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Brent Simmons’s weblog.

Omni Job: Senior Front-End Web Developer 11 Oct 2019, 9:30 pm

Omni’s hiring a Senior Front-End Web Developer to work on OmniFocus for the Web.

Omni’s a truly great place to work. You’d have your own office — and there’s a decent chance it would be right near mine. (The job is part of the Design department, and marketing is also part of the Design department.)

We also have common areas too, for when you prefer to work around other people. You’re not locked into your office. :)

Benefits are great. The view of Lake Union and Capitol Hill is beautiful. The kitchen folks make us wonderful food.

But best of all: it’s great fun to work with these people on these apps.

So — if you’re a web developer, please apply!

PS You can learn more about OmniFocus for the Web by listening to How We Built OmniFocus for the Web (an episode of The Omni Show) and by reading OmniFocus for the Web: Under the Hood.

Xcoders 15th Anniversary 7 Oct 2019, 11:00 pm

This Thursday, Oct. 10, Xcoders turns 15 years old!

We’d be thrilled if you could come to the meeting. Your Xcoders podcasters will be talking to a panel of old-timers about the history of the group. And afterward we’ll go to the Cyclops and hang out — just like we always do.

I don’t think I need to remind anyone of the importance of community. It gives back to us so much more than we as individuals could ever put into it.

And Xcoders is one of the oldest and greatest of the Mac and iOS app-making communities. Any good history of the modern Apple development ecosystem would have a chapter on Xcoders: it’s an institution, and it’s been amazing to watch it grow and evolve over the years.

So I’m asking something of you: please come to this one and help us celebrate!

Come even if you haven’t been in a long time, or even if you have to travel. Even if you go to Redmond or Vancouver Xcoders. Or even if you’ve never been. We’ll be so happy to see you!

PS The Xcoders blog has the details on time and place.

 7 Oct 2019, 9:11 pm

NetNewsWire 5 is all good to go with Catalina!

New macOS days are super-fun. This year we get the added bonus of checking out all the new Catalyst apps. I’m psyched to see what cool apps are coming to Mac.

But I can’t help but note that two apps that I’ve put my heart into — and many thousands of hours of work — won’t run on Catalina: UserLand Frontier and NetNewsWire 3.3.2.

Well. I take note, and then I move on.

NetNewsWire Status 7 Oct 2019, 2:44 am

NetNewsWire 5.0.2 is the current shipping release; NetNewsWire 5.0.3b1 is the current test build.

We’re also working on NetNewsWire 5.0 for iOS, NetNewsWire 5.0.4 for Mac, and NetNewsWire 5.1 for Mac.

We have a lot going on! But we have multiple contributors, and we can handle it. :)

Here’s the status of each…

NetNewsWire 5.0.3 for Mac

This release is all about performance. NetNewsWire is pretty fast, but it can and should be faster.

Since there are places where we can get performance enhancements without having to stand on our heads, we’re doing them. (I’m a performance junkie, but I draw the line at writing weird code just to get performance.)

I was going to release 5.0.3 this weekend, but I found some more work to do. Just this morning I found a very significant boost we can get when downloading and syncing feeds. I bet we’ll have another beta later this week.

NetNewsWire 5.0.4 for Mac

This will have more bug fixes. It might also appear on the Mac App Store. No guarantee, though.

NetNewsWire 5.1 for Mac

This will have some small features — and one big one: Feedly syncing. (It might have some other syncing systems as well, but for sure we want to get Feedly syncing in there.)

NetNewsWire 5.0 for iOS

It works! I’m using it. Since I commute to work via bus, this is awesome.

We’re going to do a limited TestFlight release, by invitation only, right at first — mainly because I want to get my friend who’s an Award Winning iOS Designer™ to help with it.

After he’s finished with it, then we’ll do a general TestFlight release — you’ll be able to sign up if you want to. I’ll be sure to announce that here and on the NetNewsWire blog.

The plan is for the initial NetNewsWire 5.0 for iOS to include both Feedbin and Feedly syncing, but it’s possible the early TestFlight releases won’t have Feedly yet.

Here’s what the app looks like in Springboard:

Screenshot of NetNewsWire icon in Springboard.

 7 Oct 2019, 1:35 am

Dealing with entitlements, capabilities, provisioning profiles, app groups, and signing remains challenging. I wonder how anything ever ships.

We’re trying to make Handoff work, which appears to require the iCloud capability, which appears to require a provisioning profile. Xcode says, “Enable development signing and select a provisioning profile in the Signing & Capabilities editor.”

I recognize all the words! But I have no idea what I’m supposed to actually do. Luckily other people are helping me.

But still. I would love to see this stuff all made much easier.

PS This morning I found a spot where I can get a significant performance improvement when downloading feeds and when syncing. I’d love to work on it today, since it’s a Sunday and that means I can spend a few hours at it. But instead we’re struggling with the system.

You Should Get a Flu Shot 6 Oct 2019, 10:12 pm

When I was in my twenties I usually skipped getting a flu shot. I was young and healthy, and getting the flu, while deeply unpleasant, was probably not life-threatening.

And that’s as far as I thought about it.

I’m older now. Getting the flu is still probably not life-threatening for me — but I almost lost a family member to flu a couple years ago. And another member of my family, who I see a couple times a month at a minimum, has a compromised immune system — if he gets the flu, it could be very bad.

Just remember, as you go about your day — on the bus, at work, at the grocery store, at a restaurant — you’re going to run across people, without even knowing it, who can’t get the flu without serious consequences. You’ll certainly run across people who are close to those people. People like me.

In other words, your getting a flu shot could save a life. For real.

Unicorns 5 Oct 2019, 2:00 am

I can hardly write a message on my iPhone without adding a 🐯 or 🎩 or other emoji at the end. I even use these as a kind of code — there’s a specific emoji I send to Sheila when I’m leaving work, for instance.

Most of my emoji come from the Frequently Used section — most often in the very left-most column, next to the screen edge. I rarely go hunting. What I want is right there.

This worked great until I installed iOS 13.

After I installed iOS 13, the left-most section changed — it became something to do with Memoji. My frequently-used emoji ended up just slightly to the right of the middle of the screen.

This was a pain for me, and I wanted to get it back to how it was, where the Memoji stuff would be gone and my most-used emoji column would be flush-left again.

I looked around in Settings and didn’t find anything for this — so I figured that if I delete my Memoji, then that section would go away, since I don’t have a Memoji anymore.

Wrong!

The section persisted, only now with funny unicorns.

The Solution Was Eventually Found

I finally realized that if I tap the little monochrome clock icon at the bottom of the screen, then I’ll get it back to how I like it.

The thing is: that icon was already selected, so it didn’t occur to me to tap it, until finally I did out of desperation.

And I realize now that if I tap it again, it shows Memoji. Tap it again, and they hide. All while the button still shows as selected (and presumably non-tappable). It’s… odd.

The Amazing Modern World

Our computers, devices, and software are amazing these days. It feels as if the very laws of physics have changed since I was a kid — that’s how marvelous all of this is. I love it, and I love writing apps and writing about apps.

I’m not picking on Apple with this thing about the emoji keyboard. Apple’s been the greatest of the prime drivers of all these marvels. My point was to pick an example that most of the people reading this would know.

These marvels are so great that billions of people are using them. The diversity of this population can’t be overstated — iPhones, for instance, aren’t just for the young, able, and tech-obsessed.

All of us in tech know this, but we don’t always go far enough in displaying the care that all of these people deserve. When we ship a bug, or even just an inscrutable bit of user interface, how many people are we frustrating? How much of other people’s time are we wasting?

I’m not saying don’t ever change your app’s UI. Make improvements. Definitely.

But always keep in mind that your app is probably only one of dozens that any given person might use. Most people don’t read your change notes. But they’ll notice if something they relied on, that was easy and useful, is now, suddenly, not.

It may even be that they could get it back to the way they liked it. But will they figure it out? And how much time will they all have spent on it? How much frustration?

Because our apps go to so many people, we should start thinking the same way other professions do: we have a real obligation to the public, not just to our bottom line. We should, at least, do no harm.

On Bullying in Our Community 2 Oct 2019, 12:38 am

Janie Larson writes about being bullied, and you should read it.

It’s natural to wonder who the bully is and who the conference organizers are — but I’m resisting the temptation to spend any time on it. It’s not a puzzle to be solved. Janie’s explicit that she doesn’t want this to result in anyone getting harassed, and she doesn’t want to start a feud. Respect that.

Instead, she talks about the human cost of being bullied, and she presents a guide for handling bullying — which is written especially for people witnessing it.

Even if you think it’s unlikely that you yourself will ever be bullied (and you might not think that), it’s worth remembering that you might see it happen to someone else. I hope you and I would do the right thing.

 1 Oct 2019, 10:04 pm

NaNoWriMo is next month, and I will continue my streak of not participating in it. I’m super-impressed by the people who do, though.

It would take me a month of hard, solid work all November to decide on an idea to write about, then another month to think it through some more — or two months, really, because the holidays get in the way — and then about a year of nightly work to decide on a plot outline and characters and tone, and then another year of refining that outline, and then, by NaNoWriMo 2021 or 2022, I’d be ready to start writing. I suspect I’d average about 300 words a day, which would get me about 9,000 words for the month — which is well less than a novel or even the 50,000 words goal.

I blog instead.

PS What made me think of this: Cheri Baker, Let’s Half-Ass NaNoWriMo Together.

 1 Oct 2019, 6:19 pm

This leaked audio from Facebook — where Mark Zuckerberg promises that “you go to the mat and you fight” Elizabeth Warren — is a reminder: any corporation that has the power over the speech of billions of people is still a corporation with its own interests. And those interests don’t match yours or mine or the interests of democracy.

You don’t have to support, or even like, Elizabeth Warren to understand that.

Do you trust Facebook not to tip the scales in favor of Zuckerberg’s interests? I sure don’t.

This is about Facebook and a specific presidential candidate — and it’s also about giant corporate communications platforms and how they subvert civilization.

PS Reminder: Instagram is Facebook too.

 25 Sep 2019, 8:49 pm

I had the fun of interviewing old friend Daniel Jalkut on the latest episode of The Omni Show.

NetNewsWire 5.0.1 Released 13 Sep 2019, 10:56 pm

NetNewsWire for Mac icon: globe with a satellite in the foreground.

NetNewsWire 5.0.1 is almost entirely a bug-fix release — see the release notes for the full scoop.

It includes one sort-of new feature: there’s now a checkbox in Preferences for turning off the unread count in the Dock. (It was a hidden pref — now it’s visible.)

Status

Here’s what else we’re working on:

  • iOS/iPadOS app
  • NetNewsWire 5.0.2 for Mac — which will mainly be about performance (yes, we can make it even faster)
  • NetNewsWire 5.1 for Mac — tentative feature list includes content extraction and at least one more syncing option (but we might change our minds on these: anything can happen between now and then)

We might also distribute NetNewsWire 5.0.2 for Mac on the Mac App Store. No guarantees yet, of course, but work is happening in that direction. This goes to our goal of getting as many people as possible using RSS readers.

 11 Sep 2019, 12:05 am

Had to get a new key fob at work today — my old one wore out. Just a couple weeks shy of my fifth anniversary at Omni! Time flies.

I figure I’m just over eight years from retiring, so I’m not even halfway done here. :)

On Syncing NetNewsWire Using iCloud 7 Sep 2019, 2:44 am

People have been asking me about supporting iCloud as a sync method for NetNewsWire.

It would be really cool because:

  • There’s no sign-in
  • It’s free — no need to spend money on another service
  • It would help broaden the pool of people using RSS, since there would be no additional expense or service they’d need — they could just get going

It’s a great idea — no question. Given that my goal is to get as many people as possible using RSS, this makes total sense.

Why we didn’t ship with this feature

For the first release — I still think of it as a 1.0, because it really is — our best bet was to appeal to people already using an existing RSS service. We know that those people like and use RSS, and they’re the people most likely to check out a new RSS app.

(We could have delayed and shipped with support for more existing services, but we figured one was enough to get started with, and we could add other services later. And we are.)

In other words, we tried to make an app that the existing market would like. And that’s the right call when you’re starting out.

Also: iCloud sync makes the most sense when you have both a Mac and an iOS app, and we don’t — the iOS app is still in progress. We totally expect people to use NetNewsWire on the Mac and Unread or Reeder on their iPhone and iPad — and iCloud sync won’t work across apps. This scenario requires using services such as Feedbin.

Why I have no idea when this feature might appear

For any existing RSS service, we can be confident that our effort to support it in NetNewsWire would be successful. This is well-trodden ground: we make some web API calls, integrate with our database, and done. It’s not nothing, but conceptually it’s simple and there’s no cause to worry about technical issues.

But iCloud syncing will mean writing exploratory code and only then finding out if it’s going to work.

Syncing the feeds list should be relatively easy — the real issue is with syncing read/unread/starred states of articles. That means a lot of small records.

Is CloudKit up to this? What are the limits? How fast is it? How reliable?

We just don’t know.

Yes, it’s encouraging that News Explorer has this feature — but that doesn’t tell us much about the limits, reliability, and performance.

Working on this is a risk.

So — as you can imagine — we’re still more keen on supporting existing RSS services, because we know there are plenty of people who for-sure like RSS, and who might like NetNewsWire, but who won’t switch their syncing system just to use NetNewsWire.

That said: I do think we’ll get around to trying this, and I’ll be super-pleased if it works, because it really is a great idea — but we have a bunch of other work to do first. (Including the iOS app!)

 6 Sep 2019, 6:56 pm

Markos Charatzas writes about his excitement in joining the Apple developer world in 2009 to his eventual disillusionment today.

On the Many NetNewsWire Feature Requests to Show Full Web Pages 5 Sep 2019, 7:25 am

A number of people have asked that NetNewsWire show the full web page — right there, in the app — after clicking a link.

The idea is pretty good! It solves two big problems:

  • You get full content, which is great when a feed contains only summaries or truncated articles
  • You don’t have to switch to another app: you can stay right where you are

You’d think it’s a no-brainer, and we should just go ahead. But there are other considerations.

One big one is that your ad blockers and privacy extensions won’t run. They work in Safari, but they do not extend to other apps that use WebKit. This means that viewing a web page in NetNewsWire would be less secure and more annoying than viewing the same page in Safari (or whatever your browser is).

This points to one of my design principles: the app should have boundaries. Some features belong in the app, and some features are best left to apps that do that feature way better than NetNewsWire could. One of those things is showing web pages — that’s really a web browser feature.

Having boundaries means we can concentrate on doing a great job at the things that do belong in the app.

(Before you mention SFSafariViewController, recall that it’s iOS-only.)

What about the glory days?

“But Brent! In NetNewsWire 2.0 you added a tabbed browser to NetNewsWire, and it was awesome and a hugely popular feature!”

It was! But times have changed. Many websites are hostile these days. In 2005, this feature was fine — but these days it’s totally not.

A winged messenger arrives with a solution

There is a solution to the problem of showing full content and not leaving the app, and it’s a feature that really does belong in an RSS reader: using content extraction to grab the article from the original page.

If you’ve ever used Safari’s Reader view, then you know what I’m talking about. The idea is that NetNewsWire would do something very much like the Reader view (but inline, in the article pane), that grabs the content and formats it nicely, without all the extra junk that is not the article you want to read.

There are a number of open source options for this. We’re looking at using Feedbin’s content extraction service (which wouldn’t require you to have a Feedbin account).

The generous folks at Feedbin are running a copy of the open-source Mercury Parser, and they’ve offered to open this service up to RSS readers like NetNewsWire. (Reeder uses it already, for instance.)

When?

Right now we’re working on NetNewsWire 5.0.1, which is (almost entirely) a bug-fix release. I don’t know what’s going to be in 5.1 yet — we’re still digesting all the feedback, looking at our original roadmap, and thinking about things.

We’re also working on NetNewsWire for iOS! We’re busy.

But this is definitely the kind of feature that should come sooner rather than later.

On My Funny Ideas About What Beta Means 2 Sep 2019, 10:23 pm

John Gruber has mentioned, on The Talk Show, that I’ve got some weird ideas about what beta means.

Here are my definitions:

development (d): everything is in progress and the app might be completely unusable.

alpha (a): the app is feature-complete and has no known bugs — but, importantly, it’s had very little testing.

beta (b): the app is feature-complete, has no known bugs, and has been tested — but further testing is still warranted. Every beta is a release candidate.

These are defined in a NetNewsWire Technote. It’s important to have definitions that everybody working on or testing the app understands.

But why these rather strict definitions?

It’s part of our commitment to quality. What matters is the end result — the shipping app — and these definitions make sure we don’t get to beta, or even alpha, with the app up on the table with wires sticking out and pieces missing.

This gives us a big space between development and shipping, and that space is all about making sure the bugs are all fixed.

This is a matter of ethics and pride in our work. Absolutely.

But it’s also pragmatic. This is an open source app, written by volunteers in their spare time, and having this rhythm baked-in to the process helps make sure we can uphold our standards even without full-time developers, managers, and testers.

* * *

And… it bugs me how little real attention our industry pays to quality these days. In some cases the consequences are disastrous; in other cases they’re merely expensive. It doesn’t have to be this way.

If it seems like I’m going too far with my definitions, well, I’m trying to bend the stick here.

 31 Aug 2019, 9:39 pm

I love this NetNewsWire write-up on WP Tavern.

NetNewsWire 5 Feature Requests 31 Aug 2019, 9:08 pm

NetNewsWire 5.0 is a 1.0 app in disguise.

And so, as expected, we’ve had a ton of feature requests. Most people tend to request one or two features — and there’s a huge variety in these. People want different things.

Nevertheless, there are a few themes we can pick out from what people are asking for:

  • More syncing options, especially Feedly support
  • iOS app
  • Some way to deal with partial-content feeds
  • Customization of the article pane (fonts, colors, etc.)
  • Traditional view (timeline on top with single lines, article below)
  • More sharing options (Instapaper, Pinboard, etc.)
  • Customizable keyboard shortcuts
  • State restoration
  • Localizations
  • Hiding read items in the timeline (or dimming them)
  • Hiding feeds (in the sidebar) that have no unread articles
  • User-created smart feeds

The less-common, more singular requests are for things like specific sorting options — there are lots of different small options that people would like.

People have also asked for things that might surprise you (they surprised me) — for instance, we’ve had a request for monochrome icons for the toolbar. Another request for a Dark Mode that’s different from Apple’s Dark Mode. Etc.

How We Choose What To Do Next

The first principle is that we can’t lose what we love about the app. We do our damnedest to ship with no bugs, and the app needs to be fast and, most importantly, it needs to feel lighter-than-air.

Whenever you add things — even if the app remains just as fast, even if there are no bugs — you still run the risk of losing that feeling of lightness. One of the quickest ways to lose that feeling is to add a whole bunch of preferences, View menu options, toolbar commands, and other chrome. So we’re going to be very slow to add things like that.

NetNewsWire needs to not become fiddly. (Earlier versions of NetNewsWire got way too fiddly.)

There are other questions we ask about a feature before we do it.

  • Will it substantially benefit current users?
  • Will it bring a number of new users to the app?
  • Does the feature depend on something else being done first?
  • How much work will it take?
  • Does it require resources (such as new icons) that our programmers can’t provide?
  • Does the feature really belong in an RSS reader at all?

And, because this is an open source app, there’s another dimension: people. Is someone available? Has someone just shown up who’s eager to work on a specific feature? Those things have an impact on scheduling, too.

The good news is that most of the common feature requests are obvious things to do.

Some examples — not nearly everything, just a few thoughts:

The iOS app is in progress. Maurice Parker has been writing it, and it’s coming along very well. Still plenty more to do, and we won’t ship before iOS 13 ships, but it’s happening.

Adding syncing options is a definite good thing for the app. Doing the first one (Feedbin) was the big effort, because it required building the infrastructure that makes syncing possible. Once that was done, adding additional services is not super-difficult. (Not easy, no. Nothing’s trivial. But at least the infrastructure and patterns are in place.)

We’d like to support all the various services, or at least a majority of them. And we have people working on adding services.

Customization of the article pane will most likely work the way it did in older versions of NetNewsWire: we had theme files which included templates and CSS. The app shipped with a few, and you could make your own and use themes other people made.

This feature shipped with NetNewsWire 2.0, and people really loved it. It was fun!

More sharing options is an obvious good idea. Of course you should be able to send to Instapaper, Pocket, Pinboard, and so on. We shipped with custom support for MarsEdit and the Micro.blog app — mainly because I use those apps. But an RSS reader ought to support as many sharing workflows as possible. That’s one of the core points of the app.

* * *

Anyway — the above doesn’t cover everything. Don’t take any of the above as gospel about what we’re doing or when, or what we’re not doing. We haven’t planned 5.1 yet! It’s too soon.

There are also features that we want to do that people haven’t asked for, but that we think are cool. 🎸

The take-away from this article should be: we’re being very careful about designing and implementing new features, because we have to make sure NetNewsWire doesn’t lose what makes it special.

But we are doing new features, because there are so many things that can make the app even better — we can make it better for current users and we can bring in new users.

Follow-Through 29 Aug 2019, 10:25 pm

Decades ago, when I was working for Dave Winer at UserLand, I learned about the concept of follow-through after a major release.

If you’re an app maker, it might seem like your goal is to get to release day. Get the app done, make it available, publish an announcement, and then get back to coding. Let the world do what it’s going to do.

One bang, and then back to work, in other words.

But that’s not going to maximize your chances for a good release. You need to follow through — you need to keep going.

Some of the things you might do, in no particular order:

  • Publish tips on using your app — one a day or so
  • Update your website with feedback, testimonials, and good reviews
  • Be available and communicative about your app
  • Go on some podcasts
  • Write about how release day went
  • Write about plans for the x.0.1 version
  • Field bug reports and feature requests gratefully
  • Thank reviewers who’ve done a good job
  • Make it as easy as possible for reporters and reviewers to get access to your app and to you
  • Work to build a community of customers, on Slack or similar

I’m sure you can think of more things to do — the above isn’t everything, and every app is different.

But the key is that you don’t just do the release and then stop. Instead, show that you‘re responsive, show that your app has momentum, show that you care enough to keep showing up.

For me, at least, this is the fun part. I realize that’s not true for everybody — but you should do it anyway. 🎩

Daniel Figures Out One of the Two Crashing Bugs 28 Aug 2019, 10:05 pm

We have a few reports of a crash where the add-feed-sheet window doesn’t load. There’s a line of code with window! — because of course we expect the window to have been loaded — and it crashes right there.

This crash made zero sense to me, but Daniel Jalkut figured out the most likely cause and was able to reproduce it: it’s because the person has moved the app (from one folder to another) after launching it, while it’s running, and the nib-loading machinery can’t find the nib, because it’s moved along with the app.

Tip: if you’re going to move an app, quit it first, then move it, and then re-launch it!

At any rate: our fix for this will be to load that sheet on startup, and then recycle it on each use. This fix will go into NetNewsWire 5.0.1.

This just fixes the bug with this one nib, though. A more systematic fix — maybe just a warning to the user suggesting they quit and re-launch — would be a good idea.

File under “bugs iOS developers never have to worry about.” 🐇

PS We have a 5.0.1 beta milestone now.

How Release Day Went 27 Aug 2019, 10:28 pm

Yesterday was a great day! A few things to note, in no particular order:

NetNewsWire got some press coverage, including a well-done review in MacStories.

We got a lot of feature requests, but no bug reports.

Except that we did get a single-digit number of crash logs. On investigation, I found two distinct backtraces — we’ll need to fix those. The thing is, there’s no freakin’ way the app should crash in those spots. Except that, obviously, it can. Rarely, but it happens.

The servers started timing-out at one point during the day. I contacted DreamHost support and they fixed things (and told me that the fixes they applied should prevent this in the future).

There were a number of nice blog posts and tweets about NetNewsWire, which was awesome. After working so hard for so long, it’s great when people appreciate the app. We don’t get paid in money, after all. 🐣

I have no idea how many downloads of the app there were. GitHub is hosting the download, via its releases feature, and I don’t see a way to find out how many times it’s been downloaded. Which is totally fine with me.

* * *

I should say something more about the no-bug-reports. There’s no special magic or talent or anything to this — there’s just the willingness to say that we’re not going to ship until we’ve got the bugs out, and then sticking to that.

This is a matter of pride and ethics, for sure, but there’s another dimension: since the app is open source, it’s written by volunteers (including me), and we have no dedicated support team. Any time we spend fielding bug reports is time taken away from working on the next feature.

Making apps — even, or especially, free apps — is an exercise in economics. With free apps, the economics are even more constrained, because nobody is going to hire even a part-time support person. So we do everything we can do keep costs down — especially time costs.

Plus — buggy apps can be demoralizing to the people who work on them. Part of my job is to make sure people are proud and happy to work on the app. And that means making sure everyone knows we’re super-serious about doing our best to never ship bugs.

NetNewsWire 5.0 Now Available 26 Aug 2019, 5:47 pm

NetNewsWire for Mac icon: globe with a satellite in the foreground.

NetNewsWire 5.0 is shipping!

In case you haven’t been following along until just now: NetNewsWire is an open source RSS reader for Mac. It’s free! You can just download it and use it. No strings.

It’s designed to be stable, fast, and free of bugs. It doesn’t have a lot of features yet, and that’s because we prioritized quality over features. We will be adding more features, of course, but not quickly. We’re also working on an iOS app.

It syncs using Feedbin. We’ll support more systems in the future (as many as possible).

I hope you like it!

Some links…

Thanks to so many people

I want to especially thank Sheila Simmons and my family and friends.

This release took five years to make, and for four of those years it wasn’t even called NetNewsWire. It was just a year ago that I got the name NetNewsWire back from Black Pixel — and I thank them again for their wonderful generosity.

I also want to thank Brad Ellis for making the beautiful app icon and toolbar icons. Thanks to our major code contributors: Maurice Parker, Olof Hellman, and Daniel Jalkut. Thanks to Ryan Dotson for writing the Help book. Thanks to Joe Heck for looking after infrastructure issues (especially continuous integration).

Thanks to my co-workers and friends at The Omni Group (which is a wonderful place to work). Thanks to the ever-patient and ever-awesome NetNewsWire beta testers on the Slack group and elsewhere.

And thanks to everyone who’s ever used the app in its 17-years-and-counting run. Because of you, NetNewsWire has been, and remains, the thrill of my career.

End of the Line for NetNewsWire 3.3.2 23 Aug 2019, 1:15 am

This is a little bit of bad news. It’s not my intention, and it’s not what I want to happen — but NetNewsWire 3.3.2 apparently does not launch in the next version of macOS (10.15, Catalina).

It links to the PubSub framework, which is not included with the next macOS.

NetNewsWire 3.3.2 was the last release of the full version that I worked on, before selling NetNewsWire to Black Pixel, and I’ve heard from lots of people that they’ve been using it ever since. They never switched.

I would rather it continued working forever, but that’s not to be. Not my choice. Sorry about that!

 22 Aug 2019, 7:43 am

The NetNewsWire blog has the details on NetNewsWire 5.0b5 — which should be the last beta.

Still planning to do the 5.0 final release Monday morning, which really means doing the release on Sunday and pushing an announcement to this blog Monday morning. :)

The last things on my to-do list are actually writing that announcement and doing screenshots for the NetNewsWire web page. Easy. 🐯

Immunization 20 Aug 2019, 10:19 pm

Before every major release I like to try and think of everything mean that people might say about the app. It’s fun!

So we just went through this exercise on the NetNewsWire Slack group. Here’s a taste:

  • This took five years? I could write an RSS parser in a weekend.
  • Can’t get my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Whatever.
  • Doesn’t work with my Usenet host.
  • The information density of the timeline is… lacking. What the hell.
  • Not truly open source since it’s on a Mac.
  • Not truly open source since it’s not GPL.
  • No vim keys. Why bother.
  • Regular people will never use an RSS reader. What’s the point?
  • Brent’s last good idea was in 2002. Consider this a textbook case of coasting.
  • Great app. Too bad RSS died with Google Reader.
  • It totally didn’t pick up my subscriptions from the earlier version. How is this an upgrade?
  • When does a 5.0 have fewer features than a 3.0? When it’s NetNewsWire.
  • The echo chamber will love this app. They always do.
  • Free app. Continues the race to the bottom. Pour one out for Silvio Rizzi.
  • No way to send to Instapaper. Fuck it.
  • Brent Simmons can’t stop pursuing a technology that even Google famously admitted was not worth bothering with.
  • If this app took five years, imagine how long it will take before it will actually sync with Feedly.
  • Sure it’s free, but I bet the Feedbin people paid them off, because the only way to sync is to pay money to Feedbin.
  • No iCloud sync? Jerks.
  • No iOS app. The revolution happened on mobile, Brant. What the actual fuck.
  • Shoulda been Catalyst. Dinosaurs wrote this app.
  • Not on the Mac App Store? I guess they don’t want users.
  • I would totally use this if it had just this one [feature x], which I can’t believe they shipped without. (Multiply this comment by 100, with a different feature x each time.)
  • Area Man Can’t Let RSS Go

Some feedback will be factually inaccurate, but we like to imagine that too:

  • I remember using NetNewsWire on OS 9, and it hasn’t really improved since then. They should make it a Cocoa app.
  • Doesn’t work with web comics. POS
  • Doesn’t support 10.5.
  • It should be free.
  • You’d think they would have updated the design — but it looks exactly like NetNewsWire of old.
  • Why the hell would they build on that aging code base from Black Pixel? I heard it doesn’t even use ARC.
  • No way to sync? What’s their actual problem?

See? The actual feedback will be nicer than the stuff we thought up. This provides a bit of immunization. :)

But, also, there will be negative feedback we didn’t imagine. That’s the gold!

* * *

Bonus from Daniel Jalkut, but not actually a criticism:

Can’t innovate, my RSS.

 20 Aug 2019, 2:02 am

I think we’re still on track for releasing NetNewsWire 5.0 Monday, August 26. There will be one more beta before then.

I’ll be available for podcasts, interviews-via-email, etc. If you’d like to set something up, email me or DM me on Twitter.

NetNewsWire Public Beta 12 Aug 2019, 10:16 pm

NetNewsWire for Mac icon: globe with a satellite in the foreground.

NetNewsWire has reached public beta! It only took like five years. :)

Our definition of beta is release candidate. With each beta release, we believe that the app is ready to ship. But we want to do further testing to make sure.

NetNewsWire has a Help Book up on the web now. It needs a couple more pages and some screenshots, but it’s pretty close to finished.

We’ve picked a ship date: Monday, August 26. If we find enough bugs, we won’t hit the ship date. That’s fine — but we’d really like to hit that date.

We’re working from the 5.0 Release milestone now. (The alpha and beta milestones have been closed.) You’ll note that most of what remains are bugs for the marketing site.

P.S. We’ve found a bug already with showing the unread count for the selected item. We’ll get it fixed, hopefully this week, and do another public beta release.

Three Podcast Episodes 1 Aug 2019, 7:34 pm

In the latest episode of the Xcoders podcast

We recap the wonderful July meeting, Liz has a new blog, Jared launched his Scorebook update, and Jared previews his August talk on Xcode projects.

* * *

In the latest episode of The Omni Show, I talk with folks on the OmniGraffle team about their latest update, which includes a bunch of significant performance enhancements.

Performance has been A Topic lately (as it always should be) — and, if you’re a developer, I highly recommend this episode to learn how a company like Omni does performance work.

* * *

I’m the guest in the latest episode of Swift by Sundell. We talk about blogging, Apple’s Swift era, NetNewsWire, performance, and dynamic and declarative programming.

Swift by Sundell has become The Talk Show of Mac and iOS development. I recommend listening to all the episodes.

A Third Text Measurement Caching Trick 27 Jul 2019, 12:16 am

I forgot about this one — I should have mentioned it in the previous article.

Let’s say the source text that gets displayed in your timeline could be quite long. NetNewsWire has this issue: the summary text is the text of an article (with HTML tags stripped).

This text could be many thousands of words long. But the timeline will only ever display at most a couple lines — even with an absurdly wide timeline on a large screen, it will never display thousands of words.

So here’s the trick:

Use a truncated version of the text rather than the entire text. For the truncation limit, come up with a length that is beyond what could conceivably fit in the space.

This way text measurement will be faster since it’s measuring less text.

(Also use this truncated text for the text field in the timeline.)

A Couple Handy Tricks for Text Measurement Caching 26 Jul 2019, 10:59 pm

NetNewsWire’s timeline is fast — you can resize it and scroll it quickly.

It has to do a bunch of text measurement in order to do its layout. Text measurement is notoriously slow, though, so we use a cache.

How tall is this text?

Let’s concentrate on the issue of knowing how tall some text is. We know the available width (because we know the width of the timeline at any given moment), and we need to know the height of some text.

Let’s assume we always ceil the height and width and use integers in a WidthHeightCache of [Int: Int] (width: height). Each string passed to our sizer gets its own WidthHeightCache.

The first time it’s asked to get the height for a given width, there’s nothing in the cache, so it has to measure the text and store it in the cache.

And then the second time it looks up the width in the cache — if it’s there, then it returns the cached value. Otherwise it does the text measurement again.

But here’s where it gets smart…

Trick #1: in-between widths

Let’s say the first time the width was 100, and the second time the width was 200. Both results are in the cache.

If, on the third call, the width is 150 — between 100 and 200 — and the cached height for 100 and 200 are equal, then the height for 150 is necessarily that same height. We can avoid text measurement and just return the cached value. (And we keep the cache from growing on each call.)

Trick #2: estimated single-line height

What if, on the third call, the width is 250 instead of 150? There’s another trick. When the sizer is initialized, it can come up with an estimate for the height of a single line of text, just by using a short string (with tall characters) and a very large width.

This estimate means you will be able to know if the cached height for 200 is a single line. If that cached height is suitably close to the estimated single-line height, then you can skip text measurement again and just return the cached height for 200 — since more width can’t make the text higher.

The code in NetNewsWire for this isn’t fully generalized. It maxes out at two lines, since that’s what NetNewsWire uses. But it could form the basis for your own sizing/caching code.

PS Note: this is all because I don’t use Auto Layout on table cell views, for performance reasons. I use Auto Layout everywhere else — just not on table cell views.

On the Next Swift by Sundell Podcast 25 Jul 2019, 10:17 pm

I’ll be the guest on the next Swift by Sundell podcast. I’m so looking forward to this.

John tweets:

My next guest on the @swiftbysundell podcast will be none other than @brentsimmons! 🎉

We’ll talk about Apple transitioning into its Swift era, Mac development, his work at Omni and on NetNewsWire, and much more — can’t wait! 😀

Got questions for us? Reply here! 👍

If you have questions, reply to John’s tweet. :)

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