Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
Revisiting Magellan.

I've held off on commenting on all the neat things that Apple announced last week, in part because I wanted to actually sit and watch the QuickTime stream of Steve Jobs' keynote address myself, and in part because I've been insanely busy all week. Now that I've finally had an hour to sit and watch, I feel like I can provide some honest commentary.

Magellan 2004
First off, on the displays I'd so anxiously awaited... Wowsers. Even though I'd heard rumors of the 30-inch display for months, when Steve actually unveiled it, the result was breathtaking. I have great difficulty justifying the nearly-$4000 price tag on one of these babies – I only paid $2000 for my car, for crying out loud – but that doesn't mean I'm not sizing up my incoming-work list to try and figure out how to budget for one. After having been confined to a 14.1" PowerBook screen for as long as I can remember, that much screen real estate is droolworthy. Completely thrilling.

Second, I was initially underwhelmed by the advances that were trumpeted in Tiger, but I'm much more excited about them after having watched the keynote address. Safari RSS? OK, cool. iChat AV with multiple users? OK, cool. Automator? OK, cool. These things are nifty, but pretty much just OK, cool. What really makes my ears perk up, though, are Searchlight and Dashboard. Searchlight thrills me because it means I can change the way I deal with my email – instead of diligently filing everything that wends its way into my inbox, I can simply read new mail and rely on Searchlight to index and store those emails for me. That could be a huge timesaver. And Dashboard? Ah, Dashboard.

Is Dashboard a Konfabulator-killer? Yep. Is Dashboard a Konfabulator ripoff? Nope. Konfabulator is a Desk Accessory ripoff, whose only main innovation was permitting people to write apps in JavaScript, which was a great democratizing step. Write apps without needing to learn C++ or even Carbon or Cocoa? Cool. Where Dashboard really shines is by taking that one step further – Dashboard apps are basically web pages. The idea that I could use Dashboard to write the – gasp! – personal dashboard application I've been designing for the last fistful of years is thrilling. Now, sure, I imagine getting some of the data I want could be difficult. For example, I would like a Dashboard app that could query my bank accounts and my PayPal account, a la Quicken. Yet I don't imagine the banks are going to be that open with that particular data, which I sort of support but also sort of mourn. We'll see. Regardless, it'll be interesting to see what all Dashboard apps can tie into. I'd love to see a Dashboard app that could tie into the to-do list in iCal, providing a better interface. And if .Mac sync could be linked to, say, a Treo 610, then my blueprints for Magellan, my personal life-management system, could finally start becoming a reality.

In short, the future's so bright, I've gotta wear shades. Now I just need to start saving those pennies. Back to work!


Have you actually *used* Konfabulator? Seriously, it's nice eye candy, and then you realize that it's really not useful. I mean, how many bubbly clocks can you stand floating around on your desktop?

As for the displays, I wouldn't get the 30. I mean, if someone gave one to me, I'd take it, but jeesh.. You need a special video card, which costs a fortune, and thus probably have a very limited upgrade path, since there probably won't be too many new cards which support that monitor. Just buy two 20's and be done with it.

Heh. I have used Konfabulator, actually, and found it really annoying. You're right, too many damn bubble clocks and worthless little widgets.

What I'm hoping for is the ability to build some micro-apps that are actually useful, that are actually calls to bigger apps. Where Konfabulator really fails, IMHO, is in its concept as a bunch of tiny applications, which isn't what a dashboard is. The dash in your car isn't a place where you can ask for the definition of a word or find out the time in Munich, it's a place that gives you at-a-glance status reports on what's going on in your car. On my Mac, the Dashboard would be a bunch of reports on what's happening in my life – ideally, my current to-do list, my bank account, my stock portfolio, and whatever other progress-trackers I might use, like maybe my weight, charted on a line graph...

I like the one-button hide and reveal approach, too -- we'll see how useful it actually is when it ships.

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