inessential by Brent Simmons

August 2002

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b21

A new beta—before noon (Pacific) even.

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b21 fixes some bugs and adds a few small new features. The most important bug fix is probably that you can now mark the current headline as unread. (See the change notes for more info.)

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b20

A build a day keeps the doctor away.

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b20 gives you the ability to set the size of the unread count in the dock icon. It also fixes some bugs.

Working the web: Newsreaders

Ben Hammersley writes in the UK Guardian: “I don’t mean to brag but it’s 8.30am and I’ve already got up to date with 75 different websites. I’ve read all their headlines, perused the articles of interest, and I’m only half way through my coffee.”

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b19

Another day, another build... NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b19 fixes some bugs and adds some new features, including the ability to choose a font and size for the HTML pane. Here are the change notes.

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b18

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b18 fixes bugs, makes the dock menu hierarchical (on Jaguar), and adds a few new commands.

Dock menus enhancement

The next beta of NetNewsWire will have a new feature—an organized Dock menu, with sub-menus for each subscription with unread news. Here’s a screen shot.

Unfortunately this is a Jaguar-only feature: 10.1.x users will continue to get the flat Dock menu. (It’s because of a change in the system that I’m able to do this feature for Jaguar.)

Pay to iChat?

I’m not much for chat. But I’ve been seeing that other developers are doing chat sessions with their users about their software—to handle support, bug reports, feature requests, answer questions, etc.

So I thought I’d try out iChat (now that I’m Jaguar-ified).

But... do I understand correctly that I have to pay somebody some money? It appears that one needs either an AOL or .Mac account. True? Or is there some way around the requirement that I open my wallet that I just haven’t realized?

Update 11:45 a.m.: Thanks to Eric Tilton’s help I have signed up for a free AIM account. Cool. My screen name is pbrentsimmons. (The “p” stands for Peter, my first name.)

Progress on a new feature

I’ve been making progress on a new NetNewsWire feature—an (optional, off by default) way to read subscriptions. Instead of separating title from description, they’re displayed together, as in Jason Kottke’s feature request.

Obviously there’s more to do—but, for those who are looking forward to this feature, here’s an early screen shot to whet your appetite.

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b17

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b17 fixes Jaguar-specific UI, layout, and subscription-reading bugs. People not using Jaguar may not notice any change (except that the app may be slightly faster).

Norwegian Tea

Norwegian Tea: n. That watery, tasteless, see-through coffee drunk in the northern parts of fly-over country, especially North Dakota.

Sheila taught me that one. She’s half Norwegian herself, though reformed.

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b16

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b16 fixes some bugs.

Possible NetNewsWire feature

Jason Kottke suggests a NetNewsWire feature—that titles and descriptions would be displayed together, instead of like in email. Here’s a quick mockup he did.

I intend to add this feature, but I’m not sure yet if it will be Pro-only or if it will appear in the Lite version but after 1.0 ships. Feedback is, of course, welcome.

A Cocoa geek’s Switch commercial

A Cocoa geek’s Switch commercial:

switch (currentComputerType) {

   case NSMacintoshComputerType:
      return; /*already using a Mac*/

   case NSWindowsComputerType:
   case NSLinuxComputerType:
      [self setComputer: [NSMacintosh MacintoshWithJaguar]];		
   } /*switch*/

The long national nightmare is nearly over

The long national nightmare is nearly over—my copy of Jaguar is apparently en route, on a truck right now, finding its way to my house.

I had pre-ordered it from because they were selling it for $30 less than everybody else. They said it would ship the 24th.

On a whim I just checked my order status and found that it’s out for delivery right now. Cool.

During pretty much the entire development of NetNewsWire I’ve been getting Jaguar-specific bug reports—but I, seemingly alone in the Mac geek universe, didn’t have a copy of Jaguar.

The main reason I’m looking forward to it is by all accounts it’s faster. Speed is good. It could be exactly the same as 10.1 but be faster and I would be satisfied.

Thought for the day

Thought for the day: if President Bush can learn a foreign language—Spanish in his case—then you can learn a foreign language too.

More on RSS discovery

Mark Pilgrim is right on when he writes that RSS discovery is a usability issue. A user should never have to find and copy the RSS URL for a site.

NetNewsWire supports RSS discovery. (Like Mark’s Python RSS finder it checks for a <link...> tag, though it differs on what it does next if it doesn’t find one.)

I think every RSS reader will eventually support RSS discovery. The little XML buttons on people’s websites will eventually be obsolete as sites more and more include the necessary <link...> tag. However, those XML buttons are totally still needed: they’re an important step in RSS adoption.

Here’s how things work for me now. When I’m at a site I want to subscribe to, I copy-and-paste its home page URL into NetNewsWire’s subscription dialog. The app then searches for the RSS feed for that site. If it finds it, great. If it doesn’t find it then I delete the failed subscription—even if the site actually does have a hidden-away RSS feed somewhere. I don’t go looking for it manually: it’s too much trouble. And thus I don’t read that site.

But of course even the above scenario is too many steps: ideally, when I’m at a site I want to subscribe to, I should be able to choose a menu command to subscribe to that site. (Or maybe it’s a bookmarklet, or a contextual menu command—some Subscribe to Site command that’s always in the same easily-accessible place.)

Radio UserLand and AmphetaDesk (and perhaps other RSS readers) have a great feature where you can click on an icon on a page that then subscribes you to that site. That’s a hundred times better than having to hunt for an RSS feed and then copying the URL into your reader app. But it’s still not quite the best scenario—after all, you still have to look for that icon, which may or may not be there. And you have to run an HTTP server on your desktop, which you may not want to do or may not be allowed to do.

To re-iterate: no human should ever have to find an RSS feed. That’s the kind of thing computers are good at. No human should ever have to see an RSS feed except out of curiousity (or if they’re debugging their own software). RSS should be completely hidden.

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b15

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b15 improves its RSS discovery feature—it consults its built-in list of sites (that appear in the Sites drawer) when looking for a site’s RSS feed.

You can also now import OPML files. It will try to find the RSS feeds for sites that you import.

A bunch of weblogs were added to the Sites drawer.

I think I’ve seen the future

I think I’ve seen the future, or a small part of it, regarding weblogs. Two things:

1. If you’re not syndicating your site as RSS it might as well not exist.

2. If you don’t include a <link...> tag in your home page that points to your RSS feed, then you might as well not be syndicating your site, and therefore it might as well not exist.

Holy Spicy Noodles, Batman!

Holy Spicy Noodles, Batman—it’s a wedding! Congratulations!

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b14

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b14 supports RSS discovery.

What this means in plain English is that, when you go to manually subscribe to a site, you can type just its URL, or even just a domain like, and NetNewsWire will without fuss go ahead and find the RSS feed for you.

It doesn’t always work, unfortunately, but it works a great deal of the time. And it’s oddly addicting. (At least for me the developer.) Last night I spent some time going through the list of weblogs at just trying one site after another looking for RSS feeds. I found tons.

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b13

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b13 fixes a few crashing bugs.

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b12

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b12 fixes a bug with arrow key navigation introduced in the last beta. It also fixes an occasional crashing bug when adding subscriptions.

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b11

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b11 has been released. Get it while it’s hot! And note the cool new icon by the fabulous Bryan Bell.

This release is very much the result of user feedback. The most common request was for the ability to group subscriptions and have multiple aggregate views. That’s there.

Another common request was that the first item shouldn’t be automatically selected (thereby marking it as read). Done.

Yet another request was for the ability to close the main window. Also done.

Rather than go on, let me refer you to the change notes.


I’m just doing my part to help break the 1000 mark.

NetNewsWire Badge

It was of course inevitable that NetNewsWire would get a badge.

NetNewsWire: More news, less junk. Faster OPML Files

I’m seeking OPML files to make sure they’re supported by NetNewsWire. So if you have one—or more than one, the more the better—and if you don’t mind sharing, please email them to me at brent at ranchero dot com or let me know a download URL. Thanks!

Update: I have enough files now. Thanks to all who sent them.

Here’s the problem, however— OPML files do not contain RSS URLs, so importing them as NetNewsWire subscription won’t work. Total bummer.

Another Pretty Face

The early ’70s was the glam era, the Ziggy Stardust era, when it was fashionable to be both gay and from outer space. It was the era of T. Rex, Mott the Hoople, Roxy Music... and Another Pretty Face.

Another Pretty Face? Okay, they didn’t hit it big, so you probably never heard of them. They were my uncle’s band. If you were a college student in Pennsylvania or New York in those days you may have seen them. Maybe.

My uncle once told me a story about how, after a gig in New York City featuring several bands, they were all sitting around drinking and talking.

A guy from one of the other bands was saying how much they loved Another Pretty Face, how they thought the act was so cool—especially the whole boys-wearing-makeup thing.

We gotta try that, said the guy. He seemed really hyped. Gotta do the makeup thing.

(Surely you can see the punchline coming?)

The guy was from KISS, a pre-makeup KISS, KISS before anyone knew who they were.

So at long last I reveal my secret family shame.


The next beta of NetNewsWire Lite (probably a few days away) will support a new feature: groups.

You’ll be able to organize your feeds via drag-and-drop. When you select a group, then all the unread items in all the feeds in that group are displayed. This way you can have multiple aggregate views.

Here’s a screen shot.


Do you think God speaks English mostly?

The Decline and Fall of Seattle

The LA Times magazine has published an article on The Decline and Fall of Seattle (free registration required).

I’ve just skimmed it so far. (I live in Seattle, by the way.)

Here’s a quote: “Despite the boom, Seattle always seemed of two minds on the new economy. With its blue-collar Boeing roots, its long line of stern Scandinavian loggers and fishermen, its suspicion of ostentation, the city spent the ’90s getting used to the new big thinkers—people like Glaser, Howard Schultz at Starbucks and Jeff Bezos at—embracing them, really, while wondering if it should be holding its nose.”

Doc processing

I’m working on a new feature for NetNewsWire this morning—Doc processing.

Doc in this case doesn’t stand for document: it stands for Doc Searls. If you use an RSS reader to read his site you may have noticed that his RSS feed is always just one big item with a bunch of HTML. So the software will handle it as a special case: it will break it up into individual items.

In other RSS news, I noticed that MacRumors now has an RSS feed.

Update 11:15 a.m.: Doc processing now works. Here’s a screen shot.

Donated to Mac Net Journal

I donated $20 to Mac Net Journal today. Rob’s doing a great job with this site—his weblog has become my primary site for Mac news. So what’s $20 to help keep Mac Net Journal going? A large pizza and some cokes or a couple pitchers of beer. It’s totally worth it.


One of the metaphors I’ve always used when working on something—an application, a website, an article—is noise.

When something isn’t right, it makes a noise.

For instance, when I designed this site I worked on it until it was silent. (Your taste may vary, of course.)

Another example: this morning I’ve been dealing with menu item and toolbar item validation in an application I’m working on. When a menu item is enabled but it should be disabled it makes a crackly buzzing sound like a bug killer light.

It’s my belief that these things make a huge difference in user experience—the little things have to be right, or the app is noisy.

MacTech article

I have an article on writing contextual menu plugins in the latest MacTech. My copy hasn’t arrived yet, so I haven’t seen the published version.

However, if you have any questions about it, please feel free to ask me, either here or via private email.

Experiments on my great-grandfather

The Navy used to run experiments on my great-grandfather.

Or at least that’s the story he told me. He died when I was a teenager.

What they used to do was put him inside a man-sized rubber ball and toss the ball into the waves. He’d be inside there, either getting terrifically sea-sick or not.

But he never got sea-sick. That’s why they ran the experiments on him in the first place, because he was known for never getting sea-sick.

As a boy he was an oyster fisherman in the Delaware Bay. That’s what his family did. They were Dutch.

Sometimes I like to imagine him inside that rubber-ball, getting tossed around by the waves, and just filing his nails and thinking about what’s gonna be for dinner. So cool.

Me, I get sea-sick easily. I have to be careful when I run water in the sink. I just about have to take pills before I can take a shower.

Open source Cocoa OPML class

What’s this?

It’s a screen shot of a test app for a Cocoa class that parses OPML files. The OPML class I developed for NetNewsWire—so that it could import subscriptions files—is now available as Open Source (BSD license).

Of course, the more interesting use for OPML is web directories. This little test app has everything you need to get started on creating a cool directory browser—it shows not just how to parse OPML but how to hook it up to an outline view and how to make headlines double-clickable (so they open in the browser). Very simple. I hope someone takes it and runs with it.

Note that it’s not an OPML editor, just a reader. Creating a mutable OPML class is left as an exercise.

Open Source RSS Class for Cocoa

I’ve released my Cocoa RSS class—the same class used in NetNewsWire and MacNewsWire—as Open Source (BSD license).

What people are saying

I’m no great marketer, but I figured I’d do a what people are saying page for NetNewsWire.

My favorite quote is the one that appears at the bottom from Sunil Doshi of

“Finding a good OS X RSS reader is more difficult than I thought it would be. Most that I’ve tried are ugly, complicated, and buggy. But NetNewsWire is pretty, simple, and only slightly buggy.”

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b7

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b7 fixes a performance problem introduced in the last beta and fixes a few other bugs.

RSS Readers and Mac Net Journal

Yesterday on Mac Net Journal fellow Northwesterner Rob McNair-Huff asked: “Do you visit the weblogs you read?”

That’s a damn good question. Me, I don’t. Or at least not as often as I used to.

RSS readers may make it less likely that one will actually go to a site, which means the site can’t (as easily) present its various enticements to get you to stick around. It can’t grab you as easily, and that may make it more difficult for the site to make money. (Or pay for itself, at least.)

Or, at least I think that’s what the point is. There is an important issue here, but I just may not be able to articulate it too well.

I’ve been including Mac Net Journal in the default list of NetNewsWire subscriptions because I think it’s a good site and I want people to know about it and read it who may otherwise miss it. In other words, I’m trying to help build the popularity of the site, help make it worth Rob’s time.

The category of RSS readers is growing: on OS X for instance we have a choice of Pineapple, AmphetaDesk, blagg, Radio UserLand, NetNewsWire, and probably others I’m missing.

What I’m saying is that RSS readers aren’t going away. Turning back the clock isn’t a solution.

On the other hand—I wonder what the effect of RSS readers really is. Do sites really get less browser traffic?

I wonder if it’s maybe like the case with Napster, where (some people said) more CDs were bought because people were exposed to more music.

One thing, though, has changed for me for sure: I almost never visit weblogs anymore that don’t have RSS feeds. Example: Zeldman.

Sorry about the outage

Sorry about the outage here today. This site—and other sites—were down due to an attack on’s ISP. Nuts.

NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b6

The focus of NetNewsWire Lite 1.0b6 is stability. A bunch of crashers and potential crashers were fixed.

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday Melissa!

Melissa is my younger sister. In what has become a yearly occurrence, she turns 29 today.

No matter how many birthdays she has, she’ll always be my little sister.