Apple, development, influence, OS-X, software

Software Influence

All songwriters have influences. For me it’s Sting, Seal, David Bowie, Tina Turner and Motown (yes, I know…). They all make me say: “Gee, I wish I’d written that!”. Writing software is very similar to writing songs: they both start out as totally unorganized ideas and end up on a nice little shinny disk with a sticker price. Derek Silvers, founder of CDBaby wrote a piece entitled “Programming is like Songwriting” about the parallels between these two activities.

While writing SonoGraphx, I tried to think which software products have had a major impact on the way I approach software design. I’m a visual guy, so I’ve always been more interested in graphical GUI than clever text mode utilities (i.e, no vi or emac for me thanks). Yes, I’m a sucker for good graphics. For some reason, most of my influences are on the Mac. I wonder why…

So here’s my list:NextStep

I have long been an admirer of Steve Jobs’s NextStep operating system/GUI. In the 90’s I used to have an add-on (WinDock) that would turn Windows 3.1 into a NextStep look alike (the Mac was just not powerful enough for 3D development). For awhile Next looked a dead company until apple purchased them and turned NextStep into Cocoa.

Apple OS-X

After long days working on Windows, I used to open my Mac just to admire the UI and wish I had the time to develop for it. It’s so good, we often forget it only has 5% of the market. Sure, it’s not perfect: most of the graphical aspects of OS-X (the dock, the beach ball, the candy bars) are more eye candy than useful. However, I feel that UI is like architecture: since you’re going to spend a lot of time in it, it better look good.

Delicious Monster Delicious Library

Will Shipley
got kicked out of Omni, the company he co-founded when he finished college. So he wrote a new product that became one of the biggest hit in OS-X world. The beauty of Delicious Library is that it basically does one thing: scan bar codes. Yet it does it in a way that does not require a manual: you just put a book or CD in front of your iSight and move it until it recognizes it. It reminds us that the best programsis are the one that look like magic tricks: you’re not sure how its done, but it works and it’s cool.

This combinaison of flashy interface and (very hyped) marketing now has a name: Delicious Generation.

Propellerheads Reason

This is the only music product that could figure out just by looking at it. If you’ve ever operated a Mackie mixer, an EQ and a compressor, you know how to use it. Brillant!. The whole rack interface makes so much sense, you wonder why it’s not everywhere (maybe because only audio/video professionals and use racks…). The greatest aspect of this product is to use the TAB key to “turn around” the rack to reveal the patch chords. They thereby solved one of the most complicated aspect of using a DAW: making sense of the I/O configuration.

Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator

How can you not be influenced by something you use everyday? Most of us use less than 5% of their features, yet neither application looks “bloated”. Although controversial at the time (early to mid90’s), I totally agree with Adobe’s decision to use the same UI concepts for both programs. In a way, you only need to learn one to become “adequate” at the other, which is the promise of standardized graphical user interface. I discover something new everytime I use them.

Inventive iClip

This is an excellent example of why it is worthwhile to spend a little time on the visuals. This app originally looked bland, until they hooked up with WidgetMachine and gave it this totally cool look.


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