Glenn Vanderburg

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The New Sherlock
Wed, 12 Jan 2005 (19:48) #
Sherlock is one of Apple’s OS X applications that never really lived up to the hype. Once featured prominently in every OS X demo and brochure, it has all but vanished … you have to poke around for a while on Apple’s site to find any mention of it at all.

Why was Sherlock a flop? It was slow, for one thing. And that slowness was very unwelcome when Sherlock itself was not an application you’d want to spend a lot of time in: once you’d found what you were looking for in Sherlock, you wanted to move on to other things. The channel interfaces weren’t especially compelling, but they weren’t especially bad, either, so I’m not sure that was the issue. Another problem was that Sherlock was an integrated application with channels, when a given user, at a given moment, would be interested in just one or two of those channels. It seemed like a heavyweight tool for lightweight tasks. Finally, the API for writing channels was sort of goofy: JavaScript mixed with XQuery, plus Interface Builder for the UIs. It didn’t encourage developers, that’s for sure.

One of the things that came along with Apple’s new product announcements yesterday was an updated set of preview pages for Tiger, the next version of OS X that’s due out in a few months. No mention of Sherlock, not that anyone should be surprised. But what struck me was the new info about Dashboard. They’ve added some new widgets to the lineup. Stocks. Yellow Pages. Dictionary and Thesaurus. Language translation. Flight tracking. A friend who watched the keynote told me that Steve demonstrated a prototype widget from eBay.

Where have I seen that lineup before? Oh yeah! In the Sherlock toolbar.

Dashboard is the new Sherlock.

That’s fine as far as it goes … but will Dashboard fare any better than Sherlock? (I won’t discuss their similar origins.) I think Dashboard solves most of the problems that harmed Sherlock:

  • It’s reportedly fast; more to the point, it’s meant to run all the time, letting you get in and out quickly.
  • The interfaces are dazzling. Sherlock’s interfaces may not have turned people away, but they weren’t great enough to fuel either user or developer excitement.
  • In one sense it’s still an integrated app, but (from what I can tell) it won’t have that feel to the user. You get the widgets you need, and that’s it.
  • The widget development model is much nicer, and is already attracting a lot of interest from developers.

I always thought Sherlock was a cool idea with an implementation that didn’t make the grade. I look forward to using its successor.

I Think Not
Thu, 18 Mar 2004 (16:26) #

I'm sitting in on a "webinar" today (how I loathe that word!) hosted by The Conference Depot using some software called On-Site Pro. They recommend that you test your browser compatibility, etc. before the meeting starts, which I did. I was greeted by this:

You are running the Mac OS X Operating System. On-Site Pro no longer officially supports this Operating System.

The application may work for you with limitations. However, for a better meeting experience, please upgrade to a Windows 98/2000/NT4/XP operating system.

Even if I don't like it, I can understand them not supporting OS X. (Although I suspect that "no longer" is stretching the truth ... I doubt they ever did support it.) But calling a switch to Windows an upgrade -- that's going too far. (And never mind that this "upgrade" would require buying new hardware, which they fail to mention.)

I have an XP box here at work that I could use -- but I want to see how serious the limitations actually are. More later.

Update: The limitations are pretty serious: the software didn't work at all. Good thing I had a Windows box handy ... but here's to the day when I won't have to.

Things I Miss The Most
Mon, 03 Nov 2003 (22:39) #

For a while, at least, I've set aside the Powerbook during the day, and am exclusively a Windows guy while at work. Mostly it's not bad; the annoyances that have always been a part of Windows are only slightly worsened by the past year's association with OS X (and I've continued to use Windows a lot during that time, anyway). But there's one thing I'm having a very hard time living without: iChat.

It's amazing how subtle user interface design is, and how important it is. When I first saw iChat, the only thing that was noticeably different about it was the little speech bubbles, and I saw them as useless eye candy. I was sure the first thing I would do when I got iChat would be to turn them off. And it was the first thing I did -- but I almost immediately turned them on again. The bubbles, with their different colors and different alignment (your own icon is on the right, the other person's on the left) makes it much easier to distinguish different parts of the conversation.

Now that I'm using AIM again, I'm noticing all kinds of things that (like a comfy Eames chair) you don't appreciate until they're gone:

  • Automatic logging of all of your chats. I'm a guy who uses his email archive as an extended memory, and one of the things that was initially troubling about instant messaging was its transience. iChat made that a non-issue.
  • Every-five-minutes-or-so timestamps in the chat window to help track the flow of time in the conversation.
  • Sorting the buddy list by status (online and active at the top, then idle, then away, then offline). The list of people I could actually chat with right away nearly always fit on the screen in iChat; now I almost always have to scroll. And while using iChat, I never once missed the categories that AIM allows you to sort your buddy list into.
  • Status message displayed in the buddy list. Many Mac users have begun using iChat as an awareness tool, updating their status messages frequently to indicate where they are or what they're doing. I miss that, not just because it helps me feel connected to my friends, but it lets me know when it's a good time to interrupt.
  • Buddy icons displayed in the buddy list. A few friends change their buddy icons frequently, and meaningfully. (Like when James counted down the days to Panther's release with screenshots from the "time remaining" display on Apple's home page.) It's fun to watch, and now I feel like I might be missing something.
  • Display of real names instead of AIM screen names. Who are these people in my buddy list? I have no clue who some of them are. I'll have to check my Mac address book sometime to put names with IDs again. (Display of real names has another advantage: concealment of my friends' AIM ids, which many people like to keep private.)
  • Much easier (and more elegant) sending of files between users.

Those are mostly in order of priority. If anyone knows of a Windows-based AIM-compatible chat program that supports most of these features, especially the ones near the top of the list, please let me know.

Sun, 15 Jun 2003 (03:04) #

You've probably noticed that I like iChat. One of my favorite things about it is that it displays any non-default status message right in the buddy list, and many people use those messages to indicate their current whereabouts, etc.

James uses them for self-expression.

Journalling is on
Wed, 20 Nov 2002 (18:11) #
I've been running OS X.2.2 for over a week, and today I turned on the new journalling support in the file system. Supposedly it'll slow my system down a bit (presumably just on writes to disk), but I want the assurance that my file system will be OK after a crash.

This morning I was copying something to my iDisk, and it bogged down. I had to get to work, so I tried clicking Cancel, but the Finder was unresponsive. I finally had to just unplug and go.

When I got to work and opened the machine again, things were still stuck. I tried a restart, but 10 minutes into the shutdown process, looking at a machine that wasn't doing anything, I powered off. The fsck on reboot found a lot of things to fix. I hope all my data is OK, but in any case, it's time for the safeguard of the journalling filesystem.

Cocoa preferences
Sat, 16 Nov 2002 (20:37) #
One of the nicest things about Cocoa is the user preferences architecture. It provides a nice way to store explicit user preferences, as well as implicit things like window placement. And what I discovered today is that Cocoa has very nice hooks to make that easy. For example, to make a window remember its last position, you just have to add one line to the awakeFromNib method:
    [self setWindowFrameAutosaveName: @"LinkWindow"];

It's so simple that there's no reason not to do it. It took just a couple of minutes to add that to Blapp.

Zeroing in on my crashes
Mon, 21 Oct 2002 (11:46) #
I know, I should just reinstall. But I've been too busy to risk that much disruption when I don't currently have a good backup solution, and I seem to have figured out how to avoid the crashes most of the time.

I noticed fairly quickly that the crashes seem to always be related to modem use: they happen either while the modem is disconnecting, or very quickly thereafter. And I also noticed, shortly before the crashes started happening, that disconnecting was taking a lot longer than it used to. Something's up.

After playing around for a while, I figured this out: if I unplug the phone cord from my laptop before I tell the modem to disconnect, the machine won't crash. So far, that's worked. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Crashes ...
Wed, 09 Oct 2002 (04:22) #
I've had my PowerBook for over 3 months now. Saturday, for the first time, it crashed. (Early on, I had a few instances where it would power down instead of going to sleep, but I found out what was causing that.) Saturday was the first time it crashed on me while I was using it. I've got to hand it to those Apple guys: crashing on a Mac has a much better user interface than the Blue Screen O' Death.

This morning, it happened again. Two crashes in four days. *sigh*. How disappointing.

Update: Again tonight. Time to figure out how to turn on crash dumps.