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Blog archives for March 2008

The Price of Free


First off, I realize that I'm a little late to blog about this, but this past weekend I've been in the process of moving. I'll certainly be posting more on that in the not-too-distant future, but suffice it to say that I've been a little busy these past couple days...

Anyway, last week, I was thrilled to hear from my friend Daniel Jalkut of Red Sweater Software that Leo Laporte singled out and mentioned Pukka on MacBreak Weekly, his weekly podcast, as a Pick of the Week. Ever since I learned that both Leo and productivity geek and frequent show guest Merlin Mann had used Pukka, I was hoping that they would mention it. A few months ago, my friend Jim alerted me to the fact that Pukka's posting sound effect appeared in the middle of a MacBreak Weekly episode (Episode 65, about 10:20 into the show) but no mention was made of Pukka -- though obviously someone was using it during the show! That's why in this past week's episode, when Leo and the guys spent a good chunk of time talking about Pukka, I was really excited! I found the spot in the show (Episode 82, about 1:36:18 into the show) and my wife and I sat down to listen.

On the whole, I was quite happy with the feedback -- after all, Leo said "I love Pukka" and "Pukka is simple -- it just does what it does." But pretty quickly, though the feedback about the app never went negative, I heard something that made both my wife and I take pause -- "They shouldn't charge for it, but they do."

I'm not going to rehash arguments for and against this, as Daniel wrote eloquently on this and received 87 comments on his blog post before he closed commenting. I really wanted to get my word in there, but the time for that conversation has passed (however, you should still go over there and read both Daniel's excellent analysis as well as the many thoughtful comments if this is a topic of interest for you.) Other folks also got their say on their own blog posts: Michael McCracken, Tom Armitage, Matt Johnston, and Baron VC, for starters.

One of the commenter's thoughts, about Pukka being no more than two hours of work, is ludicrous enough that I'm not even going to address it save mentioning a few nuggets of Pukka's programming that could keep you busy for more than a couple hours each:

  • AppleScript support
  • Spotlight support with Core Data
  • Scalability testing on up to 25,000 bookmarks
  • Custom managed object deletion policy in Core Data (Hint: when deleting a bookmark, only delete each of its tags if it was the last bookmark for that tag, and when deleting a tag, only allow deletion if all of its bookmarks are deleted, but maintain a consistent and responsive data set during these transactions. Also, see above re: 25,000 bookmarks.)
  • Sparkle support: Cocoa code, but also a distribution and appcast feed update process.
  • Working out fun API issues like inconsistency and client throttling.
  • Trying to implement dockless mode while maintaining future compatibility with Leopard code signing. Also, taking the time to blog publicly about it as a way to help other programmers as well as to open your own thinking to analysis & criticism by others.
  • Dealing with a Leopard API instability that is core to your application. Also, taking the time to blog publicly about it for your users and for other developers.
  • Doing the above with an installed user base on Tiger and Leopard.
  • Doing the above, while providing what I feel is an above average level of support, for two years.

I'll leave that argument as is -- blame the above list on a lot of driving in the past few days while thinking about that specific comment ;-)

It's true, at first glance, Pukka may not look sexy (it doesn't produce smoke effects, after all) and may seem to be nothing but a simple form-like frontend to a free, public service, but as many kind commenters on the above-mentioned blogs have pointed out, and as Leo himself summarized when he said, "It doesn't do much -- I just love it!", Pukka represents hours and hours of thought and planning and attention to the user experience -- that is what is king in the Mac software business. Mac software for me is like a good relationship -- the more time you invest in the software, the more richly you will be rewarded with little surprises and delights along the way. You can see the kernel of this idea in my first post here over two years ago:

I set out to write a program that does the actual posting and I had it working that night. It grew from there as I lovingly tweaked it and worked with beta testers to make it better. I hope you like it. What’s more, I hope that you’ll support my efforts so that I can keep the creative juices flowing.

I followed that up a few months later when I started charging for Pukka:

If you look at my blogroll, you’ll see over 30 Mac developers or products that I admire, nearly all of which I use and have paid for, if they charge. I’ve easily spent several hundred dollars on Mac shareware [...] The Mac has shown me what it has undoubtedly shown you — that software is art, and Mac users have deeper loyalties than price points.

On the topic of pricing, it's true that there is some voodoo to determining the price of a piece of software that you've created, and I say that even though I do not make my entire living off of Mac software (though I will point out that Pukka enabled me to bootstrap my own business, including starting out on my own and enabling me to attend developer conferences and meet like-minded entrepreneurs.) I don't typically like to quote the same blog when discussing two different points, but again Daniel Jalkut nails this topic in his post The Price is Wrong from several years ago (there's a reason Daniel attracted a Daring Fireball link and 87 commenters on his latest post.)

I'm all on board with free software if it works for the developer -- in fact, the day the MacBreak Weekly episode was published, I released a little freeware application called Snarf for icon designers. I maintain and build Drupal modules. And before that, I released a number of open source programs like Ticketsmith, spliff, and purgeimap.

But for me, it all comes down to this: what will the market support for an application that, for the right user, adds at least that amount of value to their workday? For me, right now, that's what I'm charging for Pukka. I hope that you agree, but if not, I fully support your right to make a better application, at a price point that works for you, or to use the free services that Pukka works with yourself directly. And I'll even help you out if I can, because others have certainly helped me along the way.

Fun with Cocoa: Snarf

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A friend of mine asked me today if I knew of a quick and easy way to preview an ICNS file as it would look on an application in Mac OS X's dock. I didn't, aside from opening an existing app's bundle and overwriting its icon or something like that.

Late tonight I decided that I could probably whip up a tiny app to accomplish this sort of thing in far less than an hour, and I did! So I give you: Snarf (requires Tiger or Leopard). Snarf allows you to drag an ICNS file either onto its main window or onto its dock icon and will instantly update to use the dragged file as its new icon.

There's not much more to say than that, so enjoy!

SXSW is happening!

Another conference update -- I'm at SXSW in Austin, Texas. If you'd like to follow my whereabouts, hear what I'm up to, and/or would like to meet me, you can follow me on Twitter. I can't promise that it will always be coherent as time is limited and my sub-iPhone-quality SMS messaging is not the easiest, but it seems to be what all the kids are using and it's helping me out in a big way to figure out where people are headed and what sessions are good or bad.

So again, meet me at South By Southwest -- I hope to see you here!

Come say hi at Drupalcon Boston!

Though I'm headed to SXSW in Austin later this week, I'm in Boston right now for the twice-annual Drupal conference, aptly named Drupalcon. If you're around, say hi -- this is a fairly good representation of what I look like, though sadly I do not have my hat, or at least a non-winter hat. It's kind of cold up here!

Today, the first day, was pretty engaging and inspiring. I'm excited to see the roadmap for the future of Drupal, and I'm always on the lookout for knowledge that will benefit me both in the Drupal services that I provide as well as some cross-pollination of ideas between both web services and Mac desktop software, be they data storage, user interface, industry trends, or any number of other issues. Not to mention meeting & hanging out with some great folks!

Probably the most interesting session so far for me was the last, on Drupal in China, covering issues as varied as outsourcing & off-shoring, governmental technology initiatives, software piracy, language barriers & internationalization, community involvement, and lifestyle & free-time activities -- which of course, if you look at them, are all integral to China's current standing and future trajectory in the technology scene. Really interesting and fascinating stuff!

Though it's of course easy for me to hang out with the large DC representation up here, I do need to meet some other folks, so again, don't be shy -- come say hello. And enjoy Drupalcon!