Keyboard futures

Das Keyboard over at Ars Technica. It’s a 2.6 pound monster with German-engineered mechanical gold-plated key switches. It’s designed for performance, durability, and loudness. Yes, loudness. If you miss the audible feedback from keyboards of yore, this is for you. To give you a sense of how loud it is, the company also sells reusable earplugs. It’s expensive (over $100), but if you like this sort of thing, you probably can’t do better.

Me, I prefer silence while I type. But what appealed to me about Das Keyboard is that the company offers a model without any key markings. I’m a Dvorak typist, so I rarely look at the keyboard anyway. Some part of me thinks it would be great fun to have a keyboard with blank keys, mainly because it would satisfy my inner Secret Squirrel impulses.

Reading about Das Keyboard reminded me of a post I wrote in 2008 about the Optimus Maximus, an industrial art creation from the studios of Art. Lebedev. At the time this fancy keyboard was still in development, but it’s now available for purchase. Cost-wise, it makes Das Keyboard look like a great bargain. It costs $2,400. No, that is not a typo.

Maximus OptimusWhy so expensive? First, it’s not a mass market product. It’s produced by an impressive design studio with a guiding business principle of ‘no bullshit.’ Hard not to like that. If you buy one, you can say you own a ‘work of Art.’ Second, it’s a fantastic-looking keyboard and, as far as I know, the only one of its kind. Each key is an independent stand-alone OLED display. That means that each key can transform into whatever you need it to be. While this is great for Dvorak typists, imagine the possibilities for people who want to change key functions for different languages, for games, or for application-specific functions. Check out the demo.

Back in 2008, rumors were circulating about the possibility of an Apple keyboard that also used OLED keys. I’m still waiting for it. I would bet that it already exists, hidden away in a secret lab, just waiting for mass technology to catch up so it can be released at a relatively affordable price. I still think, as I did in 2008, that this the future of keyboards. The question, of course, is if there is a future for keyboards. Will we still use these devices in 2020?

in gear | 396 Words

Aviary Now Free

Aviary, a slick collection of browser-based design and editing tools that I wrote about last February, is now free.

From the Aviary blog:

We have long felt that to better serve our core mission our complete feature set needed to be in the hands of everyone – not just those who could afford it. Fortunately, our recent round of funding (by Spark Capital, Bezos Expeditions & others) enables us to finally achieve this goal…

Aviary remains a socially-focused suite of applications, meaning that sharing and derivative works are encouraged. ‘Free’ means that all users may now save private files, add custom watermarks or go watermark-free for creative works, and access all Aviary tutorials. As opposed to the free online version of Photoshop, there are also no storage limitations (Adobe charges you if you go over 2GB).

This is an amazing collection of free tools. For those who are following the current Flash debate, note that these tools are Adobe Flex/Air-based. For artists, note that you own full rights to all works you create with these tools. For those who can’t afford the pricey Adobe Creative Suite apps, note that this suite is a surprisingly powerful alternative.

I like to think of Aviary as a creative playground. Even if you own the Adobe Creative Suite, you may still find that the Aviary tools are a lot of fun to play around with, especially Peacock (the Effects Editor).

in tip | 237 Words

Indie Developer Spotlight: Macworld 2010

Over 100 independent developers have signed up to offer their wares at a 20 percent discount during Macworld, Feb. 11-13. The list includes some great apps, including MarsEdit, Launchbar, TextSoap, Little Snitch, EagleFiler, Together, Default Folder X, Hazel, BusyCal, TextExpander, 1Password, and PathFinder.

Google Buzz

I just set up Google Wave Google Buzz for one of my Gmail accounts. My initial impression is that this is a tool with a lot of potential (unlike that other GTool that was supposed to change email forever).

Tim O’Reilly posted a good overview and perspective on the newest Google buzz, detailing how it brings the ‘power of asymmetric following to email.’ If you’re wondering how it’s different from Google Wave (and why it’s better), O’Reilly says it’s because of the Gmail integration:

In some ways, Gmail Buzz brings many of the benefits of Google Wave to Gmail. Every Buzz item can be turned into a conversation (much as in Wave or Friendfeed.) People can comment on your Buzz, comment on your comments, or @ reply you. Sure, it lacks the hyper-cool wiki-style shared editing features (though those perhaps could be added in a future release), but it also lacks the critical flaw that made Wave into more of a “concept car” than a real product: I don’t have to adopt a new tool or build a new social network. It just adds rich new capabilities into the tool and network that I already use.

That’s exactly right. I tried to use Google Wave a couple of months ago with several of my friends, but we abandoned it after a few half-hearted sessions. The lack of Gmail integration was a primary factor. It also wasn’t very compelling, given that we already used other tools that did similar things. And that’s another reason that Buzz is better: it connects to other sites we already use, most notably Google Reader and Twitter.

Yojimbo 2 Review

Yojimbo was one of the better information managers on the market when I reviewed it back in March 2008. Yojimbo 2 was released last November. This new release sports more than a new logo (as an aside, I’m sad to see the old logo go. It went well with the product name). Anyway, the new version addresses most of the concerns I had about the first version—the main item being that Yojimbo’s tagging structure needed work, particularly in light of the fact that Yojimbo emphasizes the tag as a primary organization tool. Now, that problem is fixed. Here, then, is a brief look at what’s new.

Tag Explorer

The single most important feature of Yojimbo 2 is the new Tag Explorer. It’s a clever implementation. The Bare Bones team says it’s a way to look at your collection of items from the ‘inside out.’ What that means is best understood by actually using it, but I’ll attempt to explain how it works in words by way of example.

Say I want to sift through all the items in my Library to find specific documents related to this blog (tag: ‘vfd’) and Linux (tag: ‘linux’). Assume I haven’t created any subfolders to organize my files, so I start by selecting my Library to reveal a list of all the files contained within my Yojimbo database.

Once I select my Library, the Tag Explorer reveals all tags used throughout my entire collection, along with an annotation of the number of times the tag is used. In my case, I have 32 items in my Library marked with ‘vfd.’ I want to find items tagged with both ‘vfd’ and ‘Linux,’ so I start by selecting ‘vfd’ from the Tag Explorer. Three things then happen:

1. The items in my Library are instantly filtered so that I only see the specific files tagged with ‘vfd.’

2. The tag filter I’ve chosen (‘vfd’) is promoted to the Tag Filter bar (new in Yojimbo 2) that appears above the list of Library items. If you’ve used tagging in other apps, the appearance of the ‘promoted’ tag will be familiar. It makes it very easy to see which filter is currently being applied to your document list. Take a look at the screen shot if you want to see what I’m talking about.

3. The Tag Explorer view changes to reveal only tags related to ‘vfd.’ What does ‘related to’ mean? In my case, I have many items that use the tag ‘vfd’ that are also tagged with other keywords. So what I see in the Tag Explorer is that, of the 36 items in my library tagged with ‘vfd,’ four items are also tagged with the word ‘linux,’ 14 items are also tagged ‘post drafts,’ two items are also tagged ‘wordpress,’ and so on.

If I then choose the ‘linux’ tag from the Tag Explorer, that tag is then promoted to the Tag Filter bar. I now have two filter parameters in place: ‘vfd’ and ‘linux.’ And, as you would expect, I’m presented with a list of the items in my Library that are tagged with the words ‘vfd’ AND ‘linux.’ At this point, the Tag Explorer bar appears empty because there are no other related tags. In other words, I’ve drilled down as far as I can go.

Once I’m ready to search for something else, I deselect the tags ‘vfd’ and ‘linux’ from the Tag Filter Bar. Voilà, I’m back to the complete list of all items in my Library.

Yojimbo still features the handy, familiar option of organizing with static folders, in which you can collect whatever you want. But the best way to manage folders with this app continues to be the Tag Collection. These smart folders work as you’d expect: choose the tag (or tags) you’re interested in, and the folder will magically populate with items that match that criteria. New to Yojimbo 2, tag collections now allow you to choose if you want your folder to group together all items in your Library that match a selection of tags, or any items that match a selection of tags. That’s very useful.

There is one other improvement to mention related to tags, and that’s the Tag editor. You’ll find it under Window > Show Tags. The editor presents a list of all of the tags used in your Library, along with number counts. It’s the same view that you see from the Tag Explorer if you select your Library as a starting point. What’s special about this view is that it allows you to easily batch manage tags: change a tag name, delete a tag, or merge two different tags. These changes are implemented Library-wide. It works great, but be careful. The ‘merge’ and ‘delete’ tag commands cannot be undone. Also note that the merge command works with as many tags as you wish to merge together, but your newly-merged tag set will adopt the name of the top-most tag in your selected group. The Tag editor is actually a dual-purpose tool that also contains a Label editor. Here, you can batch change label names and label colors. You can also delete labels. However, you can’t merge multiple labels.

I think Yojimbo nails it with the new tagging features. However, if you only have 100 or so items in your Library, you may find that organizing your items by folder remains the easiest way to go. But if you’re dealing with a huge Library with items tagged with multiple names, it can be a huge time saver. My only complaint with the new tagging setup is that the Tag editor (Window > Show Tags) is not easy to get to. It’s a minor thing, but it’d be nice to have a key combo option to pull this up. It might also be nice to have the option to place a shortcut (icon) for ‘Tags’ in Yojimbo’s Toolbar for easy access.

Other Refinements

There are number of other nice refinements in Yojimbo 2, my favorite of which is the improved Quick Input panel. As in the last version of Yojimbo, selecting F8 pulls up this panel. And as before, Yojimbo guesses which kind of item you’re trying to create based on what’s in your clipboard. It typically guesses correctly in my experience. What’s new here is that you can now add more metadata to the item you’re creating (name, tags, flags, label, and comments). This makes the Quick Input much like that of EagleFiler, and it’s a handy way to knock out the finer points of filing right from the start. Chances are (if you’re like me) you won’t otherwise get around to it later.

The Drop Drock also received a minor refresh in this update. New is the ability to drag and drop items to a Tag Collection to auto-assign tags; and you can now flag items by dropping on a ‘Flagged Items’ zone. As I said in my EagleFiler review, I prefer this kind of screen-edge style for Drop Docks because it’s easier to access. Truth told, though, I’m not a big Drop Dock fan for purely aesthetic reasons. I prefer to use a key command to enter new items. That said, Yojimbo does a good job with this.

Searching for items in Yojimbo is also supposed to be faster now, but I didn’t notice the difference. That’s likely because my Library is not that big. Search was already very fast in my experience. Added to the speed improvement, search now auto-completes tag and label names for you as you type. You can also refine where you’re searching by holding down the Option key and selecting multiple collections (folders).

While I think the new Tag Explorer is great, I tend to use the Search function with more frequency because it’s faster. By selecting the magnifying glass in the search field, you can choose to search only tags, content, the comment field, name of an item, or all of the above. I like to leave mine set to ‘Tag.’ I found that I could generally find what I’m looking for faster this way than with the Tag Explorer. Again, with a really large Library, this likely wouldn’t work as well. The more items in your Library, the more tags you have, and the harder it will be to remember the name you used to tag something.

Last up, Yojimbo 2 also improved their PDF workflow in this release. If you choose to print an item from another application and save as a PDF to Yojimbo, you now how an option to add metadata to the PDF before it’s printed.

The Verdict

For long-time users of Yojimbo, this new release delivers some great improvements that make it a worthwhile upgrade. For new users, it remains one of the best solutions I’ve seen to easily capture snippets of info, mainly because it’s so easy to use.

1. Could I figure out how to use the application with minimal fuss (without documentation)?

As I noted in my first Yojimbo review, the developer maintains that there is ‘no learning curve.’ This is largely true, although you may find the Tag Explorer a little weird at first until you get used to it.

2. Was I still enthusiastic about using the application after a week of use?

Yes. With the addition of more robust tagging support and improvements in ease of adding metadata to files, Yojimbo has answered the mail for most of the issues I had with the first release.

3. How well does the app integrate into the Mac OS?

Very well. There are a variety of ways to get things into Yojimbo that are all tightly integrated. Yojimbo supports MobileMe syncing for other Yojimbo installations on your network. Yojimbo data is also Spotlight indexed.

4. How did the program ‘feel?’ How ‘Mac-like’ is it?

This application has a great feel to it. The minimalist interface and the eye-catching iconography make it a real pleasure to use.


How does Yojimbo fit on the triangle? I’d say it’s about 25% file organizer; 70% notebook; 5% visualizer.

EagleFiler Triangle Plot

So far, I’ve reviewed EagleFiler and Yojimbo. Yojimbo is a reliable, speedy and handy tool. With this new release, I think Bare Bones maintains the products broad appeal, especially for those who want a general-purpose, easy to use snippet box to hold a wide range of items for easy retrieval. The new tagging features are easy to use and may get some people who’ve never tried this organization method to give it a go. Those who rely heavily on tagging will most appreciate this update, though.

EagleFiler still stands out to me as a better ‘industrial strength’ choice for file organization, and I’m still partial to a flat file storage solution vs. the database storage of Yojimbo. The main reason for that is about my future usage: if I stop using EagleFiler at some point in the future, I don’t have to export my files. There’s nothing to export. And all of my tags and labels will be maintained. However, when I export my Yojimbo items, the tags and labels are lost (unless I’m missing something?). If I intend to keep using Yojimbo forever, this wouldn’t be an issue. But I’m not sure I want to make such a long-term commitment.

I haven’t decided if I’ll upgrade to Yojimbo 2 yet. I’m going to wait until I finish this review series to make the choice. I very well may end up using more than one tool, and there’s certainly room for that in this category of Mac app.

Yojimbo is offered at $39. An upgrade version is available for registered version 1.0 users for $20. There is a full 30-day trial available to test it out.

Next up on the Mac MIP review series is an examination of Together from Reinvented Software. I’m just beginning my trial period now, so please be patient!

An iPad ‘must read’

OK, I’ll stop with the iPad posts after this (for now) … but I want to share this link to an article from ‘emergent by design.’

This is good stuff. The author incorporates links to a bevy of ‘best of’ reads about the iPad from a wide variety of sources, captures some great pull-quotes from this round-up, and ties it all together in one well-written, insightful post.

P.S. You may notice that I’ve created a new ‘iPhone OS’ category for iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad-related posts. According to an article I just read, maybe I should call it ‘iPhone OS Products.’

iPad Effect on Small Mac Developers?

Interesting commentary from the developer of Scrivener, one of my all-time favorite apps. What does the iPad mean for small indie developers?

The resulting implication is this: either you build an iPhone/iPad
version of your application, or you miss out on all the users that
wanted a netbook and so bought the iPad—because the iPad is Apple’s
answer to the netbook.

I’m not saying it’s a bad direction, but I do wonder where that will
leave those of us still tied to traditional platforms such as OS X in
five years time.