Tech Life Actually extracted money from my wallet

Frontier Software

The latest shareware utility I’ve actually paid for is LaunchBar. This utility, which I’ve already talked about, sits in your menu bar and allows you to launch applications, web pages, documents, system preferences by typing their respective names via the keyboard. Frequent readers will know of my hatred of mouse. It is a imprecise tool in the hands of a imprecise person (namely me) which means when I try to do something (like click on an application on the desktop), I sometimes miss. Yuck.

LaunchBar keeps me on a tool I’m intimately familiar with — the keyboard. Rather than clicking on Safari, digging around my bookmarks for that link I’m looking for, I just type APPLE-space-“Name of the link” and hit RETURN. If you’re not really comfortable on the keyboard, you will not understand this. (Note for Windows users: I achieve a similar effect in XP by typing WINDOWS-R-“Name of Application”)

The emergence of LaunchBar on my desktop is, yet another, example of a small, independent developer who has actually extracted money from my wallet. Since my move to Mac OS X, this has been happening more and more. The question is, why? Do independent developers have a larger chance of success of creating useful applications/utilities given the size of the development team Apple has on Mac OS X compared to the hoards of Microsoft Windows developers? Has the emergence of the web as a solid distribution channel leveled the playing field? Does the added communication value of independent developer weblogs have anything to do with it? Or, am I just a guy who likes to live on the bleeding edge out on the frontier of new software?

13 Responses

  1. My own move to OS X proved similar. On Windows, I don’t recall paying for a single piece of software — ever, but suddenly after the move to Mac I’m stocking up on shareware from some of the smallest independent software developers out there: Panic, Salling, Unsanity, Kung-Foo, Indigo Field… most of them are one-man operations, the rest only small teams.

    I think half the reasoning behind it is the outstanding quality of these apps. There’s still plenty of trash out there; but Mac developers seem to have a real love of their work, some innovative ideas, and the kind of attention to detail that Apple seems to foster. Maybe that just says something about the Cocoa framework… maybe it says something about the Mac developer community. Maybe it says you’re getting soft, getting all giggly over software and throwing the developer a dime. Who the hell knows?

  2. I think it’s a combination of things. You like being on the bleeding edge, first off. Secondly, it seems to me that independent developers on Mac are more likely to deliver a quality product. I’m not quite sure why, as theirs is a smaller community than independent Windows developers, but perhaps they’re just more committed to providing a good tool, since they explicitly chose to work on a Mac, as opposed to many Windows people who just fall into their domain. There’s also the fact that you’re more likely to encounter a lower signal-to-noise ratio (as is the case for little Windows apps) in a wider market… there are good Windows apps out there, it just takes more work to find them.

    Thirdly there’s the fact that many modifications or enchancements you’d like to make can be done through the terminal, so there’s no need for a separate app. Therefore only important problems get tackled by apps, and the challenge leads to more useful and meaningful programs.

    Lastly, and I don’t mean to troll here, there are more gaps to fill in with OS-enhancing applications in OSX than Windows. You describe how you got a program that does something that’s already trivial in Windows, and that seems to be the case fairly often. OSX is much less keyboard-friendly than Windows. Then again there are probably more Mac users who are really into getting exactly the performance and customization out of their OS, proportionally, than Windows people.

    It is a great mystery!

  3. Christ my post sounds all stuffy… Chris knows what he’s talking about, pay attention to him instead.

  4. Or does the Macintosh OS have a lot more useful things to add to the shell that aren’t in there already?

  5. Ryvar 13 years ago

    Hey Zebco, good to see you.

  6. Chris:

    Well, LaunchBar does more than just the “Run …” command in Windows. If you notice, Rands said he could type the name of a bookmark and it would activate Safari and go to the URL in the bookmark.

    If you really just wanted the “Run …” command, you don’t need LaunchBar.

    This isn’t so much a gap in the OS as somewhere there’s an opportunity for new stuff to come.

  7. John Whitlock 13 years ago

    You are paying for the feeling of belonging to the community.

    Think about it – any organization you belong to, who is shelling out the time and money? The new guys. They are the ones that buy the products, that give to the charitable fund, that put in the extra time and effort, that debate the path of the organization they just joined. The old-timers are secure in their position, and just don’t bother anymore.

    Back in High School, we used this to our advantage. The worst offenders were the Seniors, selling elevator passes to Freshman (needless to say, there was no elevator). But as a Student Council member, we exploited the Freshman’s need to belong every month. We charged them for the dances, we sold t-shirts for every event, we made them sell raffle tickets, etc., etc. I spent the time and money when I was a Freshman, and Freshman after me will do the same. It wasn’t horrible exploitation, though – we did pump all that money back into pep rallies, better dances, better events, and the scholarship fund (this was a private high school).

    What disturbed me was joining a Fraternity in college, and seeing the same process on a nation scale. So much cash flowing to the national organization, without anything flowing back. It’s almost the perfect scheme – the new kids, looking to belong, come along every year, and by the time they are old and cynical, they leave.

    Still, if it helps independant developers make a buck and keep innovating, then keep doing it. And now you’ll know why three years from now you feel reluctant to spend $5 on a good shareware program.

  8. Probably the single biggest hurdle I had to clear when I moved my primary desktop habit from Windows to OS X is the dependency I had developed on a utility called Dave’s Quick Search Deskbar (http://notesbydave.com/toolbar/doc.htm), which does a lot of the things you apparently find in LaunchBar, except that in the Windoze case it’s just a DHTML script that drives IE via Automation, so it’s a giveaway. (I keep hearing people talk about how easy AppleScript is, but a year down the road from adopting OS X as my Main Machine, I can still knock out COM Automation scripts a lot faster, even in Perl.)

    Which brings me back to the dark side of my love/hate relationship with Apple. The little desktop trinkets that Macintosh ISVs write and sell are usually functionality that you can get for free on Windoze, because either Microsoft throws it together in their spare time and gives it away (e.g. PowerToys), or because somebody else does.

    This is not to say that I’m about to abandon OS X. I am probably atypical among “switchers” in that before my preferred desktop was Windows, it was Motif. But I hated MacOS and Apple hardware for all the years I had to buy and support it (for my wife) on OS 7, 8, and 9, and although the cost of Apple hardware is finally at least competitive, there’s still a significant differential in the cost of software.

  9. xfrosch — I, too, had a major addiction to Dave’s Quick Search Deskbar… Unfortunately, when I moved to XP, the widget looked like crap in the task bar and I stopped using it because, pathetic but true, ascetics matter to me.

    The good news is that I get the same warm’n’fuzzy keyboard feeling using LaunchBar… Although I don’t think it has the XML extensibility of DQSD…

  10. actmodern 13 years ago

    Why not just use an aterm (or other working and simple terminal) on an X display on Linux or FreeBSD?

    I use Windowmaker (http://www.windowmaker.org/) for my desktop on a vanilla Linux setup. I have a wharf, a simple menu, and lots of terminals on a big screen. I only use my mouse for web browsing.

    As I’m sure you’re aware, a good interactive shell can also speed up your work.

    Admittedly I don’t have as much integration though. I cannot simply type a URL and “go there.” I still have to alt tab to my browser and hit a hot key.

    My 2 cents.

  11. Kindred 13 years ago

    ctrl+r in windows actually lets you put in a url, launching with your default web browser

  12. How can you people bitch about XP coming with soooooooooo much more software than OS X, and having to pay for everything under the sun that you get with XP?

    Have you looked at the iApps you get for free with the OS? All the shit you get at the command-line level? Anyone here ever touched X11? (Surprise, guys, Apple gives away an X11 client that does all of the installation for you with a standard GUI installer. Go download the fink GUI stuff, too, and open up a world of free software.)

    Mac OS X ships with a /ton/ of software, and you can get five times as much without much effort.

  13. I’m starting to do something similar with my speech command prog, which I’m only now learning how to use. Its name is Navi (nerd+). PS THANKS FOR BEING SO RELIABLE AND PUNCTUAL LAST NIGHT YOU’RE THE BEST