Roben Kleene

Remembering the O'Reilly Mac OS X Innovators Contest

From 2003 to 2004, O’Reilly Media ran the O’Reilly Mac OS X Innovators Contest, sponsored by Apple via the Apple Developer Connection (now just Apple Developer). I still think of these winners as some of the high watermarks of app innovation. Many concepts we take for granted today were either introduced, or popularized, by apps on this list. Here are a few of my favorite examples:

  • NetNewsWire, while not necessarily the first RSS feed reader, was one of the most popular early ones. RSS feed readers are the origin of consuming media through streams of content, now exemplified by Twitter and Facebook’s Newsfeed.
  • SubEthaEdit was one of the earliest practical implementations of multiple simultaneous live document editing, a concept later brought to a much wider audience by Google Docs in 2006.
  • LaunchBar popularized many features we take for granted in search user interfaces today, such as seeing search results live as you type, fuzzy string matching, and combining search results of various types, such as apps, bookmarks, contacts, events, and files all into one unified interface.

I’ve listed the winners below, and linked to all the ones that are still maintained, so you can see visually just how many these apps are still around. All of these apps are over fifteen years old now.

2003 Round One Winners

2003 Second Round Winners

2003 O’Reilly Mac OS X Conference Winners

  • First Place, US Category: OmniOutliner
  • Second Place, US Category: iBlog
  • First Place, International Category: iStopMotion
  • Second Place, International Category: ACSLogo
  • Honorable Mention: F-Script

2004 Winners

  • First Place, U.S.: Delicious Library
  • First Place, International: FotoMagico
  • Second Place, U.S.: Curio
  • Second Place, International: iDive
  • Honorable Mention, U.S.: Nicecast
  • Honorable Mention, International: Process

macOS Big Sur: Has the Dust Finally Settled on Limiting Third-Party Apps?

Apple’s strategy for years has been to trade desktop power for cross-device feature parity. As expected, macOS Big Sur continues this trend, emphasizing a consistent user interface across devices, and focusing on cross-device development technologies like SwiftUI and Catalyst.

Personally, I wish Apple had different priorities. I’d like to see more apps like Sketch, an industry-leading creative app that’s built top to bottom on Apple technologies. But Sketch was released in 2010, and Apple hasn’t created any new frameworks like Core Graphics and Core Image that support these kinds of apps in over a decade. So I wasn’t holding my breath for them to announce anything new for these kinds of apps at WWDC this year.

Since Apple isn’t prioritizing powerful desktop apps with their own technologies, that means supporting these use cases mostly falls on third parties. This is where companies like Adobe, Avid, Maxon, and Microsoft come in. While Apple’s priorities regarding their own technologies have been clear for awhile now, what hasn’t been clear is their priorities for third-party apps, in particular, ones that aren’t sandboxed. The trend for the last few years has been making it harder to develop these kinds of apps for macOS. AEpocalypse (2018), Catalina’s security features (2019), and Notarization (2018) are all examples of this trend.

The overarching reason behind the changes that make developing these kinds of apps harder is “Security”. And unlike cross-device feature parity, it’s unclear exactly where this all ends. Because after all, the most secure system there is is the one that doesn’t run any software at all. That’s why it’s such a pleasant surprise, that, as far as I can tell, Apple has done everything they can to make Big Sur, and the accompanying transition to Apple Silicon, as seamless as possible, even for apps that aren’t sandboxed.

Some were predicting that Macs on Apple Silicon wouldn’t even run apps from outside of the Mac App Store, that didn’t happen. It seemed more likely that Apple would drop OpenCL and OpenGL, but those are sticking along for the ride. No details were known about whether there would be an emulation layer like the original Rosetta from the 2006 Intel transition. Apple appears to have gone above in beyond with Rosetta 2, which even supports plug-ins like VSTis, giving lots of options for migration paths for powerful modular software.

I’m still frustrated that there probably won’t be another Sketch for the foreseeable future, but that ship sailed a long time ago. And no other platform has a Sketch either, an industry defining app that’s a platform exclusive, so while Apple has lost a unique advantage that only they had, they haven’t lost anything that other platforms already have. Other platforms can run powerful modular software that’s distributed outside the Mac App Store, but today, so can new Macs running Big Sur. Here’s to hoping that the dust has settled, and the last of the restrictions on third-party apps are behind us now.

Software to Die For

Before I switched to being a full-time developer in 2010, I worked as a user-interface designer for seven years. Something that always bothered me during that time is that so much of what I was learning was just how to use Photoshop really well. After I switched to development, I was hesitant to ever invest that much in just learning a big software package again. “What if I choose wrong? And waste all those years of learning by switching to another software package?” I asked myself. Recently, I’ve re-evaluated that decision, based on my analysis of the market share of major creative applications. It turns out if I’d just chosen which software I want to learn ten years ago, for most categories, it would still be the same today. For some categories, it would still be the same if I’d chosen twenty years ago, and it’s often the first software that was ever introduced to solve a problem, even if that application is over 30 years ago, that’s still the best choice today. So it turns out I was overcorrecting relative to the risk in learning big complex packages, so now I’m investing in doing it again.

This is the list of software I’ve chosen to learn:

Some of these I already know quite well (Vim, Photoshop), and some I’ve barely touched (Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro). I’m not happy with the duplication, and frankly, this is probably just too much for one person. Learning any one of these applications is an lifetime of work, let alone all of them. But I can’t decide what to cut, so here we are.