Volitans Software

Keeping Out of the Sandbox

With the impending sandbox deadline coming up (FOR REAL THIS TIME, YO!), I thought I re-visit my decision to keep SMART Utility out of the App Store, when it was announced. This was both a political and technical decision. The technical part was simple- it would take a fair amount of work to rewrite SMART Utility to meet the App Store rules. There would be features left out, or features that would be restricted (the menu item for example). And even with all of that, it still may not have been approved. I found all of that completely unacceptable. The sandbox restrictions are just the icing on the cake.

The political part was a little more complex. I do not like the idea of somebody else approving apps and deciding what my customers are allowed to see. I feel that curated apps can be a good idea- but I entirely disagree with Apple’s rules for curation. I believe that they should put every app submitted up, except for ones designed to cause damage (i.e. trojans). They should not restrict based on APIs or ideas. I would love to use the App Store’s features (Software Updates for example), but not at the expense of features. That is bad for my product and my customers. I will not stand for that. I also do not like the lack of trials, as well as paid upgrades for apps.

The sandboxing issue has also lead to some developers pulling apps. Manton Reese has decided to pull Clipstart. He has a followup about the lock in with the App Store, which helps reaffirm my decision to stay out of the App Store. Atlassian (who helped prompt Manton to pull his app) has also decided to pull SourceTree. He documents many, many issues with sandboxing. And check out the comments for more complaints (hey comments can be good, surprise!!).

And not only are good apps not available in the App Store (which is big problem for Apple), but as Brent Simmons says, it has a chilling effect by stopping developers from even thinking or developing apps for the App Store. As Michael Tsai, you don’t know what the costs will be ahead of time. You could develop a great app, only to have Apple change the rules.

This is bad for customers and bad for developers. Apple needs  new way.


Das Keyboard for Mac Review.

About a month ago I finally received my Das Keyboard for Mac. Prior to that I was using an Apple Design Keyboard. I know the Apple Extended Keyboard II is all the rage in geek circles, but I found the softer key action of the ADK much nicer. Still, I wanted to try the Das Keyboard out since its a USB keyboard that the closest to the ADK, and even closer to the AEKII.

I really like the design of it. Its black, which aesthetically fits much better with my MacBook Pro and my external monitor. It has two USB ports on the side- which are powered. That requires a cable with two USB plugs to plug in. Since I have a hub, and I’m not losing ports (but gaining better access to them), this is great. The weight is very solid, which helps keep the keyboard stable.

It also has media buttons, which are helpful- though I don’t like the placement of the function key. Its in the opposite spot over where the MacBook Pro has it. I would much rather had it in the same place. They key font is weird- and maybe that’s because all the text is in lower case, which I find not as pleasing and harder to read. Finally, they replace the Insert key with an eject key- which is great except I need the Insert key for vSphere servers!

As far as the action of the keys- I like it. Its not as nice as the ADK, but I bet its pretty close to the AEKII. It took me a bit to adjust as I think they keycaps are smaller. But after using it a month, I’m now pretty fast and accurate on it, which is great. The sound isn’t as pleasing as the ADK, but its not annoying at all. I actually like it.

My final verdict- if you like the old style keyboards, but want a modern replacement, get the Das Keyboard. It doesn’t get better than this.

Apple Continues to Find Ways to Ruin the User Experience on iOS

This is just stupid. The link they are banning doesn’t even TRY to bypass the rules, but because it POTENTIALLY could, the apps are being banned.

Apple is going about this the wrong way. Now, to buy a Kindle book, I’m forced to use Safari, instead of the much better user experience of just doing it in App. What they should do, if they are so concerned about bypassing the In App Purchase system, is only allow paid apps to bypass the In App Purchase system. That way they make money and make the experience better, instead of the opposite now.

Apple Allowed to Intervene in Lodsys Case

This may be a bit of old news at this point, but its still great news. Apple can now offer a defense to those developers being attacked by Lodsys. Hopefully they can defeat them, and then Lodsys will be out of business.

A sad note to come out of this is that some developers caved and started paying Lodsys. I understand the logic (saving money), but its only a short term gain. If they fought and lost, they would pay regardless. But by paying, they only funding Lodsys to go after developers like me, and that hurts the whole industry. And they also set a precedence for other patent trolls to come after small developers. Sure, its only 1% now, but when there are 50 companies asking 1% because nobody fault, then that’s a huge problem.

The Future of SMART Utility

This is an update on a post I did about a year ago, regarding SMART Utility and 10.4 support. As the Apple OS landscape has changed, I have solidified the roadmap going forward. I wanted to share my thoughts on that roadmap.

First, let me start with some numbers. SMART Utility collects anonymous system information on an opt in basis. I looked at the OS that SMART Utility was running for users that reported in the last month. Less than 1% were on 10.4. Only 8% were on 10.5. The overwhelming majority(91%) was running 10.6 (42%) or 10.7(49%). Because all development work is trade-offs, I had to decide where to spend the majority of the work. Anything below 10.6 seems like lost time due to the small numbers remaining.

There is also the issue of the development tools. Apple stopped support 10.5 in Xcode 4, and Xcode 3 doesn’t run that well on 10.7. With the release on 10.8, and its requirement to use Xcode 4 to use app signing, that makes the ability to support 10.5 even harder. I want to upgrade to using Xcode 4, especially since Xcode 3 probably won’t even run on 10.8.

So, with those two issues in mind, here is the support roadmap:

  • Active development on version 3.1 is underway now. There will be some major changes, especially to the stability and operation of the user interface. One big new feature is email notifications, a much requested feature. The other big change is that version 3.1 will not run on 10.4. Version 3.0.2 will last version that will run on 10.4. Because development has already commenced on version 3.1, it will still run on version 10.5. Future bug fixes (3.1.1, 3.1.2, etc) will also. Version 3.1 may not be fully compatible with 10.8.
  • Features for version 3.2 are slowing being decided. But one thing that is already decided is that version 3.2 will not run on 10.5 (or PPCs). Version 3.1.x will be the last to run on 10.5. However, version 3.2 will be fully compatible with 10.8. I’m excited to be able to use a lot of the new APIs that were introduced with 10.6 and 10.7.
  • Version 4.0 may not support 10.6, depending on the support Xcode 4.4 has for 10.6.

I hope that all makes sense, and please feel free to contact me with comments and suggestions at mbutch@volitans-software.com.

The Mountain Lion Appears

Apple announced Mountain Lion today, the next version of Mac OS X (I’m going to refuse to drop the Mac for now). I’ll get to the actual OS in a bit, but there was a very interesting quote in Gruber’s post on ML when he asks about this pre-seeding to journalists way of releasing OS X:

That’s when Schiller tells me they’re doing some things differently now.

I like that. I like to see they aren’t just thinking WWSJD. Apple without Steve needs to set out on its on path, and this new way shows they are doing that. Remember, Steve didn’t want iTunes on Windows, which is what really let the iPod take off. He wasn’t perfect.

Okay, back to the OS. ML looks real intriguing. The notification center seems like one of those things that isn’t that exciting until you start using it. Its not like in iOS where the need for it was dire. In OS X, it really isn’t needed, but I but its going to be awesome. Same with Airplay- I bet this is going to get a lot of use in schools. The Messages app is pretty nice, and it will be great to finally have one place for all messages.

Of course the iCloud integration is the biggest change. Luckily the old way of interaction with files is still there, but being able to sync to iCloud and access it anywhere is going to be awesome. I wonder what the means for DropBox (who will still be on PCs). But I am excited to see how far document management has come since the iPad first came out. Remember that? Syncing with iTunes to get Pages documents over? This is going to be so much better.

Finally, GateKeeper is scary and cool at the same time. Now, there are three permission levels regarding launching apps on the Mac: only from the App Store, anywhere, and App Store plus signed apps. I think a lot of people are worried that the Mac will be locked down like the iOS, but I have a feeling that its going to go the other way. I’d love to see this migrate to iOS. I like Apple has this right.

I’m excited about Mountain Lion, and of course I’m excited to get SMART Utility up and running on it. Check out the next post for more info on that.

Volitans Software is Joining the SOPA and PIPA Protests

Volitans Software is joining the internet community’s protest of SOPA and PIPA. While we respect copyrights and intellectual property, these two bills will not protect them. Instead they will damage the internet. They are bad bills, and they need to be stopped. There are much better ways to protect copyrights.

Learn more at Wikipedia and Ars Technica.

In Defense of Comments… Again

It seems every year or so the high and mighty tech writers come out with anti-comment posts. And just like last time, I’m here to defend them. The current anti-comment post comes from Matt Gemmell.

He lists a lot of the benefits, but they don’t seem to come close to over riding the best reason to have comments- further the conversation. Oh sure HE benefits a lot, and HE can participate in the conversation, and that’s his right, but NOBDOY else can. That’s a huge dent to the interactive web.

Not everybody can have a blog, and very few people will have more than a few token followers on the blog or twitter. So very few people see the responses, very few people will be prodded to think critically, or learn more information. All those are bad things.

Bloggers who don’t have comments turned on are sheltered, and so are their audiences. Its hurts the readers, and it doesn’t help the bloggers become better. Comments are not shouting matches, not if they are run right, and blogs without comments are not a curated conversation- because you need to have more than one person in a conversation. Those bloggers need to wake up.

Luckily, those selfish bloggers are few and far between, and there are great ones like GigaOm out there. Somehow I missed two excellent articles about comments on GigaOm. The first one explains  that comments are perfect, but they are still a necessary part of a good blog. I love this paragraph here:

That said, however, not everyone has a blog, and not everyone is on Twitter or Facebook. One of the benefits of having comments is that they are open to everyone — although that is obviously part of what can make them so noisy as well. The barriers to entry are low, and so there are plenty of “drive by” comments and trolling. Having people respond on their own blogs or on Twitter and Facebook can also fragment the conversation on a topic, making it difficult to follow and causing potentially valuable responses to be lost or not recognized properly.

 The second article  is a followup, and guess what- comments are still worth the effort and the best part of a blog. My favorite paragraph:
The most compelling reason to have comments is that you actually care what other people think. It’s true, as Siegler and others argue, that readers can find other ways to comment: they can post a remark on Twitter with a link, they can do the same on Facebook or Google+, they can send an e-mail, or they can write a response on their own blog. But doesn’t that make it even harder for a blogger to find and respond to all of the thoughtful comments, since they will have to check all of those other sources? I think in most cases, bloggers who shut down comments don’t do this — they simply don’t respond.
Bingo. I can’t say it any better. And highly encourage you to read both articles, and follow the links. There are a bunch of other good defenses there. And of course read the comments- the second article particularly. There are some great comments.