Quick note on applications supposedly rendered obsolete by Leopard

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
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).

Of particular interest to me is the situation with LaunchBar and SuperDuper!

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.

2 Responses to “Quick note on applications supposedly rendered obsolete by Leopard”

  1. Warren Beck says:

    Time Machine will not be easily used with single-drive computers, like
    Power/MacBooks, unless it ships with an elaborate caching system that dumps
    changed files to a local or network drive once it is mounted. Such a cache
    will require lots of local disk space. I think that I would rather turn
    Time Machine off and continue to use SuperDuper to do disk cloning; I use
    ChronoSync to do quick updates of my working folder (< 1 Gbyte) to a USB
    flash disk.

    I think that Apple doesn’t seem to appreciate the real needs of technical
    or professional users. But I am sympathetic with the need to announce
    flashy new things that appeal to the masses so that sales will be strong.
    (Consider Microsoft’s “Dinosaurs” ad campaign for Office on the Windows
    side; no one really needs to upgrade past Office 97, so now Microsoft tries
    to spur sales by insulting its user base. Given that VBA will be eliminated
    from future Offices on both the Windows and Mac sides, no one will ever
    upgrade unless Microsoft finds a way to deactivate Office remotely over the

    It would be far more beneficial to us if Apple were to produce a robust
    Finder (FTFF!); perhaps that is one of the “Top Secret” Leopard apps. (I
    think that the “Top Secret” stuff is the origin of the delay of Leopard’s
    release to spring 2007; I’d be willing to wait for a better Finder at least
    that long.)

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    I too think that Time Machine poses a number of under-the-hood challenges in terms of disk space, trash handling, etc. So I fully expect to see many bugs in the initial release. But even once those bugs are worked out, it remains to be seen whether Time Machine will work as well as SuperDuper! for backing up to an external hard drive. Like I said, Apple’s track record in that department is pretty lousy so far.

    As for Microsoft, they are just hopeless.

    If there is a new Finder in Leopard, I’ll see that in the AppleSeed builds, but I won’t be able to tell anyone about it :-). Although I don’t expect such a major change to remain a secret for very long!

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