finaldraftjpg My screenwriting software of choice has long been Final Draft, which is 90% great, 10% maddening and significantly better than any of the other programs I’ve tried — and believe me, I’ve tried a bunch. This past month, Final Draft came out with version 7.0, which was the first major update in a while.

On the plus side, the new version is stable. It hasn’t quit on me, and it hasn’t had the same refusing-to-launch problem the last version had. It doesn’t choke on the previous version’s files, which is a problem I’ve encountered every previous integer-level upgrade.

One nice new feature is the ability to split a document window, so you can see two parts of the script at the same time. You can show one of the panels in scene-navigator view, or as index cards — which can now have two sides. On a big screen, keeping the left panel open to the scene navigator lets me click through to specific sections quickly.

Splitting the screen is helpful, but hardly revolutionary. Many Mac programs — including Microsoft Word — have had split windows for over a decade. Final Draft runs into familiar problems with this setup. If you make a selection in one panel that extends into the region shown in the other panel, the program freaks out. Caveat selector.

I never use Final Draft’s index cards. While in theory it would be great to reorganize your script just by moving some cards around, real life screenplays never work that way. Scenes aren’t Legos, and they can’t be flopped around willy-nilly. In my opinion, better choices for outlining are Omni Outliner and Pyramid. Each of these has free demo versions.

Final Draft 7 is apparently better at exporting .pdf files. That may be new for Windows, but if you’re using Mac OS X, I’d highly recommend using “Print…” and “Save to .pdf” instead. That way, you have all the options of the print dialog box, and you’re guaranteed to get just what the printer would.

There are other features I wish Final Draft had, such as XML export for the web, a clipping bin, and less-aggressive Smart Lists. But on the whole, the program works well for what I make my living doing. And for screenwriters lucky enough to have an honest-to-goodness movie on their hands, the production features alone are worth the price. Final Draft does a very solid job locking pages and tracking revisions, which makes sending out colored pages considerably easier than it has any right to be.

Should you buy Final Draft? Probably. Should you upgrade? That depends. If you’re happy with version 6, there’s really no pressing need. Version 7 isn’t bad, but it isn’t a huge improvement.