Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

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Suddenly, several people started linking to Jonathan “Wolf” Rentzsch‘ new weblog. At least new to me… welcome to the weblog world! I’ve met Jon at previous MacHack conferences, he’s very friendly and an up-and-coming WebObjects expert… and we’re about tied in number of published MacHack papers icon_wink.gif. This year he may get ahead of me, as I’ll probably won’t be able neither to write a paper nor to go to the conference.

Anyway, the first important article I saw on his site was the interview with Peter Sichel of Sustainable Softworks. Required reading for any software author. Coincidentally, “Sichel” means “crescent” in German, and “Rentzsch” is pronounced “wrench”… hence the title of this post. Haha. OK, I promise not to do that again soon.

Now it gets interesting. Jon wrote about a serious difference between the Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X Finders:

Finder X, unlike Finder 9, allows the user to overwrite a folder with a file and vice-versa. You can reproduce this:

* Create a new folder named “test”

* Elsewhere, create a file named “test”

* Drag file “test” over into folder “test”‘s container.

* Finder X will warn “A newer item named “test” already exists in this location. Do you want to replace it with the older one you are moving?” with [Stop] [Replace] buttons.

Finder 9 correctly would not allow the action at all. That is, it would put up a “stop” alert with one unconditional button: [OK].

He also filed a bug with Apple.

Subsequently, several people posted their opinions. Bill Bumgarner disagrees that this is a bug. So does Erik Barzeski. Olof Hellman agrees with Jon. John Gruber gives a great summary of the problem, and agrees somewhat with both sides, suggesting that the overwritten folder be moved to the Trash instead of being deleted outright. While I was pondering my own position, Michael Tsai agreed with Bill.

Everybody now agrees that the real bug is that, after the folder is overwritten, the Finder’s “Undo” command moves the overwriting file back to its old location but fails to restore to overwritten folder. Michael also writes:

I’m not an expert on this stuff, but it appears that the Finder could exchange the file references so that aliases point to the new item, not the one in the trash…

All this said, I’m not sure I’d like the Undo command to bring the original item out of the trash, because I doubt the Finder can guarantee that the restored item will be identical to the original.

No, that wouldn’t be a problem; indeed, if you move a folder to the Trash and then “Undo”, the folder is moved back with no untoward side-effects, since this also is done by swapping file-references. Also, no extra disk space is needed for this, as long as both items were on the same volume.

I find myself agreeing with Bill and Michael. Overwriting an item with another should move the first one to the Trash, in such a way to make this fully undoable. If the new item is copied from another volume, and space is so crowded as to make it necessary to remove the first item before copying, the Finder should put up a very carefully worded alert explaining this.

Jeremy Zawodny wants an easier way to export his blogroll from NetNewsWire:

…does anyone know how to automatically export my subscriptions from NNW and scp (or ftp?) them somewhere? Can AppleScript (about which I know nothing) do this? Can I do it in Perl and not have to learn Yet Another Scripting Language?

Some weeks ago I wrote to Brent Simmons suggesting a FTP export option for NetNewsWire, and he agreed it would be a good thing for a future version. So, if there are more requests for this, he’ll probably increase the priority…

Posted by Buzz Andersen:
Thanks Rainer–glad you liked the idea icon_smile.gif!

Rainer Brockerhoff wrote:

…just after being chided by my editor for not turning in a couple of articles that are somewhat overdue…

My ADSL connection went down this morning and I held off withdrawal symptoms just enough to write the first of the articles: a review of “The Wireless Networking Starter Kit: The practical guide to Wi-Fi Networks for Windows and Macintosh”, by Adam Engst and Glenn Fleishman. I’ll post an English translation here sometime today.

Also, my RSS feed subscription list today reached the 150-sites mark. (The file is in the .opml format exported and imported by NetNewsWire.) From my empirical observations, 150 subscriptions is the critical mass; NNW needs about 5 minutes to update all those subscriptions, and you need the remaining 55 minutes to read everything. Assuming NNW is set to scan hourly, the cycle immediately begins anew and any orbiting consciousness will never be able to leave the informational black hole. Time is relativistically compressed in such a way that you sit down at the computer in after breakfast, say “just a few minutes, honey, I swear”, and boom – time to go to bed again!

That reminds me: I still have to write a review of NetNewsWire…

CRN (among several others) has news on the coming acquisition of “significant assets” of Connectix by Microsoft. Connectix main claim to fame in the Mac world is its Virtual PC emulation software. They’ve branched out to produce other emulators recently, so much so that the CRN article talks mostly about their Windows products.

The general gut-level reaction in the blogosphere seems to be distrust. The SlashDot crowd seems to think that they’ll cripple the products to restrict them to boot only Microsoft OSes. Dori Smith at Backup Brain can’t see Microsoft supporting Virtual PC in the long term. Michael Tsai and both think that they bought Virtual PC to kill it (just like in the Bungie case).

On the other hand, Glenn Fleishman writes:

‘ll be curious to get Apple’s reaction, but this is certainly a strong indication of Microsoft’s continued commitment to development on the Mac platform – or possibly an escape plan. If they tweak Virtual PC to work fast enough, they could just develop Office for Windows and bundle Virtual PC with it as the Mac version…

Paul Bissex at Forwarding Address: OS X also sees this as an attempt by Microsoft to increase their revenues on the Mac side.

On the gripping hand, Bill Bumgarner takes a different tack:

It is interesting to note that Microsoft has now positioned themselves to move forward in a similar fashion as has Apple with its transition from OS 9 and prior [Classic] to Mac OS X.

That is, Microsoft does not have to worry as much about backwards compatibility because they now have the basis for an excellent black box within which “legacy” applications can run in a more traditional environment.

In other words, Virtual PC (both for Mac and for Windows) would be Microsoft’s “Classic” compatibility box, and an opportunity for them to continue selling present and past OSes both for Macs and for new Intel platforms, into the indefinite future. They can even do what Apple did, and abandon binary compatibility completely. This may even be Microsoft’s tactic for easy transition into 64-bit architectures and the new DRM (mis)features…

I personally think this might be the most favorable scenario. I’ve met Dan Crevier (the current head of Microsoft’s Business Unit) before he went to Microsoft, and he’s both competent and a great Mac fan. If he hasn’t thought of this before, he’ll certainly give it due consideration now.

Also, Virtual PC’s current performance on any but the fastest Macs – somewhere between glacial and just barely adequate for some restricted tasks – will certainly be much improved after some tweaking by people with access to the Windows source code. After all, this is an opportunity to sell Windows to a group of users otherwise lost to Microsoft; if they made it a little faster, halved prices, and bundled some of the applications that switchers regret leaving behind, sales of Virtual PC would easily double or triple – at little extra cost to Redmond.

Joel on Software writes about the options for talking about future products:

When Apple releases a new product, they tend to surprise the heck out of people, even the devoted Apple-watchers who have spent the last few months riffling through garbage dumpsters at One Infinite Loop.

Microsoft, on the other hand, can’t stop talking about products that are mere glimmers in someone’s eye. Testers outside the company were using .NET for years before it finally shipped.

So, which is right? Should you talk endlessly about your products under development, in hopes of building buzz, or should you hold off until you’ve got something ready to go?

…I have a policy lifted from Marlon Brando, playing a mob boss in The Freshman: “Every word I say, by definition, is a promise.” The best way to avoid breaking promises is not to make any, and that’s as good a reason as I need not to talk about future versions of our products.

I find myself mostly agreeing with Joel here. While I see no harm in collecting user suggestions, and saying “this (or that) is on my list for the next product release” at reasonable places, it’s rarely good policy to preannounce major stuff. Unless (or perhaps even if) you’re Microsoft.

That said, how does this apply to XRay? While I have a quite reasonable list of features “for the next release”, some of the things on that list – like batch processing – entail a complete revision of fundamental components, such as the plug-in interfaces. I’m confident that it can be done, and it will be done in version 1.1, but I still may release another 1.0.x version before 1.1 comes out.

For several reasons, new XRay versions have been delayed. While I still spend about an hour a day with user support, time to do concentrated work on the next version hasn’t been available… until now. This weekend I’ll be restarting full-time work on XRay.

Sorry, can’t say yet when the next version will come out, or what number it’ll be… icon_wink.gif


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I’ve downloaded Safari, Apple’s new web browser for Mac OS X, just after yesterday’s MacWorld keynote. Despite breaking Apple’s previous record for downloads – meaning that their servers were under an unprecedented load – it came in at full speed on my 256K ADSL connection.

Anyway, I’ve been using it quite a lot and once they fix a few bugs it should be solid enough to displace Internet Explorer for most purposes.

If you’re using Safari, you may be interested in David Hyatt’s weblog. David worked on Chimera and is now one of the principal Safari developers.

Die, evil pop-ups!

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The Joy of Tech, one of my favorite online cartoons, blasts pop-up ads.

I agree that pop-ups and pop-unders are evil and should be abolished. Most modern browsers have options to suppress them; MSIE is the notable exception. The capability to open new windows, resize or move existing windows, or alter the window layering should be eliminated from JavaScript altogether; I can’t think of a single justifiable example. MSIE compounds its sins by blocking all activity – even quitting or clicking on the close button – until a pop-up has finished loading all its noisome payload.

Update: Illiad‘s UserFriendly expresses my sentiments very well…

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