Tag Archives: computing

Upgrading Software

What gives with upgrading software? I’ve been using computers for quite a few years now, and while the abilities of software continues to expand, the amount of money we have to layout for fixes/new features is rising at an astounding rate.

My big gripe is with Adobe Photoshop. I purchased Photoshop 7 the other year. PS is not a cheap program ($650 to non educational users). There was one update to 7.0.1 in August of 2002. There have been some minor plugin updates to the program, but the meat of the program was not touched for more than a year. Then version CS came out. Thats it. To upgrade would cost me $169. This is a professional program made by a company that is apparently intent on selling a product and getting you to pay $170 every year to stay current, with no hope of minor feature additions with out paying. CS has been on the market for over a year with out any updates. I suppose that means that CS 2 will be out soon. Adobe Illustrator is the same way.

Lets take a look at Apple. They do it right and they do it wrong. Final Cut Pro seems to get it right.

Version 4 came out and had some amazing new features. There were some bugs. Versions 4.0.1 and 4.0.2 came out a couple of months later and fixed some bugs and added some performance. v4.1 came out and added some new features, followed by v4.1.1 that fixed some bugs. A year after v4 was orginally released, v4.5 HD was made available for free and gave a whole slew of new features, one of which was support for HD video. At no point during this process did the end user have to spend a dime on his software other than the original cost it took to get into version 4 of the software.

I bought Final Cut Express about a year and a half ago when I got my new computer. I got version 1. I dutifully updated to version 1.0.1 that fixed some bugs. That was it, even though FCE 1.0.1 had some serious bugs that were acknowledged by Apple. It was on the market for 11 months with no bug fixes, only to be superseded by FCE 2. In the three months following this release, v2.0.2 and v2.0.3 came out and fixed some bugs. I’ve not used v2.x at all, so I don’t know if there are any more outstanding bugs in it, but v3 was just announced, so v2.x can be considered as dead.

BareBones gets it right. Sure, some complain that the software is over priced. BBEdit is expensive for what is ultimately a text editor, and who would pay the price of Mailsmith when there are so many free email programs around? Almost every update, even a little bitty x.0.1 update has bug fixes and (minor) feature addtions. There are frequently large updates that that add/fix a whole bunch at once, not the BBEdit software is buggy to begin with; it is in fact quite the opposite. You get a lot for your money here. Never mind that you can get a special competitive updgrade price on most of their software, usually using a free program as the one you are updgrading from. This means that BareBones software is cheaper than it looks at first glance.

On to their “consumer” version of BBEdit, TextWrangler. Originally it was a cheaper feature limited version of BBEdit. Well, version 2 came out the other week. It is free, not to upgrade, but the whole dang program. Free to all, free as in beer. One might think that this is a slap in the face to existing owners. Well, BareBones gave full credit for the original price of TextWrangler to all owners of the software. I’d like to see some other software companies do that for software they’ve EOL‘d.

These programs aren’t cheap to upgrade. $100 for FCE, $300 for FCP. I think the FCP is worth the steep entry/upgrade prices, because at least you know that you will end up with a relatively bug free piece of software. I’d rather pay $300 every 2 years and get working software (with more capabilities) than $100 every 6 months, only to put up with feature crippled, buggy software.

I think if companies want to do the “feature limited” cheap version of a professional program, than that program should at least be bug free, and not end up costing more to upgrade than the pro version.

If the company is not offering a pro/consumer distinction in its software, then maybe they shouldn’t be cranking out a new version each year just to get some more cash. Maybe they should be trying to add some bug fixes and minor feature additions in between major versions to make the consumer feel like he/she is getting something for their $100 that they dutifully pay each year.

At least this is better than the yearly subscription model of Eudora, a program that used to be very dear to me. Or maybe it’s not. At least they are up front about the yearly nature of the “deal.”

Down on Office 2004

This guy has some issues with Office 2004. Read through his Macintosh and see what what I mean.

From Betalogue:

I knew that Word’s grammar checker was bad, but I hadn’t really tried it in years. Well, I must said that its degree of failure exceeded all my expectations.

Precisely why I don’t use Word anymore; LaTeX all the way. I’m actually going to do my APS poster in TeX this year too1, finally shedding PowerPoint.

1 I’ve been playing around with the beamer package for LaTeX. Quite nice.

More on Bö

I was thinking that it would be kind if could insert the footnote text into the title attribute of the footnote link in the body text. You could then just mouseover the link and read the footnote without leaving your place in the text. This idea could be taken one step further by adding a note like “Return to body text” in the title tag of the footnote link at the bottom of the page.

I took a look at the PHP code for the Bö plugin to see if I could modify it myself for the above mentioned behavior, but it appears to me that the plugin doesn’t slurp the actual footnote text until after it writes the footnote link in the main body. This makes it a little difficult to insert that variable into the link. Of course, hardcoding the “Return to main text” in the second link of each foot note should be straight forward. (I’ve actually decided to do exactly that – changes have been made.)

Try the two examples below to see what I mean.

  • Example 1[0]
  • Example 22

[0] This footnote is hand coded, with the footnote text in the title attribute of the link.
2 This footnote is made with Bö.

WordPress Text Formatting

Being new to the scene, I’ve just recently started to play around with some of the tools of the trade. I’ve added a combination of Markdown1, SmartyPants2, and 3 plugins to my WordPress installation. I must say I’m really impressed.

SmartyPants is just plain cool. No thinking, just type and nice “edumacated” quotes come out the other end. And it works in BBEdit too. Nice.

I played around with Markdown about 2 weeks ago. It didn’t strike me as anything that great as a BBEdit plug, but now I am beginning to see its power. It really does make posting much easier. Another score.

Bö is very well done, but at first, I wasn’t sure if I would really use it that much. Now that I think about it though, I do use a lot of parenthetical remarks that would be much better if relegated to a footnote.

I’m really looking forward to using these tools more. Hopefully Bö will grow into a BBEdit plug just like Markdown and SmartyPants are.

1 PHP version of Markdown for WordPress is available here
2 PHP version of SmartyPants for WordPress is available here
3 PHP version of Bö is available here

My History of Mail Clients

Eudora

I’ve been thinking about mail a lot recently. In 1997, I started out in Eudora. I used it all throughout college and for the first year of graduate school.

I was always impressed by Eudora’s unblinking speed when handling mailboxes with thousands of emails. I was also always fond of the interface. I know many thought the interface was horribly outdated, but it made sense to me. I really don’t like the preview pane found in many mail clients; I don’t want to scroll by a message and have it marked read if I don’t open it.

The last killer feature of Eudora is its ability to option-click (I think thats the right combo) on a message and have all of the other messages from that person group around the highlighted one instantly. No fiddling around with sort methods when you need to find other emails from a particular person, just bang!

Anyway, Eudora was the center of my mail universe for a good 5 years. After graduating from college, where a Eudora license was provided for free, I purchased a copy of it for the then new OS X.

A year later, I became displeased with Eudora. My license that I had purchased had run out. An update to Eudora was released (the first major update in more than a year) which finally fixed SSL compatibility with OS X. Qualcomm wanted me to pay for said upgrade. I wrote and complained to them, and to their credit, they extended my license by a couple months. However, my eye had been on Apple Mail for a while.

Apple Mail

During that first year or so of OS X’s existence, I tried Mail a couple of times. Each time, I got fed up with how Mail would choke on my large mailboxes. As much as I liked the idea of a system wide address book and the cool little label on the icon displaying unread emails, I always came running back to Eudora, usually in a matter of days.

The release of OS X 10.2 changed all of that. Mail got faster. Mail got junk mail filtering, which at that point in time was becoming a large problem for me. I switched over to Mail and became relatively happy with it.

Life with Mail was good. OS X 10.3 rolled around and Mail got better. Faster, highlighted threads, etc. At times I felt like I was missing being a “power user,” whatever that means, but Mail did most of what I wanted. I started to play around with running scripts in my mail filters, but it just left me wanting for more.

Recently, I got sick of Mail. I got sick of the interface. It was too much of a fight all the time. That damn mailbox drawer got annoying. Scrolling through messages didn’t have that “just hit the spacebar” feel that Eudora had going for it. Then I read about MailSmith. I already liked BBEdit (though I did skip out on the upgrade to 7, BBEdit 8 is great), so I thought I’d give it a shot.

MailSmith

MailSmith has some neat features. I liked its text-only attitude. I could take or leave the whole distributed filtering paradigm, though it does have fantastic filtering capabilites, as well as most of BBEdit’s text capabilites (mmmm, Regex…) and amazing apple scriptability.

Most importantly, it’s being actively developed. The Eudora development cycle has slowed down considerably in the past few years, and let’s face it, Mail get’s a face lift with every .1 update of OS X, but that’s about it.

That’s not to say that I am completely happy with Mailsmith. Its POP3 only, but I ran my IMAP accounts pretty much like a POP3 accounts anyway. (That’s not to say I don’t want IMAP support in MailSmith – it certainly does make multi-computer use easier). It can also be a bit slow with some tasks. I think the interface could use a bit of tweaking as well.

While Eudora will always hold a warm place in my heart and Mail is a great client for the normal user, I think I will be sticking with MailSmith for the forseeable future.

Gmail

Recently I’ve played around with Gmail. Its not bad. Certainly better than many of the free web-based email services. Its fast, has lots of space, and has a clean interface. The labeling thing is nice, but the only real difference from traditional mail boxes is that it lets you categorize messages with more than one label at the same time. Perhaps this biggest feature of Gmail is it’s phenomenally fast searching. Of course.

I’m interested in seeing what OS X Tiger’s Mail will be like. Smart folders could end up being very similar in one sense to Gmail’s labels, though even more useful in others. Hopefully this is something other clients will adapt.

Miscellaneous Notes

Two things to state here. First, a mail client I used quite a bit while hopping around from dorm room to lab to home was Pine. I know one can get into quite a debate about the UNIX mail clients, but Pine in conjuction with a couple of IMAP accounts can go a long way. I have a lot of respect for this client.

Secondly, the dreaded spam. When I first started to get a noticeble amount of spam, the University had SpamAssassin already in place. It merely took a filter on my part to trash anything marked as spam. The unfortunate part of this setup was that SpamAssassin never learned from its mistakes.

Mail’s junk filtering was better, but it never really took care of the whole picture. Enter SpamSieve. SpamSieve comes free with the Mailsmith license, and the two are really integrated nicely. Though I’ve never tried it with other clients, SpamSieve is supposed to play nicely with them as well, so I thoroughly recommend checking it out. Since SpamSieve is run locally, one can really tune it to your mail patterns. In the six weeks I’ve been running it, its filtered about 10,000 messages, with an accuracy of 99.1%. Not too bad considering that it was a bit inaccurate at first when I was training it. A really quality product.