## 2005/12/21

### Finally, my NewsMacPro 1.2 comments

Well, it’s been too long coming, really. This post is really just a way to give feedback to the developer of NewsMacPro while making sure I don’t just jot down some half-baked thoughts in an email and send them off. Not that my writing up here is much better…

First off, the slightly later than expected (by me, at least) version 1.2 is a huge improvement over the version that received a less than glowing review in a sort-of recent feed reader round-up. The icon is better, and a huge amount of interface clutter has been removed. Furthermore, it now has tabs, so the browser is actually almost useable on its own. (Cf. John Siracusa’s comments that often he spends all his time browsing in NetNewsWire.)

So the interface in general is really nice, but as a whole there are still some rough spots in the application. The reason I’m sticking with the program is that (a) I spent money on it in an impulse buy — it was a good price! — and (b) as an Australian, I guess I’m supposed to “root for the underdog”, to use an American phrase.

### Stability

My biggest complaint is general stability; I’ve had some crashes and other odd behaviour that still haven’t entirely been ironed out with the point-point bug fixes. It’s quietened down a lot, though, so it’s generally useable. Sometimes not, though, which is disappointing.

### Interface quirks

While the visual design of the interface is very nice, the behaviour of the interface, something equally as important, has a couple of unexpected quirks that need to be ironed out.

CMD-W doesn’t close the tab you’re in, it closes the entire window. That’s totally counter-intuitive — I never wish to close the window, anyway, but at most CMD-W should only do so when there are no more tabs open.

There is no “open in background tab” method (that I can find), which is an odd oversight. Middle mouse click or CTRL+click should do so, like every other browser (with tabs) on earth.

Closing a tab selects the next one to the left. This is counter to accepted practise in Safari et al. Furthermore, tab closing is a mouse down event? It should so be mouseup.

Tabs should be dragable. Sorry, that’s just the way it should be these days. Even FireFox lets you…

The three interface layouts are nice to offer, but on a 12 inch PowerBook, there’s really only one that is suitable: Traditional View. By the way, the menu items to switch between views should be ticked to should the currently selected.

The biggest problem I have with NewsMac Pro is that it allows smart folders, but they don’t update until you click on them. There’s little point having an “unread” folder that only tells you how many unread channels there are until you click on it!

Holding down option should allow you to create a smart folder when clicking on the “+” = “add folder” button.

### Improvements

It would be incredibly helpful to have a “next unread channel” button/shortcut, (unless I’ve missed one that already exists).

While it’s nice to have metadata for channels, and nicer to have smart folders for organising, it’s really just a pain to set up. For example, I’d like to tag all of my channels by category, such as “Apple”, “Web”, and “People”, for example, and then have smart folders that will group unread messages for each so I can segregate my reading to specific topics at specific times. In addition, I’d like to be able to browse through the channels to which I’m subscribed, again sorted by category.

So to get something like this, I need to create two sets of smart folders, with smart searches for every single category in both unread and all-read states. As a solution to the tedium of performing this, keyword folders could be created on the fly as new keywords are added to headlines. Think of it as browsing by metadata, which all apps should provide.

### Summary

I haven’t really tried out any other commercial feed reading software. This app is nice, but has a way to go before it’s perfect. I do enjoy using it, and I hope my criticism isn’t taken too strongly — it’s very likely that I couldn’t do what Rory Prior has done; it’s a lot easier to complain when you’re not the one programming the thing!

In closing, best wishes for the future! I’m looking forward to it.

## 2005/12/08

### CSS for dummies

I’ve only a little time, so I’ll begin by including verbatim the couple of notes I jotted down when these thoughts came to mind. Yes, I am embarrassed it’s taken me so long to write more in here.

• What’s the deal with all this CSS stuff?
• How much more powerful is it than LaTeX or ConTeXt?
• Why is its power so surprising to people?
• How on earth did a committee design a language that no-one has full master of?
• Do browser quirks make it the most annoying thing in the world?
• Is 2006 the year that browser quirks are no longer a problem?

Some of those questions will be inflammatory, but I assure you some of them aren’t as daft as they sound without context. So, this was all inspired by an article I read, linked by John Gruber, on re-arrangeable blocks in CSS that the author terms “the One True Layout”.

Now, don’t get me wrong with the tone of the first question I posed above. I’m incredibly impressed with one of the examples, “Nest Rounded Corners”. When you consider that the page uses logical markup, that’s one nice feat of document engineering, if you’ll pardon the expression.

But when I tried out CSS a year or so ago, this example wouldn’t have surprised me. I’m impressed that browser support is now good enough that this kind of thing can be done, but I’m confused about the reaction from the public on the technique. Is it amazing because of the browser support or because of the CSS?

I guess because it’s such a new field, things like this push back the envelope of what’s possible simply because everything is new and the potential of CSS has not yet been realised.

One of the things I don’t understand is how the W3C can invent CSS without having a reference implementation, and without anyone (seemingly) having any idea of the upper limits of its success. I suppose the same thing is true of a programming language, though, so I probably shouldn’t be bothered by it.

Another thing I don’t understand is that although they claim to be writing logical markup, at these extremes the layout is fairly hard-wired into the XHTML. Check out the following source snippet:

<div id="wrapper">
<div id="group_1-8">
<div id="group_1-6">
<div id="group_1-5">
<div id="group_1-3">
<div id="block_1">
...
<div class="verticalalign"> ... </div>
</div>
<div id="block_2">
...
<div class="verticalalign"> ... </div>
</div>
<div id="block_3">
...
<div class="verticalalign"> ... </div>
</div>
</div><!-- close div#group_1-3 -->
<div id="group_4-5">
<div id="block_4">
...


I admit that it’s orders of magnitude better than anything the web has seen previously. And it might look better with real world text and decent indenting. But the fact that everything has to be nested and the CSS values have to be hand-calculated makes the whole thing a lot more cumbersome than I would expect given the ravings of the community about the separation of semantic and presentational markup.

I don’t want to thing about the coding details, but it would be possible in some TeX-based format to write something like this:

\begin{blocks}
\begin{block1}
...
\snap{...}
\end{block1}
\begin{block2}
...
\snap{...}
\end{block2}
\begin{block3}
...
\snap{...}
\end{block3}
\end{blocks}


But again, the layout would be hard-coded and actually getting to this stage in the implementation would be a nightmare (well, for me at least :)). It would have the advantage, however, that the source makes absolutely no reference to the layout of the final document, which isn’t exactly the case in the XHTML. In comparison with the implementation, however, it is a comparative piece of cake to do the layout in CSS.

Anyway, the whole thing’s getting to the stage where I think people have been dreaming about, and it does seem like Safari and FireFox (and Opera) are now emerging as very very powerful document renderers. With IE7 beta due out next year soon-ish, which had better have some measure of parity with those aforementioned, I have high hopes that 2006 will be the year that CSS techniques become mainstream, after 2005’s blossoming.