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Solid Mac OS X Apps Highlight a New Year and a New Approach

by Daniel H. Steinberg
01/14/2003

When Steve Jobs first returned to Apple, he simplified the hardware offerings and crafted a software plan. At early keynote addresses he would differentiate Mac offerings with the saying something was available "first on the Mac and only on the Mac." Kevin Brown, until recently the head of Microsoft's Business Unit, would echo that phrase as he showed off features of the upcoming releases of Microsoft office. Unlike the dark days of Word 6 and ugly ports from the Windows side, Brown was showing off software that truly had features available "first on the Mac and only on the Mac." Back in the days of Mac OS 8 and 9, that was enough.

Now that Mac OS X truly presents us with a new OS from the kernel to the graphics stack, an app can differentiate itself by taking advantage of these features. Maybe the app embraces Unix, or uses OpenGL, or finds some way to leverage Rendezvous. In this article, we'll take a look at some of the applications which distinguish themselves, which show in some way that they "get it." For the most part these apps are from small companies which are investing heavily in following Apple's lead. In fact, many of them can't afford to exhibit at MacWorld. They know it's not enough to carbonize your app and announce that you run on Mac OS X; it's a minimum requirement but it isn't enough.

Getting It ... Or Not

There are vendors who just don't get it. Intuit has gotten requests for years to bring QuickBooks to Mac OS X. At last they have released a version and Apple is bundling it with the new 12" and 17" PowerBooks. But according to the Intuit engineers, the Mac and Windows versions are incompatible. So if you have a Mac and your accountant has a Windows box, you can't share data with your accountant. One engineer at the Intuit booth suggested that we show our accountant PDFs of our past year's activities.

Watson, Karelia Software ... Oh Yeah!

I worried that Watson would die when Apple announced Sherlock 3. Several of us criticized Apple for clearly pirating the look and feel of this award winning application. Meanwhile, Watson author Dan Wood kept adding tools, and new features to existing tools, and people kept buying it. During fall the football tool replaced the baseball tool in my Watson toolbar. I use the weather and TV tools way too much. Version tracker, eBay, and Amazon are easier to navigate from Watson than from their web sites. I can easily customize Meerkat and glance through the geek news that interests me in a moment or two.

Apple has wisely recently opened up their Sherlock APIs. This is a smart move. Already sites such as iCalShare have Sherlock channels that allow you to easily find recent calendars. Wood has also included resources for developing Watson tools. From a developer's or technology perspective the tools are quite different. There is room on the platform for both applications and hopefully soon they'll develop separate enough personalities that end users will better understand the sweet spot for each.

Safari, Apple Computer ... Very Promising

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In one fell swoop, I stopped using Watson for my Google searches. The Google bar at the top of the Safari browser makes searching so easy. Although not every page renders right, this is a fast browser that seems to respect standards (we'll wait to see what Code Bitch has to say) and looks great. This browser embraces the iTunes metaphor for managing bookmarks. The look is that of the other metal iApps. It may seem odd to be praising Apple for getting what Apple is doing -- but there are lots of companies where one software group doesn't work in concert with other app groups or with the OS.

BBEdit, BareBones Software ... Definitely Doesn't Suck!

A product who's slogan is "It doesn't suck" could easily just carbonize itself and be done with development. Rich Siegal and the rest of the team are never content to rest on their laurels. With the move from the classic Mac to Mac OS X, BBEdit has embraced the underlying UNIX. You can run bbedit from the Terminal app. Open up the Terminal and type in bbedit. Wondering what the commands are? BBEdit, like any good Unix citizen, has provided a man page. Type man bbedit and you'll find the syntax of the command along with examples. A paragraph or two down you'll see that you can pipe stdin to bbedit. Their example of " ls -la | bbedit" lists the contents of the current directory in long form and writes it to a new untitled document."

BBEdit also supports creating and running Unix scripts and filters from the #! menu. Version 7.0 added CVS integration. Once you have checked out a module, BBEdit makes it very easy to add, update, commit and to perform many of your other favorite CVS operations. AppleScripting BBEdit isn't new, but you can open up the AppleScript beta version of the ScriptEditor from the AppleScript menu.


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