August 9th, 2006 • 2:41 pm
Phill Ryu has a post about third-party applications that are supposedly on Apple’s “hit list” with the feature set announced for Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard).
The future of LaunchBar is supposed to be threatened by the fact that, in Mac OS X 10.5, Spotlight will also function as an application launcher, which is LaunchBar’s primary function. Well, if the current implementation of Spotlight in Mac OS X 10.4 is any indication, LaunchBar’s developer doesn’t have to worry too much.
Spotlight already lists applications that match the keyword(s) you are typing. However, the default option selected in the Spotlight results menu is “Show All,” not the closest match, so you have to scroll down the list to select the desired application. Maybe Spotlight 2.0 will select the closest match that is an application automatically by default, but with the current flaws in Spotlight’s UI, I wouldn’t count on a very usable implementation of this. (When you start a Spotlight search, Mac OS X continues to build the results list even after it first appears, and this causes all kinds of interface hiccups and general unpredictability.)
In addition, LaunchBar actually uses a rather smart abbreviation scheme to make it easier to select files without having to type entire keywords in full. There is absolutely no indication that Spotlight 2.0 will have any kind of abbreviation scheme, so unless you are prepared to type your desired application’s name in full each time you want to launch it, Spotlight 2.0 won’t be very convenient as an application launcher. It’s OK to have to type “mail” to launch Mail, but do you really want to type “netnewswire” in full each time you want to launch it? (In LaunchBar, I can type “nnw” to launch NetNewsWire.) Maybe Spotlight 2.0 will only need “netnews” to match NetNewsWire, but that would still be too much to type for me.
Moreover, LaunchBar is more than just an application launcher. One of its many excellent features is the “search templates” that let you launch searches in sites like Amazon.com and the Internet Movie Database without having to load the sites in your web browser first. Compared to this, Spotlight still is and will remain a desperately application-centric feature. If you want to search for a specific movie title in the IMDB, you will still have to load the IMDB site in Safari first and then type in your search request. LaunchBar, on the other hand, is beautifully user-centric.
Finally, as noted by Phill Ryu, LaunchBar has already had competition from the free Quicksilver for a while, and that hasn’t killed the product. (I have tried Quicksilver myself a couple of times, but each time the application appeared to choke on my hundreds of thousands of files while it was trying to index them. LaunchBar has never choked in my several years of using it on a daily basis, so in my view it’s well worth the price tag.)
The other apparent candidate for obsoleteness that interests me is SuperDuper! Supposedly Time Machine will make it unnecessary to purchase a third-party backup package.
It’s funny how people sometimes conveniently forget the present when discussing the future. Apple already has a backup software package as part of its .Mac subscription offering (although it’s currently not advertised anywhere on the .Mac web site). The application is called Backup and it’s supposed to already provide some of the features that Time Machine will provide, namely the ability to backup your hard drive to an external volume.
Well, as someone who has had a .Mac subscription for a while and has actually tried at some point to rely on Backup for his backups, I can tell you that I certainly won’t be in any hurry to switch from SuperDuper! to Time Machine. Backup had several pretty horrible bugs in the past, and never really worked all that reliably.
In addition, when something doesn’t work quite right with SuperDuper!, you can e-mail the application’s developer, and you usually get a reply within 24 hours. Until Apple provides this level of quality with its own backup software/service, I think SuperDuper!’s price will remain well worth the expense.
It might very well be that, in some areas, Apple has managed to kill off some independent software developers by integrating features into its operating system. But when I see how much I still depend on third-party tools such as Default Folder X, DragThing, Spell Catcher X, LaunchBar, etc., even after all these years, I am not really worried for these independent developers. They consistently seem to get things about the Mac platform that Apple itself doesn’t seem to get. And I, for one, will continue to be 100% behind them and dutifully pay for my software upgrades and licenses.