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The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Sven’s Design Awards

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Apple Design Awards were given away – erm, ‘awarded’ – yesterday. But seeing the results made me think that perhaps the state of Mac software is a bit sad. Many of the winners and runner ups have won such awards before. What does that tell us? It’s hard to excel at making Mac software? There really are just a few serious software makers for the Mac? There aren’t particularly many great new ideas around?

Obviously, by their design, these awards also focus on just a few things which Apple consider cool and may want to use to show off their OS, which leaves a number of contestants out. Where’s the open source section for the loads of open source applications that exist. A few good ones must be among them. Even a few good-looking ones. And what about big companies. Isn’t it a shame that, say, Adobe or Microsoft aren’t good enough to make an application that can win an award? Well, perhaps it’s also ‘political’ reasons coming into play there. From what I have seen, Adobe managed to create a very un-clumsy, i.e. un-Adobe, application with Lightroom. It’s powerful, reasonably lightweight, technically interesting, brings new UI ideas, is even cross-platform and in competition to one of Apple’s products. Of course it didn’t meet Apple’s criteria too well because it can’t check ‘features’ like using Web Kit, Core Data or other Apple pet-technologies, but hey.

Instead they rather give an award to fully buzzword compliant applications like Delicious Library which aren’t even released yet. Of course the latter is Apple’s fault, but from testing their previous releases I thought that Delicious Library was mainly eye-candy. Not that I don’t appreciate eye-candy – far from it. But I’m more a ‘form follows function’ type.

I also wonder how much the people at Apple actually test the applications they give awards to. Look at Coda for example. I can really appreciate the fresh ideas that went into the application, but it has just been released. It’s a 1.0 application, and – as I outlined – you can tell that. Of course the first impression is brilliant, but when looking closer the graphical CSS editor will handle the most standard cases only and – I can say that after some more attempts of using them now – the Books don’t just leave me unimpressed as I said earlier but I start thinking they are agonisingly bad. Almost every time I give in to using them, I hate myself later on because a Google search would have been quicker and more useful. It’s not that I don’t like Coda, quite the opposite. It’s just that I think it will take another year to get in the range of becoming award-worthy.

Finally – with Coda, CSSEdit and Sandvox we have three applications focusing on web design in some way in the design award winners and follow-uppers. Perhaps the Mac is a brilliant platform for web design? Or does this mean that the stereotypes are correct and those Mac users are all designers? Just more technical designer geeks these days rather artists? So what about applications for normal people? Ah? Up to a spreadsheet and a video player they’re all covered by Apple already? Oh well, what are those awards about then?

Thus, finally who’d get the awards if I could give them. To be honest, I haven’t thought about it. And I’m not trying out a lot of new software these days because I hardly need any. And in the past year(s) there was very little software that both does its job well and was well-designed. If it’s powerful and possibly even works well but looks bad it’s usually open source and if it’s eye candy all over but a bit lacklustre in features, it’s more frequently commercial software. I came across very few applications that I even found remarkable. Coda certainly is one of them – but isn’t quite there yet. Sandvox is one of them as well but was ridden by a number of technical problems in the first year of its existence (a lot better since 1.2). Many of the really interesting things seem to be small and not really useful to me: FlySketch looks interesting (though I never used it beyond testing), stuff like fseventer can be very useful for us paranoids, iPodDisk is useful (but seems to use that FUSE thing now which looked somewhat crash prone), The Unarchiver is a step forward both in features and UI (when, oh please, will we get a single progress window for copying, emptying the trash and burning CDs in the Finder?), Google Earth is butt ugly but kicks ass in what it does and, admit it or not, Parallels changed the Mac software world quite a bit.

I could ramble on a little – mentioning delimport (sadly still PPC only and I don’t understand the magic that makes a framework’s XCode project work to make it Universal, but it’s easy to make a universal binary of the Spotlight plugin), mentioning Transmission which gives you Bittorrent without eye cancer (but I’m not sure how reliable it is), mentioning Shimo which lets you use Cisco’s horrible VPN software without eye cancer, mentioning VLC which isn’t that pretty but let’s you watch films without needing to worry about the video format or the region code they have been squeezed into, Cocoa Booklet for saving paper and so on…

The thing is, that most of these applications have a problem or three, some aren’t pretty, some have bugs, some are very limited in their scope. And it’s hard to see how any of them would be award winning or even excel at pimping OS X. Yet each of them is quite useful for me. Which is what ultimately counts. In short – Apple may have made the right choices for their awards. Because their awards are somewhat meaningless. And because there’s hardly any excellent software.

Following the mean spirit of Mister Jobs, I may add that most of the excellent software I see today is seen on the web and made by Google. Just look at their GMail service. Which of course sucks (your last bit of privacy away) and doesn’t work when you’re offline. But apart from that it just kicks ass. Because it’s fast, simple and tends to do the right things. When it comes to finding things and grouping Mails it just leaves Apple’s Mail in the dust. Particularly Apple Mail, as Spotlight has been broken on my system for months now (and yes, I tried clean re-indexing several times) which simply kills Mail’s search feature. So if Jobs’ iPhone application talk were to be taken seriously, I’d demand Apple to just drop Mail from X.5 and point to their web browser and GMail which actually is better than their local Mail application already. Scary!

June 13, 2007, 10:08

Tagged as Mac OS X.


Comment by Anonymous Swine: User icon

Sounds like sour grapes. Did you submit an entry that didn’t receive any mention?

June 13, 2007, 21:14

Comment by ssp: User icon

Sounds like sour grapes.

Sorry? Just because I’m not on happy drugs there are sour grapes? Did I say anything wrong about the applications I mentioned? Heck, I even lauded most of them.

June 13, 2007, 22:52

Comment by Dave2: User icon

I’m bitter because the best piece of software for MacOS X didn’t win anything: Kitty Spangles Solitaire!

I have to say I am thoroughly confused now though… you relentlessly pick apart OS X on a regular basis, and now you are saying that all the software for OS X sucks too. Why in the hell are you using a Mac again? It can’t be the hardware, because I believe you said that it’s crap as well. The only thing I can think of is that you worship Steve Jobs, but since you find him a mean-spirited bastard, I’m guessing that’s not it either. Did you get a Mac tattoo when you were younger and now you feel you HAVE to stick with the Mac or something?


June 14, 2007, 4:36

Comment by ssp: User icon

You see, Dave2, loads of reasons to be bitter :)

I didn’t say anything is crap (except Cisco VPN perhaps).

June 14, 2007, 9:06

Comment by Hauke: User icon

@VLC: Unfortunately, VLC only takes you so far.

It turns out that some of the newer DVD drives don’t return any data, not even the encrypted stream, as long as their region code does not match the media’s. And it turns out that Apple, stout fighter against copy protection, has used such (Matshita) drives in their G4 Al-books - don’t know about the Macintel machines.

June 19, 2007, 13:36

Comment by ssp: User icon

Hm, I may actually have noticed that problem with VLC on my new MacBook as well. But I assumed that was because no region code was set at all (it was the first time I played a DVD on the machine). I’ll try to check this by playing a region-1 DVD as well. Having such drives obviously sucks – it’d be an outright downgrade that Apple didn’t warn me about before selling me the machine.

June 19, 2007, 18:18

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