A Full Decade of idlecircuits.com

Funny how that works, isn’t it?

In any case, my illustrious personal site/home on the internet has now been live for over a decade. I suppose it’s worthy of doing something commemorative for it, but I haven’t the slightest idea what, so I suppose this blog post will have to do.

From an early start ten years ago, the site has gone on to do many things, including provide information for a
broadcast radio show, a narrowly read gaming blog, host over 50 tracks of my original music, provide access to a variety of security and password-generation scripts that I wrote, showcase several of my stories and display my (currently offline) photography portfolio, among many other things.

And yes,
Rocks Galore is still up Happy

So yeah, the site’s been up for a whole decade. You may commence your expressions of joyous merriment forthwith.

Random Review: The OSX App Store

As those with an iDevice may know, the App Store has been Apple’s main method of distributing software for its mobile device offerings, including the iPhone and iPad. Not actually owning any of those devices, I haven’t had much experience with it, but it’s apparently one of the largest software marketplaces for mobile devices today. Of course, it’s also a locked-down “walled garden” that only hosts software that’s preapproved by Apple, and takes a large chunk off the top of software profits for the service of putting software in front of its large audience. Because of this, I’ve had decidedly mixed feelings about the thing, especially as it was the sole gateway for software on mobile devices.
More recently, Apple released the App Store for full-fledged OSX applications, installed automatically with a recent system update. Given that it was there anyway, I decided to try it and see what all the fuss was about. My concerns were still there, but as the App Store is merely a complementary software marketplace for the platform, like Steam, instead of the sole gateway for applications, I thought it might be interesting to see how it would stack up against buying software directly from developers, or searching for software against other sites like C|Net or MacUpdate.
The TLLaughR version is this: While the App Store might work well for the limitations of mobile interfaces, it is woefully inadequate as a software marketplace on the Mac.
That being said, there are a couple of nice things that the App Store does. It does, theoretically, make purchasing easier than buying from disparate vendors on the internet, as you only need to provide payment information once, and then use a single sign-on to buy applications from a wide variety of different software producers. Additionally, the fact that it automatically checks for updates for products purchased through the store is a nice convenience, although software trackers like MacUpdate Desktop do a far more comprehensive job of this (also, the fact that most applications have built-in web update frameworks makes this feature somewhat less necessary). The install process is also fully automated, without separately downloading, going through a multi-step installer, and then a multi-step licensing process like you would do for some software programs bought elsewhere.
Beyond those small conveniences, though, there’s a lot that’s still lacking:
-There is no wish list/shopping list feature on the store, or even a cart function to save potential purchases temporarily. If you’re thinking about a program you saw, your choices are to either buy it immediately, or maybe write down the name somewhere and hope you remember it exists once it disappears off of the front page. I suppose that you can technically copy a link to the program and save it in your own text file somewhere, but it’s not the same. Not having this functionality makes the store even worse than shopping on the web (where you can at least bookmark the page of a program that you’re interested in), makes it hard to keep track of software, and probably costs software developers sales when people forget about their programs because their interests are not saved anywhere.
-There’s no chronological sorting of new applications, or way to tell easily what has shown up since the last time you visit. The “New and Noteworthy” section doesn’t really provide this, as most of the programs seem to stay there for quite some time (and by the way, claiming that Call of Duty - yes, the original, first game in the series - is “new” just because someone finally got around to porting it to the Mac is a bit disingenuous). Contrast this to any major software site, where there’s a daily listing of everything that’s been updated. With the App Store, you’re left staring at the same old things, and have to manually sift through each of the categories to find out all that’s new.
-It’s hard to find decent software amidst all the random junk. While this is changing somewhat with more serious applications showing up, the store is absolutely flooded with people trying to cash in with random ports from the iPhone/iPad, mainly consisting of simple games that anyone with an actual computer and internet connection can play online, for free, at any number of flash game sites. For example, take a look at the top 10 paid applications: they consist of Apple’s own software, a cache cleaner utility, a $1 photo effect app, and Angry Birds, which as I understand it is a more colorful variant on Crush the Castle, which you can play free online. Now, perhaps this would be less of a problem if there was a way to better sort the software available, but as it is now, unless you know what you’re looking for, you end up sorting through tons of chaff before finding something actually useful, unless you know exactly what you’re looking for in the first place (in which case, both you and the developer are probably better off just buying direct). This is partly due to my next point: an overall lack of program information.
-Browsing through programs gives you very little useful information on them. All you get is the name, an icon, the category, a star rating, and a price. Given that plenty of icons and names are ambiguous, you have to actually click through to tell what anything is (contrast this to most software sites, which have at least a sentence or paragraph with a basic description of the program’s function). Accounting for Management, for example, has a sort of generic-clip-art icon, and gives no clue as to what it actually is )while you might think it could be a piece of accounting software, it’s actually some sort of online course/textbook wrapped in a program (in fact, throughout the site you will find things that look like an application you’re looking for, but are in fact just an interactive tutorial for it). Even when you click through on some programs, the description just has some random version notes, and you have to click to expand it and scroll down a ways just to find out what the application even does! This opacity makes looking for new software a chore, as you have very little to go on in any of the standard browsing modes.
-There is a ratings system... but you can’t rate or comment on anything unless you’ve bought it from the store. This prevents people from posting warnings about software without first shelling out for it, which could be problematic. For instance, Cyberduck, an open-source/donationware FTP application, can be freely downloaded online, but on the app store, it’s retailing for $24 (hopefully by the people making it, which it appears to be). However, I can’t point out this fact on the store without making a $24 mandatory “donation.” I can see where Apple is coming from here (having to buy the program makes it harder for people to anonymously slag something without the guarantee of having tried it), but it does limit the reviews. Apple seems to have forgotten that people can get software from plenty of other places than its store, and may have tried the software elsewhere and have a legitimate opinion to offer. Because of this, the rating system may be lacking a lot of input from legitimate users that simply happened to buy the software elsewhere.
-There is no way to “narrow down” a search. Unlike a software website, there’s no way to easily search for different software attributes - just Apple’s predefined categories, and their various top lists. You can use the search box for keyword searches, which seem to work decently most of the time, but there’s no way to then narrow the results with additional criteria (free/shareware/commercial, price ranges, etc.)
-As far as I can tell, there is no way to demo a product on the App Store, aside from some various stripped-down applications in the “free” section. While many of the products available are technically “shareware” and have various demos available on their own sites, this often isn’t clear in their listings on the App Store. While you can of course go to the developer’s own site and see about tracking down a demo, the app store doesn’t give you much to go on besides a short description and handful of screenshots to make your purchasing decisions.
Separately, these issues are annoyances, but taken together, they make for a store that makes it rather difficult to find decent programs. I realize that this sounds more like a litany of complaints than a review, but given the nature of the App Store, I think it deserves a solidly critical look. Unlike most software listing sites, Apple takes something like a 30% cut of the profits for the privilege of being on its store, and should provide something for that. However, beyond the delivery of a semi-captive audience (with the mandatory installation of a store as part of a software update, something that would have gotten Microsoft prosecuted had they tried something similar), I’m just not sure what advantages, if any, the App Store has to offer. As far as I can tell, it’s harder to find software, harder to find information on that software, and harder to try software than simply searching a software update site or searching for applications and developers directly. The only part that’s (slightly) easier is buying, but I just can’t see how that justifies butting your head repeatedly against the store’s limited and unwieldy interface.
What it all adds up to is a situation where, a few minutes after I start up the App Store, I am quickly reminded of why I do it so infrequently - aside from taking a quick browse to see if anything interesting and free has cropped up, it doesn’t help or encourage me at all to seriously consider buying software through it. While it’s a start, I guess, I can’t see anyone using it seriously until it has the full set of features one would come to expect in an online store.


MPAA: For Your Consideration

In the grand tradition of the banal general-purpose blog, the following is me being angry on the internet.


Today, I got The Book of Eli out from Netflix and sat down to watch it.

I watched as it displayed an antipiracy warning.

Then the studio logo.

eight minutes and twenty seconds of unskippable previews.

For your consideration, movie executives:

Let’s say I’m trying to sell you, well, anything that you want to make use of. And every time you wanted to use it, you have to sit through almost ten minutes of advertising. Would you actually pay me money for something that inconvenient?

And yet, for all intents and purposes, you’re asking the same thing of your customers.

Did you ever, for one instant, consider just how much people hate this?

I have to ask the obvious question: is your business strategy actually to discourage people from buying your products?