it: the top scroll pane wouldn't respond to my two-finger scroll on my MacBook Pro's touchpad. From a usability point of view, the organization of library items seemed a little out of whack. Many things are in multiple lists, so it's hard to remember where things are, because they are in multiple places. I suppose this makes it more likely that you'll find what you need just by fluke, but still, it kind of bothered me.
Personally, I found that I really didn't care when using it. I have no real need to make mockups for my own little pet projects, so I was somewhat forcing myself to use it for the purpose of this review. I was pleased with the result, but it felt like I could've spent that time actually coding the interface instead of mocking it up. If there was anybody that was going to look at those mockups, it would have felt a little more useful.
Basically it comes down to need: do you need to make mockups? If you have to show them to other people, and then have to live past the initial conception, then Balsamiq is for you. If you are a one-person team just hacking away, just go straight to code and make that your mockup. If you really need to get something on paper before writing the code, just grab some paper and sketch it out, Balsamiq is overkill.
I give it 9 out of 10.