Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


What Software Do I Like?

delicious-library-beta.jpgIn a comment on “Software Usability Thoughts: Some Advice For Movable Type,” Beau Smith asks “What Mac software do you like?”

That’s a tough question for three reasons: First, there’s enough decent software (consistent, attractive, discoverable) that the bad stuff can generally be avoided. Secondly, I’d like to choose examples which are either free or cheap, because I think that’s more useful, than, say, commenting on Excel. Thirdly, Apple has an excellent set of “Human Interface Guidelines,” which seemingly most developers have read. The HIG really create a floor for what Mac developers tend to do, and the Mac faithful crush anything that falls near or below that floor. As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of a vignette in the Ars Technica review of Delicious Library:

This is a splash screen for a beta—something that will never be seen by more than a handful of people. Note the bullet hole, the magic marker graffiti, the scratched-out slogan, the haphazardly placed logo sticker.

Linux users, think about this image the next time you download a release version of a product without a comprehensive sample configuration file or with “cosmetic” bugs. Windows users, think about this the next time you see a poorly drawn 16-color icon or toolbar graphic in a multi-hundred dollar commercial software package.

That said, I’d like to discuss two apps a little bit: iCal, which ships with the OS, and “Notational Velocity.”

I like ical quite a bit. It took a little exploration to get used to, and some things didn’t work quite as I wanted. For example, I wanted recurring todo items to help remember to pay bills. Almost as good, I use recurring “all day” appointments in a finance category. I use the same sort of thing to manage travel information. It works quite well for me.

Notational Velocity is useful because of how small and fast it is, and how well searching works. Now that I have a program that implements incremental search, I find not having it in other places to be a lack. It’s that useful.

More than any particular feature, I appreciate the effort that goes into making something look easy.