Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Not Again!

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Go and read Dan Wood’s writing about their new logo and how it reflects the company history. Karelia, or rather Dan, made Watson, the product that did gracefully what Sherlock 3 pretended to do before Sherlock 3 even existed. Using web services – before they were web services – without the annoyance of using the web, but put in a nice Mac interface. I loved Watson. And if I were more active on eBay, I might still be tempted to use it. (Disclosure: I only discovered Watson because Dan let Steffen and me have a free copy as a thank you for UnicodeChecker – so the sufficiently paranoid can consider me to be ‘bribed’ in some way :) Oh and there’s a big chunk of rambling ahead… so you may just want to stop reading now.

Then the steamtrain Apple made Sherlock 3 and Watson should’ve been dead. But it kept on working for a while because Sherlock 3 sucked so much that most people didn’t use it after a first test drive. Dan seems to have managed to sell it to Sun somehow and I hope he got a good deal out of it. While that’s sad for Watson, which is now buried at Sun, it might have been a good point to stop working at it because the huge choice of Dashboard widgets for X.4 systems obsoleted many Watson modules.

Just to be clear about this. I’m not saying Dashboard modules are better than Watson’s, just that I can easily seem them crush Watson. In fact, the more I see of Dashboard’s innards and widgets, the more I come to think that it’s the worst technology Apple has come up with for a long time. You see, Apple have Cocoa which is a wonderful framework because it makes it easy for developers to get things right. You get the correct and properly working UI elements for free. You can easily access system-wide preferences. You get the correct localisations, number and time formats. And so on. When working for the Dashboard, however, all developers have are HTML and JavaScript with some extra tweaks. And by default that’s an environment which isn’t as mature as Cocoa and doesn’t support developers with regard to localisations and other niceties. While it’s for sure possible to make a good Dashboard widget it looks like it takes considerably more effort than getting the same features in Cocoa would take. Heck, just look at Apple’s widgets and the crappy experience they give non-American users.

Anyway, Dan is working on a new application now, a web editor called Sandvox. Not that I’ve actually used it, but I doubt it will be an application for me as I’ve happily been editing my web pages in plain text for the past decade. In addition I think the icon is quite sweet and clever. But it’s not good. Just scale it down to 30×30 pixels to see the messy blob that it’d turn to in my Dock. It’s the effect of overly pretty and detailed icons that we frequently see in OS X these days. They may be gorgeous at full size but can be much less appealing at smaller sizes.

And now there are hints that Apple may be releasing a web editor of their own soon as part of iLife. While that doesn’t kill Sandvox outright – there may still be significant differences and we all know how ‘great’ first versions of Apple products usually are – it’ll sure make their life harder and send another of those shivering don’t actually program anything, we’ll come and get you anyway messages down the spines of Mac programmers. There aren’t that many Mac programmers around. And only few of them are capable of making ‘big’ programs. And they shouldn’t be discouraged.

Perhaps some steam train at Apple would actually like all other applications to go away. After all, those developers just disturb whatever nice scheme Apple have come up with for their aesthetics this year. And being able to control applications would mean smoother cooperation between them… and so on in marketing talk. But it probably wouldn’t be good for the platform. A platform where many developers make an effort to work for the user and make applications which not only work but which ‘just work’.

On a mildly related theme, I start being a bit worried about Apple starting to do too many things at the same time. Sure, they are a big company and have many people working for them, but they keep coming up with so many new things that it looks like solidifying the foundations and getting rid of problems in their existing products (Just look at iPhoto, say, they needed until version 4 to turn it into something borderline acceptable and until version 5 to turn it into something acceptable, but it’s far from great. And if I started writing about bugs, inconsistencies or stupidity of the iPhoto application on a daily basis, the year would be over before I could finish.)

And now that I’m firmly in the area of Apple’s software… let me mention that they should finally add a spreadsheet to their iWork software. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a spreadsheet that’s clean and simple to begin with, but still powerful enough at doing (correct) computations reliably and then equipped with some good graphing tools to create content-rich charts. Sure, getting that right will be difficult, but it’d be a task worth solving

Ramble, ramble.

January 7, 2006, 1:29

Tagged as software.


Comment by Sören Kuklau: User icon

In addition I think the icon is quite sweet and clever. But it’s not good. Just scale it down to 30×30 pixels to see the messy blob that it’d turn to in my Dock. It’s the effect of overly pretty and detailed icons that we frequently see in OS X these days. They may be gorgeous at full size but can be much less appealing at smaller sizes.

Erm, I don’t know if Sandvox’s icon is/will be .icns-based or some other format (such as PNG), but in the former case, it is very easily possible to provide lower-resolution versions that remove detail for the sake of looking good. Apple does this a lot (cf. the icon of TextEdit, for instance).

So I don’t think this remark is justified, unless you have verified that Sandvox indeed doesn’t provide lower-size versions of the icon.

Just as a sidenote. :-)

January 7, 2006, 2:40

Comment by Dave2: User icon

I too am hoping, hoping, hoping that we get an iWork spreadsheet. I am in love with Pages and Keynote, and finally ditching the bloated Excel would make me quite happy.

January 7, 2006, 3:20

Comment by ssp: User icon


the problem is that the Dock always uses the 128×128 pixel icons (just imagine what the smooth scaling of icons would like otherwise!), so having smaller icon sizes available wouldn’t help.

In addition very few people (including myself) make the effort to provide smaller size icons. Making them is hard. Even the smaller size icons provided by Apple these days are mostly bad jokes. The TextEdit one you mention is an example. The smaller icons are completely unnecessary there as they look exactly like scaling down the large icon would look (and the b/w icons are abysmal).

And in a way that strategy makes sense (for application icons) because mostly you see them in the Dock where the smaller sizes are ignored anyway. And to get a good look rather than a blurry mess there you’ll need a simple structure and high contrasts. Which most of Apple’s icons have, but many third party icons don’t.

(Oh, and the last time I tried it turned out icons have to be in icns format, other file formats just didn’t work.)

Dave: To be honest I’m still sticking with ClarisAppleWorks because I usually don’t need crappy text editors or slideware anyway but I keep thinking that its spreadsheet could be better. It’s good enough for splitting our housing costs with my flatmates but not for much more. I had to use Excel quite extensively during an internship a while ago. And after working my way past its omnipresent bugs, I was pleased to discover that it can do a number of advanced things and even started thinking that despite its bugs it must be the best application of MS’ Office suite.

If only things were easy to do in Excel and the graphs it does were prettier… That’s where Apple could come in :)

January 7, 2006, 13:55

Comment by fudo: User icon

If iWork is going to replace Appleworks, then get one with it; give us the full suite. If not, then let’s have a new version of Appleworks. Soon.

Not that Apple cares what I think…

January 7, 2006, 21:34

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