Posts From March 2008

Brent Simmons: ‘The Coming Gold Rush’

The Coming Gold Rush -

Brent Simmons shares his thoughts on iPhone app development.

I don’t know about you guys, but I have been having a blast reading articles by many of the most fantastic indie Mac developers as they share their thoughts about this new frontier.

Still Not a Linksys

Airport Express Goes N, Still Not a Linksys -

Stammy:

If you don’t need to stream music wirelessly to another set of speakers, don’t need the smaller form factor of the Airport Express for traveling, are smart enough to use Ethernet for large file transfers (hence no real need for 802.11n), use Wi-Fi for general purposes, enjoy getting insane bang for your buck and indulge in a bit of hacking, then the Linksys WRT54G router is for you. It’s the only router I recommend to friends and family, even if they won’t be hacking it.

It’s true. I’ve been rocking my Linksys wireless router for 5 years now, and even though I thought it died last week, it came back to life after giving it a couple hours off. Pretty impressive, considering I only power cycle it once or twice a year.

Three Generations of Macs (Unofficially) Benchmarked

Stats and info are always interesting, so naturally I read the benchmark tests before I bought my new MacBook Pro. But once I had the computer in my own hands I wanted to do some benchmark testing of my own.

Benchmarking the MacBook Pro, Mac Pro and PowerBook G4

I wanted to do my own personal, “real-life” benchmarks to see how the three current Macs in my office compare to one another. Also, I was secretly hoping to discover an excuse to sell the Mac Pro, keep the laptop, and move to a one-computer work-flow. (Let’s face it, syncing sucks.)

And please note, these are by no means official benchmarks — I timed everything with my iPhone for goodness’ sake…

Technical Specs

Each computer is currently running OS X 10.5.2.

Computer Processor Memory Hard-Drive Screen
MacBook Pro 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, “Penryn” 4 GB 200 GB, 7200 RPM 15.4-inch LED backlit display with 1440×900 resolution
MacPro 3.0 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon, “Woodcrest” 4 GB 250 GB, 7200 RMP primary hard-drive; 500 GB, 7200 RPM backup hard-drive 23-inch Apple Cinima HD Display with 1920×1200 resolution
PowerBook 1.33 GHz Power PC 1.25 GB 100 GB / 7200 RPM 12-inch Display with 1024×768 resolution

1. Video Encoding

Using Handbrake 0.9.2, I encoded the “The Three Amigos” (a classic). I turned the 1:42:16 long DVD into an iPhone friendly 635×346, 1.16GB MPEG-4 Video on each of the machines.

Computer Time to Encode “The Three Amigos”
MacBook Pro 1 Hour, 14 Minutes, 21.5 Seconds
MacPro 45 Minutes, 17.8 Seconds
PowerBook 2 Hours, 58 Minutes, 16.1 Seconds

As you can see the Mac Pro was nearly 30 minutes faster at encoding the movie from disc, but I am quite sure the speed there is primarily due to the 16x SuperDrive, versus the MBP’s 8x.

2. Booting Up

The time it took from when I pressed the power button to when OS X had fully loaded and Quicksilver’s icon finally appeared in the menu bar.

Computer Startup Time
MacBook Pro 1 minute 19.8 seconds
MacPro 1 minute 5.6 seconds
PowerBook 1 minute 11.1 seconds

3. Zip Compression

I had each machine take a 272.2 MB folder and compress it into a 108.9 MB ZIP archive.

Computer File Compression Time
MacBook Pro 24.2 seconds
MacPro 22.1 seconds
PowerBook 43.6 seconds

4. The Infamous “Open All Apps” Test

I selected every application in the Applications folder (except for Spaces and Front Row), and hit CMD+O. I then waited until all the icons in the dock stopped bouncing.

Computer # of Apps Time To Open All Apps
MacBook Pro 85 2 minutes and 34 seconds
MacPro 80 4 minutes and 29 seconds
PowerBook 57 Beachballed and had to be force-restarted after 12 minutes

5. FTP File Upload

Using Transmit, I uploaded an 8 MB folder, which contained four images, onto my server.

Computer FTP File Upload Time Internet Connection
MacBook Pro 2 Minutes, 27.8 seconds Wireless
Mac Pro 2 Minutes, 24.4 seconds Ethernet Cable
PowerBook 2 Minutes, 22.9 seconds Wireless

6. The Nitty Gritty

Day in and day out, the apps I have running while working are Mail, Safari, Photoshop and Illustrator. This is my “real life” test.

With Mail and Safari both open, and iTunes playing some hits, I opened a 1.1 GB Photoshop file to manipulate it (turning it into a 1.42 GB file). I then re-saved it, and then exported it as a TIFF.

Computer Open a 1.1 GB File in Photoshop Save the new 1.42 GB File Export as TIFF
MacBook Pro 38.5 seconds 51.9 seconds 13.6 seconds
Mac Pro 25.2 seconds 42.7 seconds 14.3 seconds
PowerBook Adobe only allows you to have two computers authorized at a time, and I already de-authorized the G4 N/A N/A

Conclusion

As I mentioned in my review earlier this week, I have decided to sell the Mac Pro and move to a one-machine setup. It’s true that the Mac Pro won nearly every benchmark, it wasn’t by a lot (in most cases). The time I may lose in performance with the MacBook Pro, I will gain back by not having to sync files and worry about which machine has the latest version of a project I’m working on. Additionally, the idea of owning two, expensive, “pro” machines is a bit against my nature.

And for those wondering why I would keep the laptop and sell the tower: It is because I travel quite a bit and do a lot of work outside of my office. Having a portable is a necessity for me.

Publicis & Hal Riney

Publicis & Hal Riney -

Crazy. You can navigate their website via your iSight camera (or other built-in camera) and “hot spots”.

[Via Cameron Moll.]

Quicksilver and Spaces

Spaces isn’t a major part of my workflow, but it is a great feature that I use to keep things clean on the desktop. To give you an idea, I normally have Mail open in one space, iTunes in another and whatever CS3 App I’m designing in open in the third with a blank fourth slot for NNW or Safari or whatever. I’m not always this organized, but sometimes.

When working on the Mac Pro I set the side buttons of my Mighty Mouse to act as triggers to launch spaces. But now that I’m doing a lot more work on the MacBook Pro and am not always at my desk I needed an equally handy trigger.

I thought of using MultiClutch to map a global trackpad gesture to Spaces, but there are only so many available gestures, and I don’t use Spaces that often to necessitate giving up a gesture for it.

Granted, there is the F8 hotkey – which by default means you have to press FN+F8 – but that is not the most convenient hotkey. And yes, you can change the shortcut key for Spaces via System Preferences — but not to the shortcut I want. This is where Quicksilver comes in.

As I’m sure most of you do too, I use CMD+TAB all the time to move around between apps. Therefore a similar key combo makes logical sense to me: CMD+OPTION+TAB.

Unfortunately the System Preferences pane doesn’t let me set this hotkey. But Quicksilver does.

Under Quicksilver’s menu choose the “Triggers” tab, and then add a new custom trigger which opens Spaces.

Spaces Custom Trigger

Quicksilver Hotkey for Spaces

And you can do this with any application. For instance, I also have a custom trigger for Mail configured as CMD+SHIFT+M. Just one more simple way that Quicksilver helps you rock your Mac.

The Hawaii Chair

“2,800 RPM Hula Motor”

Sweet mercy, this is hilarious.

SmartSleep

SmartSleep: It’s a prefrance pane that will dynamically set the sleep state of your machine -

SmartSleep let’s you select each select sleep state. Additionaly the new SmartSleep state lets your notebook just sleep while the battery has a high level. If the battery level drops below a certain point ( default is less then 20% or 20 minutes ) it will switch to sleep and hibernate. So you have the best of both worlds.

I just installed it, and it is very smart (ha!). SmartSleep recognized that I had changed my sleep mode to “0”. I set it to “SmartSleep” mode and actually the MBP sleeps even quicker than before. Consistently in about 4 to 5 seconds instead of 9 to 10.

(Much thanks to all of you who pointed this out to me.)

Pro Portable: A Review of the New MacBook Pro

As far back as I can remember I have been fascinated with laptops. Primarily for what I considered to be the coolness factor: they were portable and foldable. Growing up I would cut out and save ads from magazines selling laptops at Best Buy or Wal-Mart.

After high school I took all graduation money and bought my first computer: A Dell Inspiron 3800 (laptop). Five years later I bought my next laptop: A 12-inch PowerBook G4. And two weeks ago I purchased my third laptop: A 15-inch MacBook Pro.1

Last spring, as my PowerBook began to show its age due in the graphics work I was using it for, I decided to buy a tower instead of a new laptop. The idea behind buying the Mac Pro was that (1) it would last for years: I had already been using my PowerBook for more than two years, who’s specs were far below the Mac Pro’s and it was still chugging along well. And then, (2) the ease and affordability to expand the Mac Pro’s specs would make it all the easier to make sure it lasted even longer.

Therefore the PowerBook became my secondary computer. I used it when traveling and when not in the office – which was still quite a lot – and the Mac Pro became my primary work machine. Then, about a month ago my wife got a new position at work and now needed her own laptop. She hooked me up big-time by taking the PowerBook and letting me get the new laptop. (I owe you big-time, babe!)

I ordered the new 15-inch, multi-touch MacBook Pro with a 2.4GHz processor and the 200 GB 7,200 RPM hard drive. I watched FedEX as they picked it up in China, swung by Alaska, and finally dropped it off at my place a week ago.

When you use two computers you have to pick one that will be the “primary” computer; the home base. It’s your only hope for any sort of syncing sanity (if there is hope).

The point of picking one main machine is that you now know where to keep all the most recent versions of files, it’s where all your iTunes purchases are done, and it’s what everything syncs with.

While I was had the PowerBook it was a no-brainer that the Mac Pro would be home base. And even still, when I purchased the MacBook Pro I fully expected that it too would be my secondary computer, just as the PowerBook had been.

However, it quickly became obvious that the MacBook Pro should be the main computer. It just made sense. For several reasons:

  • The PowerBook had a 100 GB hard drive, which was enough to keep many important files, some songs and some photos, but not enough to keep all the data I have. The MacBook Pro, on the other hand, can hold all my data. The 200 GB 7,200 RPM hard drive is plenty big enough to store all my files with room to spare.
  • The entire reason I purchased the Mac Pro was because the PowerBook couldn’t keep up with the graphics-intensive work I was doing. The PowerBook couldn’t be my “work” computer anymore, and therefore became my “write, email and surf the web, while away from home” computer. However, the MacBook Pro has better benchmarks than the G5 Power Macs, and is even quite comparable to my Mac Pro’s performance in many of the most common tasks I do every day. The MacBook Pro is clearly a capable work and road machine.
  • The biggest pain in the butt when using two computers is keeping them synced. Whenever I needed to go on a trip while also in the midst of a major design project I would have to transfer all the relevant files over to the PowerBook. Additionally, I never knew if the one or two other projects which I just finalized may come back to haunt with some pre-print, last-minute emergency; so I would have to transfer them over as well. With the MBP as my main computer I can just put it in my backpack and go to another city without worrying about forgetting an important photoshop file. And that is an ease of mind is worth its weight in gold.

Although I originally didn’t intend it to, the MacBook Pro now has become my primary computer. Which naturally leads me to the next logical question: Do I even need to keep the Mac Pro? The answer is no.

I don’t need the Mac Pro. The loss in horsepower is negligible for what I do, and the gain in simplicity cannot be expressed with words. I’m selling the tower and going back to being a one-computer consumer, and connoisseur of fine laptops.

If I had known this would be the outcome before I ordered the MacBook Pro I would have ordered the mid-level, 2.5GHz processor which has the higher 6MB of L2 cache, the faster bus speed and the better graphics card.

But even still, this thing is a fantastic machine and herein is my review:

Packaging

I very much appreciate the minimum amount of items included in the MacBook Pro’s box. Aside from the computer, the box only contained the power cord, a DVI to VGA adapter, the remote control I paid $19 for and a small black “Designed by Apple in California” box.

In the small black box were two things: One labeled “Everything Mac” and another labeled “Everything Else”. Everything Mac is the user’s manual, and Everything Else is a cardboard sleeve holding the install discs, the bluetooth info sheet, the obligatory Apple stickers and a very nice screen cleaning cloth.

What I love so much about the small amount of peripherals and paperwork included is that it gives more attention to what comes in the box. The concept is similar to a printed flyer: If the flyer is covered in text you won’t read any of it. But if it has just a few phrases you will read those. When un-boxing the MacBook Pro it was like each piece was there for a purpose – not “just because”. Less is more.

And along these same lines is the size itself of the MacBook Pro’s box. It is quite a bit thinner than my PowerBook’s was. Though I remember when un-boxing my PowerBook, there was a great deal of open space underneath the computer.

It’s almost as if the boxes themselves communicate the form factor of the enclosed laptop: Wider and thinner versus shorter and “stubbier”.

Form Factor

After using a 12-inch PowerBook for so long I still haven’t adjusted to the bigger look of the 15-inch when I’m using it. It’s not so much the screen that throws me off as it is the extra space next to the keyboard where the speakers are. I’m used to looking at a bigger screen, but not used to typing on a laptop with an extra inch-and-a-half of hardware on either side.

When I see other people using their 15-inch laptop it doesn’t seem large at all, but when I’m sitting right in front of mine it seems huge. Though a quick glance at the “airplane wing” style 17-inch, and the 15-inch seems quite proportionate again.

Otherwise the size difference is most welcome. The larger footprint makes the MacBook Pro feel safer and more comfortable on my lap. And since it weighs nearly the same as my old PowerBook, it’s a win/win situation for me.

Other differences – such as the better speakers and the extra input jacks (Finally: FireWire 800!!) – are great. I’ve quickly become a fan of my $19 remote control, but the IR sensor on the front of the laptop is a serious eye sore.

And of course, some old habits will die hard – like trying to put CDs in the right-hand side.

Unchanging

Apple’s professional laptops have gone virtually unchanged for nearly 5 years. The new MacBook Pros looks nearly identical to the original aluminum PowerBooks that came out in fall of 2003. I could just imagine a conversation along these lines:

“Hey, is that Apple’s newest laptop?”

“No. It’s my 4 year old PowerBook.” 2

Not that any of you would ever ask that question, but you see my point, don’t you? The above conversation reveals two things: That (a) Apple’s laptop hardware is still attractive and appealing; and (b) that it is not uncommon to see someone still using their four or five-year-old PowerBook on a daily basis. Even though 5 years is a virtual eternity in computer-land, the previous generation of Apple’s laptops – the aluminum PowerBooks – are still hearty machines.

I’m sure that much of the PowerBook’s longevity is due to the fact that Apple fully controls the development and engineering of the operating system and the hardware it runs on. Simply put: Apple doesn’t need to conform to the lowest common denominator.

Set-Up

After un-boxing the first thing I did was install 4 GB of new memory. There’s no reason not to max out your RAM; it’s the single most affordable and effective way to minimize any cases of beach-ball-itis. Laptop memory is just about as cheap as tower memory nowadays, and swapping out the two 1 GB sticks for two 2 GB sticks was just as easy as adding RAM to the Mac Pro (a machine that’s famous for being easy to upgrade).

Migration

With the new memory installed I booted up and migrated my data.

Ideally I would have done a clean install of all my applications, manually transfer the documents and let .Mac sync the rest, but I wasn’t in the mood for the extra time and attention it would take. I had a few meetings to go to that afternoon and I wanted to come back to a ready to use laptop; therefore I used the Migration Assistant instead.

Instead of using the Mac Pro, I used my external FireWire drive which holds a bootable clone of my Mac Pro via SuperDuper. This way my tower wasn’t out of commission while I transfered files, and I saved the time it takes to do a Time Machine restore.

Migrating roughly 180 GBs of data over the FireWire 800 port took about 2.5 hours. And once all the files were successfully migrated the thing booted up perfectly and was ready to roll. Well, except for a few oddities…

Network Settings

Once I had the machine up and running the first thing I had to do was make sure the internet worked. I mean, without internet what good is the thing? Seriously…

I hadn’t been thinking and I had the migration assistant transfers network settings. Regardless of the network capabilities of the old machine verses the new machine, it just sets up the new network settings to be identical to the old ones. Which means since I was transferring from the Mac Pro, laptop’s Airport option now read as “Ethernet 2″, even though it had the radar icon next to it.

Mac Pro's Network Settings on the MacBook Pro

Additionally, the Airport icon up in the menu bar was displayed in the “empty” state, as if it was turned off. Clicking on it said the airport was not configured. But the MBP was getting signal from my wireless network because I had internet with no cables.

The weirdness was easily fixed by simply re-configuring everything using the location setup assistant.

MacBook Pro Standard Network Settings

The Keyboard

I have always been jealous of the backlit keyboards. I think they’re brilliant and my 12-inch PowerBook didn’t have one. Naturally, one of the first things I played with was my new keyboard’s backlighting. But, it was broken. At first I thought the mapping for the hardware keys (F5/F6) was broken because in normal light I was totally unable to manually turn on the keyboard’s backlight.

When pressing the adjustment keys this would appear:

Backlit Keyboard Dialog

I assumed the unresponsive lighting had something to do with the same migration trouble I had with the Network Settings. I repaired the disk permissions, reset the PRAM and still had no luck. After searching online with no results I called Apple..

The general technician was clueless on how to fix it. He assumed I would need to re-install the OS due to the hardware mapping problem from the migration. But before making that giant executive decision, he transfered me to a product specialist.

I again described the problem, and he too was unsure about a solution. I noted how the lights came on when it was dark in the room (or when I put my palms over the speakers), and then, at that point I could adjust the brightness level. But I could not manually turn the backlights on if they weren’t first turned on by the ambient light sensor.

The product specialist concluded it must be a new feature in the latest MacBook Pros since they have the new F1 – F12 keyboard layout and what-not. And that was the end of that.

Those of you who have a 15-inch Mac are probably rolling right now. Since I’ve never owned a laptop with backlit keyboards I had no clue, but apparently this has been the standard function all along! (Read: over four years!)

To recap: You can’t adjust the backlit keyboard unless it’s dark in the room.

Now, as far as real keyboard changes go, there are quite a few (Apple Care phone support, take note):

  • As expected, the F1 – F12 layout in the MBP is now the same as the slim keyboard’s, the MacBook Air’s and the MacBook’s.
  • The Enter key to the right of the spacebar has been replaced by the option key.
  • The num lock key is gone, as are the keypad style numbers.
  • The “speed tap safety feature” for the caps lock key (a.k.a. the antiCAPSLOCK campaign) has been implemented. The reason it exists only in the new laptops, and not in all of our computers via some software update, is because as Rentzsch discovered: “The activation delay occurs in the keyboard itself, before the operating system even sees the key-down.”

Point being: all of Apple’s keyboards are now the same. The only differences are the F5 and F6 keys: on the MacBooks and the slim-desktop keyboards those two keys are blank, whereas on the MBPs and MBAs they have the icons for the keyboard’s backlight adjustment.

The Screen

The LED screen is gorgeous. Naturally I got the matte screen, since (no offense, but) glossy is synonymous with cheesy to me. The display is bright, clear and sharp. And even though it’s not quite as bright as my Apple Cinema Display, it is a very satisfactory alternative when not at my desk.

The 1440×900 pixel resolution is the same as the old 17″ PowerBooks used to have a few years back. And it is in-fact a higher pixel per inch density than my 23″ ACD is (114 PPI for the MacBook Pro versus 98 PPI for the Cinema Display). One of the primary advantages of a higher density screen is font-rendering — especially on the Web. If you like to read on the web, the MacBook Pro makes great companion.

Of course, when working at my desk the Cinema Display is still more pleasant – on the eyes and the neck – which means I’ll be diving back into the world of connecting to an external display on a regular basis. I’m reminded of how fantastically my PowerBook handled external monitors. As John Gruber put it:

The PowerBooks’ support for external displays is quite clever. When the PowerBook wakes from sleep (or starts up), it detects which displays are available and uses them. This means you can walk around using the built-in display, set it down, connect an external display, and it automatically recognizes the just-connected external display and uses it. If you keep the PowerBook open, it uses the external display in addition to the built-in display; if you keep the PowerBook closed, it uses the external display instead of the internal. Disconnect the external display, and the right thing will happen, where by “right thing” I mean that any windows which were open on the no-longer-available display will be moved to the internal display, and resized, if necessary, to fit.

Moreover, it seems the MacBook Pro now has instant monitor detection. I’m not sure just how new this is, but it’s new to me. When I plug in an external monitor while the MBP is open and running it detects the new monitor right away and adjusts accordingly with only a few seconds of light-blue-screen down time. Likewise, if I unplug the external monitor the MBP adjusts, and, as John says, “does the right thing.”

Next is the ambient light sensor. It’s a nice feature, but I can’t seriously imagine anyone leaving it on for the internal display. I often have my left hand off to the side of the keyboard (and therefore over top of the left speaker) keeping my thumb on the CMD key and my middle finger on the tab key, and I often bring my right hand up and it would dim the screen every time – not too much, but just enough to make you feel crazy. It only took about 45 seconds of use before I realized I would have to turn it off.

Otherwise, my only gripe about the MacBook Pro’s display is the amount it will tilt back, or rather, won’t tilt back. Compared to my PowerBook the difference in angle is substantial, and I miss it. I’m not sure, but from what I can tell the primary reason for the tighter angle is the slimmer form factor of the new MacBook Pro. Meaning if the screen did tilt back any further I think the outside edge of the display would actually lift the back end of the laptop up.

Multi-Touch

Like I do when almost any of Apple’s new products are announced, I didn’t think of the multi-touch as necessary to my everyday laptop use. That is, until it actually was a part of my everyday laptop use. Sure, I knew it would be nice, and if I could choose between getting a laptop that had it or one that didn’t, I would choose the one that did. But for the most part, I was impartial.

Now, after a week with the multi-touch, I am hooked. Not only are the old multi-touch features (two-finger scrolling) new to me, but the newest features (three-finger swipe, pinch, and etc.) are brilliant.

Just like on the iPhone, the multi-touch gestures make perfect sense in context. Which means I don’t have to think about them. Once I settled that three fingers swiping from left to right means “next” I find myself naturally using it in places I hadn’t even thought about, without thinking about it. It already feels natural.

In iCal the three-finger swipe takes you to the next or previous day/week/month in your calendar. In Apple’s Mail the swipe takes you to the next email message. In Preview, you get the next page. And it’s the same with pinching: On the desktop, pinching enlarges or shrinks your icon sizes. In Preview, it enlarges the image or document. And, more…

Even the short tutorial videos in the trackpad preferences pane are brilliant. What a perfect way to demonstrate how to use all the different options.

Right now, multi-touch to the trackpad is what keyboard shortcuts are to the the keyboard. But But it’s apparent that multi-touch to the trackpad can be what Quicksilver is to the keyboard.

Since multi-touch is really only helpful inside apps which are primarily designed as mostly mouse-input apps (iCal, Safari, iPhoto) versus keyboard-input apps, if you’re in an app that is mostly a keyboard-input app, forcing yourself to use multi-touch instead of keyboard shortcuts is a little more trouble than it’s worth. But, if you’re fingers are already on the trackpad then multi-touch features can be great.

Clearly, multi-touch won’t be able to replace all the keyboard shortcuts. But certainly the most common ones.

To see how multi-touch would work with some of the 3rd Party apps I use regularly, I installed the beta of MultiClutch.

MultiClutch takes keyboard shortcuts and maps them to trackpad gestures for certain applications. I honestly haven’t found it indispensable, since the applications that I find myself using multi-touch functionality already support it: Mail, iCal and Safari. But I have been able to set a couple new convenient gestures.

The MultiClutch setup pane is pretty straight forward. You add an application to the list, select the multi-touch gesture and then pick the keyboard shortcut you want accompany it and.

MultiClutch Setup Menu

When I’m in an app that I wish had some multi-touch functionality I can go to MultiClutch, add the gesture, and the new mapping works instantly. As of now I’ve only added four gestures in MultiClutch. Two in NetNewsWire and two global shortcuts.

In NNW I wanted to map three-finger swipe to the space bar — this makes sense because the swipe means “next” and pressing spacebar takes you to your next unread feed. But MultiClutch doesn’t allow me to map the spacebar as a shortcut key.

Fortunately, pressing CMD+/ also takes you to “Next Unread”, and pressing CMD+’ takes you to previous unread. I mapped these to the three-finger swipes for previous and next, respectively. This actually works better though, because CMD+/ takes you directly to the next unread item, whereas spacebar also scrolls down the article until it gets to the end, and then takes you to the next unread item. I can use the swipe shortcut and the two-finger scrolling to read a bit easier in NNW than what just spacebar alone offers.

For the two global shortcuts, I mapped “Swipe Up” and “Swipe Down” to “Page Up” and “Page Down” respectively. This has been great for Safari, and other similar situations where I want to get to the very top or very bottom of the page.

Unfortunately, Adobe CS3 doesn’t get any love from MultiClutch. It would be great if pinching in or out would zoom respectively, and three-finger swiping would take me to the next page in InDesign, but gesture mapping through MultiClutch doesn’t work with Carbon apps.

Obviously multi-touch has a bright future. I think it’s a privilege to be around from the start, so one day I can say something like, “I remember when I had to click on the sidebar and drag down to see the rest of the page.”

Hard Drive

I am determined not to be a digital pack-rat. I delete anything and everything I can and try to keep around only the files which I am quite confident I will need again in the future. I simply hate keeping something on my computer simply because I might, maybe, possibly need it one day.

Needless to say, upgrading the hard-drive’s speed instead of capacity was a no brainer. I paid the $100 upgrade to get the 200 GB 7,200 RPM hard drive. Looking in the System Profiler, I found the drive is from Hitachi.

The MacBook Pro’s hard drive is as quiet as my PowerBook’s used to be before I manually replaced the drive in the G4 a few months ago. (I took out the stock Hitachi 80 GB 4,500 RPM drive it came with and put in a Seagate 100 GB 7,200 RPM drive I bought from NewEgg.) The first thing I noticed with my PowerBook’s new drive was the hum and even some vibration.

The Mac Pro tower currently has two hard drives: The 250 GB Western Digital drive it came with and an additional 500 GB Seagate drive I added later. The drives are quiet, but it’s the fans that make so much noise.

All this to say I am very impressed at how quiet the MacBook Pro is: The fans and the hard drive.

Sleeping

If I leave the MacBook Pro alone for awhile and the screen goes to sleep, the white LED comes on, but at full-strength (not pulsing or breathing). I am not quite sure what the point of that feature is, though. I suppose it’s so I can instantly tell the state of my Mac if the screen is off.

This feature also comes in to play when closing the lid to put the Mac to sleep. The white LED will come on right away at full-strength, but won’t start “breathing” until the laptop actually goes to sleep. I’m used to waiting until the LED comes on, but now I have to watch it and wait for it to start breathing before I can pack up the laptop. I wish they would have left that alone.

Unfortunately, putting the MacBook Pro to sleep takes 30-45 seconds. This is a long time to wait when you’re ready to go. But the reason it takes so long to sleep is because your computer is writing all the information that’s in RAM to your disc. This way you won’t lose any info if your battery dies, or falls out while in sleep mode. But with 2 to 4 GB of RAM it can take quite a while.

There’s a short terminal command (via Paul) to change the sleep-mode from the default “3” to “0” which fixes the slow sleep frustration:

sudo pmset -a hibernatemode 0

You’ll be prompted to enter your administrator password, and then you’re good to go. And make sure you logout before quitting terminal or the change won’t keep.

What this command does is change your laptop’s sleep-mode from “safe” to “instant”. That means if your battery dies while your laptop is sleeping you’ll lose all your session data.

But I always save – and usually quit out of – everything anyway, so it would be no loss if the battery died. And now the laptop sleeps in about 5 -7 seconds instead of 30 – 45. Hallelujah.

UPDATE: SmartSleep.

Proper Baggage

Finding the right bag seems to be a never-ending venture. I knew I would miss my little Brenthaven bag for the 12-inch PowerBook, but Brenthaven’s 15-inch MBP version was a bit too clunky. I found a slick Burton Bandwidth Case from Turntable Labs. It’s slim, has very little extra storage, and is perfect for the times I just need to take my laptop and nothing else.

That case is not my everyday bag, though. For everyday use I’ve decided I need a backpack: One that doesn’t look like it belongs in a sci-fi movie; one that holds my laptop safely; And one that is the right size (not too big, but not too small).

I’m currently using the Case Logic XN Backpack, and so far, it seems to fit the bill. Granted, I have a pretty bad track record of keeping bags. I’ve been through about 8 in the course of my three laptops, but with each one I get closer to perfection.

Odds and Ends

  • There has been a lot of hub-ubb about the new battery-life claims on Apple’s website. Are the new computers getting worse battery life or are the claims actually realistic? From my own experience so far I’m quite sure the claims are dead-on. I haven’t done any legit testing, but earlier today the battery lasted nearly four hours with the power settings on “Better Performance” and the screen at full brightness — all while typing, surfing the web, listening to music through the built-in speakers, and I downloaded a 1.13 GB movie from iTunes. I have no doubt with more caution I could squeeze 5 hours out of the battery.
  • The new Penryn processor runs much cooler than my old PPC G4. Even on processor intensive apps, with the MacBook Pro on my lap it stays cool and the fan runs virtually silent.
  • The MacBook Pro shipped with it’s own build of OS X 10.5.2 — Build 9C2028. (My PowerBook and Mac Pro are both running Build 9C31.) I imagine this has something to do with the new trackpad new multi-touch features.
  • The MagSafe power adapter is a brilliant invention. Aside from the “safety” factor it’s much easier to connect and disconnect. But the orange or green indicator light only comes on about once every four plug-ins, even though the battery icon in the menu bar indicates charging. I’ll probably take it into the genius bar some-day to get it replaced.
  • When reading on the Apple website I just noticed they refer to the computer as MacBook Pro, not the MacBook Pro. Like iPhone.
  • Something else I’ve noticed about the MacBook Pro’s internal display is that when dimming the screen the increments seem rather far apart. Instead of a gradual dimming, each step is a bit jarring. Though I honestly don’t know for sure, I assume this has something to do with the way an LED display is lit, verses the older CCFL technology.

More Reviews

This is just one of a handful of winded and entertaining software reviews.


  1. Ironically all three machines are still in the family: I passed the Dell on to my dad a few years ago, and my wife just inherited the PowerBook. As you’ll see in another post with some benchmark stats, even though the PowerBook is much slower than the MBP, my wife insists that what is most important is that her laptop is the “cutest” computer in the house.
  2. Not unlike the original VW Beetle’s body style: “Is that a 1968 VW Bug?” “No. It’s a ’91.”

It’s the Software, Stupid

It’s the Software, Stupid -

Brett touches on exactly how I felt yesterday after watching the application demos at the SDK announcement:

And all this will be available to the entire installed iPhone base. No one gets left out. You do not have to buy another $500 device to get a few new features if you have an old model — just get the new software. [...] This seems so simple. But in the phone industry, this is revolutionary.

After watching the apps get demonstrated I had this “my iPhone is a sleeper agent” sort of feeling. Realizing there is way more under the hood which I, as a user, haven’t fully had the chance to experience yet. And, like Brett says, I don’t have to buy another $500 phone.

The first version of the iPhone may very well be the greatest 1.0 gadget released in history.

I Bought a MacBook Pro

This past Tuesday my new 15-inch MacBook Pro arrived in the mail. I bought the base model of the new multi-touch line announced last week. There is an Apple retail store about twenty minutes from my house, but I ordered online to get the 7,200 RPM hard-drive upgrade.

First impression of the MacBook Pro: extremely impressive.

It is (obviously) light-years faster than my previous laptop, a PowerBook G4, but what is most surprising is how comparable it is to my Mac Pro. I bought the MacBook Pro with no intention of turning it into my main machine (hence why I bought the base, 2.4GHz model), but after a few days with it I am seriously considering selling the Mac Pro and going to a one-machine setup.

Since I got the laptop I have been in process of writing a full review of the thing which will include (totally unofficial) benchmarks comparing the new MBP’s performance to my 3.0 Quad-Core Mac Pro and my previous portable, the 12″ PowerBook G4.

UPDATE: Read the 4,700-word review here.

Daylight Saving Time

This weekend is Daylight Saving Time in the US. Spring forward on Sunday morning at 1:59AM to 3:00AM (which means half the people will show up an hour late to Church).

Also, did you know: “The official spelling is Daylight Saving Time, not Daylight SavingS Time”? I didn’t until just now.

Apple March 6 Event

Apple March 6 Event – The Quicktime video of Steve’s presentation from today announcing the iPhone SDK. I’m just now watching it.

A NetNewsWire Featurette

One of my favorite “featurettes” in NetNewsWire is the copy options when control+clicking on a subscription.

NetNewsWire Copy Options

New Iron Man Trailer

Oh man… Thanks Joshua for pointing out the new Iron Man Trailer.

Weather on iPhone

Weather Underground has a very nice, iPhone optimized webpage. You can find out humidity, dew point, visibility, sunrise, sunset, detailed forecasts and warnings. It even has the large iPhone “slider buttons” for some of the settings such as animating the radar.

Another smart element is the #id links at the top of each section: “Current”, “Radar”, “Forecast” and “Warnings”. Not only can you can skip around between the sections, but each perspective’s section is identified by their title being in yellow (even if you scroll down to it).

I usually just use the Yahoo weather widget to check what the temperature will be and if I can wear flip-flops or not. But I’m adding this to my home screen for when I ever want to check anything more than just temperature.

On Twitter

I’m on Twitter, tonight thinking out-loud during my setup and migration to a new MacBook Pro.

iLT: Web Typography Guide

A Guide to Web Typography by i love typography -

A good list of some rule-of-thumb web type layouts. Particularly: “Remember the line-height CSS property; a good rule of thumb is line-spacing that’s at least 140% of your text size.”

Line height is one of the easiest things to set, yet is so often neglected.

The Daniel Jalkut Interview

Daniel Jalkut is an indie Mac developer, and the man behind Red Sweater Software: “A member of a small yet powerful association of clothing-inspired software name consortium.” Red Sweater has become very well known for its popular Mac apps, such as MarsEdit, FastScripts and more.

I am a big fan of MarsEdit, and therefore it was a great opportunity to interview Daniel via email. We talked about his previous job at Apple, the future of desktop weblog publishing, the importance of publishing a weblog and more.

The Interview

  • SHAWN: A lot of folks around the indie developer community seem to have landed there by “one thing led to another” syndrome, but you seem to have a more streamlined path. You graduated from the University of California with a degree in Computer Science, basically go right to work for Apple and then launch your own software company. How did you decide you wanted to be a software engineer?
  • DANIEL: I don’t think I would characterize my path as exactly streamlined. When I left Apple in 2002 I was dedicated to obtaining a second degree in Music, and expected to earn extra money working in a bookstore, or in a part-time office job at San Francisco State. It wasn’t until I happened upon a Craigslist ad describing, in a nutshell, me as the perfect candidate, that I considered the possibility of building a consulting business.

    After graduating with my Music degree, I ramped up the consulting work, but soon grew very weary of it. I started to explore the idea of a more direct-to-consumers indie software development house. So I would characterize it as fairly “one thing led to another,” after all.

    When I graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1995 I had already been working as a contract quality assurance tester at Apple, mostly over summers. I stayed on as a tester but with my new degree and full-time availability, I pressed for the position I had come to respect so highly: Software Engineer.

    A lot of programmers seem to have been born with the ambition to develop software. For me, it was a much more gradual onset. My Dad is a programmer, and I had every advantage and opportunity to learn programming as a child and as a teenager. But I more or less passed on all of them. It wasn’t until I got to Apple and became passionate about the Mac that I started to become really driven about developing software. I think because seeing what good software could do for ordinary people completely opened my eyes about what the job should be all about.
  • SHAWN: But you started Red Sweater in 2000; what did you do with it for those two years if you weren’t trying to build a consulting business and weren’t doing software development yet?
  • DANIEL: I knew I had some ambition, but what exactly I would end up doing was sort of vague and ill-defined. Also, my commitment to running a business sort of waxed and waned those first few years. To give you a sense for how uncertain I was at the time, my original business vision included three wings: Red Sweater Software, Records, and Press. Knowing now how much work it takes to run even one, focused business, it was obviously unachievable. But just having the business established gave me the framework to start playing with ideas. I ended up shipping Clarion and FastScripts as Red Sweater products, but after that it was many years before my next product, FlexTime, was released in 2006.
  • SHAWN: So you wanted to make software, produce albums and publish books? Does that mean you’re a writer too?
  • DANIEL: The book publishing aspirations were vague, but I didn’t anticipate publishing my own works. I was just enamored with the idea of being able to help people I admired get their words out. I felt the same way about music. Having a little bit of success in the software business gave me more financial flexibility than a lot of creative people who I knew.

    But I have also always considered myself something of a writer. I think my commitment to blogging is evidence of my interest in written communication.

  • SHAWN: Where did you come up with the name “Red Sweater”?
  • DANIEL: This is one of those questions that’s really easy to answer, but impossible to explain. I had a favorite old red sweater, and I was wearing it when the time came for a name. I particularly liked the ways that Red Sweater Records and Red Sweater Press came off the tongue. Too bad they never materialized!
  • SHAWN: It’s a good thing you weren’t wearing a pink parka.
  • DANIEL: You don’t think Pink Parka would be a good name? I kind of like it. Quick, somebody register the domain name!
  • SHAWN: Is there a story behind the “dots” design in your weblog’s header?
  • DANIEL: The story of the dot design is actually documented on my weblog. It was done using a programmatic python-based graphics tool called NodeBox. In general I am drawn to designs with mathematic precision, yet which are flawed or texturized in some way. I think this is probably not an unusual aesthetic to be drawn to, because it sort of mirrors nature and humanity.
  • SHAWN: Now that the software side is more established do you see yourself pursuing one of the other two sometime?
  • DANIEL: I don’t think it’s likely. The dust has settled and Red Sweater is a software company.
  • SHAWN: About your move to Apple. Most guys are passionate about the Mac before they go to work for Apple. What was it about your job that opened your eyes to see what good software does for ordinary people?
  • DANIEL: Well I had gotten bitten by the Mac bug, and that’s what drove me to want a job at Apple at all. But I didn’t acquire the real passion until I learned it on the job. There is a tendency within Apple to strive for perfection. Nobody laughs at you if you try to make something flawless. This is different from many other software businesses, and was dramatically different from the few little software-related jobs I’d had before.

    These days a lot of people see me as a finicky and nit-picking type of person. It’s because when I look at software, I look at it through this ambitious, striving for perfection type of lens that I picked up from Apple. And I hasten to add that I don’t think my products are by any means perfect. It’s the thing about perfection. It’s really hard, probably impossible. But what Apple does is strive for it anyway, even if it’s impossible. I came to respect that attitude very much, to the point that I can no longer relate to people who don’t share that view.

  • SHAWN: In a remote way your experience working at Apple sounds very much like the environment I’m a part of at the Christian ministry I work for. We have had live prayer and music 24/7 since 1999.

    Both of us work (or worked in your case) with people who love what they do and are surrounded by others who strive for excellence while pioneering something new and unique even though others may see it as “too much” or unnecessary.

  • DANIEL: It’s an interesting comparison, especially when you consider how dismissive people who don’t appreciate the Mac are of those who do. It’s definitely one of those situations where I can see it being offensively exuberant to people who don’t share the same passion.
  • SHAWN: True. There is certainly a difference between being passionate, open and honest about something that is important to us, verses force feeding our opinions onto others simply because they don’t agree.

    What did you do at Apple?

  • DANIEL: My first software engineering job was on the System 7 integration team. What we did was develop two of the core pieces of the operating system: the System File, and the System Enabler. These files, combined with the ROM file, essentially contained the equivalents of what we now consider to be the Carbon APIs. I worked mostly on fixing weird bugs that would come up as a result of new hardware or changes in software from other groups.

    When Mac OS X started being developed, I was very interested and lobbied for a transfer. Three of us who had been working in the same group on OS 9 found ourselves in the CoreServices group on OS X, which was sort of the perfect counterpart to what we had been doing. I was primarily responsible for the Code Fragment Manager, which was a library designed to run applications which had been compiled to run on the older OS 9 system.

    My first taste of Cocoa programming came from a class I took inside Apple. It was just the basics, but it resonated with me and I quite enjoyed it. I didn’t realize that I would one day spend most of every day programming with it. In retrospect, I wish I had spent more time picking the brains of the Cocoa frameworks engineers, who were right down the hall from me.
  • SHAWN: Why did you decide to leave Apple? Was it solely to pursue your music degree, or was there more to it then that? Did you feel constrained or held back at all as an engineer or in your aspirations as a programmer/developer?
  • DANIEL: I like to quip that I was going through a “mid-20’s crisis.” There were a lot of reasons behind my decision to leave, but at the core of it was a sense that I hadn’t done anything besides work at Apple. Since I came to the company straight out of school, and achieved a substantial level of success, I thought it would be too easy to kick back and pass the next 20 years there. I don’t think that would have been such a bad thing to do, but I had some major ambitions such as earning the music degree, which I didn’t see working well alongside full-time employment.

    I didn’t feel particularly constrained as a programmer. There were plenty of opportunities, had I chosen to stay. One of the great things about a company like Apple is that it’s so big, there are many different, valuable pursuits being made in parallel. It’s relatively easy for most employees to switch emphasis and apply for a job in another group, often to work on a completely different technology, with completely different skill sets. I knew software developers who become hardware engineers, and vice-versa.

  • SHAWN: When I was doing freelance design I had a handful of friends who also were doing freelance, and I would send them design concepts and mock-ups and ask their feedback. Also, when I couldn’t take a project, I would referrer the requesting client to one of my friends. It was sort-of a “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” deal, because they would also send me stuff to look at.

    Is there anything like that in your line of work? Other than beta testers, do you have a group of other indie developers you send stuff to for feedback and critiques?

  • DANIEL: The Mac indie development scene offers great, mostly informal support structures through which we are constantly helping each other out. The resources range from mailing lists facilitated by Apple, to the MacSB business-oriented list run by Gus Mueller at Flying Meat, to an informal chat room, #macsb, on the Freenode IRC chat network. Twitter has also started to play a huge role in connecting developers with each other (and with users, in fact).

    On top of all this, it’s really easy to form social clusters of like-minded developers. I will often inquire directly with another developer via email or AIM, if I think we have expertise that is worth comparing notes on. As to your original example, of passing excess work on to other developers, this is definitely something I have tried to do, although lately since I’ve removed the emphasis on consulting from my web site, I get a lot fewer cold-calls for consulting work.

  • SHAWN: For you, how does running Red Sweater Software differ from working for Apple?
  • DANIEL: The biggest difference is I call all the shots. This is both good and bad, obviously. At Apple there were brilliant marketers and graphic designers, not to mention accountants, lawyers, etc. I even had access to smarter developers than myself! But there is a great joy in knowing that the buck stops with you, and that the products you ship, at the end of the day, are either 100% the way you want them to be, or on their way in that direction.

    I have grown to really enjoy the supremely flexible schedule of working for myself. I think it probably doesn’t work for everybody, but I’m incredibly self-driven. So if there’s work to be done, and I think it’s important, it will get done. I find it very compatible with my work style to be able to work for marathon hours when I’m inspired, and then take off for a day if I feel like it. The corporate environment, even at a relatively flexible company like Apple, is still very obsessed with the idea of the day as a basic unit of work. I always found it a bit stressful to know that I had to be at work for a fixed number of days per year.

  • SHAWN: In the long run do you think working for Apple helped or hindered your career as an indie software developer?
  • DANIEL: Absolutely I think it helped me. Working for such a great company instilled such great software values in me, I’m not sure I would have learned them otherwise, without great individual and institutional mentorship.

    Another way that my experience at Apple helped was in the sense that it provided me with a sort of safety net, giving me the confidence to feel that I could always go back to Apple or another company of that stature. It also puts my professionalism into context, for people who are not too familiar with the Mac community. For instance, while I was consulting, it was important to some people hiring me to do ports from Windows, that I had worked at “the ultimate Mac software company.”

  • SHAWN: Do you ever miss the “team” dynamic at Apple now that you work from home? Do you think you would work better with more people on board at Red Sweater?
  • DANIEL: Oh, sure. There are some great benefits to working in a team environment. Especially in a place like Apple where there’s always something going on, and you’re in the midst of such highly qualified people.

    Working at home has definitely been a shift from that, but modern technology (and some antiquated technology such as IRC) have done a good job of filling the gaps a bit. I find myself with easier access to a large group of thoughtful people now, than I did sometimes working late nights at Apple in “radio silence.”

  • SHAWN: What does an average day look like for you?
  • DANIEL: It’s kind of depressing in some ways. Actually, instilling structure on a work-for-yourself scenario is something that fascinates me, and something I’m always trying to improve. It’s really hard, when you call all the shots, to not let yourself follow whatever whimsical path attracts your attention at any given moment in the day. I’ve actually found a great use for my application, FlexTime, as a means of imposing some structure on an otherwise haphazard day.

    That said, I’m still pretty disorganized in this regard, so in all honesty, a typical day for me is to wake up and immediately start working. The hours then surrender to tackling bug fixes, implementing features, responding to customer support inquiries, and trying to squeeze in some socializing via chat and Twitter.

    Left to my own devices I will work all day and into the night, so I’ve developed some tricks to get myself away from the computer. Forcing myself to take a shower, make lunch, go to the gym, etc., are good ways of punctuating the work with other activities. This is something I hope to write more about in my blog, because as I said, it fascinates me.

  • SHAWN: I could easily work all day and into the night as well. It’s part of the glories and perils of loving your job.

    What I like about breaking up my day from the computer is that it helps me feel a bit more accomplished at the end of the day. If I spend 8 or 10 hours typing, clicking and dragging all day I don’t always feel productive or feel like I’ve actually done anything. There is often nothing tangible produced. Getting out of the house to run errands, exercise, go on a date with my wife, etc. all help satisfy my need to do something that is “productive.”

  • DANIEL: That’s a great point.
  • SHAWN: About your weblog: Pretty much every software company has a weblog nowadays, but you write more than just release announcements. How do you think publishing your weblog has helped Red Sweater Software? Or has it?
  • DANIEL: I attribute a great deal of my so-called-success to the blog. I wasn’t exactly a household name because of it, but writing regularly and, I suppose well, in my blog helped me to attract a certain level of recognition among other developers and power users.

    Having spent so many years inside Apple, I was a virtual unknown to the outside world. The blog helped put me “on the map,” and I think it set the stage so that when I acquired MarsEdit, it wasn’t “some nobody,” but “the well known Mac developer.”

    I highly recommend blogs for anybody who wants to self-promote on the web. Regardless of your interests or your writing ability, there is a way for you to present quality perspectives to the web, and you will gain a readership that trusts and reads you faithfully. It’s important to note that I’ve been saying this for years, since long before I acquired a blog editing application!

  • SHAWN: That is pretty much exactly what I expected you would say, and I couldn’t agree more. In an article I wrote back in November, I said: “Consider your time spent setting up and then publishing your blog as part of your global advertising campaign.

    I would argue that someone with a business or service which gets (or could get) a great deal of their clients and revenue through the web can’t afford not to publish a weblog nowadays.

    There is this quote from Brent Simmons, and even though it’s nearly 5 years old I love the analogy Brent makes in his interview with Michael Lopp:

    The main thing is: if you don’t have a weblog, I probably don’t know you, and I don’t have an easy way to get to know you. If you have a weblog, I’m either reading it already or I can read it and look in the archives a bit to get a sense of who you are.

    It’s kind of like if we all lived in the same small town. The people who have weblogs are like the people who make a point of going to Main Street at least a few times a week. They go to the barber shop, the grocer’s, the lunch counter — they get out and talk to people.

    If you don’t have a weblog, it’s like you live on the outskirts of town and have all your food delivered and you even have people come mow your lawn so you don’t have to go outside.

    No matter how big the web gets, it will always be a small town because that’s how you interact with it. You can’t help but make your own small town out of it.

    As your body is to your physical presence, your weblog is to your web presence.

  • DANIEL: That is a great analogy.
  • SHAWN: Beyond the publicity side of things, I am also curious if having a weblog — meaning the process of writing your thoughts out, publishing them and interacting with readers — has helped the development side of Red Sweater Software. Or, to sum up: are you a better programmer because of your weblog?
  • DANIEL: Oh, absolutely. One of the other great qualities of a blog that has some instructive angle, is that it gives an excuse and a motivation for thinking through problems in type. There is a conventional wisdom that the best way to learn something is to teach it. I think that rings very true for instructive blogging. For instance, if I take the time to explain in excruciating detail how I found a bug and what the solution was, I will have inevitably learned more from the experience, than by simply stumbling upon the solution and fixing it. The challenge on Red Sweater Blog is more and more to explain the technical side of something in a way that might still be interesting to nontechnical end users.

    Similarly, I have taken the opportunity to write philosophically from time to time. If a passing thought occurs to me, I can either let the thought pass back into the ether, or else write about it and explore those feelings in greater detail. This happened while I was sailing one day, and I felt compelled to examine boat navigation as a metaphor for achieving goals in life: “Forget The Shortest Path“.

    That passing thought became a lot more meaningful to me because I took the time to explore it in print. The process of blogging instructively can benefit both the writer and the readers.

  • SHAWN: I agree. Something else I like about posts such as that one is that they help open up the author to the reader. Sharing personal revelations or stories help make other posts more flavorful and enjoyable to regular readers.

    About MarsEdit: Why did you buy it from NewsGator?

  • DANIEL: It was a perfect opportunity at the (almost) perfect time in my development career. I had just lunged into committing myself 100% to doing indie software development, and had finalized a deal to acquire the crossword application that I now sell as Black Ink. When a deal with NewsGator presented itself, I knew I would be a fool not to explore the possibility.

    Since MarsEdit was already one of the applications that I used every day and cared deeply about, it made it easy for me to get excited about working on it. And the fact that it also excited a good chunk of the blogging public, and brought with it incredible name recognition and brand appeal, was just icing on the cake that made the decision pretty easy for me.

  • SHAWN: Absolutely. It’s not everyday a piece of software with massive potential becomes available in a niche that is growing exponentially.

    What do you mean by “almost”?

  • DANIEL: What I mean by almost is that as luck would have it, I was knee deep in the final phases of another acquisition, when the opportunity to purchase MarsEdit came onto the radar. So ideally, I think the acquisitions of Black Ink and MarsEdit would have happened with some breathing room in between them. The only thing that could have made MarsEdit more perfect is if I wasn’t occupied with another acquisition at the time.
  • SHAWN: How did the MarsEdit acquisition happen?
  • DANIEL: I had gotten to know Brent Simmons, and he knew I was a MarsEdit fan. I think the pieces just fell into place, so he introduced me to NewsGator and we agreed that it would be a benefit to all parties if the application got some new life at Red Sweater.
  • SHAWN: With the inclusion of RSS aggregation in Leopard’s version of Mail it’s just another sign that Apple is taking hold of technologies which weren’t so mainstream in its OS and are now implementing them in a much more streamlined way. Obviously the RSS reader in Mail still leaves some to be desired by the “power user”, but I’m sure it’s still exactly what many people want.
  • DANIEL: It’s a streamlined, basic introduction to the concept. I think it works very well for many people.
  • SHAWN: I agree. Who I’m thinking it doesn’t necessarily work for is, like I said, the “power user” — someone with more than say, a dozen feeds. But when it comes to publishing a weblog it seems the standards are different. A basic user and power user may very well have the exact same needs, just varying degrees of time and effort.
  • DANIEL: I think there are still metrics against which a tool such as MarsEdit inevitably outshines a simpler solution. For instance, as a comparison to number of feeds consider number of blogs. A typical user will get a great benefit from MarsEdit with just one blog. But if you’ve got a dozen blogs, the powers of MarsEdit sort of magnify. So you can imagine Apple offering a robust solution that still fails to satisfy all the varying use cases that motivate users to love MarsEdit.
  • SHAWN: My point exactly.

    In the back of my mind I have this idea of weblog publishing as the next major feature addition to Apple Mail, but as I’m saying that I realize how rare the chances of that actually being are. And even if it did happen, I suppose the person who spends a substantial amount of their time in MarsEdit wouldn’t want to use Mail instead. They would prefer a dedicated app, therefore keeping the market for MarsEdit open.

  • DANIEL: I don’t feel too threatened by it. Apple seems to be in the mood to jam-pack Mail with features lately, so I guess it wouldn’t be the most surprising thing. But I really doubt that it would be implemented in a “best of breed” type of way. I think some of the features Apple adds are about satisfying bullet points more than anything. They’re unlikely to evolve beyond a cursory development.
  • SHAWN: Do you think you’ll someday be competing with a dedicated Apple brand desktop publisher?
  • DANIEL: In a strange way they already do. Apple offers a blogging solution by way of iWeb and a .Mac account, but it uses a static publishing type of approach, which is different from the trend among all the most popular blogging services on the web, which do a good job of separating the content from the presentation. It’s this separation of the content which makes it possible for a tool like MarsEdit to handle composing and sending the content without having to construct the entire web page.

    I have thought from time to time whether Apple might step further into the blogging client business. You may know that Microsoft has a popular client on the PC called Windows Live Writer. I guess if Apple was in the mood to match Microsoft app for app, I might be looking for a new product on the horizon. But I’m not sure whether Apple entering the business would necessarily be a bad thing for MarsEdit. I subscribe to the theory that Apple tends to validate markets more than destroy them. I’m sure I might feel different if I had gotten the wind knocked out of me with iTunes or Sherlock, but I believe the desktop blogging market will ultimately be large enough to accommodate many choices for users.

  • SHAWN: It does seem like a slim chance Apple would create a dedicated weblog publisher that was outside of iWeb, and iWeb would have to see a major structure change to accommodate easy publishing to other CMSs like WordPress or Movable Type. I wonder what the ratio of Mac users with an iWeb blog to XML-based blog is; probably 100 to 1?
  • DANIEL: It’s a really good question, and I don’t really know. I can only gauge by the number of requests I get for .Mac blog support. It’s a really small number of people, compared to inquiries even about lesser-known XML-based blogs. But it’s impossible to say whether people who have .Mac blogs are happy with iWeb, or whether there aren’t that many of them.
  • SHAWN: A shot in the dark here, but I’m guessing that adding a WYSIWYG editor is the number one feature request for MarsEdit. You mentioned on Red Sweater Blog you’ve got some great plans for WYSIWYG in the pipeline. What’s that going to look like?
  • DANIEL: You know, WYSIWYG support is among the most requested features, but I don’t think that means it’s the most desired feature. Does that make any sense? A certain type of potential customer tends to request the feature, or explains that it’s because of that omission that they won’t be buying the app. But they are certainly far outnumbered by the number of users who buy the app and express no concern whatsoever, or who express concerns about different features entirely. The thing I try to keep in mind, is that WYSIWYG is a distinct, sort of self-contained feature. It’s something that will grow my market and be useful to many people, but it’s not something which is inherently necessary to the application.

    Consider the coffee industry. At it’s core, they’re selling a caffeinated beverage that people love. Imagine a wildly successful coffee company that is selling coffee faster than they can make it. They offer a variety of roasts, specialized drinks, even gift baskets. But there’s no decaf. The product is popular enough that decaf lovers can’t help but be intrigued, so they perennially ask “where’s the decaf version?” It’s not as though the company needs to drop everything and design a decaf version, because there’s a line of customers piling out the door. It will help their bottom line, but not as much as focusing on the demands and desires of the caffeinated crowd that is currently paying the bills.

    That said, yes I do have plans for WYSIWYG in the pipeline. I guess you said it was a shot in the dark because you realize I don’t want to make too many specific product-related promises. But I am willing to share some of my design considerations. WYSIWYG support in MarsEdit must be invisible to anybody who doesn’t want it. That is, plain-text mode will not be impacted by the presence of this new feature. It must be substantially improved over any other editor I’ve seen on the web or in desktop blog editors. It must either do no harm to customized HTML markup, or else its harm must be easily undoable.

    There are a list of classic things that are wrong with WYSIWYG editors. They over-promise and under-deliver. They’re not actually that easy to use. They mess up your HTML, and often outright eliminate content. I don’t want to make any of those mistakes. That’s what makes the feature hard, and that’s the reason users haven’t seen it yet in MarsEdit.

  • SHAWN: I can imagine that coding a non-destructive WYSIWYG editor would a huge task. Do you hope to incorporate MarsEdit’s “perfect preview” feature in with the WYSIWYG to make a literal what-you-see-is-what-you-get editor?
  • DANIEL: I have considered it, but it strikes me as one of those “cool but not actually very useful” things. At the very least it would need to be optional. Can you imagine an author for a magazine actually wanting to write the article in the format it would appear after publication? For all but the very simplest of blogging, I think people want an authoring environment that looks distinct from the published look.
  • SHAWN: Good point. But at the same time I could see the advantages to having the “perfect preview” being editable too. I’m always proof reading my posts in the preview and when I see a typo it would be nice to have the option of fixing it right there as I’m looking at it. But other than that, I wouldn’t use it; I prefer to type in the text editor.

    In your C4[1] speech you talked about product acquisition and how people suffer from “writer’s block” not “revision block”. Now that you’ve pretty much adapted MarsEdit it into your own app, how has the development and building of it changed since before the 2.0 release?

  • DANIEL: Well mainly what’s changed over the past year is that I’ve become gradually more and more confident about how all the existing code works, and how I might want to change it as the application evolves. So I’m willing to make more dramatic structural changes now than I would have been a few weeks after acquiring it.

    For the most part, though, things haven’t changed. One of the gratifying but sort of frightening things about MarsEdit is that there’s no end in sight. There won’t be this moment when the application is done, because the list of really valuable suggestions for improvement is huge. And every time I fix or implement something, it opens up the door to a dozen new suggests for further refinement. It’s a curse, because I’m always busy. But it’s a blessing, because it means people really care deeply about the product.

  • SHAWN: This is a totally unfair and immature question, but if you had to pick between quitting development on MarsEdit to work on something else or continuing development on MarsEdit only, which would you pick, and why?
  • DANIEL: It is a little unfair, but that’s OK because I’ve got an unfair answer! The premise is so contrived that I can easily answer truthfully. I value variety enough that I would not accept any circumstance that locked me into developing only one application. One of the greatest benefits of being an independent developer is I make all the calls, for better and for worse. If I had to give up that flexibility, I might as well be working for somebody else.

    Now as it happens, MarsEdit is important enough to me, and I’m excited enough about improving it, that I probably spent 90% of my work time over the past year developing and supporting it. But my productivity is aided a great deal by being able to take mental breaks, working on problems in other applications for a change. Some people suggest that it must be overwhelming to work on several products at once, and it would be if they were all in the same phase of development as MarsEdit. But having an assortment of products with differing demands really helps to battle the mental fatigue that can come from working on just one thing all the time.

  • SHAWN: Do you see any new Red Sweater apps on the horizon?
  • DANIEL: I am always thinking of new ideas, and sometimes I’m tempted to go full bore into working on another product. But at this point I’m really sort of stretched as thin as I probably should be, with the current lineup. I won’t rule out additions, but probably things won’t change dramatically until and unless I get the opportunity to grow the company a bit.
  • SHAWN: Is that something you want to do or feel that you may have to do? Is the idea of bringing on an employee (or more) a welcomed challenge or a new stress?
  • DANIEL: It’s a bit of both. At one time I would have found it impossible to imagine wanting employees or being confident about directing another person in how I think products should be designed. But over the past few years I’ve gotten more interested in “the big picture,” and have become increasingly confident about distinguishing what I know from what I don’t. I feel more excited now about someday having people with complementary skills to help with building these products.
  • SHAWN: What does “the big picture” look like for you and Red Sweater software? Are there other business models of indie software developers that you are aspiring to, or do you have something different in mind?
  • DANIEL: When I allude to the big picture I am sort of waxing poetic about a confluence of design, engineering, and management. Let me be honest, I’m not really an expert in any of these things, but I am immensely interested in all of them. The more I learn about business, the more I realize you only need a bit of wisdom to earn a foothold on success. There is still a lot for me to learn, but I’m confident that being receptive to the right answers will be the secret of my success. That’s the big picture.

More Interviews

Daniel’s is just one of a handful of interviews with some cool folks.

My Apologies

I want to apologized for my note yesterday regarding the now free NewsFire. Though I didn’t mean to, what I said clearly came across as smug and anti-NewsFire. That is not what I intended, nor is it an attitude I ever want to see in my writing.

I am sorry if I offended any NewsFire users. I have edited yesterday’s note to be more on par with the attitude I expect from myself.

Everyone has their opinions about the things they like and dislike. But casting something in a poor light simply because we prefer its alternative is not the most mature way to go about sharing our views.

Fluid: Site Specific Browser for Web Apps

Piggy backing on the Top 10 Web Apps results, I thought it was worth mentioning Fluid.

Fluid is a pretty intuitive desktop application for Mac, which helps you run your web based apps as if they were desktop apps. Basically, Fluid puts the site’s favicon in your dock, and clicking it will open that web app into its own site specific browser.

Free NewsFire

NewsFire joined in with many other desktop feed readers for Mac in that it is now free.

Though I prefer NetNewsWire, NewsFire does have a very slick interface and offers some great features — such as shorter refresh times, direct feed discovery, and the ever popular unfolding menus. Probably what I like most about NewsFire is when you select the “New Items” list it displays all the unread articles grouped together by feed.

The World’s Most Popular Web Apps

The World’s Most Popular Web Apps (according to 3,000 people).

Mint lands at #7. Not too shabby, indeed. Congrats, Shaun.