Three Mac applications I’ve discovered this month that have led me to switch…
It’s difficult to say how specific improvements make up the gestalt of the Firefox 2.0 experience, but Firefox lovers and future switchers are going to heart this release when it comes out next month. For one thing the Mac version is edging closer to “Mac-ness.” There’s clearly been a concerted effort to create a more OS X-feely theme. (And the redoubtable Arronax has already picked up the remaining slack with a beta version of his flagship GrApple theme.) This release also feels a lot snappier than 1.5, which is great because Firefox was starting to feel a little sluggish given its excellent competition on the Mac. The Feeds option in preferences is also very welcome (is it even new? I never saw it before), and led me to see the true benefit of the beautifully crafted NetNewsWire for the first time, but more on that in a moment.
Tabbed browsing is improved in subtle ways (I think this is partly related to the GrApple theme, but it never felt this nice under 1.5 and I used that theme then too). Dragging tabs around the tab bar feels smoother and less risky than previously. There’s also a nice tab scroll feature that triggers when you open more tabs than can fit comfortably between the browser borders. This a nice touch that reminds me of the time-line sliders in some pro apps, but it’s weighed down by placing the scroll arrows at opposite sides of the browser window: the targets are too small and therefore particularly hard to hit with a pill mouse on a 19-inch display. If they nestled together as they do on the vertical scrollbar I think it would make for a much more usable feature.
The nudge that overcame my typical inertia to switch applications was Zotero. Dan Cohen kindly offered me a beta tester slot and I had to upgrade since it only works with Firefox 2.0. I just didn’t expect to like the new Firefox that much. (Zotero is freaking awesome, but that cat deserves a new post.) And so it is that even with the addition of Saft, Safari has fallen from its long-held place as my default browser. I still think Safari renders both text and images better though, and for a recent presentation I gave using S5 it was Safari or bust, and so it remains today. (I bought Saft for it’s excellent full-screen mode, but such functionality should be included in the standard Safari release in my opinion.) The only problem with Firefox 2.0 is that Chris Pederick has yet to release a compatible version of his brilliant Web Developer Extension, and my “Shift + Command + S” finger reflex is forcing my hand to make futile stabs at the keyboard every time I want to rip off a stylesheet and see under the covers. It’s quite anguishing.
Replacing… Sage 1.3.6 for Firefox 1.x.
I think I finally see what all the fuss is about. This application is just beautiful, and it turns out that Command + Tabbing is faster than the Sage key combo and allows me to keep my browser window full size. Nice. NewNewsWire is beautiful to behold (quite like Mail.app but without the weird anti-blue Apple has used for the left panel). Actually I think the interface touches on NetNewsWire make it superior. It’s a classic case of a simple app that does one job very well. That’s my favourite. Because everyone (well, everyone except the minimalists, right Dan?) uses favicons these days NewNewsWire’s left-hand subscribed feeds panel is nice and colourful but neat and with plenty of breathing room. The application icon is just pure genius. I’ve been following Jasper Hauser’s thoughts on the difficulty of creating an icon that describes simply what the software does, but this one is perfect in both concept and execution. And NetNewsWire is fast to refresh your feeds — much faster than Sage I think — and it opens pages in a new tab in the default browser just as quickly. I haven’t tried the “post to weblog” feature. Mostly I am just glad to have a separate application for my feeds, which list is constantly growing further from control. I guess it had to happen eventually. It’s really not Sage’s fault. It’s me.
Replacing… SubEthaEdit 2.5.1.
This one happened in the space of 24 hours. I was working on a site recode yesterday and not feeling Dreamweaver at all. Heartened by news of the latest SubEthaEdit release, specifically John Gruber’s comment about better text encoding support, I went straight to the Coding Monkeys and grabbed me a copy. Then something annoying happened. In overwriting SubEthaEdit with the new version I inadvertently scrapped my non-commercial license in place of a 30-day trial, then must buy scenario. (I see now that Coding Monkeys are making previous versions available, which is cool, so I could easily revert to 2.2 if I wanted to.)
Nevertheless I tried bravely (probably for way too long) to make it work with the new version. I figured that if I liked it, and if the improvements were great, I would fork over and have myself a good alternative to Dreamweaver. Now, I know that this application is not really right for me because it’s designed with a different kind of user in mind (I have never used the program’s collaborative features). But I have a soft spot for it because, after a rocky start with Netscape Composer, SubEthaEdit was how I got into making web pages, and for about 18 months it was the way things were done. Anyway, for some reason yesterday I absolutely could not get the new version to render my code with the correct colours using the HTML/PHP page-type: it kept carrying the HTML comment colour (green) into non-comment source. At one point I even went so far as to replace all 600 lines of indented code with clean, consistent SubEthaEdit 4-space tabs, thinking that it must be an issue with non-visible characters. (Voodoo?) Looked like it was working, but on reopening the file the crazy green was back.
Today at work I needed a text editor. The Mac I was on didn’t have one, and a colleague suggested TextWrangler: just like BBEdit but free. I’d heard of it many times—instantly I knew he was right. I’d completed my 30-day trial of BBEdit a month or so back and just couldn’t make the jump from DreamWeaver because I hadn’t used BBEdit enough to know if I liked it. (Here’s a question: can BBEdit autocomplete HTML character entities? That’s one of the things that saves me so much time in DreamWeaver I’m not sure I can live without it.) Anyway, TextWrangler turned out to be an excellent answer for tracking down a CSS problem, and I’ve already installed it on the home machine where it is now slated to replace SubEthaEdit in 29 days (probably sooner).