Like Brent Simmons, I remember buying software online over a decade prior to the App Stores, although I was at the consuming end and he the producing end.

We shipped NetNewsWire 1.0, an RSS reader for Mac OS X, in 2003 and sold it over the web for $39.95. There were no boxes and no printed manuals — there was nothing physical at all. This situation was, at that time, completely unremarkable: it was expected.

We used a service called Kagi for the storefront and credit card processing. Kagi had been around since the ’90s, and it was well-known and trusted by the Mac community. Setting up our account and store was pretty simple — simple enough that I forget most of the details.

Part of how it worked was that we had to upload a text file to Kagi’s system, a file with license keys their system would give out one by one. I wrote a script to generate that file, and I wrote code in the app to validate a license key. I also had to create a small window where a user would enter their license code.

This meant there was some work, yes, but it was nothing compared to what you have to do to sell on the App Store.

I remember Kagi, and there were many other similar services around the globe. It wasn’t always completely smooth — credit card processing would occasionally hit a snag and fail, possibly because it saw transactions as possible fraud, or was just having a bad day, and licence keys might take a while to reach you or not show up at all — but overall it worked.

And — importantly — Kagi’s fee was something like 5%. (Update a little later: evidence suggests I may be misremembering: it could have been more like 10%.)

Even more importantly: Kagi didn’t review our app. I suppose, if we had been selling something egregious in some way, they might have learned of it and cut us off. But that’s a standard business relationship. Kagi was not a gatekeeper.

Kagi didn’t promote our app, either. It wasn’t their job — it was ours. They provided a storefront and trusted credit card handling, and that was all we wanted, and it was great.

And there were plenty of sites out there where new software could be promoted, notably the venerable Tucows (RIP).

The App Stores exist not to replace real-world retail for software — that was already in decline, as Brent mentions — or to make the purchase process ‘safer’, which it has never achieved. They exist to exert control over both developers and consumers.

I’ve been trying out different visual settings since upgrading my iMac to macOS Big Sur 11.3, with varying degrees of success.

Big Sur is a lot more opinionated about how it wants things to look compared to previous versions of macOS, and I’m finding that we’re not always on the same wavelength.

I can understand why changing the menu bar text and icons from black to white might make sense when used in conjunction with the new ‘accent colour’ setting which tracks the desktop background colour, but it only works if all the icons follow suit. And the Desktop Quote app, that supplies the text seen in the screenshot above, doesn’t.

This has been an issue ever since Dark Mode was introduced, but that is an option I can take or leave, and I’ve chosen to leave it off. But Big Sur has decided that it thinks its choice is the right one, and the only option I have is to change the desktop background to one that forces the menu bar text and icons back to black.

I have no idea why Apple decided to change this behaviour, other than Because They Can. So for the time being I’ve opted for a plain green background and green accent.

Windows 10 Sun Valley Update ditches Windows 95 icons for modern versions

Later this year, Microsoft is planning to deliver a “sweeping visual rejuvenation” with Project Sun Valley, giving testers in the Insider program an early look at changes that will be introduced on Windows 10.

Windows 10’s big interface refresh is codenamed “Sun Valley” and it’s reportedly coming in October/November, with reports suggesting that the feature update will hit the RTM (release to manufacture) status in June. In the latest preview builds, we’ve now caught a glimpse of new icons for features from Windows 95-era.

I have mixed feelings about this. Those old icons have a certain pixel-y charm to them, and some isometric personality. They’ve survived this long mainly due to maintenance of backward compatibility. The new ones are… okay, but decidedly flat. I get why Microsoft are doing it, and frankly Windows’ user interface has felt like an archeological dig at times.

(I originally came across this story over at The Verge, but as they pretty much copied most of the story from the linked article above I’ve opted to use that, if only because it’ll load faster for most folks.)

Aeons ago, I was an avid user of StumbleUpon, a great way to discover interesting sites around the web. Sadly, that service died the death of a thousand cuts (of features) and I ended up leaving it. 🙁

A few days ago, I came across Stumbled which is the spirit of the old StumbleUpon renewed. 🙂 There is a very discreet text advert at each Stumble, and not all sites will open in a frame due to security settings, but that’s not their fault and they detect it and offer a button to let you open the site directly.

It’s not a replacement for my RSS feeds, but it is a nice way to amuse myself for a few minutes (or longer if I find a particularly interesting site).

This blog post made me smile, because it’s a habit that I’ve followed for a couple of decades now.

In the 2000s, the first three family computers were named after the characters of the children’s television programme Hector’s House (Hector, Zsazsa, Kiki).

My current devices are named after characters from Danger Mouse — the iMac is ‘Colonel K’, the iPad is ‘Dangermouse’, and the iPhone is ‘Penfold’. 🙂

Is Night Shift really helping you sleep better?

Cami Buckley:

It’s widely believed that the emitted blue light from phones disrupts melatonin secretion and sleep cycles. To reduce this blue light emission and the strain on eyes, Apple introduced an iOS feature called Night Shift in 2016; a feature that adjusts the screen’s colors to warmer hues after sunset. Android phones soon followed with a similar option, and now most smartphones have some sort of night mode function that claims to help users sleep better.

Until recently, claims of better sleep due to Night Shift have been theoretical. However, a new study from BYU published in Sleep Health challenges the premise made by phone manufacturers and found that the Night Shift functionality does not actually improve sleep.

I’ve always wondered whether Night Shift, and similar technologies to dim your screen, actually made any difference. From experience, when I have had sleepless nights and looked at my iPad for a while, it was having the screen up near my face that caused me to struggle to get back to sleep.

I have a feeling that Night Shift is less of a health benefit and more of an excuse for staring at your device late at night. The better solution — having your device away from your bedside, or face down, during the night — may be good for you, but not so much for device and app makers.

Since I changed my sleep pattern and started going to bed earlier, I reckon I’ve not even seen Night Shift kick in that often, so I’m turning it off for now to see if I’m correct. The one or two times when I’ve stayed up late, I’ve definitely noticed the effect of being in front of a screen at those hours!

I’ve been using Vivaldi as my primary desktop browser for quite a while now, and keep finding more reasons to love it.

Version 3.8 was released last week, and among its new features are support for blocking various cookie banners. Finally!

I just wish that I could use Vivaldi on my iPad or iPhone. (They do have an Android version.) Using Safari on those is, at best, okay in comparison.

And I’m now wondering how they’ll celebrate when they reach version number 4? I suspect it’ll be an excuse to dig up screenshots of Internet Explorer 4, and all the crazy stuff Microsoft were throwing around back then — most of which, thankfully, now consigned to history.

Mark Hughes:

We had a lingua franca, including the first 15 years of personal computing, that could be taught in a few hours and immediately used practically, and then it vanished almost utterly in the late ’90s. Two generations are completely illiterate in the language of their ancestors.

I have fond memories of writing BASIC programs on various 8-bit computers during the 80s, but particularly the BBC Master 128 that I owned in the late 80s. Happy days.

Turbo Pascal and Turbo Assembler kept that spirit alive for me for a time in the 90s, and Borland Delphi for Windows tried its best, but the tide was turning. Programming was, by and large, for developers now, not for users. The only affordances were within specific applications such as spreadsheets and databases. HyperCard carried the torch for a while, as did Flash. The former was killed off by its maker, the latter lived but became a dirty word thanks to those who abused it (and I’d include Adobe on that list.) Visual Basic? A brilliant idea, marred by the fact that it had Microsoft as its progenitor.

The original home computers having “turn on, maybe hit one key, you’re in BASIC” interaction was amazing, unparalleled in any other system since, and we need to get back to as close to that as possible.

Recently, I had a look at a 5G coverage map for my local area, and was disappointed — but not surprised — to note that it was still patchy. Meanwhile, 4G coverage is pretty solid.

We’ve been here before, of course. Back when 4G first launched here in the UK, there were reception problems in many places, particularly so outside of urban areas, but even within buildings on some networks.

But it appears that nobody ever learns, because I see and hear advertising for the latest phones that always, without fail, mentions ‘with 5G’. I suspect that most of these handsets will be spending the next few years connecting to 4G most of the time.