Tag Archives: Mac OS X

Sleazy Practices Cont.

Fired up by Google’s move into the crapware domain by foisting an “updater” on customers who want to install (otherwise great) programs like Google Earth, I took another look at what was happening in the updater sphere.

Apple drew some heat for its own bit of underhandedness recently, when its own Apple Software Updater automatically included downloading the company’s Safari browser. After a backlash, it dropped the Safari from the “Updates” section to a “New Software” section, but still prechecked it:

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In other words, run the updater and not concentrate, and you’ll find yourself downloading 22 MB of browser you didn’t ask for, and didn’t have before.

So no, I don’t think Apple did the right thing here. Apple fans can protest as much as they like, but there’s a clear move here to get new software to users to install software they didn’t ask for and, if they don’t actively intervene, will have it installed by default. Browsers, like media players, are particularly significant because they will try to make themselves the default browser, and users once again need to act against the default process to avoid this.

Needless to say, Apple’s bid has been modestly successful, apparently at least doubling its modest market share for Safari. Still miniscule, but a start.

Of course, software is one thing, but it has to be used. For that it has to be visible to the user. No point in hiding the program launch icons somewhere they can’t be found. On Windows, there are three places you want to be: the desktop, the system tray, or the start menu. Apple is particularly smart about this, ensuring that all its products sit, not in some side-alley subfolder, but in the ‘root’ menu:

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and

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as well as on the desktop:

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(though not, interestingly, the Updater.)

Of course, Apple isn’t alone. Microsoft has long been doing this, as has Adobe.

Folk argue this is all besides the point, that users retain control over their computer and can remove all this stuff if they want. But to me it’s worrying that Apple, Microsoft, Google, Sun, Adobe et al think that this is OK, and, like their defenders, fail to understand that for the vast majority of users, installing software is not an everyday experience, and that these sleights of hand merely cause extra stress, confusion and uncertainty. That can’t be good.

The Leopard’s Spot (On)

Just gotten back from a demo of the new version of Mac’s operating system, Mac OS X Leopard (must confess I don’t like the names. It’s slightly better than Vista, but still a bit lame in my view.) But that’s not the point. I arrived halfway through the demo and so missed a lot of the stuff, but, still. Wow. There’s something about Mac software that makes you go ‘ooo’ even when you don’t really want to.

I won’t bore you with details, but watching it unfold made me think a few things:

  • Rarely is there anything startlingly new here. It’s intuitive, obvious, like all good innovation. But it’s also “why couldn’t we already do this?” And sometimes we could, at least for a while. Like widgets that are actually just segments of a webpage — a daily cartoon, or a CNN news section. I remember we could do this in 2001 in Windows, courtesy of some company that later went bust. Wish I could remember the name.
    (It also made me think of Active Desktop, which I’ve never seen people use, probably because it was fiddly and because very few of us actually saw our desktop for all the programs we had open.) Of course, Apple made it fun, easy and the kind of thing you want to do, rather than do because you can. But it’s still something that should have been around a half decade ago.
  • Then there’s stuff that’s not new, just better. Spaces lets you have lots of desktops. We could do this on Windows years ago, and even Ubuntu has had it as a standard feature for a while, but on a Mac it just looks good, and works as you would want it to. You can drag programs, for example, between virtual desktops (one day, I hope, you will be able to drag data) and the animation is both fun and strangely helpful.
  • Then there’s stuff that looks a bit like a ripoff — data connectors, for example, that will grab addresses from emails for you. Anagram, among other programs, do this already. It’s good that Mac has recognised the usefulness of this application, but you can’t help feeling sorry for the folks who have spent so long developing a feature like this, only to see themselves being overtaken by the Leopard
  • Then there’s true innovation, based on watching how people work. Like the demo guy (who used the word “cool” about 398 times too many in the presentation) said, a lot of us use email software in a way that wasn’t intended — as a kind of word processor cum note taker cum to do list. Apple realised this, and have turned Mail into exactly that, allowing you to add to do lists with images and stuff embedded. Nothing startling, but acknowledging how we work and making it easier for us.

This is not to detract from Apple’s achievement. Leopard looks hot, and makes Vista look impoverished and, I suspect, somewhat irrelevant, like someone trying to sell aluminum siding to people who realise that while people still have it on their houses, no one really wants it anymore. Apple see what people want and give it to them.

Not once did the guy mention speed, or having lots of applications open, or ‘experience’. I find that telling. Maybe he forgot to, but I always shiver when I hear these words. I know that users don’t think like that; they want to know what they can do, not whether screen redraws are quicker or the edges of windows bend like willow. (They’re happy if they do, but that’s not why they buy an OS.) Neither do they want an “experience” — they want to do stuff. Leopard, it seems will, let them to do that.

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Opera Gets Widgetized

The Opera browser continues to impress, even as it becomes less and less relevant in the face of the mighty Firefox. This week Opera’s preview puts widgets on stage according to CNET :

Opera Software on Tuesday plans to release a second preview version of Opera 9, the next version of its namesake Web browser. For the first time, the new version will include support for so-called widgets, Opera representative Thomas Ford said. Widgets are essentially small browser windows that display information taken from the Internet on a user’s desktop. The notion is similar in concept to the widget idea that Apple Computer uses in the Dashboard feature of Mac OS X.

“It is really a big jump for us into Web applications,” Ford said. “They give people the information they want right on the desktop. Even if it is a Web page, people don’t have to go to the browser to see it.”

Actually Windows users have had access to widgets for a while, via Klips and Konfabulator, now bought and rebranded by the folks at Yahoo! as straight Widgets. I’m a big fan of widgets but I find I don’t use them as much as I should. It’ll be interesting to see how Opera handles it. The preview version also includes support for BitTorrent, the file distribution protocol.

Apple and Google AdWords

Further to my piece about Apple going after web sites using “iPod” somewhere in their name, is the company Apple going after third party developers using Google AdWords? A piece in TidBITS (“Apple Cracks Down on Google AdWords”) paints a worrying picture of trademark protection gone mad:

some recent unsettling events indicate that Apple may in fact be moving in the direction of preventing third-parties from using Apple trademarks in advertising. Last week, I received a confusing email message from Google AdWords Support, telling me that they had “disapproved” several of the ads I placed for “Take Control of Mac OS X Backups” because the ads used the trademarked term “Mac” in their text (there was no complaint about the fact that I was using “Mac” as one of the keywords that triggered my ads).

It’s a good piece, and errs on the side of caution as to Apple’s motives (suggesting it may be some over eager legal eagle.) But I do worry about this kind of thing. The developers of third party products for Apple have been instrumental in the company’s success, and this kind of misstep will damage their appetite to continue. Also, the non-response to this article by Apple PR is a familiar story and a disappointment. Contrary to what some folk have written I’m a huge fan of Apple’s products, but that’s not the point here. Every company needs to reach some basic standard of transparency and accountability, however great the stuff they put out.

Yahoo! Follows Loose Wire Advice, Buys Konfabulator

You probably knew this, but the Blessing of Loose Wire strikes again: Yahoo! buys Konfabulator, a widget manufacturer I wrote about in a recent column:

Yahoo! has bought Konfabulator, the software that brought widgets to the Mac and latterly to Windows.

Apple has since developed its own widget environment, Dashboard, and integrated it into the latest version of OS X. It was assumed that Konfabulator would quietly die; instead the developers brought out a Windows version good enough to attract the attention of the Internet search giant.

Widgets are small, floating applications that give access to specific information or tools, and provide easy and quick access to Web-based data without needing to resort to a browser. Popular widgets include weather and stock trackers and a yellow pages search.

Yahoo! are expected to use the technology to make it easier to access its services and, like Apple, is keen for developers to build their own widgets.

‘We are lowering the bar and letting people do a lot more with our material,’ said Toni Schneider, vice president of the company’s developer network.

Avid readers (hi, Mum!) may recall that as soon as I wrote a column about oddPost it was bought by Yahoo!. Then, shortly after I wrote about the email program Bloomba, they bought that. If they like I can suggest some other purchases…

The Buzztracker Widget

Craig Mod of the excellent buzztracker news/map visualizer tells me of a new tool he’s created for Mac Tiger users: the buzztracker widget:

The buzztracker widget allows you to add live buzztracker images and data to your desktop using Apple OS X 10.4’s Dashboard.

The widget features hooks into buzztracker.org, allowing you to instantly access the day’s top location data and newest maps.

Here’s what it looks like:

I am very jealous, and quietly hoping a Windows version is in the offing. If you haven’t tried out buzztracker, I suggest you do. It’s a wonderful mind-opener.

Skype Launches Full Linux, Mac Versions

Skype will today announce the launch of full versions for Mac OS X and Linux, which include “the extensive functionality available in Skype for Windows 1.0 such as: free Skype to Skype calling and conference calling for up to 5 participants, cross-platform communications, rich presence and personalization features, and the pre-pay SkypeOut service – allowing users to call any landline or mobile worldwide for the price of a local call.”

The Moleskine Report, Part II

Continuing to add material that I could not include, or could not include much of, in my WSJ.com, piece (which comes out today), here’s the second emailed reply that I thought might interest readers. It’s from Mike Rohde, a graphic and web designer, working for the international engineering and web services firm MakaluMedia, and I include his reply in its entirety because it’s very interesting:

I work remotely from home with colleagues in Germany, Spain, France and Ireland, helping design and building web applications, web sites for small & medium-sized firms and corporate identity work.

I manage projects with my colleagues and clients via email, IM chat, voice over IP, phone and web, from my home office. So as you can see I work pretty digitally during the day.

Personally I am quite digitally oriented as well, writing a weblog, reading many weblogs, using email, chat and VOIP with international friends. Specifically, I have text and VOIP chats with one friend living in the UK on a weekly basis via Apple iChat.

I was introduced to PCs and technology as a teen, when my dad explored his interest in computers. I now see this was critical to the way I work now, as my experimentation and use of computers then, reduced the fear of technology very early, and gave me the sense that I could bend technology to my needs.

My higher education was focused on graphic design. Following graduation, I spent 9 years as a print designer and system manager for a design studio, moving into web design in the late 90s. In 1998 I began working with MakaluMedia, remotely from my home office.

As you know I have an interest in sketching with Moleskines; I also use a Miquelrius sketchbook for generating ideas and layouts for my business activities, like design ideas, logo concepts and so on.

However, after some thought, I chose to use a digital approach for recording my business diary, which I have found works quite well. Further, I enjoy using paper diaries to record personal thoughts and observations, mainly because I enjoy the tactile feel of paper and pen.

So, I enjoy both digital and analog means of recording thoughts, depending upon the use and context. Hopefully that provides you with a good starting point about me and my approach. 🙂

Here are my answers to the questions you have posed:

What do you use, exactly, in digital and paper terms?
How do you use them?

Digital:
———–
1. Business Diary: I keep a business journal as a plain text document on my Mac Powerbook. There I record MakaluMedia related thoughts, web links and comments of clients and colleagues. I separate entries by date and archive each month’s diary to dated plain text files (Makalu-Diary-2004-12.txt). The current month’s diary is synchronized to my palmOne Tungsten E PDA via DataViz DocumentsToGo.

2. Project Specific Notes: These kept in DayLite, a networked Mac OS X business application very much like ACT! for PC (http://www.marketcircle.com/). Notes relative to projects recorded in my business diary and emails are copied into DayLite as notes for access by myself and my MakaluMedia colleagues.

3. Business & Personal Links: I store interesting business and personal web bookmarks at my del.icio.us account (http://del.icio.us/rohdesign) and also in the Safari browser on my Mac.

4. Personal Blog: This is my public forum for thoughts, ideas, reflections, designs, sketches and whatever else seems pertinent to my personal and business life. I try to be encouraging, inspiring, humorous, serious here, but the entries are definitely for public consumption. I do share personal details but have an internal gut feel for where the line ought to be.

Because I built a reputation writing the Palm Tipsheet for many years (it was sold in ’03), many of my longstanding blog readers are Palm users who came from that newsletter. I do like to discuss mobile tech, but intentionally explore other topics, because I think life is broader than technology.

5. Personal Notes & Sketches: I also occasionally write notes (Memo Pad) or make digital sketches (Note Pad) with my palmOne Tungsten E, which are then synchronized to my Mac Powerbook.

Paper (Analog):
———————-
1. Business Concepts & Sketches: Stored in my Miquelrius gridded notebook. This is the place were I start ideas going, work out concepts (visual or textual) and sketch layouts for websites or logos. Often my sketches will be scanned and presented to clients and colleagues to show concepts or direction before I flesh out ideas on the computer.

2. Personal Sketches: Small Moleskine sketchbook for sketching (e.g. proj: exhibition sketchtoons), and a small Moleskine gridded notebook for ideas and concepts I come up with (e.g. ideas for home or personal projects, dream tech concepts, etc.).

3. Personal Diary: Small Italian-made notebook for recording thoughts of the day, reflections and goals. Usually I enter thoughts at night in bed, or at the café over coffee in this diary. Entries are not regular (daily) but rather entered when I have the need or urge to get something down.

(Note: I can provide scans from my paper sources if they are helpful)

Why still use paper?

Refuge & Escape from the Digital World. Paper is a refuge from my very digital lifestyle. I spend quite a bit of time on my Mac (at work and personally), so time with a nice pen, rich black ink or smooth pencil lead on crisp paper, are very much an escape from bits and pixels.

Immediacy. The immediacy of paper is very gratifying. I can knock out several concept sketches in the time it might take to fiddle around with Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop on just one tight drawing. Further, immediacy and looseness of ink or pencil on paper lets me explore with more latitude. I find that once I move to the computer, my ideas naturally tighten up and loose their loose qualities.

No batteries required. I love that my sketchbooks require no battery or wall connection. If the power goes dead, I can still work with my sketchbook and pen. The simplicity of a book and pen keeps me from getting hung up on technical issues as often pop up carrying a laptop and peripherals to support it, or choosing which café has WiFi so I can remain connected.

Portability. When I need to be creative, I just grab my sketchbook and head for a local café or library — the ideas just seem to flow. I also like that a sketchbook can be kept in a pocket at all times, without regard to cold or heat, or location. Sketchbooks can also take a beating better than techy gadgets. 🙂

Any particular Eureka moment on using paper?

Probably about a year ago I started realizing that I was using sketches less that I had in the past for my business design work at MakaluMedia. I decided to focus on making sketching an integrated part of my work. Since integrating sketching I’ve noticed my creativity has improved greatly.

Are you alone, or does everyone you know follow the same practice?

As I work alone from my home office, I can only comment on my own methods directly, though the posts I have made related to use of paper sketchbooks and diaries have brought interesting comments from other digital folks who also integrate paper into their lives. Mane are Moleskine fans like me, others feel that paper offers them options not easily available digitally.

Do you get odd looks for using paper?

Quite to the contrary — people who see my business or personal sketchbooks are always interested in having a look at them, and comment how they wish they could draw. I encourage them to give it a try, because a paper sketchbook or journal are just tools to get your mind working creatively.

Do you think paper and digital might merge, a laLogitech’s io Pen, or is that the wrong way of looking at things?

I think there is an overlap. I have not used a Wacom tablet for some time, but am actually considering one now, to see what options it might offer me on the digital side of things. I do think there is a wide open market for digital tools which work in conjunction with analog sketching and notes, such as the IO pen. I would love to try the IO pen as well.

Thanks, Mike, for such a long and interesting answer.

Widgets And The Active Desktop

Steve Rubel tells of the imminent launch of Konfabulator for Windows, “a wildly popular OS X application that lets you run little apps called Widgets“. From what I can see Widgets are small applications that sit on your desktop and do things like collect data, tell you the time, inform you of new email, that kind of thing. It looks great, but I have some reservations about how this might work on Windows.

I’ve noticed how there seems to be one fundamental difference between Windows and Macs: Maximising Windows. Most folk using Windows seem to use their programs so they take up the full screen — indeed, that is the default for many programs. Mac software doesn’t think like that. The key is when you double click the bar along the top of a window: In Windows that will toggle between maximising the window; on a Mac it will hide the window. (Another example of this is difference is that there is no maximise button on a Mac window, while there is on Windows.)

Why is this important? Well, assuming I’m right on this (I’m no Mac expert, and I certainly don’t know the history behind maximising windows on Macs), the desktop (your screen, basically) is a more valuable place for Mac users. It’s unlikely a Mac desktop will be smothered by open programs, because of this lack of maximising. For Windows users, it’s much less likely this is true. For most users, having one or more programs open will usually mean their desktop is hidden from view. The only way to alter that is to reduce the size of open programs, minimize them, or to right click on the Windows taskbar and choose ‘Show Desktop’.

This is why the System Tray — the thing at the right-bottom corner of the screen — is so important in Windows. It serves as a place to collect stuff and to offer at least some information to the user. I’m not going to get into which is the better design here, but to me this is one clear reason why Microsoft’s Active Desktop — the closest forebear to Konfabulation’s Widgets, I’d suggest — never took off. Active Desktop offered a screen alive with information and little widgets keeping you informed of, er, the time, new email arriving and other data. But it never really worked. After all, what’s the point of an active desktop if you can’t see it?

I wish Konfabulation luck, and perhaps they’ve got a way around this problem. I can imagine that if you allow the widgets to sit above existing windows, this argument might be moot. But, once again, I don’t believe many Windows users enjoy having stuff overlapping or sitting atop active windows, which may explain why great products like Klips have only a limited audience. Probably, in the end, it comes down to Microsoft figuring out that as screen sizes grow, the old default maximising approach no longer makes sense.

A New Kind Of RSS Reader For Macs

For Mac fans, there’s a new RSS and Atom News Reader for OS X, with an interesting new twist.

Mesa Dynamics today said it had released Tickershock, “an interactive RSS and Atom news headline reader inspired by the news crawls of 24-hour cable news channels”. Tickershock, it says, is “a departure from typical RSS applications that emulate web browser or email reader environments. Focusing on the “push” nature of the technology, Tickershock aims to be a passive experience only until the user decides a headline is worth exploring: a double-click on a news headline brings up a “News Inspector” from which one can explore a story in greater depth.”

It sounds quite funky. Unfortunately at the time of writing there’s no mention on their website of the product, although the press release says a trial version of Tickershock is available for download at http://www.mesadynamics.com . It requires Mac OS X 10.2.8 (Jaguar) or later and will cost $20.