Snow Leopard Update

Right, Snow Leopard has officially been released, so we can start talking about it..

Like many  in the Macintosh community, I thought that “sometime in September” would mean.. sometime in September, so I felt that it was safe to go on holiday until the second of September and that would leave me plenty of time for a nice orderly rollout of Mac OS X 10.6… silly old me, of course it meant the 28th of August!? I’m not really sure what Apple stands to gain from this kind of exercise, but it sure doesn’t make it easy for third party developers.

The good news is that I have tested all current products including A Better Finder RenameA Better Finder Attributes, “The Big Mean Folder Machine” and MacBreakZ with the latest beta release, which rumor has it is the gold master of what appears on the shelves today and it’s all running just fine.

A Better Finder Attributes displays some odd behaviors on certain file date changes which I’m fairly certain are  due to actual bugs in Snow Leopard. I’ll report them to Apple when I get back to the office next week. The workaround is simple: click on the “OK” button twice and everything is fine.

Snow Leopard also appears to no longer allow the creator part of the creator & type legacy codes to be set!? This isn’t a great loss since creator & type codes have been on their way out ever since 10.1 came out and the creator part is arguably of less relevance than the type part. I’ll investigate.

A Better Finder Rename runs just fine with no problems at all, so assuming that the beta I had was indeed the Gold Master, it should be smooth rollout.

The Big Mean Folder Machine” and MacBreakZ have displayed no problems at all.

Of course, once you put a new operating system into the hands of a couple of million actual users, inevitably quirks are discovered, so please let me know immediately if you find something. I can only fix problems that I know about..

One more thing..

How to get the Finder context menu on Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard finally does away with contextual menu item plug-ins, which is definitely a good thing. This ancient technology is replaced with “Services”.. you know that weird menu that appears in every application’s menu bar and you have no idea of what it does.

The gotcha here is that you need to activate the A Better Finder Rename and A Better Finder Attributes services to actually see them in the Finder context menu or the new streamlined Services menu.

  1. A Better Finder Rename and A Better Finder Attributes now definitely need to reside in your Applications because that is where Snow Leopard looks for “Service Providers”.. so if you have them installed somewhere else you need to drag them into the proper folder now.
  2. go to the Finder, open the “Finder” menu and select “Services Preferences…” from the “Services” menu
  3. in the Services Preferences tick the A Better Finder Rename 8 and A Better Finder Attributes 4 items


If the items don’t appear in the Services Preferences, you might need to

  1. launch A Better Finder Rename 8 once
  2. and if that doesn’t work, log out and back into your account/ reboot

The reason for this complication is that the Finder only finds new services when it starts up. A Better Finder Rename 8 nicely asks the Finder to update its services list when it starts up , but it’s only a request..

I wish you all a good transition..


Snow Leopard Compatibility

One question that is certain to be on everybody’s mind at the moment is “Will it work on Snow Leopard?”.

I couldn’t possibly comment.. as I’m under NDA.. but surely it’s okay to just say: “Yes.”

There’ll be more info posted here on the 28th of August, the official Mac OS X 10.6 release date.

I’m on holiday right now and normal service will be resumed on the 2nd of September, so expect a few minor updates to iron out some minor issues that are sure to occur when tens of thousands of users simultaneously get their hands on a new operation system.

New Support Forums added

I have long been sitting on the fence when it comes to providing a discussion forum for supporting customers.

I like the direct personal contact of the one-on-one email exchanges and I hate the organized chaos of most discussion forums.

When you open one of those things, you suddenly become a moderator for community rather than just the guy sitting at home behind his monitor helping people sort out problems his software and trying to figure out what needs improving.

Sounds good, but what about the spammers, the trolls, the flaming wars and all of that? Oh, yes and what if you call “forum” and no one comes? Oh well, we’ll see..

I’ll be running the forums on a “wait and see what happens” basis until further notice.

Please feel free to use and abuse it and don’t hesitate to talk amongst yourselves. I’ll be trying to check in as often as possible and keep it as spam free as at all possible.

Hope you enjoy it!


Big Mean File Processing

What a couple of weeks it has been since the launch of Leopard..

I’m not sure whether I’m the only one to find this, but it does look like one of the buggiest Apple releases in recent history..

By in large, a new operating system release should have zero impact on existing programs. This time over, however, it looks like lots and lots of programs have been broken all over the place..

Of course, as a developer I spend most of my time in Apple’s development tools, namely XCode and the brand-new “Instruments”. I’m sad to say it, but the current XCode 3.0 is a no more than an alpha release. The editor hangs, the snapshot feature doesn’t work (force quit), half the time after running a program in debug mode, you need to quit XCode to “reset” it.. it will be great when it’s finished, but it has been released at least a year too early 🙁

Time Machine is great, but lacks configurability and feedback. Every hour it will pretty much freeze the machine and backup 360Gb of data (build directories do not seem to be excluded from backups), the only indication that you have that it’s busy is that the external hard disk starts making a racket, there’s no easy way of delaying a backup, etc, etc.

My own applications have also been hit by Leopard problems despite having tested them on various beta builds of the new operating system.

For A Better Finder Rename, the migration problems were largely due to changes (and apparently new bugs) in the Finder and in AppleScript. For MacBreakZ there are some oddities to do with Spaces (which does behave in some fairly strange ways).

At the moment, however, it seems that it’s the Big Mean Folder Machine that has been the hardest hit. This is largely due to some very nice progress on Mac OS X’s built-in Core Data database engine. It’s much faster, but it also seems to leak memory fairly badly where it didn’t before. As a consequence, “The Big Mean Folder Machine” appears to be both a lot faster (great!) and lot memory hungrier (no!) on Leopard than it was on Tiger..

Unfortunately the vastly increased memory usage on Leopard makes the whole application crash when it runs out of memory. Luckily this doesn’t happen during your garden variety 6000 file re-organization, but can quickly become a problem when you’re dealing with tens or hundreds of thousands of files. Well using Core Data was supposed to provide “The Big Mean Folder Machine” with fantastic scalability rather than make memory a problem!

I have therefore spent much of the last week optimizing “The Big Mean Folder Machine” for Leopard by manually testing each bit of code for its memory usage.. this is very tedious work, but at least it seems to be working:

My current test version now deals gracefully with half a million files and has a very small memory foot print even when it’s working flat out..

I hope to have a new version of “The Big Mean Folder Machine” that will gracefully deal with over a million files out very soon, so expect “The Big Mean Folder Machine” 1.3 very soon.

This is also good news for the upcoming version 8 of A Better Finder Rename, which will inherit much of The Big Mean Folder Machine’s processing pipeline.

If anybody is stuck with the current version of “The Big Mean Folder Machine”, please just email me and I can send you a development copy via email.

Best regards,


Getting ready for Leopard

After yesterday’s release of “The Big Mean Folder Machine” 1.0, my attention is now shifting towards the imminent release of Mac OS X Leopard.

The rumor mill has it that it will be released the last weekend of October and as always we’ll be ready.. there are only minor visual glitches to take care of.

I’m not sure what your thoughts on the new and much darker “space” theme are, but I think it will take some getting used to. I’m still not convinced that the new “darker” Apple site looks anything as good as the old “aqua” one.. it’s the first time that I’m wondering whether Apple is actually taking a step backwards rather forwards at least in visual style..

As soon as Leopard is officially released, work on A Better Finder Rename v8 will start in earnest.. no rest for the wicked.

Big Mean Folder Machine nearing completion…


My latest project, “The Big Mean Folder Machine” after being put on hold while the new artwork was being finished is now back on track. The 1.0 beta 3 release should be ready for next wednesday (my traditional “release day”).

My policy has always been to “get it out early and see what people make of it”, so I’m thinking about going “golden master” with this third beta.

I could, of course, continue releasing new betas that add more features, but I’m not really a fan of the new “endless beta” strategy where your golden master is 1.0 beta 28891 build 65839-20a and comes after 3 years of saying “don’t blame me if it does not work”.

It’s only a 1.0 release, so somebody is going to knock it because it doesn’t do something scheduled for release 3.4, but that’s going to happen anyway.. so unless I find a show stopper that’s it as far as betas are concerned..

I would like to take his opportunity to thank those of you who have contributed their insights and suggestions to the project.. I know version 1.0 is still far from fulfilling all requirements, but it’s only the beginning of the journey.. expect a point update with new features and refinements every 4-8 weeks.. and don’t worry you have free upgrades up to (but not including!!) versions 3.0.

Funnily enough, I haven’t mentioned bug fixes yet. This is because nobody’s reported a bug yet.. this either means that I have finally managed to get a 1.0 beta 1 release out that is 100% bug free (in my dreams), or that you’re holding back your reports on the assumption that “somebody else is going to report this”. Well, nobody has so far, so please get emailing!

As a sweetener: anybody who reports a genuine bug (“it doesn’t make coffee” doesn’t count!) before the 1.0 final release gets a free single user license.

No Big Bang for The Big Mean Folder Machine

For the past 12 months, I have been working on a new product behind the scenes.

The original idea for the Big Mean Folder Machine came to me while sitting in the lobby of our holiday hotel to find some “stuff” on my haphazardly organized laptop. Now usually, I don’t spend holidays slaving over a laptop, but my (by then heavily) pregnant wife decided that this was the right time to sleep 18 hours a day and Malta in winter is well.. like everywhere else in winter..

Over a late machiato and a club sandwich, I started thinking about how nice it would be if everything was as neatly organized as the Apple Developer mailing DVD in the DVD drive.. you know what I mean: “everything in its place and a place for everything”.

Now the reason why I don’t keep a tidy hard disk is the same as for everybody else.. it takes time to organize “stuff” in the first place and once you have an organization it’s forbiddingly time-consuming to change it.

“What about the poor people at Apple or anybody else who needs to ship electronic deliverables and wants to make a good impression?” I wondered. “How long does it take them? How many people does it take to produce effortless organization?”

Surely those guys have a clever build script that does all the work for them.. or maybe they don’t… or maybe there are at least a few people out there who do not.. wouldn’t they appreciate a nifty little tool that does it all for them according to their own “recipe”?

This is how, the Big Mean Folder Machine was born. The basic idea was to help you create a neat folder structure for your files to fit in snugly and copy (or move them) over into the new structure. All this with the bare minimum of fuss.

Now, once you start thinking about it there are all sorts of situations, where this kind of tool would be useful. How about your 43GB photo collection that you can’t backup because it simply won’t fit on those tiny 4GB DVDs? Why not break them up into 4Gb “chunks” first? How about organizing your photos by year, month and (why not?) by file type? The possibilities are endless.

Now something I’ve learned in the past decade of developing A Better Finder Rename is that you never know in which direction your software is going to evolve over time.. at least if you are listening to what your customers actually want.

The design challenge for an application like this is to produce something that people can actually understand without having to read a lengthy manual. Good user interface design demands that you as the designer have a very detailed understanding of exactly what people want to do with the tool. iPhoto is a good example: it makes the features that people are most likely to want to use, easy and accessible and it hides away the “advanced” features where they are unlikely to get into the way of the casual user.

Now this is hard to do with a new tool for which nobody has an existing mental blue print.

Moreover, file utilities typically perform tasks that appear to be very straightforward at first glance, but that reveal themselves to have lots of hidden complexities that may or may not become a problem. Last but not least, you want total control over the end-result..

My solution to this design challenge was simple. Instead of attempting to create an all-singing-all-dancing user interface without much user feedback to go on, I’ve kept it simple and concentrated on getting the internals right. This has resulted in a simple step-by-step “assistant-style” interface, with each step being explained as you make your choices. Over time this will no doubt evolve into a “control center” interface that will satisfy even a big mean control freak like myself..

This brings me to an important part of my development philosophy: “Don’t design for what you don’t (yet) understand”.

It’s all the rage on the internet these days to find a 1.0 release, give it a spin, find a minor problem or gap in the functionality and then write it off “as junk”, but a 1.0 release is only a beginning, it’s not an end!

It’s the developer’s best (and first!) attempt at the problem. The question really then becomes “is it good enough for now?” and “will it improve over time?”.

A lot of the 1.0 mania is due to the “old” way of developing software: you make a big boxed version of something and then leave it alone for the next 3 years until version 2.0 comes out. In the meantime, you do your best to avoid hearing what your customers have to say (= complain about) and so pretty much guarantee that version 2.0 will be exactly the same (only more so) as version 1.0.

This is emphatically not the way I do things: I get something out early (before it gets too difficult to change things) and start listening to user feedback. Then I improve the software based on that feedback at regular intervals (say 4-6 weeks). As the tool and my understanding of what people really use it for matures, more fundamental changes become necessary, so there is probably a re-write or two in the offing..

Today’s first beta release then, is the beginning of a feedback-driven development process, so if you have any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms please share them with me at

Finally, there is the matter of the name.. until last Sunday, the product was going to be called “Big Bang”, playing on the idea of exploding (and why not, imploding?) your file collections, but then I saw that freeverse have a whole collection of electronic board games for the Mac that all begin with “Big Bang” (they don’t look half bad by the way).. so it was back to the drawing board.

In the end, my struggles to communicate what the tool will actually do when it’s finished, lead to the new name: “Well, it’s like a Big Mean Folder Machine!”. At long last a fun name for what I hope will be a fun product..

Before you ask: the current styling and artwork is a left-over of the Big Bang concept and will be replaced with bigger and meaner artwork very soon.. as a result, today’s first public beta release is going to be on the quiet, understated, side.. a link on the website and a blog entry.

I hope you’ll find The Big Mean Folder Machine a useful addition to your tool collection.. if it looks at all likely that it could do something that would be of value to you, please do let me know, so that one day soon it just might..