Amar Sagoo

15 November 2007

Neutech desktop background redux

There was once an appearance theme for Mac OS 8 and 9 called Neutech, by Flanksteak Design. I don't think I particular liked the theme as a whole, but it included a desktop background that has been my favourite background for the last eight years or so since I discovered it:

Neutech desktop

Here's a detail:

Neutech desktop detail

I have made sure I that I always have a copy, which has survived across all the different Macs I've used since. However, the image is only 1024 × 768 pixels, which wasn't small at the time, but makes the image look rather pixelated and blurry on modern displays. I have made several attempts in the past to reproduce it in Photoshop, but never got very far. Today, I sat down again with renewed determination and finally found the secret recipe to emulate the look of the original:

Neutech desktop revived
Neutech desktop revived detail

One thing that really helped here was Photoshop CS3's Smart Filters, because I could experiment and keep tweaking the many effects I had to apply. This also means that I can easily produce updated versions in the future as screen resolutions increase.

For the time being, here's a 2560 × 1600 version.

Update: I've changed the grid to look more like dried earth and less like reptile skin, and made minor changes to shading.

4 November 2007

Namely 2.5

Sorry to be late by a week or so, but there are several reasons why I didn't get a Leopard-compatible update to Namely out sooner.

First of all, I didn't have Leopard any earlier than most of you; I bought it on Friday the 26th of October at the Apple Store on Regent Street. That's because unlike many Mac developers who dedicate a lot more time to this stuff and who have an income from it, I don't have a Select membership with the Apple Developer Connection.

Secondly, I decided to try out Leopard's improved support for application launching through Spotlight before putting any effort into updating Namely. Ever since Scott Forstall had hinted at this feature at the World-Wide Developers' Conference in 2006, I had been feeling a bit anxious about Leopard rendering Namely redundant. (I generally think it's a good thing when Apple fills a gap that was identified and addressed by third-party developers, but nevertheless, we do tend to fall in love with our applications.) My verdict: Spotlight is not bad, but it didn't win me over. I didn't spend enough time with it to figure out how clever it is about choosing between candidate matches (it seems to at least take into account which app you chose last time), but long enough to find a few things that I didn't like about it:

  1. A lot of stuff happens visually in the Spotlight menu, which distracts from your main task: quickly identifying the application you want to launch.
  2. The icons of listed apps don't always appear straightaway.

  3. It only shows three matches, so it's effectively a bit less tolerant.

I guess these things shouldn't be an issue if you only occasionally need an application that's not in your Dock. Finding it through Spotlight will still be much faster than navigating to it in the Finder. But I think that if you use Namely (or, for that matter, any other keyboard-based launcher) for most of your application launching, anything that isn't super-fast isn't fast enough. When I launch an application, I don't want to think much, and I don't want to see much. I just want to launch it. Although Namely's sorting isn't perfectly predictable because it adapts over time, it stabilises quickly enough so you can be pretty confident about what it will suggest when you type something.

The third reason for the delay is that I just wasn't sure what to release. I have been (slowly) working on Namely 3.0, which is controlled through a preference pane and doesn't show up in the Dock. So I was considering finishing that off rather than releasing another update to Namely 2.x. However, I wasn't confident that I could get Namely 3 finished and stable within a few days, so I decided to push out a minor update in the meantime.

Here it is. Annoyingly, I couldn't find a way to make it work on both 10.3.9/10.4 and 10.5 (I link against the 10.5 libraries in order to support Spaces, but this seems to stop Apple's secret application-listing function from working on 10.4), so I had to leave version 2.1 available as a separate download.