inessential by Brent Simmons

September 2005

Fundraiser auction: get cool software for a good cause

Seth Dillingham’s PMC Software Auctions are now live. The disks being auctioned have incredible applications: BBEdit, Delicious Library, FlySketch, OmniOutliner, and tons more. Check out the entire list.

There are great Windows disks too, with apps like FeedDemon, Lux, Onfolio Professional, and TopStyle. (And more.)

FeedDemon developer fractionally human

Nick Bradbury is almost human. That’s good news!

Freezes, bad computer craziness

I’ve seen some reports lately of really bad behavior—freezes, lockups, non-responsive apps, etc.

There are two stories on MacFixIt that appear to be related:

I don’t really know what’s happening. What I suspect is that a networking bug is being triggered by apps that do networking—including apps such as Safari and NetNewsWire.

So... I bring this up just to alert folks that something’s going on here, and we’re following the issue. When we have more to report, we will.

Update 1:40 p.m.: This has been discussed on Apple’s forums too.

Ars Technica review: 9/10 for NetNewsWire

9/10 from Ars Technica graphic

Sheila and I were excited to learn this morning that NetNewsWire got a 9 out of 10 in a review of Mac RSS readers at Ars Technica. Cool!

It’s a multi-page review of Mac RSS readers. Here’s the introduction, here’s the page specifically about NetNewsWire, and here’s the page with the ratings.


TUAW reported the unlinking of technical note #31: The Dogcow.

(It lives on, of course, in the web archives. All is not lost.)

I remembered one little dogcow thing that folks may not know about. If you’re using Dave’s OPML Editor for Macintosh, here’s what to do:

1. Type cmd-; (or choose Tools > ProgrammersMenu > Quick Script)

2. In the window that appears, type the following in the upper, larger rectangle:

myMoof (6)

3. Click the Run button.

4. Marvel at the spinning dogcow. When you’re finished, just click the mouse anywhere.

5. Experiment with the parameter to myMoof—it changes the speed of the cow.

P.S. The dogcow does not appear on Windows machines. Which probably should go without saying.

P.P.S: The same tip should work in Frontier and in Radio UserLand, though the Quick Script menu item is in a different place.

teh siracusa

Jonathan “Wolf” Rentzsch: Pixel Imperfection: “Three cosmetic flaws that, more than anything, disclose the author’s continued descent towards the final (‘Siracusa’) level of interface design neurosis/obsession.”

DrunkenBlog’s “Evening at Adler”

I’ll be in Chicago October 21 for DrunkenBlog’s Evening at Adler. Check out that list of developers! It should be very cool.

(I was born in Chicago, by the way. I didn’t grow up there, but still, I have a soft spot for Chicago.)

Finder + Cocoa = Finder

Whenever someone complains about the Finder, someone else says, “The Finder would rock if it were rewritten in Cocoa!”

I feel the need to clear that up.

Were the Finder rewritten in Cocoa, here’s what you’d have: the Finder, only written in Cocoa. Big whoop.

Cocoa won’t take away the brushed metal, or make the Finder spatial, or fix the bugs, or make it faster. (It might be ever-so-slightly slower, actually.)

Cocoa is a wonderful framework—I use Cocoa for my software, and I totally love it. Like crazy. Madly.

But Cocoa can’t, on its own, fix problems with a flawed design.

The problem with the Finder is really a people problem: it will get fixed if and when somebody with the authority, resources, and will to fix it appears.

Cocoa is no magic bullet—there aren’t any magic bullets.

For people thinking about a Finder replacement—check out Path Finder. (Which is, by the way, written in Cocoa.)

Xcode Garble

Jonathan “Wolf” Rentzsch: “And by ‘fix,’ I mean transmogrify Finder X’s source code into a soul, transfer the pneuma to a goat for purposes of physical manifestation, place said goat on top three feet of logs, twigs, shaved wood and dried leaves. Add copious and irresponsible amounts of accelerant and ignite.”

How to Make Polished Metal Windows

The good folks at Rogue Amoeba describe how to make polished metal windows a la iTunes 5: “Personally, I think the sooner brushed metal is gone, the better. And so to further that cause, I present the secret to making your very own Polished Metal windows.”

#4251116: Crash with Shift_JIS-encoded XML data

Screen shot of

My Apple bug of the week is #4251116, a crash in the CoreFoundation XML parser that often happens with Shift_JIS-encoded feeds.

I even created a small project to demonstrate it: download

To reproduce the crash, launch the application (at ShiftJISCrash/build/Release/, then click the “Parse Shift_JIS File” button.

Inside the app’s bundle is a Shift_JIS-encoded feed that crashes whenever CFXMLTreeCreateFromData is called. (The feed is ShiftJISCrash.xml, at the top level of the project folder.)

(Remember the Safari Image of Doom? You could call this the CoreFoundation XML File of Doom.)

The thing about crashing bugs like this is that any developer worth anything takes great pride in writing stable applications. It’s the first principle of craftsmanship: don’t build things that fall down.

When your app crashes due to a bug in the system, your users think it’s your bug. How would they know differently? Your app crashed, therefore it’s a bug in your app, right?

Except when it’s not, except when it’s a bug in the system. But how would the average user be able to tell the difference? (It’s important because your reputation is at stake.)

There is no real answer to that question. So the best thing is to get the crashing bugs out of the system.

More about bugs and crashes...

drunkenbatman: Spotlight on Spotlight, Part 01 of ∞ and Of Smart Crash Reports. (I’ll definitely be looking at the new crash-report helper from Unsanity.)

Dan Wood filed 4247645 about the new iTunes UI and reviews some previous reports.

Sven-S. Porst filed a bug about nicknames in Mail.

For more, see the applebugfriday page on

Brushed Metal drives a Lexus

Daring Fireball: The iTunes 5 Announcement from the Perspective of an Anthropomorphized Brushed Metal User Interface Theme.


With the original iMac, Apple realized that computers could be subject to fashion, not just utilitarian beige boxes. The thing to realize is that the user interface is no different. It’s also a thing of fashion.

User interface cycles between Lickable and Elegant:

Lickable: colorful, 3D, stripey, curvy (like the original iMac).

Elegant: subdued colors and grays, gradients and solid grays instead of stripes, more use of black, flat instead of 3D, more straight lines, fewer curves.

Lickable is obviously the original Aqua interface. Elegant is NeXT. At the moment, OS X is in between the two. I predict that we’ll be firmly in NeXT-land when Leopard is released.

If you want to get a feel for Leopard, install WindowMaker.

(I’m not saying it will be a clone of WindowMaker, just that you can get some of the feel by checking out WindowMaker.)

iTunes 5 and UI trends

I like most things about the new iTunes 5 look, but not everything.

I don’t like the sharp corners around the window.

But I love that it’s not brushed metal anymore. It’s not just that brushed metal already, incredibly, looks dated, it’s that to me brushed metal feels ponderous and leaden. (It’s subjective, yes.)


Here’s what I’d like to see happen:

1. Brushed metal and pin-striped Aqua go away. Automator, iCal, iPhoto, etc. all lose the brushed metal.

2. We have, then, the unified title-and-toolbar look with two varieties: the lighter version as seen in System Preferences, Mail, and Dictionary, and the darker version as seen in iTunes.

3. The unified window look evolves over time, rather than coming up with completely new looks.

If this release of iTunes is a step down a path like the above, then that’s very cool—we’d have a more consistent experience (and thus more aesthetically pleasing) with still the ability to choose between light and dark windows. (Which is a reasonable choice to want to have, given that it matters how the window content is framed.)

I would so love to see Automator, iCal, etc. updated immediately to adopt the iTunes window. I’d even put up with the ouch-I-got-a-nasty-pixel-cut corners if it meant ditching brushed metal.

The first app to update would be the Finder. If I had my way.


When we were working on NetNewsWire 2.0, we identified some trends in OS X UI design, which could be expressed breezily as:

1. Stripes are passé.

2. Margins are bad.

3. Brushed metal is yesterday’s news.

4. The unified title-and-toolbar look is the new platinum.

5. The two-tone glass thing is big. Big, I tell you. Big.

So we set out to remove stripes and margins. Instead of adopting brushed metal we adopted the unified title-and-toolbar look. We use the two-tone glass thing in spots.

(Note: I do not say we created these trends—we just noticed them.)

This release of iTunes continues every one of these trends. You could almost have predicted the major features of the new look.

(You might be able to discern some other trends, too, such as the source list background and 1-pixel splitter.)


Another thought I had... imagine an alternate universe where NeXT still exists, and they have an mp3 player. I think it would look like iTunes.

screen shot

Things I don’t wish for

Earlier I talked about what I hope for, which is that this is the first part of a step away from brushed metal and a move toward UI consistency.

But it could go the opposite way... Instead, this could be the straw or tipping point or whatever where developers outside of Apple finally say, “Okay, cool, anything goes.” (I suspect that developers inside Apple are already at that point. And I confess that “okay, cool, anything goes” was my first thought on seeing iTunes 5.)

Call it the widget effect, where each app, in order to look cool or fresh or innovative or whatever, looks different from every other app.

Obviously this is a matter of degree—each app should look unique. But, for instance, should each app have a unique window shape? No.

I can see it going either way. Fingers crossed.

More on iTunes 5

drunkenbatman has a follow-up post on iTunes 5: Of Burnt Aqua.

Michael Tsai: “I like that the huge margins are gone, but the rest of the changes make it uglier without quite matching any of Apple’s other non-standard applications, either.” Michael also posted a ton of links to other posts, so go there.

iTunes 5 look-and-feel: what do you think?

What do you think of the new iTunes 5.0 look-and-feel?

Dan Wood does not like it; drunkenbatman does like it.

Some random notes, things I’ve noticed...

- No margins.

- No brushed metal. (Is brushed metal now passé? Will iCal, iPhoto, etc. also drop brushed metal in favor of this new look?)

- It’s a custom window—in color and in shape.

- It is not the same as the new-in-Tiger unified title-and-toolbar look as seen in Mail, Dictionary, System Preferences, and other apps. It’s darker. If you compare it to a brushed-metal app, it’s about as dark. You could call it un-brushed metal. Smooth metal. (Will this become a standard look, available to developers? If so, Leopard is a long way off. Time to figure out how to duplicate it now.)

- The display thing at the top now does the two-tone glass thing. (Maybe it did before but I didn’t notice? Either way, that two-tone glass thing is big. Big I tell you.)

- The source list background color is almost the same as in Mail. I think it has just a smidge more red.

- It has another custom splitview, of course, because no two Apple apps have the same splitter. And this reinforces the 1-pixel-wide splitter as pioneered by Mail.

- The window corners are almost right angles. At first it reminded me of looking at a Honda Elements from behind. (Which is good or hideous, depending on your taste.)

- No standard configurable toolbar.

- The interior of the search field dims when the app is not in front, which is new (I think).

What do you think? Me, I don’t have a lot of opinion yet (just observations).

NetNewsWire’s new name is 29B762D5-509E-4AE1-9B75-3E96E53E2431 What A Universally Unique Product Name!: “UUID stands for ‘Uli’s Unique Item Description.’ Young Uli originally invented it on a TRS-80 model 100 while on holiday in the Harz mountains, for the purpose of naming every bacterial species he scraped off his boots.”

#4243570: Monaco 9 in not good

For today’s Report-an-Apple-Bug Friday, I reported #4243570, on the poor rendering of Monaco 9 in Terminal.

The gist of it is that some letters get smooshed together too much. It’s not a bug inherent to Monaco 9, since it renders perfectly well in apps like Xcode and BBEdit.

For more reports from around the web, see the applebugfriday page on

New Orleans

Words fail when it comes to talking about New Orleans and Biloxi and the Gulf Coast. Sheila and I are as heartbroken as everyone else watching this.

We donated to the Red Cross and to The Humane Society.

(You’ve probably already donated, of course. But, just in case, if anyone hasn’t, please consider this a small reminder.)

Mike Zornek suggests tracking Report-An-Apple-Bug Friday on Makes sense to me. The tag is applebugfriday.