Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

Browsing Posts tagged XRay

Inspired by my recent musings about OS X 10.8 – specifically, the need for a way to check application signatures – I’m releasing the first public beta of RB App Checker Lite. Please follow the link to download.

RB App Checker Lite will be an easy way for anyone to check any executable – application, command-line tool or framework – for signatures. Also, for an app downloaded from the Mac App Store, it will show you the receipt and check everything for validity.

This is also the first of my forthcoming RB Utilities application suite. Here’s the application icon:

The icon series was designed by Sérgio Bergocce. The cube will be common to all applications, my logo is of course on the left, and the right-hand side will symbolize what each app does; the colors will try to symbolize price and geekiness level. 🙂 In this case, light blue alludes to the “Lite” part, and of course that means the application will be free.

I’ll try to distribute all free utilities over both the Mac App Store and my own site; non-free utilities are intended to be MAS-only, if possible. The ultimate intention is to substitute my very old XRay utility by a group of small, focused programs. More on that later…

Lion is coming

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With the new apartment mostly ready (though the external/common areas are still unfinished), a return to blogging and coding may now be possible.

While I’ve pondered about the general direction that I wish to take my software, details are still a little unclear. Yes, the Mac App Store does figure in my plans for updating/replacing XRay, but System Preference panels are not accepted – so Quay and Klicko will continue being distributed over this website.

The developer preview release of Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion” was a surprise to me. My expectation was that it would be released at (or just after) next June’s WWDC, which I hadn’t planned to attend. I’ve just installed the Lion preview and had a fast look; it’s farther along than such previews usually are, and there are sufficient new UI details and API changes that I decided to study those first, before commiting to design details on my own software.

A surprising amount of detail about Lion has already been published, NDAs notwithstanding, with only token sallies from Apple Legal. I’ve been somewhat out of touch with the developer community, so I can only speculate. Reducing the price of developer access to $99 – 20% of what it cost the last time around – may be a factor.

One aspect which will impact me immediately is that PowerPC support over Rosetta will no longer be available. There are some PowerPC apps I still use a lot: among them are Resorcerer, DMG Maker, Plain Clip, my own XRay, and – the one that’s open all the time – Eudora; as well as a bunch of utilities and games that I open very rarely. I suppose I’ll have to relegate them to my old Mac mini Core Solo, which – being a 32-bit machine – will also not be supported by Lion.

The exception is Eudora; I’ve used it since 1.0b5 or thereabouts. I suppose I’ll finally have to try out the Eudora OSE version; some fellow oldsters tell me it’s not too bad. None of the other email clients seem attractive, especially Apple’s Mail, which I actually tried out last year and didn’t like.

10.6 is early …and circumstances conspired to make me late in checking (or, at least, ensuring) compatibility with it.

I just posted on the Quay support forum about the situation with Quay. Briefly, an interim 1.1.2 version should be out soon.

Klicko installs and runs with no problem on 10.6. However, it being a 32-bit control panel, System Preferences will restart every time it is run. Once you’ve set the preferences, that shouldn’t be too onerous, but I still plan to do a 64-bit version as soon as possible.

XRay will mostly work if you have Rosetta installed, but with the same restrictions as on Leopard: the file browser may crash (though, oddly enough, less than on 10.5); and changing permissions on folder contents will probably fail without warning. XRay is, unfortunately, recommended for 10.4 (Tiger) users only, and most of its functionality will be reincarnated in some form or other in the delayed-but-upcoming Quay 1.2.

Zingg! and Nudge are Finder Contextual Menus, which are not supported by Snow Leopard. Their functionality will also be implemented through plug-ins for Quay 1.2.

My US International keyboard layout has finally been incorporated by Apple into their standard list of layouts, so you won’t need to get it from here anymore. Yay!

Stay tuned for further announcements regarding Snow Leopard…

There’s been so many comments about Leopard over the weekend that I stopped reading – and there are too many of them that just repeat each other, too.

I’ve been running Leopard since the first seeds came out, and the last few have been really stable, especially the last one; I didn’t have to reboot it once in about a month.

The final release – 9A581 – was built on Oct. 12 but released to developers on Oct.26, the same day that it (theoretically) was released to users; some journalists got it earlier under embargo. In past major releases, the final build’s release date for developers was uneven – sometimes just a few days before, sometimes as much as a week after.

Buzz Andersen, a former Apple employee, wrote a very good post pointing out the difficulty of interpreting Apple’s actions from the outside. While I personally think Apple’s two-week delay in posting the final release for developers was unfortunate, I must point out that past releases leaked on the torrent sites in less than a day. If some developers won’t honor their NDAs, everybody will suffer for it.

Similarly there’s much controversy about stuff that got suddenly (or not-really-so-suddenly) taken out of the final release; 64-bit Carbon apps, ZFS support, Java 1.6, backing up over wireless are the ones that immediately come to mind. As usual, people are reading into that all sort of background motivations – Apple is following some Machiavellian scheme, or is completely stupid/clueless. I prefer to believe that they’re doing the best they can with their limited resources while trying to follow a multitude of small individual agendas. Ants carrying a large item into their nests come to mind… icon_smile.gif

For now, I’d just like to point out that, as in previous years, 10.5.1 will be out within 15 days, probably fixing at least one of those omissions. I think Apple made a good decision in, for the last month, concentrating on polishing existing features. Leopard is unusually smooth and “finished” for a .0 version.

On a personal note, and as I posted to the XRay Support Forum a few days ago, XRay 1.1 suffers from some problems in the final Leopard release. The most annoying is that the file browser doesn’t allow you XRay an item – it will crash.

I’m fully resolved to step up efforts to release XRay II, at least in public beta, as soon as other commitments allow. It will be Leopard-only and everybody who paid for XRay 1.x will get a free upgrade to the “standard” edition (there may be a “pro” edition, but I’m not sure yet).

One commitment which, unfortunately, is a great deal more pressing (literally!) is that I’ve contracted to write a book about “Programming Objective-C 2.0”. This also is specific for Leopard, and as you can imagine, deadlines are very short; ideally, of course, the book should be out today! But, the laws of physics and physiology permitting, it will be out as soon as possible. Watch this space for details.

Overnight, Apple’s changed the Leopard Developer Tools page to confirm officially that the tool formerly known as Xray is now called Instruments.

Well, while both names are certainly better than the prototype name (which, supposedly, was “PowerTrace”), I’m both relieved and worried by the change. When the name first came to my attention over a year ago, some Apple folks told me privately that I shouldn’t worry about any conflict with my own XRay utility (now being reincarnated as XRay II). Still, I hoped that the similarity might drive some clients my way, and I even linked from my own page to Apple’s, to avoid any confusion.

Now, this last-minute change is a also little worrying, since it’s probably a symptom of a cease-and-desist letter. This came up so suddenly that even the icon on the Apple site still uses an “x-ray machine” theme. I can’t find any larger Mac software company using any variation of “X-ray”, but who understands how lawyer’s minds work? It might even be a non-software company. Hopefully my new second-generation name will be non-conflicting enough to avoid any trouble.

XRay II poll

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If you’re an XRay user – even if not registered – please go to this poll and respond. I need to know ASAP if I can, as I want to, make XRay II a Leopard-only application. Also please post suggestions there; although I’ll keep on commenting about progress and programming issues here, I’d like to keep actual feature discussions over there at the poll topic.

The decision on Leopard needs to be made in the next 2 weeks, so if a majority of users agrees – or if I get too few responses – I’ll decide in favor of Leopard.

XRay update

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It’s been some time since I posted updates on XRay. Quite recently MacUser UK published a mini round-up on Finder utilities where, somewhat to my surprise, XRay scored 5 out of 5 against 4 competitors – and also was “Editor’s Choice”. (If anyone has that specific issue – 4/2007 I’d be grateful for a scan of the printed page.) Not bad for an utility which hasn’t been updated for quite some time!

This prompted me to review my sales graph which I had somewhat neglected lately. Here’s the current curve, with annotations:

The initial spike for the 1.0 release is no doubt due to several months of public beta. I wouldn’t necessarily say this would be applicable for all cases; XRay is targeted towards developers and more proficient users. During the public beta period I released new versions every month or so and took great care in replying to any comments and suggestions. So there was a pent-up demand and a ready-made userbase waiting to register their copy in the very first week.

After that, of course, sales decayed exponentially with a slight recovery when the reasonably significant 1.0.5 release came out, with subsequent releases nearly or completely vanishing in the noise – I suppose most people who needed it had already registered. Some other blips are due to the software being included in CDROMs. Still, for the last 3 years sales have stayed reasonably flat with a slight upwards trend detectable since the Intel Macs came out; no doubt this just reflects the expanding market. There are a few peaks (marked with “??”) which I have no ready explanation for…

Still, XRay 1.1 (the current release) isn’t an universal app, though it still runs fine under Rosetta. The downside is that the XRay Contextual Menu doesn’t work, as it’s called by the Finder, which (on Intel Macs) works only with universal plug-ins. However, it’s still possible (and even faster) to select an item in the Finder and XRay it by pressing shift-command-X.

Of course, as I’ve said here now and then, XRay II (2.0) is in the works. Unfortunately the universe has lately conspired to keep me from making any significant progress; still, I’m seriously determined to have a public beta out before the year is over. Hopefully sooner. Maybe much sooner. Stay tuned.

Re: What, already?

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Scott Stevenson just posted “The Year in Mac Development“, an excellent summary. Two comments on specific points…

Re: interface guidelines:

If you need one rule to follow, make it this: don’t introduce new behaviors for existing controls. Don’t make a checkbox act like a push button or a slider act like a scroll bar. That will confuse users. If you need new behavior, make a new control. And when in doubt about UI standards, just do as Apple does.

I’d just sent a build of XRay II for a developer friend to look at – a very early pre-alpha, I hasten to add – and he called my attention to a detail on the UI. While replying to this, it occurred to me that almost all of my UI was custom controls; the only exception were scrollers and text fields. However, my friend hadn’t caught on to this at all, as the custom controls looked and behaved for the most part like Apple’s controls – or at least, like users think Apple’s controls should behave. A good example for this is of course RBSplitView; you can twiddle it to look just like any variation of Apple’s split views look, while underneath it’s all new code.

So, I’d amend Scott’s comment here to “don’t introduce new behaviors to existing controls unless they’re expected. Make a checkbox act as a better checkbox, not like a pushbutton.” Flashy visuals may well be nice or even appropriate in specific situations, but they’re liable to get in the way of the “just works” experience.

Re: marketing shareware controversies:

Perhaps most importantly, these events took the idea of buying independent Mac software out of the shadows and brought it into the community’s consciouness. A lot of the stigma of supporting smaller developers has been lifted, hopefully improving things for everyone involved.

For various reasons, I’ve stayed away from (or wasn’t invited, which was just as well) these new marketing events, tempting though they looked at first sight. They seem directed at a more general public than what is intended for my main application. Still, it’s interesting to note that my downloads and sales have picked up noticeably in the last 6 months. No idea if this is due to the effect Scott comments on, though…

Coming back to MacWorld, here are some more expectations I saw on various sites:

– iApps. Well, of course they’ll be improved as usual, and the Leopard versions will use stuff from the new frameworks. I still can’t understand why so many people turn this concept completely around and mention small app changes when they talk about the OS releases, though.

– iPods. Another area where incremental improvements go without saying. Apple might have a reply to the Zune ready, perhaps with a larger screen for video, perhaps with the patented touchscreen/body. Still, I’m not excited about this.

– Some people are – maybe only half in jest – suggesting that Steve Jobs will announce a career change. Perhaps a Bill Gates-like lateral promotion to “Chief Technologist”? There might something to that. The recent options flap showed that Wall Street’s expectations of a CEO’s functions are increasingly dissociated from what Jobs really does (or should be doing, anyway) at Apple. Of course you and me know that Tim Cook, the COO, already does the dull back-end operations stuff, but do the analysts understand that? I don’t think so.

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