Why the Mac Pro is perfect for Mac and iOS developers.

I love my Mac Pro. There I said it.

I’ve been a user of Apple’s pro desktop line since the PowerMac G3 (blue & white stripes) came out in 1999. It was the first Mac that I bought with money that I had “made” from Mac shareware sales.

Back in the late 90s, I had grown accustomed to working on Sun and Silicon Graphics Unix “workstations” at the Computer Science department at Lancaster University and the PowerMac to me felt like my “personal workstation”. There was something great about having “the best”; it made me feel all grown up.

Now the PowerMac G3 by today’s standards looks plain awful, but so does the transparent plastic iMac from which it borrowed much of its design. You could legitimately feel good about “thinking differently”, especially since Apple back then was part of the IT counter-culture.

The PowerMac G3 was quickly replaced by the G4 and G5 of which I owned quite a few due the more powerful PowerPC’s tendency to auto-combust at the drop of a hat. Back then there was a lot of PowerPC versus Intel mud-slinging going on and it was kind of fun trading floating point performance figures with my brainwashed PC-adoring friends.

That all changed when Apple ditched the “superior” PowerPC processors and migrated to Intel CPUs. Funnily enough, the renamed Mac Pro was a powerful machine and the Xeon processors just refused to blow up. I’ve owned a couple over the intervening years and I have lost only a single one to a lightning strike (no joke).

Ever since the stellar success of the iPod, Apple has morphed from being the “Mac company” to being the “iPod-company-that-also-makes-Macs”. The success of the iPhone and the iPad have further removed the Mac from the limelight and for a while one could have been forgiven for forgetting that Apple made computers at all.

For me as a Mac developer since 1993 and for many people like me, Apple will always remain the Mac company. We do love our Macs because we spend all day working on them. Big screens, powerful processors and gigabit ethernet cables may sound antiquated to all you iPhone-, iPad- and MacBook Air-touting hipsters but for us, the Mac is the hub of our professional lives.

That’s why people like Marco Arment and, dare I say it, myself are so attached to our Mac Pros. They just make our lives so much better.

Ask anybody who knows me: I’m not a patient man. I hate waiting around while Xcode is double broom-ing my project and while the antiquated little spinning disks are compiling, linking and starting my executables. Instant is quick enough. Anything else just breaks my flow.

Developing software is largely about keeping an awful lot of state in your head at the same time, while acting locally and thinking strategically. It’s hard. Real hard. A big screen, or better yet, two big screens really help you keep all this stuff organized.

The same goes for keyboards and other input devices. Most people are well served with a laptop keyboard or even a touch-screen keyboard. It’s fine for writing email.

Many developers, however, have taken the time to learn to touch-type. Some like myself have even learned the DVORAK layout in a quest for performance and a vain attempt at preventing RSI. The great thing about touch-typing is not that you can type quicker though, but that you can type without taking your eyes off the screen. In that way, you can keep all the stuff that you need spread out in front of you and let your thoughts just flow out of your finger tips.

Working on a laptop is pure torture once you have become used to a full workstation-style setup. The tiny screen means that all the information that you are used to surround yourself with is hidden from you. It feels like you see the world through a pin hole. The keyboard makes it hard to work comfortably because you are hunched over it all the time and the whole experience feels like you are trying to play a miniature guitar. The frets are too close together, your giant fingers keep muting the strings.. your music sucks.

The Mac Pro then is the developer’s tool of choice. It may not be mobile, but neither is the developer. Working in a busy coffee shop is great some of the time, but once you get into the zone, you don’t want to be disturbed. You probably don your sound-cancelling headphones and the only thing that the rest of the world can do for you now is to deliver an espresso once an hour (or more) and leave you alone.

The most important things for a developer’s machine then are the ability to connect multiple large displays, plug in a “regular” keyboard and mouse and provide as much raw power, storage and connectivity as it is possible to engineer at this point in time.

This is in stark contrast with the other group of people who love their Mac Pros: video professionals who need to have a lot of non-standard hardware: huge disks and the most powerful graphics cards available to mankind. While big disks are a plus for us developers too, we care more about how fast they are than on how many terabytes of storage they give us. I certainly wouldn’t trade my 512GB of SSD disk for 20 terabytes of spinning disk.

The new Mac Pro’s that Apple has teased at this year’s WWDC are a great fit for developers.

Video professionals will bemoan the lack of built-in storage bays and the inability to add bigger graphics cards may well be a deal breaker for many of them. For developers, however, those two things don’t really matter.

The new Mac Pros deliver in spades for developers where it matters:

  • Master-of-the-Universe Wow factor
  • Multiple 4K displays
  • Really fast storage
  • Superior CPU performance
  • Whisper quiet operation

Yes, the new Mac Pro looks the part. I have no doubt that setting up one of these machines in your office will give you a buzz and make you feel good about your choice of career. The aesthetics of the new Mac Pro are clearly designed to appeal to our demographic (young and not so young men who fancy a BMW M3) and even steadfastly anti-Apple developers have to admit that they just want one..

Any developer who has had the opportunity to work on one of the new Mac Book Pro Retina displays is impatiently waiting for Apple to finally bring the gorgeousness of those displays to larger screens. Right now, the price for 4K displays is so prohibitive that I can’t see this happening for a while yet and yet I think Apple has paved the way for just that.

One of the major technical challenges of making a full-size retina display is how can you manage to move that many pixels around? The new Mac Pro has double graphics cards as standard. A curious choice unless you’re planning on driving retina displays. Apple talked about “third party 4K displays” at WWDC but one would imagine that they must have such a display in the works themselves no matter how expensive it might be.

All PowerMacs and all Mac Pros so far have come in multi-processor configurations; Apple also made some single processor models but those were really more of an exception.

Yesterday, a benchmark appeared that showed a single processor Mac Pro and this caused quite a stir, because like me most people had assumed that the new Mac Pro would still have two processors.

Careful examination of the videos on Apple’s teaser website, however, seem to show room only for a single CPU and two graphic cards. A curious choice, until you start thinking a bit about it.

Xeon processors are really expensive easily costing $1000 and more per unit. If you put two in a box, you are in old Mac Pro territory before you even add anything else. Yet CPU performance for many tasks is becoming less and less important.

In typical development tasks, it is the hard disk that is the limiting factor. Apple have eschewed spinning disks altogether for the new Mac Pro. Again a strike against those poor video editors. It looked like a foregone conclusion that Apple would leverage its fusion drive technology to offer fast disk access coupled with huge storage capacity.

Again for developers, this hardly matters. What matters is that SSDs speed up build times in a way that a faster CPU just can’t manage. Still, two CPUs are faster than one. So why just one? I think there are two reasons: cost and fan noise.

Hands down the main reason why not every developer has a Mac Pro on the desk is the price. They are really expensive. Largely because the Xeon CPUs that they sport are such high margin processors. Fitting only a single processor drops the price of a Mac Pro by at least $1000. It also makes heat management so much easier..

Fan noise is another one of those things that many people don’t particularly care about. Alienware gaming PCs (and their laptops for that matter) can sound like leaf blowers and many Mac Pros in the past have had annoying fan noise. While fan noise really doesn’t matter all that much on a gaming machine where it gets drowned out by the sound of explosions, it does wear on you when you’re trying to do highly concentrated work. So developers such as myself do care.. as clearly does Jony Ive and Apple and in many ways the wind tunnel design of the new Mac Pro is its stand-out feature.

Many people are asking the obvious question: Why does it matter so much to Apple that it’s Mac Pro is so compact?

Mac Pros have always had handles. Yet they have rarely been moved, being far too heavy to ferry about easily, so we are quick to dismiss the presence of a handle as just a nice design touch. On top of that Apple’s obsession with built-height often takes on ridiculous proportions: A really thin iMac!?. Who cares!?

Yet, this time around I think the handle might be part of the equation. The new Mac Pro is actually portable if not exactly mobile.

I’m not alone amongst Indie developers to share my time between my home office and a co-working space or a dedicated office. Like many developers I’m trying to keep parity between my home and my work setup so that I can get straight on with work, no matter where I’m currently at.

I’m mostly using my retina MacBook Pro right now, but for all the reasons outlined above rather than working on it as a laptop, I plug it right into a dual monitor setup either at home or at the office. The fact that the MacBook Pro has its own screen and keyboard only comes in handy from time to time. Mostly it’s just a portable Mac and prevents me from having to break the bank by buying two powerful machines. The new Mac Pro is small and light enough to be comfortably transported from one place to another in the back of the car and once there it can be plugged into a Thunderbolt display in just the same way that my MacBook Pro can be. On top of that you don’t have to pay for the screen and the keyboard every time you upgrade it.

In other words, the new Mac Pro is pretty much perfect for Mac and iOS developers who want a lightning fast desktop machine, but don’t want to re-buy a screen every time. It’s more portable than an iMac and its air-tunnel design allows it to house much more powerful hardware than would be feasible in an iMac or Mac mini enclosure. On top of that, it may not be quite as expensive as previous models because it houses a single CPU. Whether the dual graphics cards setup really makes sense will only become clear once Apple unveils its first 4K display.

I can’t help thinking that Jony Ive designed this machine more for the participants of WWDC and the extended developer community, than for Apple’s traditional market of creative professionals.

The Mac Pro then won’t make many video editors very happy, but is a great machine for Mac and iOS developers and I suspect that is just as it was planned.

Vitamin-R 2.0 Upgrades & Mac App Store

It’s been almost 3 years since Vitamin-R was first released into the public eye.

Those who experienced version 0.01 beta 1 (!) can testify to how much the product changed between then and the 1.0 release and of course Vitamin-R has never since stood still for more than a few weeks. In total, we have up to this point released no fewer than 109 updates and I think you would agree that it’s now nearly time for the big 2.0 release.

If you own any of our software, you will have noticed that we release features as soon as they’re ready. This helps us create better product as we get feedback earlier and it also gets new features into your hands quicker.

The price we pay for this practice is that we don’t get to do the “big reveal” when the time comes to ask you for an upgrade fee.. but rest assured that we are making an extra special effort to make 2.0 more than just another point update!

Many people hate upgrade fees and we accommodate these people by providing “forever upgrades” both with your initial purchase and at any point after.

While upgrade fees may be a little painful, they are instrumental in ensuring that a product meets the requirements of experienced users. Without them there is little economic incentive to develop a product beyond what is necessary for its immediate appeal. It is no coincidence that most iPhone apps get used only a couple of times before they are forgotten forever.

Without upgrade fees there’s no economic incentive for developers to look past the moment of the sale, leading to software that is optimized for immediate appeal but fails to live up to its promise shortly thereafter. We want none of that. With Vitamin-R we want to introduce you to a more productive and enjoyable way of working and support you at every stage of your journey. In order to do so we want to furnish you with the tools to evolve your own style. This means making Vitamin-R highly customizable and leveraging your usage information to provide you with insights into your own work patterns; neither of which does much to increase the immediate appeal of the product to prospective new clients.

Please note that none of this means that we are intend on making Vitamin-R more complicated. On the contrary, streamlined operation is even more important for experienced than for novice users.

In the past, we have always given customers very generous “grace periods”, meaning that if you bought the product shortly before a major upgrade, we would grant you a free upgrade.

Unfortunately in the changing world of Mac software development this is no longer so easily done.

As you may know the Mac App Store, through which many of copies of Vitamin-R are bought, does not offer any support for paid upgrades. Instead Apple is charging full price for major new versions of its software such as “Pages”, “Numbers”, “Keynote”, “Final Cut Pro”, “Aperture”, etc.

This makes a lot of sense for Apple who operate on the “big reveal” model more than perhaps any other company in history and who of course make money on the software sale, their 30% App Store processing fee and on hardware sales.

This puts software developers like us into an awkward position.

We are masters of our own web stores and can continue to offer discounted upgrade pricing, forever upgrades and “grace periods” and we will.

On the Mac App Store, however, it’s Apple’s rules all the way. There are no discounted upgrades, no grace periods and we do not even know the identities of the people who buy our software.

All third party software developers are facing the same problems. Some decide to go Mac App Store only. Some decide to stay off the Mac App Store altogether. Most, like us are trying to mitigate the problem as much as we can.

We realize that not everybody will be happy with our solution, but what we have decided to do is the following.

To Get A Discounted Upgrade to Vitamin-R From Our Web Site / To Take Advantage of the “Grace Period”

1. Direct and Mac App Store customers alike will be able to buy a discounted upgrade from our web store via http://www.publicspace.net/Vitamin-R/upgrade.html

2. Direct customers who have purchased Vitamin-R after the 1st of January 2013 will be able to obtain a free upgrade code to version 2 from http://www.publicspace.net/unlockCodeDB/index.html

3. Mac App Store customers who have bought Vitamin-R after the 1st of January 2013 will be able to obtain a free upgrade by mailing their iTunes Store receipt to support@publicspace.net

This is much the same retrofitted solution that OmniGroup are going to apply to OmniFocus 2 upgrades.

Vitamin-R on the Mac App Store

As many of you know, Apple has decreed that all new Mac App Store submissions must comply with their new requirement for using the Mac OS X Lion “Sandbox”.

This is a security mechanism that restricts what applications can do. By default applications can do almost nothing other than bring up a window and respond to mouse clicks; there’s no access to your files, the internet, etc. This limits the damage that a crashing or virus-infected application can do. If the application, for instance, cannot access the internet or the file system, it can’t steal your data and it can’t transfer it anywhere.

It is then up to the developer to define which “entitlements” their application requires (e.g. I need access to user files, I need to be able to open a web browser on the product homepage, etc.) and up to Apple to grant or reject such entitlements. Obviously the fewer entitlements Apple grants the higher the security.

This is how iPhone and iPad apps have always worked: can’t do much, Apple decides what they can do.

It’s also the exact opposite of how Mac or PC or any other applications have traditionally worked. Mac applications by default have access to everything on your machine and the internet. The only restrictions are based on the file system permissions, so you can’t look at or change the files of another user unless you are a system administrator.

In principle, sandboxing does increase security and that is a good thing.

Unfortunately in practice, Apple have made a dog’s breakfast of both the technical implementation and the policies around the sandboxing.

While it is possible to define “entitlements” to cover almost every aspect of what an application could possibly want to do, Apple have not allowed third party developers access to these entitlements. For many things there are no “third party accessible” entitlements and for many other things, Apple is unlikely to grant those entitlements anyway. The mechanisms that are available do not allow for all existing features of existing applications to be preserved when that application is sandboxed.

I have spent considerable time adopting the Lion sandbox for the Mac App Store versions of my products, as I want to continue to update them in order to bring you the latest (and hopefully greatest) features.

Vitamin-R is the first of these sandboxed versions that I have submitted and now after two rejections it seems that it will finally be accepted.

In order to comply with the Sandboxing rules and Apple’s rejection of my request for several entitlements, the following features had to be removed:

  • Support for the Neurosky Mindwave headset was removed
  • The ability to quit applications in the “eliminate distractions” screen was removed.
  • The ability to automatically close Finder windows in the “eliminate distractions” screen was removed
  • Growl support was removed

Other changes include:

  • If you use the Dropbox integration on Mac OS X 10.7.0, 10.7.1 and 10.7.2, you will be prompted to locate your dropbox folder every time you launch the application. (Upgrading to the latest Mac OS X Lion version will fix this).
  • The download now includes the Noise Machine soundscapes files and is therefore much larger
  • Many other minor and hopefully invisible changes

I understand that many of you will be upset to lose these features and all I can say is that “it wasn’t my idea”.

When I mentioned that these features had to be removed because of the sandbox requirement in the “What’s new” section of the Vitamin-R Mac App Store page, my “meta-data” was promptly rejected and I was asked to remove any mention of Apple policies.

In other words, I’m not allowed to use Apple’s Mac App Store to inform Mac App Store customers of what is going on, because that would make Apple look bad. Apple prefers its customers to be mad at me for complying with their rules rather than to put up their hand and say “it was us and we’re not sorry because we think we are right”.

Well, I’m gutted about the whole thing.

If accepted in its current form, Vitamin-R will have survived its migration to the sandbox relatively intact. Many of the features that had to be cut were minor and won’t be missed too much by most users.

In any event, if you have bought Vitamin-R on the Mac App Store and you are missing a feature you need, please just contact us at support@publicspace.net and we’ll issue you with an unlock code for the “full” version.

Please don’t vent on the Mac App Store because this penalizes developers for something that they have absolutely no choice about. It also does not allow developers to respond to criticism as they cannot post replies and do not have any idea of who you are and how to contact you to resolve the problem.

Unfortunately, the new Mac App Store sandbox requirement means that henceforward there will be two versions of most Mac applications: a sandboxed one that misses features and a full one that is only available directly from the developer. You can basically choose between greater convenience and greater freedom. Usually it is convenience that wins out.

Vitamin-R & the Mac App Store Sandbox

It is finally happening. Apple have made good on their promise/ threat of requiring all applications on the Mac App Store to adopt the Lion Sandbox technology by June 1st.

You may already have heard many Mac developers moan about this, while others are trying to see the bright side or are at least putting on a brave face. It’s all true and it’s all a lie.

First off, sandboxing does improve security. The idea is that every application that is launched by the operating system works in its own “sandbox”. It can do anything it wants within its sandbox, but when it tries to interact with the rest of your system by accessing files, connecting to the internet, talk to other applications, etc.. it is restricted by its “entitlements”. All this so that even if your application is infected by a virus or is deliberately “naughty” (aka malware), it can only do so much damage.

The kinds of entitlements that exist are defined by Apple and while it is the developers who decide which entitlements they believe their application needs, it is Apple that grants or rejects each entitlement.

The basic equation is this: the less your application is allowed to do, the less damage it can do. So if Apple is serious about the security aspect of the sandbox, it will grant what it deems to be the minimal entitlements required by the application.

Even though it means more work for developers, the sandbox in itself is not a bad idea. Security is good, right?

The rub lies in the fact that unlike iPad and iPhone applications which effectively take over your whole device, most Mac applications live in an eco-system together with other applications. They share files, they interact with other applications and the system to deliver an integrated user experience.

The sandbox gets into the way of all this. Sandboxed applications can only access files on your disk after you have opened them in the “Open…” or “Save…” dialog. They can only interact with other application via AppleScript if they have a specific entitlement for that specific application and that means that Apple has to grant that specific entitlement during the review process. Worse yet, there are no entitlements for a whole range of things that a powerful app could potentially want to do.

For many applications, this will mean that existing application features that have existed for a long time will need to be removed in order to comply with Sandboxing rules.

I have finished sandboxing Vitamin-R and I have managed to keep most of its features alive and well.

Some features, however, did not make the cut. So I have removed the following features from the Mac App Store version of Vitamin-R:

  • the ability to quit other applications from the “Eliminate Distractions” screen
  • the integration with NeuroSky’s MindWave brain computer interface

(There are entitlements for either of these things).

Other features require “temporary entitlements” that Apple may or may not grant.

The features “at risk” are:

  • Things integration
  • Things beta integration (new if accepted)
  • OmniFocus integration
  • Growl integration
  • The Hit List Integration

There is no rational reason for doubting that Apple will grant these entitlements, but the MAS review process is notoriously capricious. The term “temporary” also does not fill one with great confidence, so these features may well disappear somewhere down the line even if accepted now.

I will be submitting Vitamin-R 1.81 to the Mac App Store as soon as version 1.80 is released next week and if everything goes smoothly and Apple isn’t backlogged, it should be available within a fortnight.

On a personal note: I do not want to remove a single feature from any of my applications. Apple is forcing my hand and I’m doing what I can to preserve functionality. The versions of my software distributed via my own website will remain outside of the sandbox and thus unaffected.

I’m also looking into ways of allowing users who have purchased via the Mac App Store to download and use the “full” version of Vitamin-R from my website for free. This is made more difficult by the fact that Apple does not share customer data with third party developers and I thus have no idea of who buys my software on the Mac App Store.

I hope to have a simple solution ready sometime in June, but this again depends on whether the Mac App Store review team accept the solution.

If you are upset about losing features, the best idea is to let Apple know about it. We developers have already done all we can. There’s a “Support” link in the “Quick Links” section of the Mac App Store front page and of course there are Apple Stores all over the world.

Announcing Version 9 of A Better Finder Rename

Introducing A Better Finder Rename 9 for Mac

We are thrilled to announce the release of A Better Finder Rename 9. We are excited about this new release and hope that you will enjoy the new version.

Refined Single Window User Interface

As befits a major new release, we have updated and refined the single window user interface introduced in version 8. We are rather pleased with the update and hope you will like as much as we do.

Manual Ordering

This has long been the Number 1 request for A Better Finder Rename and we have finally found a truly intuitive way to implement it.

You can now re-arrange the order of the files in the preview list simply through drag and drop. The sequence numbers, roman numerals or alphabetical sequences will automatically change to take into account the new ordering.

Tag-Based Renaming

Over the years, we kept getting requests for adding this or that type of meta-data. We wanted to find a really great way to integrate all kinds of file meta-data into the product without sacrificing the simplicity and elegance of the interface. The new tag-based renaming feature adds over one hundred tags allowing you to exploit camera, lens, image, color, music & date meta-data in your naming schemes.

Version 9 is but a new beginning

Customers who have been with us since A Better Finder Rename’s humble beginnings in 1996 will know that every new release is only the beginning of a new cycle of iterative refinements. Over the past 16 years, few months have gone by without a point update to A Better Finder Rename and this will of course continue unabated with version 9. We have come a long way in the three and half years between version 8.0 and version 8.95 and we intend to continue developing A Better Finder Rename aggressively.

Free & Discounted Upgrades

A Better Finder Rename 9 is free for all customers who have bought the product after the 1st of January 2011 or who own a forever license.

Upgrades to the version 9 are available at the discounted price of $9.95 (Single User License) from our web store. You can also take the opportunity to upgrade to a family/small business license covering up to 5 individuals or a business license covering up to 100 users.

Better Rename 9 & the Mac App Store

Better Rename 9 is available on the Mac App Store for $19.95 and some of you may prefer using this opportunity to “crossgrade” to the Mac App Store version.

At present Better Rename 9.0 maintains feature parity with A Better Finder Rename 9 and we would like to keep it that way. Note however that on the Mac App Store, everybody plays by Apple’s rules and those rules may at any moment force us to remove features, some of which you may find crucial.

Vitamin-R receives 4.5 out of 5 mice review from MacWorld

It’s always nice for an indie developer to get a good review, but doubly so if it’s MacWorld:

http://www.macworld.com/reviews/product/573630/review/vitaminr_118.html?expand=true

I like the conclusion:

“Overall I found Vitamin-R to be one of the few get-thing-done applications that actually works for me—in my book, that’s a huge task accomplished.”

so much that I had to plaster it over all the product pages 🙂

Vitamin-R Progress Report

This is just a quick update on where development of Vitamin-R is going for the next few months.

A lot of the recent updates had to do with the text system. Getting a full grip on the byzantine complexities of the MacOS X text system takes a bit of time and in the 1.0 version of Vitamin-R there were lots of rough edges to the Now & Later Board and text entry fields. Ironing those out takes precedence over most other issues. I also spent quite a bit of time trying to understand a rare, but crashing bug on Leopard also related to the text system. I have quietly released a fix and haven’t heard anything about this bug rearing its ugly little glyph head, so I hope that’s over and done with.

The OmniFocus integration has been a big hit for many people, but hard on the heels of that came a flood of “Why don’t you integrate with X, Y, Z, etc”. I’ve been doing some experimental work on getting integrating with other to-do list managers.

I’m starting working in earnest on Things (from Cultured Code) integration this week. It shouldn’t take too long so with a bit of luck it should be out in 2 to 4 weeks time.

After that there will be a bit more text system tuning in the form of customizable FastType triggers. Some script writers in particular find the “–” at the end of the line (“strikeout line”) and the “—” on a blank line (“insert separating line”) triggers hard to live with and I also want to give an option for switching off FastType altogether for those who prefer a “vanilla” editor.

At the moment, the absence of a log viewer is also a sore point, apparently mostly for myself. There was always going to be a log viewer for 1.0 but then the complete interface re-do triggered by the early beta feedback pushed that off for later. A simple but dedicated log viewer should make its appearance shortly after the FastType work.

That should mark the end of the most pressing post-1.0 release work and I’ll be able to finally get to making more out of the logged data. Most of the technical backend for creating graphs and analyzing your time slices already shipped with the early betas of Vitamin-R, but with all the other pressing changes, I’ve never quite got around to getting this into a publish-able state.

I expect to do a lot of work on statistics and analysis of your logged usage patterns over the remainder of the year.

I also get a lot of requests for an iPhone or iPad versions of Vitamin-R. There is likely going to be an iPad version and more than likely an iPhone version. At the moment, I’m concentrating on the Mac version.

I’m one of those developers who aren’t terribly happy with the AppStore-only policy and thus can’t work up any real enthusiasm for spending months of time on a program that may-or-may-not be accepted by Apple and may-or-may-not be taken out of the AppStore at the whim of Apple and needs to be priced at less than the price of a decent espresso 🙂

I’m often given to wonder how a young Steve Jobs, famously independently minded and sitting in his garage, would have reacted to a “curated” environment like the AppStore. Hell, he’d probably have created the Pear II and taken the fight to big brother..

My garage is already full of junk and the lighting is bad, so I’ll just have to forget about it and learn to love the AppStore I guess.. concerning an iPad version.. I’m still waiting for the iPad to hit Luxembourg, but I think it could make for a terrific Vitamin-R platform..

Better get back to work.

Best regards,

Frank

twitter..

I’ll admit it, I’m not a great Twitter fan. Perhaps at 30 something, I’m already well past it.

I find myself agreeing at least partially with notorious software pundit, Joel Spolsky who announces his retirement from blogging with this little tidbit:

l appreciate that many people find Twitter to be valuable, I find it a truly awful way to exchange thoughts and ideas. It creates a mentally stunted world in which the most complicated thought you can think is one sentence long. It’s a cacophony of people shouting their thoughts into the abyss without listening to what anyone else is saying. Logging on gives you a page full of little hand grenades: impossible-to-understand, context-free sentences that take five minutes of research to unravel and which then turn out to be stupid, irrelevant, or pertaining to the television series Battlestar Galactica. I would write an essay describing why Twitter gives me a headache and makes me fear for the future of humanity, but it doesn’t deserve more than 140 characters of explanation, and I’ve already spent 820. [Joel on Software Blog]

Nonetheless, despite the fact that I have never advertised the existence of a twitter feed in my name (you’ve got to see what all the fuss is about after all), I do seem to have acquired a very small following anyway, so I feel honour bound to make an effort.

So henceforward, at least until I completely forget about it again, here’s a link to my official twitter feed.

Vitamin-R progress

In my last blog entry, I announced that Vitamin-R, my very own solution to the productivity problems of people like myself who need to balance their scatterbrained creativity with “delivering stuff” on time and within budget.

I asked you to tell me whether my baby is ugly or not.. well, I asked for it, so I can’t complain.

The highly polished user interface of the first beta missed the mark somewhat.. far too much text and too “application”-y.

Initial Design

Initial Design

This lead to a late-in-the-day dash to get an interface that is minimalist and doesn’t get into the way of accomplishing your task. The idea was to make the application into a “menu bar item” that is always available:

Vitamin-R 0.4 Interface

Vitamin-R 0.4 Interface

In practice, this worked much better than the initial design and got out of the way when not needed.

It was certainly minimalist, but still not all that pretty. So in the latest 1.06 release you get a Snow Leopard/ iPad call-out type interface:

Current Interface Presets

Current Interface Presets


Better still, you can configure the appearance yourself using the Appearance Panel available under the “Appearance” item in the “Vitamin-R” menu. From there, you can configure background color, opacity, gradients, corner rounding, inner and outer strokes, padding, etc.

I hope that you’ll come up with your own favorite look and if you do so please drop me an email at support@publicspace.net with a screenshot. I’m thinking of including a number of different presets, so if you come up with something that might be of interest to the user community at large, it could well start shipping with every copy of Vitamin-R!

I can’t believe that version 0.01 beta only shipped on the 24th of March and the program has already gone through such a transformation due in great part to your feedback.. so please keep it coming!

As those of you who have been around since these early releases already know, the pace of development on Vitamin-R has been frenetic and I intend to keep it that way for at least a few more months before settling into a one or twice a month update cycle as with A Better Finder Rename.

In these last 7 weeks, the user interface has changed profoundly, I’ve introduced keyboard navigation, time slice pausing, workflow changes, a re-designed now & later board and fast type feature, fixed some bugs, etc, etc..

The next 7 weeks should be no less exciting. Next week, I will ship the drag & drop integration with OmniFocus which will allow you to drag & drop tasks directly from OmniFocus, click on the hyperlink to go back to the task in OmniFocus and have it ticked automatically when it is logged as completed. The hyperlink feature already works in 1.06.

I’ve solved most of the technical problems with providing the same integration for Cultured Code’s Things application and I’m investigating Task Paper integration.

Vitamin-R will also be able to work as a dock-less application within the next few weeks, as I know that many people would prefer this mode of operation. The current way of working will become optional.

Beyond this the highest priority item is to get the statistics module working. Originally this was supposed to be shipping with the 1.0 release, but with the frenzied development on the user interface front there simply was not time left for it. A rough version of it is already working, so it shouldn’t be too long before it is fully functional. Expect basic graphs and summaries in the first releases with more sophisticated analysis options not too far behind.

I think this will be a massive boost for Vitamin-R as discovering your own work patterns in itself is huge help in becoming more productivity and seeing your progress is highly motivating.

Vitamin-R is already used by many fans of the Pomodoro Technique and support for this technique will be growing in future releases. I’m not a great Pomodoro Technique fan myself, as I feel that with its rigid structure it is too prescriptive for many people and makes few allowances for human foibles and the creative mind in general, but many people do find that they are both capable of exerting that level of self-discipline and enjoying it, so who am I too argue. After all, Vitamin-R is about finding the way you work best rather than prescribing what that ought to be.

Some of you have asked about the lack of a screencast for Vitamin-R on the website and have tried to make me realize that this would be a great asset. Thanks. I’m very much aware of that and there most definitely will be a screencast on the website at some stage. The problem at the moment, is that the product is changing so quickly that a screencast is going to be out of date almost as soon as it is put up. I’m not a great fan of screencast that show a product that has changed beyond recognition in the meantime and updating a screencast a couple of times a month just isn’t practical. My intention is to get Vitamin-R to where I want to be first and then do a screencast that will remain relevant at least until version 2.0 in the far future.

Thank you all for your feedback and support!

Best regards,

Frank