Ratings of popular reference management GUIs

‘Software is like sex: it’s better when it’s free’ – Linus Torvalds


macupdate (mu) versiontracker (vt) softpedia (sp) mean (mu, vt)
BibDesk 4.5 4.6 ni 4.55
Bookends * 4 4.8 3.1 4.4
EndNote * 2 2.2 ni (Mac version
not listed)
Papers * 4.5 3.4 ni 3.95
Sente * 4.5 4.4 ni 4.45
iPapers2/iPapers ni
Cloister ni ni 3.1
Yep 4 4.2 3.6 4.1

Dashes mean not yet rated; “ni” means not listed on site. Average ratings across mu and vt were 4.55, 4.4, 2.1, 3.95 and 4.45 for BibDesk, Bookends, EndNote, Papers and Sente respectively. Meanwhile, PDF manager Yep is quite popular. Data is from sometime this week.


iusethis mu d’l’s mu d’l’ current version sp users download.com (dl) dl last week
BibDesk 565 23550 942 ni 253 0
Bookends * 97 43753 1005 28 814 6
EndNote * 78 18931 686 ni 26375 240
Papers * 327 10747 718 ni 253 0
Sente * 42 15304 56 ni 677 0
iPapers2/iPapers 10 2572 1,795 0 ni ni
Cloister 2 ni ni 10 ni ni
Yep 870 68267 2467 47 42 1

For iPapers2/iPapers, the iusethis users of iPapers and iPapers2 were combined.

Seven Mac trialware outfits you ought to know

  1. Panic – makers of the highly acclaimed FTP client Transmit, and all-round web creation suite Coda. They have some free stuff.
  2. SmileOnMyMac – they have a couple of brilliant utilities, my personal favourite being TextExpander. Also recommend looking into BrowseBack.
  3. Ambrosia – search utility iSeek for quick access to popular general or topical search engines (e.g. Google or IMDB), and deep system software for video and audio capture, and arbitrary iPhone ringtone upload.
  4. Rogue Amoeba – more and similar deep system software, including stuff for audiocasting wirelessly or to the web.
  5. DEVONtechnologies – sell a suite of software that includes a desktop web search engine (it uses your CPU rather than Google’s and gives slightly different results), an application that combines bookmarking, PDF management software, and general file management in one interface (called DEVONthink), and a note taking application. I haven’t been able to make up my mind over whether I’d profit from using any of their software, but their search utility is good when you need more results than Google provides (but it’s not better than Google, it just returns a different set). Also haven’t been able to verify for myself that they have useful artificial intelligence in their software – which they claim. They have freebies.
  6. Unsanity – makers of the well-known ShapeShifter application. Many of their applications are concerned with bringing back useful features from Mac OS 9. There’s some free stuff as well.
  7. Freeverse – quite a ragbag of applications, including several applications for diverse graphics and audio creation tasks, as well as the free “Think!” – a window-shading app. You’ll also find a whole bunch of Mac games on their site which are quite entertaining.

Update: Mac OS X apps I will probably buy

This is an update to an older post of mine. I was curious whether I would still fork out for the same things that I said I would a year ago – and whether I’d actually have bought any of them. NetNewsWire, which I bought before making the first post, is now free, so we can scratch that off the list. Other than that, the list remains pretty much as was

  1. Text Expander – this is very, very likely to be my next buy, even though it does mess with the paste buffer. I got Typinator in one of my bundles, and I’m not even going to set it up, because I know it doesn’t do cursor position, so it loses out in the coding department, especially.
  2. Little Snitch – haven’t bought yet, but it’s a wicked utility indeed.
  3. Path Finder – still thinking about buying this.
  4. Parallels Desktop – still the best way to run Windows – even, by the looks of it, beyond VMware Fusion 2.0. Parallels still has the most seamless file integration, something so far overlooked by Fusion, which relies on shared folders that you have to specifically set up. So you’re always shuffling files around. Not good. Parallels FTW. And yes, I bought it as part of the mupromo bundle (about which otherwise, the less said, the better).
  5. CSSEdit – elegance incarnate. This was sitting on the substitution bench at my last commenting, but I bought it as part of MacHeist. Still loving it as ever.
  6. Mathematica – haven’t bought yet. Still a possibility.
  7. Transmit – I now think that I will end up buying this eventually. One of those really powerful and still usable apps for the Mac, every bit like Path Finder.
  8. Delicious Library – What a gem, except I don’t have a camera, may not buy one soon, and I’m not convinced that version 2.0 is so much better than the original. I might give it a spin, though. Maybe there is a way to downgrade if necessary.

And if I ever got serious about web design, I would add the following:

  1. SubEthaEdit – still looks good, but getting pushed further down the list. Is now getting competition from several open source efforts, but seems to still be the best of breed in spite of everything. For one, it has syntax highlighting for every language with a shaking stick attached.
  2. Coda – I think this would be a good investment if I got serious about web dev. Not likely to happen right now.

On a further note, I’m still looking for a tabbed, syntax-highlighting text editor that recovers an entire crashed session (not like Vim, where you have to remember which files you were working on to have them re-open). Also, Cocoa would be nice. I was working with Smultron for a bit, but I’ll have to ditch it because it kills my files when it/the OS crashes (yes, surprisingly, Tiger does crash – I’m sure Leopard does, too). I’m also beginning to think that BrowseBack is kind of a neat idea.

Package sizes iWork ’06 vs. ’08

iWork ’06:

  • Keynote 1.12 GB
  • Pages 0.85 GB

iWork ’08 Demo:

  • Keynote 280 MB
  • Pages 266 MB
  • Numbers 136 MB

I’m unsure whether to congratulate Apple or wonder why they delivered bloated binaries in ’06. At least in iDVD (part of iLife, not iWork), the number of templates available seems to have shrunk through the years.

Update 1, 4 February 2008: I’ve been able to confirm, with some help from #macosx on Freenode (special thanks to jgarbers), that the package sizes for iLife have slightly increased in the same time frame, except for iPhoto, which has halved from 552MB to 227MB, and the installation media, which have also almost halved from about 6.1GB to 3.5GB.

Update 2, same date: In the case of Pages, the decrease in size was because each language originally had separate themes (aka templates), but now they share them, while Keynote seems to have shrunk due to sharing some data between different themes.

The OS X speech-to-text myth

There is a widespread myth in the Mac community that Mac OS (yes, not just OS X) has included “speech recognition” for many years. I would argue that through well-publicised Jobs keynotes, in-store lecture theatres, many fansites with documentation, mostly in the form of two-paragraph “tips”, and, more recently, instructional videos on the Apple website, user knowledge of OS X is much better than user knowledge among Windows users. How is it, then, that very few Mac users actually use “speech recognition” (my claim)?

You will find that historically, speech recognition has been synonymous with “speech to text” (which the Wikipedia article still redirects from: speech to text). During the sometimes claimed twenty years that OS X has included “speech recognition”, third party applications such as iListen and ViaVoice for Mac have continued to sell. So is this an anomaly of history, where Mac customers have for years continued to buy third party software for functionality that was actually included in their OS out of the box? No, something perhaps more perfidious. There has been a semantic shift, where “speech recognition” for Mac users has become identical with “Speakable items“, a feature of Mac OS introduced as part of the OS in March 1994, although available from 1993 as a stand-alone program called PlainTalk. Speakable items includes phrases that allow you to navigate windows and certain programs; it also lets you define your own phrases which you can associate, for instance, with Automator scripts. I’ll reiterate again: PlainTalk and Speakable Items are not speech recognition! At best, it might be called phrase recognition, and its 1993 release date is very little to show for “20 years of history”.

Finally, as of this writing, speech to text in Tiger can neither be found in the System Settings, nor in the Services menu. Since it hasn’t been mentioned in any of the keynotes preceding Leopard, I doubt it will suddenly appear. (Remember the “top secret features”? Where are they?) If you wish to prove me wrong and demonstrate that scores of Mac users have been morons to buy third party software that did real speech recognition, and that purported experts have been ignorant, please post a reply!

That failing, I have to conclude that a certain gadget website (to be punished with a non-link) has been quite unfair in its recent comparison of Mac OS X 10.5 and Windows Vista, which ignores Vista’s true speech recognition.

Seven Mac OS X applications I would fork out for

  1. NetNewsWire (have actually bought): only client when I last checked that allowed archiving feeds for an arbitrary period of time – never miss or lose the news!
  2. Little Snitch – essential for anybody who cares about privacy.
  3. Path Finder – if you tweak Mac OS X Finder, you can make it usable, but Path Finder is the real enabler.
  4. Pixelmator (beta) – can’t wait for this to come out; from the looks of it, they are combining ImageMagick (which I regularly use on the command line) and CoreImage capabilities topped off with GUI goodness. Could be amazing, wait and see…
  5. Parallels Desktop – if you need to run Windows, this is the way to do it; beware, though, that you’ll need to add £80 (UK) to the bargain for your copy of Windows XP, so the real cost is closer to £120. I’ll be buying this when integration with Linux guests is as seamless as currently for Windows.
  6. SubEthaEdit – been wanting to try this for a while now – it looks and sounds amazing. Realtime collaborative editing over the internet without a server.
  7. Mathematica – version 6 finally has syntax highlighting; I may upgrade soon. After the gradual demise of Fortran, this may be the future of scientific computing. Very, very expensive though. It may be necessary to start an open source implementation from scratch – Maxima doesn’t seem to accumulate capability fast enough, and is even less usable than Mathematica.

And if I ever got serious about web design, I would add the following:

  1. Transmit – gets you out of the world of code regressions that is Cyberduck
  2. CSSEdit – elegance incarnate
  3. Coda – hyped but possibly actually useful

Windows is now a software console

Someone commented earlier that Windows is the new Classic, but then I read the comments on this post, where one Mac user says that the graphics DirectX 10 produces are almost cool enough to upgrade for. Of course, the same graphics will play on a Mac via the latest Parallels Desktop or the upcoming VMware Fusion (but, yes, you do need a Windows license), so it looks like Windows is now an expensive software console, just like, erm, ScummVM et al.

And on that note, isn’t it great that I don’t need to buy either Vista or OS X to enjoy them? Screenshots and videos on the web will do as much. Thanks Youtube et al.! (And leave the lawyers at home, please!)


Right, I was going to tell you the other thing that Linux developers don’t get about OS X. The problem starts with the fact that most Linux developers haven’t read Jef Raskin’s equivalent of  Mein Kampf (in the sense that Hitler laid out what he was going to do in Mein Kampf, but most liberals in Germany did not read the book and so came up against an avoidable surprise). Microsoft would have only needed to read Jef Raskin’s book thoroughly and develop quicker than Apple – which they were well poised to do – in order to edge ahead on usability (avoiding certain patents such as having the application menu on the screen edge).

Here’s a quick hint:

  • Expose: Zoom
  • Spaces: Zoom
  • Time machine: Zoom

Okay, I think we’re getting the idea here. And did you know that the green button on the title bar was called a “zoom” button? It’s not for maximising, it’s for zooming. And then there are the zoom sliders on apps such as iPhoto and Yep. What chronology is to storytelling, zooming is to work environment visualisation. Google Earth? PhotoSynth? Bingo. And zooming is extensible indefinitely. As an aside, this is also how the iPod works: you zoom into the artist, then the album, then the song. Hierarchical layers. And the column view in Finder is the same idea broad side on. I would really, really like to see this clarity of paradigm in Linux.

Analysis: OS X on ordinary PCs? hmmmaybe…

I’m coming round to this idea. Fred Davis made the point that upgrading to Vista isn’t going to be fun for people, so if OS X were available, they might jump for it. Fred Davis also hinted that he believed (I’m not that well versed in early PC history) that Microsoft wouldn’t have created Windows if Apple had opened up Mac OS for the PC. The problem back then was that Apple was keeping Microsoft’s applications in a cage. It’s also undeniable that putting OS X on PCs would open up a considerable market for iLife, iWork and Aperture (any other applications out there that might appeal to folks that are not already using them?) Furthermore, Microsoft have put themselves in a corner by creating an office incarnation that is so different from previous versions that people are going to be hesitant to switch to it. (The folks over at OpenOffice.org are rubbing their hands already.) There’s probably never been an easier time to defect, especially given that XP OEM licenses are quite cheap and available with Macs from independent vendors, allowing you to run any Windows app you might need via Parallels Desktop (get this – an XP OEM license plus Parallels Desktop still come to less than a license for Vista). People have argued that Apple would need to provide an interface for drivers if they’re going to enter the PC market, where many devices are currently unsupported by Mac OS X. I don’t find that argument plausible, because Mac OS X if the current range of supported hardware is sufficient for one part of the userbase, it will be so for an extended userbase – and lessons could be learnt from the Linux kernel, where a more pluggable, yet secure interface for binary-only device drivers is currently in place.

The majority of Apple shareholders would probably be for a move into the PC market, but Steve’s persona would lose some credibility. It would be a tough decision for nobody but him… But that’s why he’s boss.