20 February 2008 in Apple & Mindscape & Tools | Comments (1)

Most people that know me are aware that I like to play with new tech. Being that I’m more of a software guy than a hardware guy this usually means the newest versions of tools, frameworks and applications. This is somewhat of a two way street – sometimes you get cool stuff early, sometimes you get buggy crap :)

I’ve been tinkering with FireFox 3 for about 3 months and had gone back to using FireFox 2 for the time being as there were one or two annoying bugs that prevented me working at a good speed. Recently however I gave FireFox 3.0 another crack on OS X and WOW, it is a million times better than FireFox 2.0. The native theme and widgets are just fantastic and the feel is much more slick all round.

I’d also read that WebKit (the rendering engine behind Safari) is blazingly fast vs. everything else at the moment but you need to use a nightly build. A nightly build is what it sounds like – a build of the software generated on a daily basis from the latest version of the source. It’s usually cutting edge, not guaranteed to work and often buggy. The upside is that you get early access, can help by submitting bug reports and also get to test your software against the newest builds (Xero, take note, FireFox 3.0 beta 3 does not love you very much!)

Tools for nightly builds

It can be useful to automatically update to the latest nightly and on the Mac there is a cool set of tools you can grab here that allow you automate this process for WebKit & FireFox (and several other tools I believe) which is super handy. It can even provide the changelog, maintain a copy of the old version in case the new one is borked and do all sorts of fancy things. Very nice.

Get access to the Mac tools here.

We do nightlies too

Since very early on we have provided nightly builds off all our software at Mindscape. This is important because, as stated earlier, it allows people to test against new features, get access to new features we may be working on etc. We’ve enhanced this process for our customers by allowing them to access nightly builds based on what they own. That means that people who have bought the Enterprise edition for example will get the source code with their nightly build. This is something that many other vendors do not provide.

Get access to LightSpeed nightlies here.
Get access to WPF PropertyGrid nightlies here.

– JD

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 295 user reviews.

19 December 2007 in Apple | Comments (0)

A long time ago Phil Cockfield blogged about how the iPod would pause your music when you removed the headphones from the socket. The general theory was that many people did this to pause the iPod when you suddenly had to pay attention to something and didn’t have the time to fumble around looking for the pause button. It was one of those cool little features that Apple packs into their devices.

Zooming up to modern day, I recently acquired an iPhone and was complaining to Lena about how I have to take it out of my pocket to pause music. You can’t even fumble around and click a button through your pocket like you could with an iPod, you had to remove the cable to pause the phone quickly if you wanted to.

A few days later and I was looking at the mic on the iPhone headphones and noticed it seemed like it would break easily. It had a distinctive “click” feel when I pressed it together and that got me wondering as to why Apple would make something so crappy that it would feel broken right out of the box. However something interesting happened – when I clicked it, the music paused. When I clicked again it played. When I double clicked it the track skipped to the next one. Colour me impressed – listening to music on the iPhone became a much more enjoyable experience once I realised this small feature existed!

iPhone Headphones

So why am I telling you this? As a male, I don’t much care for instruction manuals and possibly never would have found this out. Given the demographic of my audience here I suspect you’re likely a male and therefore likely also not read manuals :) Hopefully this will be helpful to somebody like myself out there.

– JD

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 179 user reviews.

28 October 2007 in Apple & Code | Comments (2)

Once again, Apple did well with their logistics and our pre-ordered copies of Leopard arrived at the Mindscape office at about 11am Friday. I did my install in the evening and much like Rod’s comments, it took a wee while but was about the most painless OS upgrade I’ve ever done.

I was certainly looking for “wow” features and so far I have not really found any – it is very much just additional polish to the OS. Spaces seem cool, the dock update is nice, having a “current time” line in iCal is finally there. There is apparently 1500+ of these types of changes and I’m sure I’ll keep coming across more of them as time goes on.

So what are some of the more major features for the developer crowd?

XCode 3.0 is included and Leopard also adds support for Objective-C 2.0 which is a nice step up from previous versions which did not have automatic garbage collection. I’ll certainly be having a bit more of a look into what else is lurking in the XCode box (so far I haven’t had the time).

Instruments is an interesting new tool for profiling your applications. I haven’t had a chance to poke around with this tool yet and it looks from screen shots that it’s mostly somewhat “fuzzy” in profiling (e.g. showing cpu load or network load in a graph rather than giving extremely detailed dumps of what is going on). I’m looking forward to seeing how Instruments performs.

Dashcode is a tool for helping build dashboard widgets. I’m not quite sure why it’s not included in XCode which seems to have templates for just about every other sort of project under the sun. I’ve never been a big user of widgets so I doubt I’ll use this tool very much.

One of the pain points with doing any development on the Mac is that the books currently in circulation all seem rather out of date. This could be because the documentation explorer, so far, seems quite impressive. Can anybody suggest a good book on Mac development?

– JD

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 236 user reviews.

8 September 2007 in Apple & Microsoft & Windows | Comments (10)

This may come as a shock to those of you who were closest to me. I thought I had done a good job of hiding my desires from those around me. I have spent so much time in denial but, finally, I couldn’t control “the urge”.

On Monday I bought a Mac. A 15″ Mac Book Pro to be precise.

To my amazement it arrived (from Australia) before lunch the following day. That sort of service is just outstanding given I only placed the order at about 4pm on Monday. Don’t be concerned, this is not the start of gushing about Apple and showing myself to be a Mac fanboy – more that I’m impressed with TNT’s global logistics. I haven’t had anything delivered directly by TNT before but I am seriously impressed.

I have always been quite anti the idea of owning a mac however those long time readers may recall I made more than a few posts when Apple shifted to the Intel chips and opened up the opportunity of running Windows on Apple brand machines. This is precisely the reason I elected to buy an apple machine, I get the following:

  • I can run windows and continue doing .NET development
  • I can run OS X and be able to dig into the Unix base of it
  • I can now run whatever application is best for the job, irrespective of the target platform

I kicked off with a boot camp partition and then directed Parallels at the partition. This was easy enough however I wished the boot camp assistant would have let me select more than 32GB for the Windows partition. Parallels had a few issues though in terms of usability. Andrew had been trying out VMWare fusion so I’ve since installed that and had everything running nicely.

There were a few things that just annoyed me with how Apple have done things compared to how things are done in the Windows world. My main gripe was the mouse, it’s like the cursor is stuck in the mud to me. The suggestion was made that I should just boost the speed so I tried that and it was slightly better however something was still missing. I did some digging and it appears “sensitivity” was my issue (mainly in that I appear to be sensitive to it not being sensitive enough to my needs :) ). Steermouse is an application that provides the ability to alter the sensitivity of the mouse and, along with the speed adjustments, I’m now using a mouse the way it should be used.

Overall I’m still testing to see if I’ll continue to host Windows on top of OS X as I’m still very much on the fence. I’ll make a follow up post in a week or so covering how I’m finding it. Any way you cut it, Apple make kick ass hardware.

John-Daniel Trask

P.S. 4+ hours of battery life is just phenomenal compared to be previous laptops!

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 162 user reviews.

31 May 2007 in Apple & Code & Google & Microsoft | Comments (2)

Rather than echoing the “oooh -Google gears” and “oooh – Microsoft surface” stories I thought I’d put a bit more thought into these recent announcements and why I see them as important. Earlier this week Andrew and I were discussing the web and how we both agreed that the humble browser is not the ideal application platform. There are many advantages of web applications (instant updates, great metrics on use, much more) but we’re yet to see the richness and flexibility of what can be done in the offline world. Of course the positives of one platform are effectively the negatives of the other and vice versa. People still make a conscious decision about the type of application they’re building and this got me thinking.

Offline Applications

As I commented on Rod’s blog, I agree with DHH on his views about offline applications. Retrofitting existing applications doesn’t strike me as being a huge win, I’m virtually always connected with a pretty fat pipe. I don’t believe the advantages of offline applications are really obvious yet because we are all still thinking how it affects the current web model. We need to pull our view back another 20, 000 feet and start thinking outside the box. I’m not claiming I have the answers on this one but I’m sure we can do better than an RSS reader that has an offline mode!

Breaking out of the browser

With Microsoft Silverlight we have the opportunity to break applications outside of the browser (To see an example check out our Silverlight Video player on the Mindscape blog, just click the video when it is playing). I firmly believe this is a significant step forward again that didn’t really get noticed all that much. Suddenly the browser isn’t all that important other than to host these applications. I joked with Andrew that I look forward to the day when the web browser is a non-visual host and the applications are the only visual part (no jokes about visibility inheritance please ;)

Microsoft Surface

First off, this is pretty damn cool. Personally I think it knocks the socks off the iPhone in terms of cool – Microsoft are helping to usher in a new paradigm here but that’s not why I’m bringing it up. Taking into account what we are discussing here you can quickly start to see the benefits of dropping the web browser. I really don’t want to see Internet Explorer or FireFox as a Window on a device like Microsoft Surface – it would just break the model of how the device is meant to be used. If web applications are no longer looking like web applications and are becoming super rich with cloud and offline storage we’re actually seeing a a convergence of the desktop and web worlds.


Having said all this there is a HEAP of work still left to do. We don’t really want every application to look different, uniqueness isn’t actually a benefit in terms of usability, there needs to be standards. We need to consider accessibility for less able users or how this content can be moved between the various devices (PC, tablet, phone…coffee table). I really look forward to some of these problems getting solved though, the future looks bright.

I suspect that in the next 10 years we’re going to stop being able to define an application as being a web application or a desktop application. Rather than consciously trying to build Smart Clients, it will just be the way applications are built and we’ll all laugh at why we ever struggled to build them well in the past :)

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Want to hire me for tarot card reading?

- JD

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 250 user reviews.

17 August 2006 in Apple & Windows | Comments (13)

Recently Apple unveiled some of the features expected in the next update to OS X. Some of them were pretty cool but I couldn’t help but feel this time Apple was copying more things from Microsoft than many people may realise. Let me start by stating that I’m interested in buying a MacBook – they seem pretty cool and the fact I could run Windows on it is the real killer feature in my eyes. This post is just to discuss one feature of OS X.

In the next version of OS X there is a feature to fly back in time and view previous versions of files. Sounds good and is certainly useful. In typical Apple style there is a funky app for ”flying” back in time to view versions. The only thing is that I can’t help but feel that while it does look cool, it’s the sort of thing you’re going to find a total pain in the ass  to have to go flying every time you want to see previous editions.

What some people don’t realise is that this feature is available today in Windows 2003 and XP. It’s called Windows Shadow Copy. I’ve worked on several client sites where this feature is enabled and it works easily (file properties show all previous versions of the file). Windows Vista will enable it by default as well as beefing up the tools to find previous versions so no surprises that OS X will include it. What gets me a wee bit is when Apple fans think Apple invents everything.

On top of this, from what I’ve read so far the technology behind the Apple version of undelete is horribly inefficient.

In Windows there is a driver which uses 15% of the drive space to keep the block differences in files for restoration. If you only change 2 blocks worth of data in a 10MB document you’re only using 2 blocks to have the revision.

In OS X you need a separate drive. You can’t use it if you only have one disk. On top of this, it does a complete file copy so if you add a full stop to that 10MB document you just lost 10MB of space for a backup copy. That seems like a pretty bad implementation. Having a separate drive does offer that physical redundancy but the fact is this solution is not designed for drive backups but revision backups so you’re not going to have all your data anyway (unless you’ve edited ALL of it).

I trust future versions of OS X will fix some of this up but explain to me again how OS X is Vista 2.0?

 - JD

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 150 user reviews.

6 April 2006 in Apple | Comments (5)

This is just fantastic news – Apple has released a beta version of Boot Camp – their tool for dual booting with Windows XP.

The install is around 87MB and includes all the drivers needed for the Apple hardware on Windows. This is great because up until now you couldn’t get graphics acceleration on Windows due to the lack of drivers.

All around great news – they’re really pushing hard to get people to switch. Now it makes business sense to buy a Mac as I can still do my development on Windows AND get the best laptop on the market.

Click here for more information about Boot Camp

- JD

P.S. Rumors are already flying that the next version of OS X will include hypervisor technology to run Windows apps from within OS X. Still wild speculation but fingers crossed it’s true.

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 280 user reviews.

17 March 2006 in Apple | Comments (2)

A hacker has managed to successfully install Windows XP on a new Intel Mac and has had it confirmed.

You can download the required files and instructions here.

The jackpot ended up at $13, 354 and has been awarded to the successful individual (who goes by the handle narf2006). The original context page can be found here.

There goes one of the last reasons I had not to buy a MacBook Pro…

- JD

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 295 user reviews.