Archive for the 'Keep It Together' Tag

Nested Folders Like Sooo Yesterday

Sunday, June 12th, 2005

There is an article on Wired entitled Tiger Tweaks Could Kill Folders, the main gist being that with Spotlight the 20 year old practice of organizing files into hierarchical folders (which incidentally is another one of those metaphors that doesn’t extend to the real world) could be on the way out. It’s an interesting read and while I don’t for one minute think we’ll see the end of the Finder or nested folders I do wholeheartedly agree that people want to see their files in different ways and find them quickly. In that sense, Spotlight goes a long way to alleviating the pain of organising all your stuff. Steve Jobs mentioned also this point in his WWDC 2005 Keynote.

This was the whole idea I had behind KIT and yet the most popular feature request was that it include hierarchical folders – I had so many I decided to write something much too long, complicated and now somewhat outdated about why it was a bad idea, back in my pre-blogging days.

KIT was modelled as an iTunes for your files; something different where you could find things almost instantly and organize them in ways liberated from the file system. Like Gmail, its motto is to search not sort. Thankfully quite a lot of people got KIT but since many of its selling points were made much less persuasive by Spotlight and Smart Folders in Tiger, I will be addressing this wholeheartedly in the next few months.

KIT: The Future

Friday, March 25th, 2005

In some ways, it is more difficult for me to talk about KIT‘s future because a) I haven’t fully decided on everything yet and b) it lives on the fringes of quite a crowded and competitive market area. Showing all my cards might not be the wisest idea.

One of the problems with KIT at the moment is that it is just too flexible for its own good; you can’t just say it’s a note-taking application, an organising app or some sort of file management utility. My previous post, KIT: The Past, explains the reasons behind this, or the basis of its inspiration at least, but this factor makes KIT more difficult to market.

Before I released KIT I didn’t think it had any direct competitors, but it turns out that DEVONthink is an application that does much the same thing, albeit in a more complicated and less pretty way. Look more closely and these two apps are very different. I’m going to try to address the whole marketing aspect of KIT through refining its features and avoiding unnecessary feature bloat.

KIT's Link IconActually, while I think of it, Devon Technologies are obviously aware of KIT. I know this because they stole KIT’s Link icon for DEVONthink – I have the original artwork to prove it’s mine. There’s not much I can do about this and it’s only 32 pixels square, but even so. The icons in my applications, apart from the system-wide generic ones, are original.

Back to the point. This post aims to answer two questions: firstly, what is the future for KIT and secondly what will be the point of KIT on Tiger.

On the first question, there is plenty of room for improvement to the application as it is now in the following areas:

  • More information about files.
  • Better note-taking abilities.
  • More file formats supported for previewing and indexing.
  • More advanced searching.
  • Improved Smart Groups.
  • Interface and usability improvements.

I also hope to deal with the problem of KIT’s groups vs subfolders at some point.

With KIT on Tiger, and Apple’s NDA, it’s obviously even more difficult for me to divulge unless the information is already publicly available. Let’s deal with the problem of Spotlight and Smart Folders in the Finder – the two things that supposedly make KIT less attractive to Tiger users. Yes, I was a little perturbed when I saw these features announced and my unreleased but finished product did just these things to an extent. However, that’s cool because a) it at least means my ideas are so good Apple was thinking the same thing b) this technology is not solely available to Apple but to all developers and c) KIT is written in such a way that it can take advantage of that quite easily.

So eventually, in a Tiger-only version, you will see KIT fully take advantage of Spotlight technologies, searching will be even faster and Smart Groups more efficient and more flexible. There are other technologies in Tiger that will take the QuickTime support and PDF viewing to new levels, amongst many, many other things.

So KIT is not going to die any time in the near future, in fact its journey has only just begun. I have so many great ideas the only difficult part is trying to choose what to implement and when. Long live KIT!

KIT: The Past

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2005

With all this talk about Feeder, I should stress that I’m in no way saying KIT is history, but before I write about its future, let’s take a look at its past for a change.

Scrapbook Screenshot I’ve always missed the Scrapbook and Note Pad desktop accessories (later apps) that came with Mac OS 9 and earlier. Fast to load, always available – perfect. At the time, they did exactly what I wanted them to do. You could drag and drop (or cut and paste) text, graphics, QuickTime movies, sounds, or anything really to the Scrapbook and it would store it away for you. The Scrapbook app was always available in the stripy Apple menu and when you needed something from it, you could just drag it back out again.

It was the same with Note Pad, which actually did look like a notepad and was so cool in the way you could turn the pages. It was just so handy for jotting down those little bits of text when you don’t want to create a new document, save it and have to find it again later. I never thought Stickies would be an adequate replacement – it’s just not the same. I never saw anything on Windows quite like these two little apps.

Note Pad ScreenshotWhen Apple took the decision not to ship either of these apps with Mac OS X, tens of replacement notepad apps appeared. I wrote one of the first of these called Notebook (before Circus Ponies’ Notebook and HogBay came out), which was available for the Public Beta. My version was free, and well received (free things that work usually are!), but it’s hard to write and maintain an app when you’re working more than full time on other things.

The notepad market seems to have stabilised now and there are some great apps out there, although I find none do exactly what I want. By Mac OS X standards, the original apps are nothing special, and Note Pad is recreatable in a hundred or so lines of code, but they have a certain charm, just like the Mac itself. I wanted to recreate that charm and bring the usability up to Mac OS X Panther standards.

Let me make it clear – KIT is not a notepad app, and the name itself (Keep It Together) suggests something more. Indeed, its notetaking features could use more work, but it does aim to fill the collective gap left by those two useful utilities. Think of it as iTunes for your files. A user review by “Cynthia” on VersionTracker sums KIT up better than I have managed to date:

“DRAG – DROP and SEARCH – Imagine being able to throw everything in a drawer and find it by calling it’s name… great.”

Scrapbook and Note Pad had their own database files, which could easily be corrupted. There’s no need for that on Mac OS X, so KIT does with files what they did with text and media. KIT allows you to organise all that stuff into groups and smart groups (like iTunes’ playlists), sort them, color categorise them, and its USP was the integration of Apple’s SearchKit technology to find text in any file, including PDFs, as you type.

KIT Screenshot Despite its simple exterior, KIT is actually quite complicated underneath, using a plethora of custom views (e.g. the iPhoto-like images with shadows), multithreading (to do indexing and large amounts of file copying) and wouldn’t have been possible without Cocoa’s bindings technology, which is why it will only work on Panther and how it works so fast and so well. It’s not unmanageably complicated however – I’m very proud that I took no shortcuts or easy ways out – it’s some of the best code I’ve ever written. Three days after I finished the coding (but a month or so before I released it – needed to do the website, registration system, help pages, etc) Apple announced Tiger and Spotlight and suddenly KIT didn’t look so useful after all.

However, that’s absolutely not true. In the next KIT instalment, I’ll explain why.