Code by Kevin

Code by Kevin, Programming, code, business, and other pursuits

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Kevin Walzer, software developer.


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Tue, 14 Nov 2006

New upgrade policies

Moving to a standard serial number registration scheme on my software products has required me to make a clean break with my previous upgrade policies.

I am no longer providing updaters for older purchased versions of my software. This means that folks who purchased the $6.25 version of my programs (PortAuthority, NameFind, and VuMan) will have to purchase a serial number to unlock the latest version.

If you purchased the more expensive version of my software from ($12.50 for NameFind and VuMan, $18.75 for PortAuthority), I will provide a free upgrade license. Just contact me with proof of purchase and I will provide the appropriate serial number.

I know this will make some people unhappy, but those of you who purchased the $6.25 version got a real bargain. Those versions of the software should continue to function fine. The serial number approach will provide a cleaner upgrade path moving forward.

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Lots o' releases

I've released new versions today of PortAuthority, NameFind, and VuMan. All three programs feature nicer interfaces, integration with Apple Help, and other goodies. Check them out, and if you like, buy a license!

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Not so Delicious

There's a lot of discussion on Mac blog sites these days about how many new applications have adopted an elaborate, baroque interface design that, when done well, is simply dazzling: eye-candy from the richest candy store in town. One blog terms these apps the Delicious generation, after the hugely successful (and hugely influential) Delicious Library program, a tool for managing and categorizing collections of DVD's, songs, games, and so on.

I have one word for the Delicious generation: blecch.

I think many of these applications represent the triumph of style over substance. They tend to be overdesigned, fussy, and often (as some report about the case of one new program) so thick with eye candy that they are near-unusable. What's worse, as these applications proliferate, they run the risk of turning the Mac into Linux: a hodgepodge of inconsistent user conventions, appearances, and more, with everyone doing his/her own thing and everyone trying to layer on the lacquer coating.

While some suggest that making ever-slicker apps makes the Mac more appealing as a computing platform for new users, I'm not encouraged by this trend. What has historically made the Mac a superb platform to work on is not how "slick" its applications look, but by how consistently they work--following Apple's Human Interface Guidelines. Apple has spent a great deal of time researching and implementing these guidelines, and when intelligenty followed, these guidelines ensure a very consistent user experience from one app to the next. That's important. Usasbility has to be designed into an application from the beginning. It's not something you slather on at the end, as many Linux developers seem to think.

The problem is that no one seems to be following the HIG anymore: not even Apple. A lot of Apple's new apps, such as its high-level graphics programs, don't follow the HIG at all. And this places some developers in a conumdrum: do you do as Apple says (via the HIG) or what Apple does (via many of its new apps)? A lot of developers are opting for the latter, trying to infer a workable set of guidelines from Apple's own example.

My own approach in designing my apps has been to follow the HIG as much as reasonably possible, and opt for a conservative approach that gets out of the user's way, rather than in the user's face. In looking for a model to emulate, I've chosen not one of the "Delicious generation," but rather Brent Simmons' NetNewsWire. I consider NetNewsWire to be a superb example of interface design, one that is clean and attractive, but also intuitive and usable: in short, it gets out of the user's way. It is a model of simplicity and elegance. Its design philosophy, often stated by Simmons at his blog, is that the program is finished not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away. In short, the program has been distilled to its purest essence.

I don't claim that my own programs meet this standard, but that's what they strive for. Much of the work I've done on them has focused on refining their interfaces rather than adding tons of new features. I think the new releases come closer to emulating the example of NetNewsWire than previous versions do. (You can judge for yourself by going to my main software page.)

I do have one challenge in following the HIG, in that the HIG is geared for developers using Apple's tools. In my case I sometimes have to design things to emulate the HIG as closely as possible, rather than getting some of its goodies "for free." Sometimes this also requires me to abandon work I've done on my programs that doesn't meet the HIG. For instance, I spent several months developing a help viewer to use in my programs that would work in a cross-platform manner; this help viewer represents a lot of work, and I'm proud of it. However, Mac users expect the native Apple Help viewer in their programs, so I've adopted my user documentation to meet that standard (and use those Mac-specific programming API's).

Still, I don't think you'll ever call my programs "delicious." And that's fine with me. I'd rather be usable than delicious.

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