Wednesday, November 23, 2005

More on Quicksilver

Matt Corkum commented on my last post that Apple should buy the company and incorporate it into OS X. And that got me to thinking...

We've been down this road before with Apple, most recently with the company's inclusion of Dashboard in Tiger. Some Apple pundits were annoyed that they didn't "do the right thing" and buy Konfabulator rather than develop their own (inferior, IMO) version. Alas, it was up to Yahoo to make this move. So now I'm running Konfab for free and Dashboard is pretty much bloatware as far as I'm concerned. But cool as free Konfabulator is, it's no Quicksilver--though, as my Windows friends will be sure to point out, at least it's not Mac only.

So will Quicksilver make it into Leopard (or whatever they're going to call X.5)? Some might counter that it already is in Tiger, albeit in a much more limited fashion. I'm refering to Spotlight.

Spotlight, the excellent search function of OS X, does some of what Quicksilver does in terms of launching apps, but Spotlight is much more powerful as a search utility because it indexes what's inside files and anything attached to them as well (i.e., metadata), whereas QS only indexes file names; if you're looking for something obscure in the dusty corners of your hard drive, Spotlight's hard to beat.

What Spotlight doesn't do, however, is allow you to manipulate the files that a search turns up, and this is where Quicksilver wins hands down. On the other hand, Automator, another OS X utility, does allow you to do some of the same things that Quicksliver does. In my view, however, Quicksilver wins here too because it's, well, quick. I'm no expert with Automator actions, but in my limited experience, they take time to run, whereas Quicksilver is pretty much instantaneous. Plus--again in my limited experience--Automator is not all that intuitive; neither is QS, but it's better than Automator I feel.

So what Apple needs to do, if they don't buy out Quicksilver (which in a way would be a bit of a pity since there's no telling where it will go if left to evolve on its own) is to merge Spotlight and Automator into a single, awesome utility that would let users manipulate their files as easily and as elegantly as Quicksilver does now. Given Apple's track record, it's not an unthinkable task.

Now, if someone could just tell me how to use Quicksilver to save an Excel file as a PDF document and attach it to a Mail message to the addressee of my choice, I'd be on cloud 42.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Quicksilver miracle

As a prelude to my magnum opus on open source (No! Wait! Don't run! I was only joking. It will be a regular blogpost!), today I will expound upon the miracle that is Quicksilver. This application is a perfect example of what open-source can do. To be honest, I'm not sure it's truly open-source, since I don't see where you can download the source code on their website; this would make it proprietary software. But it is freeware, and it's for Mac only (although I and my Windows-using friends would be happy to hear about any Windows equivalents).

Most people I know who use Quicksilver can't imagine computing without it, and I'm sure that a significant number of users would consider it the single most useful applcation on their computer. What does it do? Well, you can read a detailed description here but basically it's an application launcher on super-steroids. If, like me, you're a keyboard-shortcut kind of guy (as opposed to a slug who doesn't feel at home unless it's drooling all over the mouse), then Quicksilver allows you to launch applications with a few keystrokes. If only for this, it does a fantastic job. But you can also use it to, for instance, select a document and attach it to a mail message addressed to a specific person. No more browsing through your file hierarchy to find the file, dragging it to a new message (that you previously created) and typing in the address. Quicksliver offers an infinitely more elegant and faster solution. It does many other things, and I'm discovering new ways to use it all the time.

Did I mention that it's free? How can something this useful be free? It defies logic. And yet there it is. The developers at Blacktree have apparently decided altruistically that their mission is to make the (computing) world a better place. I'm not sure how they're sustaining the project, but I, for one, am truly grateful. Until a practical voice-based interface comes along (don't get me started about OS X's laughable speakable items function), Quicksilver is one of the best ways to improve your productivity on your Mac.

Monday, November 21, 2005

In my Apple wanderings today, I came across the blog of D'Arcy Norman. I haven't delved into the archives much, but he posted two articles just today that I found well worth reading. The first was a description of a do-it-yourself iPod battery replacement, which was very encouraging, since I figure a year or two down the road, I'll be in a similar situation. The second was a blurb about "market- vs. community-based economy" that piqued my interest.

Norman was talking about a whole economy based on a "bottom-up open-source" model. Now even to a not-so-old socialist such as myself, that sounds a lot like Communism (which is a great idea if you leave out human nature), but it was more grist for the mill of my own musings about the Internet's so-called open-source revolution. I've been threatening a post about this since I started this blog no so long ago, but my thoughts have not quite come to a head, so I'll put that off for another day. (Do I hear sighs of relief, or is it my imagination?)

In the meantime, I've put Norman's blog in my RSS feeds. He has an iPod and lives in my old home town of Calgary, so he must be a pretty good dude.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

I don't know what to do...

Oh damn the Mac rumour sites. Damn them! They just made my life a lot harder. OK... not really. I have pretty great life. Any complaints I have are pretty minor compared to what most of this planet's people have to deal with. But a decision I have to make did just get a tad more complicated. Oh woe is me! Consider:

1) My mother retired a few months back and is in the market for a computer. She had one at work but has never had one at home. I managed to convince her to get a Mac by telling her that they're less trouble and that I could provide tech support (I don't do Windows). I think she should get one of the snazzy new iMacs but she's hell-bent on a laptop, so an iBook it is going to be. Since I'm heading home for Christmas, that's when the deed is to be done. We'll head down to an Apple reseller, pick up the iBook and various other goodies, and I'll set it up for her. So far so good, right?

2) Enter the latest rumour by Think Secret that Apple will release new Intelized iBooks in January. Contrary to my belief that the Mac Mini will be the first to recieve an Intel chip, they seem pretty sure it's going to be the iBook, and six months sooner than scheduled. Now frankly, my mother doesn't give a rat's ass what chip is in her computer, as long as it does what it's supposed to do. No, what's got my panties in a knot is that IF this is true, then the price of the PPC iBooks is going to to be quite a bit less after any January announcement of Intel iBooks than it is now, especially if, as the rumour states, Apple also lowers the iBook's price. So, does she get one at Christmas, or does she wait till after Christmas? I wouldn't advise her to buy one of the Intel iBooks because they'll be new technology and god knows I don't want HER to be a guinea pig. If my own iBook were more recent, I'd give it to her and buy a new one myself, but that's not going to work here.

So, what to do? On top of all this, I can't really talk to her about it because, well, she just wants me to take care of it (I think you're starting to get the picture). If anyone is actually reading this blog, what do you think I should do? Is potentially saving a couple of hundred bucks worth the hassle to all parties involved of delaying the purchase? Did I just answer my own question? So... confused...

Monday, November 14, 2005


Poets know all about synergy; it's how many poems get born. You start with the seed of a poem, which you might walk around with for a few days, and it becomes infused with other events and experiences in your life. This helps to germinate the seed and add layers of meaning to the original idea, as well as give ideas for imagery. Such synergy is why the Internet is such a great place for poetry. But the Internet is also, itself, a kind of synergy--bringing people and ideas together that perhaps wouldn't always have otherwise found each other.

The synergy I found today was born in yesterday's post about the future for Apple. One of the other things that people have been predicting Apple will come out with is a mobile phone. They have already teamed up with Motorola with the ROKR phone, which supports iTunes and has 512 Mb of memory (to hold 100 songs). By pretty much all accounts, however, the ROKR is a weak effort. I never thought Apple would move into the mobile phone market in the first place. There's already so much competition and Apple would have to spend a ton of money to gain any kind of market share.

But then two things I read/heard today got me thinking that maybe I'm wrong. First was the speculation by Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster that Apple would release an "iPhone" within the next 12-24 months. And then there was a really intriguing interview on NerdTV of Anina the "Queen of WAP". In it, she talks about the fact that "nobody [i.e., mobile phone companies] understands anything about how this story [i.e., the various high-end needs of moblie users] needs to work."

And it's true. I don't even own a mobile phone and even I can see that while the technology to do amazing things is there, many times it is far too difficult to implement for the average user. As with computers, people want things to "just work." Imagine being able to travel anywhere in the world and access the Internet, post to and update your blog, create a podcast etc. from your mobile phone, and do it easily, i.e., the Apple way. Granted, you can do much if not all of this now, but, if Anina's interview is anything to go by, things can get complicated and expensive. So maybe there is a market for Apple in the mobile phone industry after all.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

What will 2006 bring for Apple?

Over at Macworld, they recently asked what readers thought 2006 would bring for Apple. Well, that got me to thinking.

Anyone who follows Apple news is well aware that THE development for 2006 will be the beginnings of the transition to Intel chips. Apple has stated that the first models with the new chip will be out by mid-2006, but many Apple rumour sites are saying that they will be out by January. What the rumour sites can't seem to figure out is which models will be the first to be Intelized. Some, such as the Apple Insider, are saying that the iMac and PowerBook will be first. Others are saying it will be the Mini and the iBook. I think the Mini is a prime candiate. It's the switcher's model par excellence. We'll see how clear my crystal ball is come January (or June).

So much for the known quantities. But Apple is all about innovation. So what new goodies will they come up with next year?

With the recent release of the new iPod with video capabilities and the availability of videos (albeit small format) for download from the iTunes Music Store, I see the logical next step as some sort of wireless hub with video streaming capablities, akin to the AirTunes capabilities of Apple's Airport Express. Coupled with an online video store where users could purchase a movie on-line and download it to their computer, this would allow people to stream a movie from computer to TV. The only real limitations here are file sizes and broadband download speeds, but I think these can be overcome. Of course, the content has to be there too, and this means Apple making distribution deals with all the big Hollywood studios--not a done deal for sure. But this is a market just waiting to be exploited. Would you be willing to wait, say, a half-hour for a 400-Mb file to download instead of driving over the the video store and waiting in line? I sure would.

On the software side of things, I think Apple will add a spreadsheet application to iWork to go with Pages and Keynote. People have been predicting this ever since iWork first came out, so I'm not going out on a very thin limb here, and the smart money has it called Numbers. I would really welcome an Apple-ized spreadsheet program. If ever an application needed simplification, it's the spreadsheet (Photoshop being a close second, and Apple just entered that realm with Aperture). What would be neat, however, is if Apple simply bundled this completed office suite with new Macs rather than selling it separately. Admittedly, iWork is a pretty good deal now at C$99, but it would be a pretty sweet accompaniment to the iLife apps and make a new Intelized Mac even more irresistable.

One of Apple's great strengths, however, is its ability to agreeably surprise. A prime example of this is the iPod Nano, which nobody predicted. This time last year, the Mac Mini and the iPod Shuffle did not exist. Only Steve Jobs really knows what 2006 will bring. I, for one, can't wait to find out.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

I love IM

Many of my poet friends (some of whom visit that other site) know that I'm a big fan of IM. I have accounts for Yahoo Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, and MSN Messenger, and I log onto all three all the time. The reason for all this IM goodness is that I have different friends on different networks and the burning desire to be in touch with them at all times. How do I manage all these different clients, you ask? With the great multi-client chat program called Adium. It allows me to keep all my IM contacts in one small, functional package. It even allows me to combine contacts who are connected to more than one client, so I only have one name in my buddy list for these people. And it supports tabbed chats, so I can chat with several people with only one window open on my desktop. (For you Windows-afflicted folks, I hear the equivalent is a program called Trillian .)

Apple has a wonderful chat client too, called (predictably) iChat. The great thing about iChat is that it makes video conferencing effortless. The only problem: you more or less have to be chatting with another Mac user. Apparently, cross-platform video chats can happen if the other party has the latest version of Windows XP, however. iChat even allows multi-way video conferencing with up to three other people. Great as it is, though, iChat could use some improvements. Over at The Unofficial Apple Weblog, they've started a poll to see what improvements people would like to see in iChat. Mostly, I think it needs to do what it already does, plus what Adium does. A cherry on the sundae would be if it could also integrate with Skype; I doubt that will happen, but a guy can dream...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The worst kind of PC bias

On my other blog, I was talking about a cool free font I ran across today that imitates Jane Austen's handwriting. It's by Pia Frauss, who has created quite a number of fonts. And while I'm grateful to her for providing us with great fonts free of charge (stay tuned for a post on the Open Source revolution), I have to wonder why, oh why, does she have to spread lies and disinformation?!

A quote from her site: "All of these fonts have been created with Highlogic's FontCreator Program. They are available for PC only." Huh? Sorry Pia. The fonts you have created are TrueType fonts, and last time I checked, TTF works just fine on Macs. Indeed, TrueType was developed by Apple. There's a great article by Lawrence Penney that briefly explains the history of True Type, along with links to other articles.

I have no idea why Frauss would think they don't work on Macs, but it's pretty typical of the average PC user to think that Macs aren't compatible with anything, even software Apple developed. Sheesh!