Last week, a co-worker stopped by my office to ask me what cool new Mac software I’d seen recently. I had to stop and think for a while–I mean, it seemed like I was seeing cool new Mac stuff show up once or twice per month for a while, but recently it’s slowed to a trickle. I can’t think of anything really exciting that I’ve seen since NetNewsWire 2.0 betas started showing up months ago.
I’m not sure if this is all in my head or not, or if there’s some underlying reason (waiting for Tiger? Economy recovered and programmers went back to desk jobs?). Hopefully things will pick up again soon.
For what it’s worth, here are the last few Mac apps that I’ve looked at. Only one of these is really new, the rest have been sitting around for a while but only recently found their way onto my desktop.
Seasonality is probably the coolest new program that I’ve seen in a week or two. It’s a desktop weather monitor that knows about forecasts, history, sunrise and sunset, and weather radar. I played with it for a few minutes yesterday, and it seems to be an improvement over rssWeather.com and NetNewsWire. However, it’s not a $25 improvement, and I don’t care about the weather enough to leave Seasonality running 24x7. So, while it’s cool, I don’t really feel any desire to actually use it.
I keep hearing people rave about TextMate; a lot of people really love using it for their text editor. I spend half of my life in Emacs, but I’d love to switch to something more Mac-centric–I’ve used Emacs for 15 years, but I don’t really feel like I understand it any better now then I did a decade ago. It can do anything, but the barrier for learning each new feature is high enough that I only rarely bother to learn anything new about it. On the plus side, though, Emacs works pretty well out of the box for me, and it’s available everywhere.
So, every 6 months or so, I download a new copy of TextMate to see if it’s the right editor for me, and end up deleting it about 30 minutes into the trial. It looks really cool, and they seem to be adding some really nice Subversion integration into it, but I can’t stand the way it handles indenting. My brain seems to have fused with XEmacs’s indent handling–when editing languages like C, Ruby, XML, or HTML, XEmacs changes the meaning of the Tab key from ‘insert a tab’ to ‘indent this line correctly.’ Obviously, this requires a level of syntax-awareness that most editors don’t posess. TextMate knows enough about syntax to do color highlighting and folding, but that’s about it. While the function folding UI is cool, it’s just not enough for me to justify paying $50 or so for the program.
SubEthaEdit is kind of the epitome of “cool OS X editor,” largely because it’s designed from the ground up to use Rendezvous to allow collaborative editing over the network. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to have any native support for traditional version control tools, and its indentation support isn’t any better then TextMate. Since SubEthaEdit is free for non-commercial use, I’ll keep a copy around, but I just can’t see myself using it for writing code.
Growl / GrowlMail
Growl is a tool for displaying asynchronous notification messages on OS X. People have used it for a number of different uses, but the one the most interests me is GrowlMail, which sends Growl pop-ups every time new mail arrives. I’ve been using Mail.appetizer for a while now, but it seems to cause more problems then it fixes–since it runs inside of the main Mail process, it’s prone to blocking whenever Mail gets slow, which means that I have notification windows hanging around that I can’t get rid of easily. Also, since I installed it, I’ve noticed that Mail is much more prone to crashing. I don’t have a lot of patience for dead mail clients, so I yanked Mail.appetizer out and replaced it with GrowlMail; hopefully it’ll help a bit.
When ThinkSecret announced last week that OS X 10.4 (”Tiger”) will ship in April, there was a fair amount of skepticism. A number of people suggested that there were too many bugs in the current developer seeds, and Tiger wasn’t ready to ship yet. Since then a few other reports have surfaced, including one from eWeek that seems to confirm at least the timeframe, if not the exact days that ThinkSecret listed.
Today, ThinkSecret followed up with a new report, saying that Tiger development is rapidly winding down and suggesting that many parts of Tiger are already complete and ready to ship:
Multiple sources also report witnessing at least one Tiger “wrap party” at One Infinite Loop earlier this month, and several members of the Tiger development team are presently on vacation, sources say, generally a sure-fire sign that their portion of development has been completed.
Personally, I’ve been drooling over Tiger since it was first announced last year, and can’t wait to get my hands on the new release.
Think Secret, apparently undeterred by Apple’s ongoing lawsuit against them, claims that Apple will officially announce Tiger, the next release of OS X, on April 1st, and start shipping the upgrade in the middle of the month. Apple is also expected to upgrade their current iMac G5s and eMacs in the same timeframe.
If you look at Dashboard as a way to turn quick-and-dirty web apps into real desktop applications, it suddenly looks very different from a straight Konfabulator rip-off. In fact, it really looks more like an interesting attack on XAML and Avalon, two of Microsoft’s additions to Longhorn. The underlying technology is different, but the fundamental goals are almost the same–allow people to develop both web and desktop applications using the same tools. The implementation differences reflect the basic difference between Apple and Microsoft’s approaches–XAML/Avalon is a ground-up replacement for HTML and the traditional Windows programming model, while Dashboard is really just a small tweak to something that already exists.
Update: As usual, John Gruber says it better then I can.
I didn’t see this in any of today’s discussions on Apple’s new ’Tiger’ OS X announcements, but it’s turned up in the Tiger Server documentation: Tiger’s iChat can talk to Jabber servers. So, apparently it’s not AIM-only anymore.
I’m still waiting for iChat’s audio and video conferencing to support random SIP servers. Please, Apple?
A few notes on Tiger:
Ooooh. Search. Search has been one of my big things lately, and I like what I’ve seen of Tiger so far, but it’s too early to tell how well it’ll work. Fundamentally, searching seems to scale better then strict hierarchical organization. For instance, with a good search tool, it’s faster to search through the 100,000 or so old email message that I have laying around then it’d be to change folders and skim through a couple dozen messages by hand. The big problem is that search tends to be resource-intensive–I’ve been playing with Zoe, QuckSilver, and HistoryHound, and they each end up wanting over 100 MB of RAM. Fundamentally, there’s no real need for this, and we’ll see how Apple does with Tiger. I’m hopeful, but I’m used to disappointment. Specifically, I want to see what Mail.app lets me do with smart folders; Can I tag messages with tags like ‘Important’ or ‘To-Do List’ and get smart folders that show me all of the ‘To-Do List’ items? There’s no real indication that Apple is going to let us add generic metadata, and that’s a pity; it’ll have to wait for ‘Lion’ or ‘Tabby’, or whatever comes after Tiger.
64-bit application support. This isn’t a huge thing for most people today, but for some types of applications, it’s utterly critical. Anything that wants to use more then 4 GB of RAM needs it, and it starts getting useful around 1 GB, generally. It’s the way of the future, and it’s nice to see that it’s showing up now; in another two years, it’s going to be important to all of us.
cpunderstands Mac OS resource forks. Finally. Files are files; the fact that copying Mac-specific files with Unix tools tended to destroy bits of them was kind of irritating.
Safari has an RSS reader. After watching Apple’s RSS movie, I’m not really sure about this one–it’s a neat feature, but it pales in comparison to NewNewsWire. Frankly, RSS belongs in Mail, not Safari.
Real-time video effects using the GPU. Cool, but not terrifically useful to me, particularly with my underpowered PowerBook 550.
iSync SDK. ABOUT FSCKING TIME. The Zaurus people have been trying to write an iSync plugin for years, but haven’t had any documentation. Personally, I’d love to see what happens one you graft bits of MultiSync into iSync–you should end up with free calendar and address book synchronization between Macs, Linux systems, PocketPCs, and whatever else MultiSync supports now.
iChat supports conferencing. Yeah, but does it support non-AIM SIP servers? It’s totally unusable for me right now, between generic NAT problems and Asterisk wanting port 5060 on my firewall. It’d be really nice if I could use iChat as a softphone with Asterisk.
Apparently, it’s all shipping in 1H2005, or up to a year away. It’ll probably end up being February-ish, if they follow their Jaguar/Panther shipping trend. That’s a long time to wait for the handful of features that I’d really like to see (mostly the Spotlight search tools), and as always, there’s the $129 question–is the upgrade really worth it?