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Review: Final Draft 9, the world's most popular screenwriting software plays catch up

Michael Grothaus
Michael Grothaus|@michaelgrothaus|January 21, 2014 9:00 PM

Final Draft is without a doubt the industry's leading software for screenwriting. It is used in virtually every writer's room across Hollywood and endorsed by such heavyweights as James Cameron, Tom Hanks and JJ Abrams. However, the reason the software rose to the top spot in the film world is that for years there were no better alternatives. That's changed a lot in the last five or so years, with plenty of cheaper and more feature-rich alternatives popping up on the Mac platform.

As a matter of fact, many in the industry had started to complain that Final Draft was showing its age and it needed to do some serious catching up. And "catching up" is indeed what the company has done with the latest major release of Final Draft -- Final Draft 9. How'd they do? Read on.

New Mac-Only Features

While there are plenty of good scriptwriting software alternatives now available on the Mac, the reason Final Draft has such a strong hold on the industry is because it's a strong cross-platform app, with versions for OS X and Windows. But it seems like the company realized it was going to have to give a little more love to the Mac side of things this time around given all the advances its Mac competitors have made in the four years since the last major version of Final Draft was released.

The most noticeable change you'll see in Final Draft 9 is that it now supports the MacBook Pro's Retina display. This is huge to those writers with a Retina MBP because Final Draft 8 frankly looked like a pixelated mess on Apple's latest notebooks. In addition to supported Retina text, all the buttons and menu items have also been Retina-ized.

Other Mac love added to Final Draft 9 includes full-screen support, full Mavericks support and support for OS X 10.9's dictation. Unfortunately, Final Draft 9 doesn't support iCloud's Documents in the Cloud, nor does it support OS X's versioning.

New Cross-platform Features

Moving beyond the Mac-only features, Final Draft 9 adds plenty of enhancements for both Mac and Windows. The new Character Navigator now lets you add character arc beats in each scene and it also adds non-speaking characters to the Navigator, which helps you keep track of all characters in a script.

The ScriptNotes Navigator has an all-new look and now allows users to sort their notes by color, name or type. Another nice feature is Character Highlighting, which highlights each character's dialogue with a different color in the script. This makes it easier for actors and others to keep track of dialogue during table reads. A huge boon is also the ability to watermark scripts in printing and saving to PDF. For every script you print or share as a PDF, you can add a unique watermark to it identifying the person who the script is being given to. This means it's easy to track down who leaked the script if it appears online.

Final Draft 9 also includes a host of other, smaller new features including improved spell checkers, thesaurus enhancements, the ability to custom-order Character Lists, Revision page color support and more.

Cost and Verdict

At a US$249.99 price tag, one may think that the relatively limited major new features for a piece of flagship screenwriting software aren't worth the price, but as usual with any piece of professional software, it's all the little changes taken as a whole that give major updates their worth. With that in mind, I think Final Draft 9 is a no-brainer for any Mac user in the business of writing screenplays. If you own a Retina MacBook Pro, Final Draft 9 is worth buying just for the Retina display support alone. But even if you don't need the Retina support, Final Draft 9 is a decent upgrade that helps the aging software catch up to the younger upstarts -- and for that, it is worth it.

Until the end of January, customers can buy the full version of Final Draft 9 for $199.99 on the Mac App Store or via Final Draft's online store. That's 20 percent off of the normal $249.99 price tag. Users of Final Draft 8 can buy the Final Draft 9 upgrade for $79.99 on Final Draft's online store (the upgrade price goes back up to $99.99 on February 1st).

A note on buying Final Draft 9: If you don't qualify for upgrade pricing, seriously consider buying the full version of Final Draft 9 through the Mac App Store. Final Draft is notorious for having an annoying and archaic registration process if you buy a version requiring that you enter the serial number each time you install it. You'll save yourself a lot of time and some big headaches if you bypass the serial number all together and get it through the Mac App Store.