Category: Hazel

Hazel 2.3 is out

July 13th, 2009 — 1:16pm

Seems like forever since I’ve done a release. There have been odd setbacks here and there but Hazel 2.3 is out at last.

For those that share your machine with others, you’ll find that the App Sweep feature now allows everyone on a machine to have their support files thrown away when someone throws away an app. Everyone that wants to participate has to enable the feature (look in the “Trash” pane). I would have made this not an option but I had visions of people complaining about others being able to see what apps they are throwing away. So, now there’s a checkbox which personally I’d rather not have.

The feature I’m most excited about is, of course, the one that most of my users probably won’t care about or notice. But, this being a developer blog, I’m sure some of you would be interested. In version 2.2, I added an embedded script editor. The AppleScript editor had syntax highlighting because, well, Apple gives that to you. In 2.3, I’ve added syntax highlighting to the regular shell script editor. Of course, it’s not just for shell scripts. Just set the interpreter you want and if it’s one that Hazel knows about (currently, it’s bash, Perl, Python, Ruby and awk), then Hazel will color your code appropriately. Give it a spin and let me know what you think.

Oh, and I didn’t add any UI to configure the highlight colors. If you really hate the color scheme it uses, you can take your XCode color theme and copy/symbolically link it as ~/Library/Application Support/Hazel/Hazel.xccolortheme. I thought about making Hazel just use whatever is set in XCode but I got the feeling that people weren’t using XCode to edit their non-Objective-C stuff. I may change my mind on this in a future release. Feedback welcome.

And of course, there are a bunch of other new features, improvements, and fixes (and probably bugs).

As for the roadmap, there will definitely be another (free) update of some sort before 3.0. Snow Leopard is coming out in a couple months and I need to make Hazel compatible. If you are running Snow Leopard and would like to test, definitely drop me a line.

Comment » | Hazel, Noodlesoft, Software

The Invisible Interface: Stealing Prefs

January 27th, 2009 — 1:52pm

In this installment of The Invisible Interface, we are going to look at stealing preferences. What is stealing preferences? Simply enough, it’s using the preferences of some other app instead of having your own for a particular feature. The point of this is to avoid having to provide a separate interface for settings when the user has already made their choices known somewhere else.

The key here is finding cases where your functionality is more centrally used somewhere else. I’m going to use Hazel as an example but hopefully these will illustrate the point well enough for you to look for where you can apply it yourself.

Spring-Loaded Folders

For those that don’t know, Finder has a feature called spring-loaded folders. What this does is when you drag a file over a folder, after a delay, it will flash and then open that folder so you can drill deeper. It allows you to navigate the folder tree without having to let go of the file you are dragging.

Hazel implements spring-loaded folders as well. It works when you want to move/copy rules in between folders. Hovering the dragged rule over a folder in the list on the left will cause the view to switch to the rules for the hovered-over folder allowing you to drag back into the rule list and place the rule where you want it. [On a side note, implementing this uncovered a bug in NSTableView (at least on Tiger; have not checked with Leopard) resulting in me doing my own implementation of NSTableView’s drag and drop.]

Under Finder’s “General” tab, you’ll see a checkbox and slider to configure these settings. Your first thought may be to provide a similar UI in your app. But why? Does the user really care about tweaking this for each app it appears in? It seems like whatever setting works in Finder will be fine wherever else it is used so why not just use Finder’s preference?

Commonly Used Folders

In Hazel, when you specify a destination folder for some actions (like move and copy), there is a pop-up of folders. You’ll notice that there’s a list of common folders at the end of the pop-up menu. If you look a bit closer, you may notice that these are the same folders in the sidebar of your Finder windows. Those folders are common destinations for files so it’s a good list for Hazel to use. By grabbing that list from Finder, Hazel avoids any sort of extra maintenance/interface for managing that list.

AppleScript Editor

In 2.2, Hazel introduced inline editing of scripts. You are provided with a mini-AppleScript editor right in Hazel’s rule interface. Now, there are potentially different things you can tweak to make the editor suit your needs, such as line wrapping, tab widths and whether to use the script assistant. But if you poke around Hazel’s UI, you’ll see that there’s no interface to set these. That’s because Hazel steals these preferences from Script Editor. If someone is serious enough about editing AppleScript that they care about these settings, there’s a good chance they have Script Editor installed and already set these preferences. By using its preferences, there is a consistency of user experience between the two editors.

• • •

Of course, you can’t do this everywhere. It’s best suited when the functionality is primarily used elsewhere and you are echoing it in your own app. The apps Apple ships with the system are an easy mark since you can usually rely on them being installed and they tend to be the places where common functionality is defined. Overall, the result is a less tweaky and cluttered interface and a more seamless experience with the rest of the system.

Doing the Heist

You can grab other apps’ preferences using either CoreFoundation or Cocoa. With Cocoa, NSUserDefaults is your go-to guy. -persistentDomainForName: does what you want. Give it a bundle ID and in return, you get a dictionary of preferences. What would’ve made more sense is something like +userDefaultsForName: which would return an NSUserDefaults instance, but hey, it’s not like Apple is hiring me to do API design. With CoreFoundation, you can use CFPreferencesCopyAppValue() to pick individual preferences. Again, a bundle ID is needed.

And I can’t leave without placating the more pedantic among you that have to point out the potential dangers of doing this. Therefore, I must note that there is some risk in doing this as most apps do not document their preference settings and they can change at any time. Having default values of your own for these settings should minimize the risk, at least buying you time until you can re-work things to use the new schema. That said, if this is for some critical/primary functionality in your app, it might behoove you to have your own settings for it. As they say, invest only what you can afford to lose, or, to milk the stealing metaphor, don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. And while we’re at it, just say “no” to drugs, kids.

Comment » | Cocoa, Hazel, OS X, Programming, User Interface

Hazel 2.2

July 7th, 2008 — 3:04pm

Yes, it’s finally out. Hazel 2.2 is what I consider the “power user” release. It adds advanced features such as pattern matching and custom tokens (basically, a more accessible form of regular expression matching and substitution, for you programmer types out there), inline scripts and ways for AppleScripts to control the rule flow. There are a bunch of smaller things tucked away in there, some of them subtle in their own ways. Make sure to read the release notes.

Thanks to all the beta testers who found all the bugs there were to find (you guys did find them all, right?) and all the users who have sent in the great comments that motivate me to keep working on this thing. Download it and give it a spin.

As for the future, I’m thinking of 3.0 though I’m not sure what will be in it yet or when it will happen. I also have been mulling over other projects so we’ll see. In the meantime, I look forward to your comments.

Comment » | Hazel, Noodlesoft, Software

On Software Bundles

June 17th, 2008 — 6:01pm

It occurred to me that it’s been about a month since I did the MacUpdate bundle in April. Now that things have settled down I figured I’d share my experiences with it.

Now, there has been some controversy concerning the bundles, boiling down to whether it is a good deal for the developers. After all this, I can’t say that the issue has been fully resolved in my mind but I’ll try to at least clarify the real issues at stake. I want this to be useful to other devs who are considering participating in bundle promotions without resorting to any demagoguery.

Why Did I Do it?

Hazel was included in the bundle with 9 other apps, the main one being Parallels. This was the anchor app that would be the big draw for most users. For me, this was a key thing. Not so much because of the potential sales as much as being associated with some larger name apps. Some people may have considered the bundle a bit boring as a lot of the apps were a bit “mainstream.” But then again, we’re talking apps that you actually see on the shelf in a store. It’s a whole level of distribution and exposure than online. What many people online don’t realize is that a vast segment of the potential user base does not scour the net for software reviews. They’ve never heard of any of your favorite Mac sites. They don’t know and don’t care about the latest Mac scandals, memes and fads. They go buy their software at an Apple store, or maybe on Amazon. Our only chance to get noticed by these users is in the oddball case when they click on that “Mac OS X Software” item in the Apple menu. The point is that for us smaller ISVs without a physical boxed product, it’s an untapped market for us. So, to be able to be associated with a couple apps from that “realm” I felt was an opportunity.

MacUpdate did run full-page spreads in MacWorld and MacLife, not something I would have been able to do myself. There is something nice about seeing your icon next to some bigger names in print. I don’t know how effective they were. The problem with print, of course, is that it’s hard to track. But again, I felt that the association would be helpful.

Now, I’m not going to give specific details concerning the money but I will say that it was a percentage-type deal. The more copies sold, the more money I got. Contrast this with a flat amount that does not vary no matter how well it sells. That said, the amount I got per bundle is way below what my product costs. So why do it? Some reasons:

  1. Volume. They will sell over an order of magnitude more copies than you will during that time period. The hope is that the volume makes up for the huge discount. The hope is more money in total.
  2. Not everyone is buying the bundle for your app. Especially if you are one of the smaller fish, you are probably piggybacking on the anchor app. One way to look at it is that you are getting part of someone else’s sale.
  3. Exposure. Yes, that nebulous thing that is bandied about. It’s hard to make any concrete claims on this one so I think it’s best to not base your decision on this factor alone. You hope your product gets more recognition in the long run but it’s hard to measure that.
  4. Userbase. By building up a large userbase, you have more people to get upgrade revenue from when the next big version comes out. Not having done a paid upgrade yet, I don’t know if this is all that it’s cracked up to be. Anyone with firsthand experience with this is invited to comment.

And of course, what’s bad about doing it?

  1. Cheapening your software. The notion here is that if you are selling your software at rock-bottom prices, people get the perception that it is not worth much. I feel this is valid but I also don’t think doing it every now and then is a big problem. I think the issue is if your product is sold at a discount often enough that people will start to expect it, waiting for the next promo to buy it. Like exposure, it is hard to quantify and so I have a hard time basing any argument on this alone.
  2. Support. Yes, taking on thousands of new customers in a short amount of time will probably result in an increased support load.
  3. Allowing promoters to exploit you. This is more of an ego/sense of justice issue. Fact is, these bundles are pulling in a lot of money. It is unclear whether the developers are getting a big enough slice of that pie. No one likes to be ripped off.

What Happened?

How did it go? Well, the bundle sold 15K copies. From what I can tell, that seems ok. Part of me expected more considering that a big name app (Parallels) was anchoring the thing. Also, it seemed like the unlocking thresholds backfired resulting in lags in the sales rate at certain points in the promotion. Personally, I’m not big on gimmicks but I leave the promotion to the promoters. I did sense a general fatigue amongst consumers with these bundles, though.

As far as the money issue goes, I got a decent chunk. If you look at it solely from a per-copy basis, then yes, it sucked. But the way I look at it is this: My revenue per month is at some amount A. I sell in a burst and rake in something like 3-4x A. Afterwards, revenue goes back to A. Now the last bit is important as it implies, to me, that I didn’t cannibalize (i.e. sold at a discount to a lot of people that would have purchased it anyways at full price) or otherwise negatively impact sales.

Now, while my sales were fine after the promotion, they didn’t shoot up (as some people may expect). This would seem to indicate the lack of effectiveness of the “exposure” element. It’s only been a month so we’ll see how it goes but at the moment, it’s like it never happened.

The question here now is what was lost. I’ll start with the more tangible cost which is support. Now, I had to deal with a support nightmare because the integration of my licensing with MacUpdate was less than ideal. I had to deal with a ton of emails with getting the program registered. Now, I’ll admit my licensing scheme was the odd-man out but I don’t get these issues with my own store. So, in this instance, the support cost to me was a bit high. That said, it was very annoying because I felt it could have been easily prevented or rectified. Outside of the registration snafu, support was not too bad. A moderate burst during the promotion and that’s it.

The other thing to consider is opportunity cost. This is the cannibalization I referred to earlier. Were you losing money to people that would have bought at full price? It’s not a question that can be definitively answered but as I mentioned, I use sales after the promotion as a gauge for this type of thing. If there’s a sales dip right afterwards, that implies to me that a lot of people that were going to buy your product anyways bought earlier to get the deal. In my case, sales were not negatively affected so I do not consider it a significant issue in this case.

Was It Worth It and Will I Do It Again?

I’d say it was worth it, but not in the way people would expect. It was worth it to me in that I got a nice check afterwards without having my sales adversely affected. As for exposure, there may be better ways to get people to know about your app without practically giving it to them. I don’t have a paid upgrade planned out yet so that was not even a consideration for me. For me to do it again, I think I would have to be offered a good deal, percentage-wise. My sense is that these promotions are more effective in the short term than long term.

Now, that doesn’t mean that it is totally ineffective in creating exposure for your app. I have seen signs that people have been turned on to Hazel who had never heard of it before. The issue here is that it has not translated into increased sales (at least so far). Maybe it will help in the long term but since it’s near impossible to quantify, it’s not a prime motivation for me when doing these types of promotions.

Did I Get Ripped Off?

To address the big controversy, no, I do not think I was ripped off though I could’ve done better. Let me start off by saying that I feel that promoters do provide a valuable service. I’ve seen some developers band together with their own bundles with less than stellar results. Fact is, not anyone can just throw their stuff up and expect to sell any large volume. There is skill and work involved in getting people’s attention. Doing it yourself is, well, just doing it yourself. If you already have the pull to get tons of people to pay attention to you, then you probably don’t need to do special promotions for your apps.

Now, I haven’t seen the books for any of these promotions plus the deals probably vary greatly depending on who does them so it may be unfair to lump them all together. But it seems to me that the promoters are getting quite a large chunk and that they can afford to cut the devs a better deal. I’ve seen arguments along the lines of “How can you criticize them? They are getting sales for developers/exposure for their software/donating money to charity/yadda yadda.” This is a logical fallacy. Yes, maybe they are doing some good things, but that doesn’t mean it justifies the bad things. There is nothing that has indicated to me that they can’t do all the good things they already do while providing a more equitable split. Again, I haven’t seen the books but my sense is that there is some leeway there.

I want to make it clear, though, that I have no complaints about my deal with MacUpdate. In the end, it was my deal to negotiate. For me, this was an experiment and knowing what I do now will help in assessing future promotions.

And of course, this is just my experience and your mileage may vary. Especially if you are just starting out, it’s possible the exposure element will be more helpful. I’m not sure how useful the exposure is for the more well-known apps but I suspect that they, having more leverage, negotiated higher percentages. In the end, you have to assess whether it fits with where you and your app are, marketwise.

32 comments » | Hazel, Noodlesoft, Software

Hazel 2.2 beta available for testing

May 29th, 2008 — 1:33pm

This past month I’ve finally gotten some time focus on development and it’s paid off. Hazel 2.2 beta is out. Go to the forums (signup required) for details on how to get it.

The big feature is pattern based matching and substitution. It’s regular expressions for regular people. I still consider it somewhat of a power-user feature but I think I’ve managed to make it accessible to non-programmers. I know some of the programmer-types out there wanted regexes but, really, life is too short for people to have to decipher something like ^(.*)\(\p{N}+\)\.(?:\p{L}|\p{N})+$.

Other features include being able to edit/include AppleScripts and shell scripts inline. This will allow for self-contained rule sets that you can distribute. More date matching operators especially geared towards GTD-like workflows. A couple other more subtle things here and there.

But most of all, this is a momentous occasion because I have finally done it. I have fixed bug #1 in my bug database. Entered almost two years ago, it kept getting carried over to each release’s bug list time and time again. What is bug #1, you may ask? Why, it’s none other than “multiple selection in the rule list”. It’s been one of those rarely requested (maybe 2 or 3 people since Hazel’s original release), low-priority bugs that kept getting overlooked. Well, no longer. I went in and fixed it once and for all (hopefully). Now it looks like bug #4 is the next oldest bug, which, at this rate, I should have closed out in a couple years.

So, if you are fine with running unstable pre-release software that then I invite you to kick the tires. All I ask that you keep all details of the beta to the forums or in emails to me.

1 comment » | Hazel, Noodlesoft

Sponsoring Daring Fireball

May 27th, 2008 — 10:10am

Some months ago I had arranged to sponsor Daring Fireball for sometime in April. Then a certain promotion came up that overlapped with it. Not being big on overlapping promotions I bumped it until later. Then I bumped it again. Then another bump. Then a jump to the left and a step to the…whoops, wrong card.

But this week, finally, I am sponsoring Daring Fireball’s RSS feed. There’s even a promo coupon. I’m not going to tell you what it is as that would defeat the purpose of the promotion. Subscribe to the feed and look for yourself. If it’s not showing up for you, wait towards the end of the week when it will get posted again.

And on a side note, I suggest hanging around the forums (signup required for the beta forum in particular) as there may be some beta news by the end of the week.

Comment » | Hazel, Noodlesoft, Web

Adventures in Debugging: Pref Pane Poppin’ Aplenty

April 23rd, 2008 — 3:34pm

As you may or may not know, Hazel is packaged as a preference pane. While you do all the configuration via the preference pane interface, the actual work of running your rules is done by background processes. The commandline tool that actually runs the rules is stored inside the pref pane bundle. I’ve kept it in the Resources part of the bundle for no good reason except that’s the catch all for all your bundle stuff. But then I thought, “why not stick it in the MacOS dir. That’s where executables are supposed to go, right?”

So, I went into XCode and created a new “Copy Files” phase to copy the built executables into the “executables” dir (which ends up being the MacOS dir in your bundle). I modified the code that launches the program to look in the right place (NSBundle’s -pathForAuxiliaryExecutable: for those of you keeping score at home). It seemed to work. My bundle was now a tad tidier with things in their proper place.

Later on, I was testing something else and noticed that when Hazel was running certain rules, the pref pane icon would show up in the dock and then disappear when the background program was done. Strange enough that a pref pane icon would appear in the dock; stranger that it was being triggered by a non-GUI program. More testing revealed that it happened when Hazel was executing AppleScripts. I tried isolating the AppleScript parts. I checked all sorts of paths. I couldn’t figure out what was causing it. The Pope was in town so maybe he was messing things up somehow.

I checked previous versions to isolate when the bug was introduced and discovered it was only in the last set of changes. Moving the executables back to Resources fixed it.

Problem solved but I had no idea why. After muttering about it in IRC, Mike Ash casually throws out the explanation: “the binary is hitting the window server, the window server notices that it’s in an executable directory of a bundle, sticks it in the Dock.”

Of course, it all sounds so simple when you hear the answer. Calling the AppleScript created the window server connection which then prompted it to throw the icon in the dock as if it were a regular app. Not sure how long it would have taken me to figure that out on my own.

The lesson here is that when faced with a crazy bug, ask Mike Ash. Really, though, don’t do that. He’ll crash his glider into me next chance he gets. The real lesson is that you should be careful about putting executables for background programs in the MacOS directory of your bundle.

Ok, so I can’t pin this one on the Pope. All I know is that I don’t get these types of problems when the Dalai Lama is in town.

2 comments » | Cocoa, Debugging, Hazel, Programming, Xcode

MacUpdate Bundle

April 16th, 2008 — 3:53pm

If you haven’t seen the ads or announcements yet, Hazel is in the MacUpdate bundle that starts today. 10 great apps for $65.

Bundle mates include:

Parallels Desktop
Banner Zest
Sound Studio
DVD Remaster
Art Text

This is the first bundle I’ve been a part of so I’m not sure what to expect. I’ve beefed up the server so hopefully the site will stay responsive throughout the promotion. When it’s all said and done, I’ll post my thoughts on participating. In the meantime, grab it while it’s hot.

1 comment » | Hazel, Noodlesoft

The Noodle in Review: 2007

December 31st, 2007 — 4:20pm

As the year winds down I thought I’d do the obligatory year-end reflection. As usual, I’m overdue for a blog post so this will make good filler until I can come up with something more interesting.

The main thing to note is that I’m now fully indie. What that means is that Noodlesoft is a full-time affair and that it is supporting me financially. This actually has held true for some months now though it’s only now that I’ve realized that I haven’t really mentioned it here. So yes, Hazel has gone from a preoccupation to an occupation. I have done the occasional side contract here and there but Noodlesoft is paying the rent on its own.

After what seemed like an unending beta period, 2007 saw the release of Hazel 2.0. With that release, I felt Hazel had become much more the product I had originally envisioned and its reception has been great. I also dabbled with promotions this year, including MacUpdate and MacSanta, both of which were great successes. Also, a promotion with ScreencastsOnline worked out wonderfully as, in addition to the added sales, I got screencasts out of it which I’m now using on the site.

What didn’t go so well? Well, I’d say the main thing would be Leopard. A lot of stuff broke that shouldn’t have and I’m still tackling Leopard bugs now. Yes, I’ve had access to seeds for some time now but fact of the matter is that a lot of the stuff was fixed by Apple in the final month or so and more stuff broke with the GM and subsequent releases.

I hesitate to make any announcements on what’s in store for 2008 but I’ll mention that Leopard adoption is much higher than I anticipated. As a result, I am seriously considering making Hazel 3.0 a Leopard-only release. What’s going to be in 3.0? I still haven’t worked that out so it will be some time until that happens. Until then, there will still be 2.x releases that will still run on Tiger as there’s still stuff I can put in there that doesn’t require Leopard. And of course, there’s always the possibility of a new app though I have to say that nothing has gotten past the drawing board phase yet.

In any case, 2007 was a good year and I’m hoping that 2008 will be even better. A big thanks to all of you for your support this year and best wishes moving into the next.

Comment » | Hazel, Noodlesoft

MacSanta is back in town

December 7th, 2007 — 1:05am

It’s that time of year again. MacSanta is here, providing discounts on all sorts of Mac software for the month of December. I couldn’t get my act together last year but this year Noodlesoft is participating.

Today, Hazel is one of the apps being featured. That means you can get 20% off Hazel for today and 10% off for the rest of the month. Just saunter on over to the MacSanta site for the coupon codes to get your discount on Hazel as well as some other great software.

Comment » | Hazel, Noodlesoft, Software

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