inessential by Brent Simmons

June 2004

RSS Birds-of-a-Feather at WWDC tonight

If you’re at WWDC, and you’re interested in RSS, please come by the RSS Birds of a Feather discussion tonight.

It’s at 7:30 p.m. in Community 2, Level 2. It’s moderated by Fraser Speirs, and I’ll be on the panel along with Michael McCracken and Steven Frank.

(It’s possible that after the BoF we’ll have to go get some beers.)

What should Apple do?

As I said previously, I’m not worried about NetNewsWire. I think the situation with Konfabulator and Dashboard is very different from the situation with Safari and NetNewsWire.

The commentary on the Konfabulator situation has been interesting. Some of it has been knee-jerk: “How dare Apple!” and, on the other hand, “Apple is totally right!”

Here’s what I think:

Apple wants to sell more Macs—and I as a Mac developer want them to sell more Macs. One way to do that is to add features and applications to their operating system. Another way to do that is make sure that the competition doesn’t have a ton of cool stuff that they don’t have.

I have absolutely no problem with that. It makes total sense.

But, at the same time, Apple can’t do everything—they need other developers to make software for OS X too.

What concerns me is the message the Dashboard thing sends. It goes like this, “If you come up with a good idea and develop a successful product, we might copy it and bundle it for free with the OS.”

In other words, you could be penalized—heavily—for doing a good job, for doing exactly what every developer works very hard to do.

It would take so little for Apple to have made the Konfabulator folks happy. Some money, some recognition. (“Little” is relative: little to Apple, big to the Konfabulator folks.) And it would let other developers know that Apple cares about OS X developers, that it wants people to develop for OS X, that it’s safe to come up with great ideas and great products.

Forget ethics—it’s just good PR. Worth ten times the price they would have paid.

(A reminder: this post isn’t about NetNewsWire and Safari, which is a completely different thing. This is about Konfabulator and Dashboard.)


The irony of being at a computer conference with all this wonderful technology is that it’s just about impossible to connect to the Internet.

I was able to get on earlier today for just enough time to post to my weblog—and now, many hours later, I’m at a nearby Starbuck’s, since it’s the only place that seems to have working Internet.

I haven’t been able to check my email since Saturday. (There’s a ton! It’s downloading now...)

Anyway, there’s a good chance the networking situation will be better tomorrow. As I recall, last year it was worst on the first day, then after that it was better.

Safari, RSS, NetNewsWire

“So, Brent, what do you think of Apple putting RSS reading into Safari?”

The first thing to know is that we have no intention of stopping NetNewsWire development.

The second thing is, I’m not surprised. I half-expected it last year, and this year I’d heard rumors (even seen some screen shots) before WWDC, so it’s no shock. Syndication is such great technology, it makes sense for Apple—and Microsoft—to add RSS reading to their systems.

The RSS reader in Safari is not a full-featured newsreader, at least from what I could tell by the demo. For instance, it doesn’t appear to remember what items you’ve read or tell you how many unread items you have. And some of the other features that it does have—such as RSS searching—are coming in NetNewsWire 2.0.

So... even with Safari’s RSS reader, there is still a need for newsreaders that do more. (Much more.)

What I like about this announcement is that it popularizes syndication. Despite its fast growth, there’s still a huge education job to do. The average Mac user doesn’t know about the technology yet, but putting it in Safari means they will know about it, and it gives the technology a kind of validation, an Apple seal of approval, for the people who are slower to look at new technologies.

It also may mean that Apple will evangelize RSS to publications that haven’t yet adopted it. Which is great: it’s not something we have much time for, and when CNN hears from Apple it carries a bit more weight than when they hear from Ranchero Software.

This could trigger a shake-out in the Mac OS X newsreaders market. There are a dozen or so readers right now, but by this time next year there may be Safari and just a few others. (NetNewsWire will be one of them.)

So I don’t feel as we’ve been Sherlocked. But it does look to me as if the Konfabulator folks might have something to say about Dashboard.


Ted Leung flatters me when he writes about the NetNewsWire testing process. Ted is a great tester, and it’s fun to work with him.

(For example, his subscription list is the longest I’ve seen or even heard of—but, instead of treating it like an outlier, we’ve used it to work on NetNewsWire’s scaling and performance.)

Of more general interest, Ted writes, “Is it odd for an open source guy to feel such a kinship with a closed source/proprietary software guy? I don’t think so.”

I don’t think it’s odd, either. I like very much that the two worlds mix. OS X itself as an expression of that mix, and I myself have released some parts of NetNewsWire as open source, so I’m not purely a closed-source guy.

There’s another way to slice things: there is software by large companies and software by small, independent developers. Open source and closed source software comes from both places.

But I like the small companies best: Bare Bones, Rogue Amoeba, TheCodingMonkeys, Panic—and even smaller companies and individuals like Flying Meat (Gus Mueller), Karelia (Dan Wood), and Adriaan Tijsseling. (And many more.)

I like the independent developers because they’re much closer to their individual users than large companies can afford to be. Apple, for instance, makes some great software—but you’re probably not going to talk to Steve Jobs. You’ll listen to his keynote, but that’s not the same thing as emailing or chatting with him or taking him out to lunch. (On the other hand, you may get to know some individuals at Apple, which is cool.)

If you’re like me, you like it when software development is collaborative. Collaboration can take the form of sharing source code, but it doesn’t have to.

In fact, most users of most pieces of software probably wouldn’t benefit from the source code, either because they’re not programmers or don’t have time—but they do benefit when they describe something they’d like to be able to do and then it appears in the software.

There are two languages used to create software: computer language and human language. The human language is more important.

Of course, I’ve often thought that if I were independently wealthy then NetNewsWire would be open source. Why not?

As I hope I’ve made clear, I like open source software, even though I don’t usually look at things as open-source vs. closed-source—instead I see collaborative vs. ivory-tower, and I prefer collaborative.

NetNewsWire 2.0 progress report

We had hoped to ship NetNewsWire 2.0 before WWDC—or at least have a public beta released. But, well, I was optimistic. It looks like it will have to wait until July.

Just so you know, here’s where it’s at...

The major new features are all in testing, except for synching, which I’ve been concentrating on this week. As soon as synching is in testing—either this week or right after WWDC—then all that remains is adding a couple small features, fixing bugs, and adding polish.

In other words, we’re just about to turn the corner and enter the home stretch.

We have a large group of testers, and they’ve been doing a great job of banging on things. Stability is job #1, and it appears to be at least as stable as 1.0.8, if not more so. Performance is also important—some of our testers have huge subscription lists that we’ve been testing with, and we’ve done a bunch of work to make NetNewsWire faster.

(Stability and performance are ongoing jobs, of course, and we’ll continue to work on them after 2.0 ships. Every app could be faster and more stable.)


My dilemma is: when should we release a public beta?

On one hand I want the public beta to be highly polished, so that people get a good impression of the app.

But on the other hand I’m eager to have you get a chance to use all the new features, even if they’re not quite perfect yet.


As an example of what I mean, look at the tabs above. Note how the close button is on the right side. This is an example of the many little details that need to be cleared up before shipping the final version. (Should the close buttons be on the left, a la Safari? But then should the favicon move to the right? Should it be a pref? Or...?)

With a closed testing program, everybody has a stake in improving the app. With a public beta, lots of people evaluate it as if it’s a finished, shipping app—which isn’t fair to the software, but they do it anyway.

So I’m torn between releasing the public beta early, before it’s very polished yet, and releasing it later, when it’s very close to being the final, shipping version.

What do you think? Would it be dumb to release the public beta sooner rather than later, or should I just go for it, release it at the soonest possible date?

A few facts

I’ve mentioned these things before, but I figured I’d repeat them since they’ve scrolled off my weblog...

NetNewsWire 2.0 will be a free upgrade. Everybody who bought (or will buy) 1.x will get all 2.x updates for free.

And here’s a partial list of the new features in 2.0:

Flagged items
Sample style sheets
Embedded browsing
Smart lists (like smart playlists in iTunes)
Scripted feeds
Search engine feeds
Activity window
Errors window
Support for external weblog editors
Importing/exporting OPML with groups
Atom feed support
Per-feed refresh settings
Suspended feeds

Not here

As I’m writing this, Sheila will return home from her two-week Romanian tour any minute. Whew! So I’ll be out-of-touch for a little while.

WWDC Weblogs

Jonas Luster is collecting links to weblogs of people who will be blogging from WWDC.

Of course, as Jonas points out, like Vegas, “most things that happen at Moscone West, stay in Moscone West.”


I just saw for the first time a feed with the filename rss.xml that’s actually an Atom feed.

That won’t confuse NetNewsWire (which doesn’t care about the filename when determining which parser to use)—but it could be confusing to, well, people.

I’m not going to link to it, because I don’t want to embarrass anybody, but I do want to point it out in case this is the first data point in a trend. (Heck, maybe there are thousands of these already, and this is just the first one I’ve noticed.)

My concern is that the term RSS could come to mean syndication-in-general, including Atom. I don’t think advocates of Atom or of RSS want that to happen. (Though I could be wrong.)