Posts made in June, 2009

Thoughts on the Safari 4 release timing

Posted on Jun 26, 2009 in Mac, Opinions

Safari 4 logoApple announced and shipped the official Safari 4 release on the first day of WWDC. This was preceded by an extensive beta period, where Mac and Windows users could download the new version and test their websites and web applications with the new Webkit engine included with Safari 4.

Apple received a lot of useful feedback in terms of bugreports and also regarding the user interface changes the beta included ((Customer uproar notably lead to a reversal of the decision to place Safari’s tabs at the top of the browser window.)).

However Apple and website developers aren’t the only stakeholders with an interest in any new version of Safari: Many OS X and iPhone applications rely on Safari’s Webkit underpinnings, e.g. to display web content or generate HTML previews directly within an app. Safari provides the default system-wide Webkit framework, so any update to the browser will also affect those applications reliant on Webkit.

As expected with any major update, many 3rd party apps and plugins required updates to deal with the changes introduced by the Safari 4 beta. This is par for the course and most users expected a few glitches – it was a beta, after all.

But when the final Safari 4 release was announced at the WWDC keynote, it was quite different than the beta versions that preceded it. Cosmetic changes aside, a number of changes had also been made under the hood: The final release (which was automatically distributed to all OS X 10.4 and 10.5 users via Software Update) used Webkit version 530.17 – a notable jump compared to the Safari 4 beta releases, which used Webkit versions 528.16 & 528.17.

Bertrand announcing Safari 4

However, it would be wrong to try to blame the Webkit project in any way: Whilst a large part of the team does consist of Apple employees, it is a separate entity that isn’t directly tied to Apple itself. The Webkit and Safari release schedules also do not seemed to be directly related ((For example: The Squirrelfish JavaScript engine that Apple is touting in Safari 4 (under the “Nitro” marketing name) was announced by the Webkit team well before the Safari 4 beta was released.)).

It’s understandable that Apple would want to include all the bugfixes and improvements the Webkit team added as a result of the beta, but it is a bit disappointing that 3rd party developers weren’t given a chance to test those changes in the shape of a release candidate. As a result, a number of applications, websites and web applications needed to be re-tested with the final Safari 4 release and as usual, some of these required minor updates to restore compatibility with Safari 4 ((Apparently, even the iPhoto team hadn’t been able to thoroughly test 4.0: Safari 4.0.1 was released to specifically address compatibility issues with iPhoto’s Facebook integration & Places feature.)).

Webkit has become such a crucial OS X framework that releasing an update without extensive testing seems careless. To release such a large update on the first day of your own development conference, which developers spend a lot of money to attend, seems downright callous ((And releasing a browser that crashes when customers visit your online store, on the day you release a bunch of new products seems – well, just plain stupid.)). It effectively means that any testing and possible bugfix releases are delayed by at least a week, after developers have returned home from WWDC (and sobered up).

Is this a big of a deal as I’m making it out to be? Probably not: In the grand scheme of things, I’m guessing most developers and users couldn’t care less. But Apple does a much better job in this respect with other products, giving developers ample time and opportunity to thoroughly test their apps against most major iPhone and OS X updates before they’re released. Let’s hope a similar strategy can be adopted for Safari in future as well.

Update:

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes at ZDNet has also written a post outlining a number of Safari 4 issues. More indication that the final release was slightly rushed?

Read More

Peer-to-peer via bluetooth not supported on original iPhone

Posted on Jun 22, 2009 in iPhone, Opinions

No p2p for original iPhoneAn interesting factoid was revealed today via Apple’s Support pages on a comparison chart detailing support for 3.0 features, broken down by iPhone generations. Amongst other things, the chart includes this interesting footnote:

“The original iPhone does not support using Bluetooth for peer-to-peer connectivity. It can use Wi-Fi and cellular data networks for peer-to-peer connectivity.”

This struck me as interesting, as the original iPhone does support bluetooth. In fact, according to Apple’s specs page, it even supports the same Bluetooth 2.0+EDR standard that the iPhone 3G supports. But unlike the 3G model, p2p is a no-go on the old model. This isn’t a huge deal, as you can still do peer-to-peer connections over wifi and the cellular network, so there are still ways to use peer-to-peer with the older model.

Bluetooth peer-to-peer is obviously not supported by the original iPod touch (it didn’t have a Bluetooth chipset), but will be supported on the newer iPod touch 2g, as the 3.0 software fully enables that model’s “hidden” Bluetooth capabilities.

Since Apple has added a slew of other, more useful features to the original iPhone (copy and paste anyone?), this doesn’t strike me like the type of feature they would arbitrarily limit to the newer models to convince customers to upgrade. In fact, peer-to-peer will likely be one of the major attractions of upcoming iPhone games, which Apple has a financial interest in selling to as many customers as possible.

My guess is that implementing this feature on the older device’s chipset would require additional tinkering and engineering time, that Apple has decided is simply not worth it. Perhaps there are even a few technical hurdles that would have limited the feature in some way.

In any case, it’s something worth keeping in mind if you were considering adding peer-to-peer support to your iPhone applications.

(Sad iPhone image by Flickr user TenSafeFrogs)
Read More

Review: Belkin 7-port USB 2.0 Plus Hub

Posted on Jun 14, 2009 in Featured, Mac, Reviews

Belkin7porthubplus03Belkin’s latest version of their popular 7-port hub has been redesigned and adds cable management features. This review will take a look at the changes, design and performance of Belkin’s latest offering for USB junkies.

Design

The first thing you’ll notice is the design Belkin has chosen for this hub: Its rectangular shape means it’ll take up less space on your desk than previous versions, while retaining the two top ports –  useful for USB memory sticks and similar devices. The top ports are also spaced out a bit, so you should be able to connect larger USB devices without any problem as well. The device features an attractive white & blue color scheme – quite a departure from the usual gray, black and silver. Belkin also offer a brown edition of the hub, if white’s not your thing.

Cable Management

At the end of the device Belkin have included a cable loop made out of firm but rubbery plastic The loop can be adjusted slightly, making it easier to cram all your cables inside. The loop allows you to reduce cable clutter, makes for a tidier look and is useful if you need to route one or two of your USB cables to the front of your desk (e.g. for your keyboard). I’m forever losing the business end of my camera’s USB cable behind my desk, so this feature should prove to be very useful.

Belkin7porthubplus13

Build quality

As expected of a device with this price tag, the build quality is great:  the materials feel very solid and smooth and even the power brick feels less cheap than other generic power adapters. The cable loop material is thick enough to be reass  The only slight issue I encountered: The top USB ports were a little ‘stiff’ at first, making it quite difficult to plug in a regular Apple USB cable. After a few times it did become significantly easier though.

Performance

USB 2.0 obviously has performance rates and limits imposed by the standard itself, so you ask whether performance is an issue at all. Often though, you’ll see reduced throughput if you connect a lot of high-speed devices to a single hub. The 7-port Hub Plus performed tremendously though, even with 2 external harddrives, iPhone, digital camera, Logitech wireless mouse, iMic audio interface and printer connected.

The hub also comes with a power supply. Whilst you can use the hub without power, you’ll need it to use (and charge) devices such as iPhones, iPods or USB-powered harddrives.

Belkin7porthubplus02

Support & Warranty

Belkin offer a lifetime warranty of this device and I was pleased to find a single folded piece of paper with all their technical support numbers in the box. Whilst this may seem like a given, a lot of manufacturers will bury that kind of information of their websites. I don’t expect needing a lot of support with a hub, but it’s still nice to know it’s available.

Conclusion

The hub performs very well and will also help you to reduce some of the cable clutter on your desk. If you have a MacBook, it’s great to be able to just plug in a single USB plug and have access to all of your devices. Whilst more expensive than generic hubs on the market, it’s thought-out form, design and functionality are well worth it.

Recommended

The Belkin 7-port USB 2.0 Plus Hub: RRP $49.95

Support Jetplane Journal and buy the Belkin 7-port USB Hub Plus at Amazon. (Brown edition)

Read More

JetReader – a free style for NetNewsWire

Posted on Jun 1, 2009 in Featured, Mac

JetReader is a style I’ve created for NetNewsWire, arguably the best RSS Reader for OS X. This is my first attempt at creating a NNW style, so there may be a few glitches – you’ve been warned!

It’s been designed with legibility in mind, as I’ve found that black on grey is typically easier on the eyes – particularly on the new, very glossy, very bright aluminum MacBook. JetReader also uses a relatively large font size, as I often browse headlines on my secondary display, which is usually a little bit further back. Having said that, I’ve designed the style to fit a 13″ screen, even when using NewNewsWire’s 3-column widescreen layout.

Credits

The style is partially inspired by the excellent Readability bookmarklet from the good folks at Arc90.

Credit also goes out to Antonio Carusone of LegiStyles, whose excellent White Serif style served as the inspiration for JetReader’s header styling.

How to install

To install JetReader, simply download it and double-click the “JetReader.nnwstyle” file to install it into NetNewsWire:

Download JetReader

Once installed, select the style from the bottom right corner of the NetNewsWire window to activate it:

picture-16

Screenshots

(Click for full-sized preview)

Style sample

JetReader Widescreen Layout


If you have any comments / suggestions / bug-reports, please let me know in the comments.

Read More