App Store First Impressions

Today Apple launched the App Store for Mac. The App Store on the Mac is a lot like the App store for the iPhone/iPad/iPod that is part of the iTunes Store. I’ve been spending some time today trying out the App Store, have downloaded a few of the free applications, and have made a few modest purchases. Here are some of my initial impressions.

The App Store is installed when you update your Mac operating software to 10.6.6 (by selecting “Software Update…” from the Apple Menu). It is not available to those running older versions of the Mac OS, like Leopard and Tiger. This is not much of a problem for me, as I almost always run the latest version of the operating system. But I do know people who are still running older versions of the Mac OS who won’t be able to attend the App Store party, at least not until they upgrade (assuming they have an Intel Mac and can upgrade to Snow Leopard).

Once installed, the App Store icon appears in the dock, by default right next to the Finder icon. A link to the App Store also appears in the first section of the Apple Menu, right below Software Update. And of course, the App Store application can be found in the Application folder. The App Store for Mac is not hard to miss, but It’s not built into iTunes, where I suppose it could be confused with the App Store for iOS.

Although the App Store is a separate application from iTunes, it borrows heavily from the App Store on iTunes in form and function. You use your Apple ID to login, and iTunes Store account information is used for any purchases. So if you got an iTunes Gift Card like I did over the holidays, you can now use it to pay for Apps from the App Store. This makes those iTunes Gift Cards quite versatile: I can use them in iTunes to purchase music and music videos, rent and/or purchase movies and TV shows, buy audiobooks and apps for my iOS devices, plus I can use them in iBooks to purchase books. And now I can use them to buy software for my Mac. Sweet.

One of the first things I noticed after I launched the App Store was that it recognized quite a few programs already installed on my Mac. For example, instead of a “Buy” button next to the description for iMovie, there was an “Installed” button. This was true for all of the programs in the iLife and iWork suites, as well as some third-party programs that I had on my computer, like MacFamily Tree from Synium Software and Transmit from Panic Software.

But interestingly, not all programs that are on my computer show up as installed in the App Store. For example, I own iStopMotion Home from Boinx Software, yet the App Store does not seem to recognize it. At first I thought this might be due to having a different version installed, but no, the version on my computer is the same version that is available from the App Store. This behavior is not unique to Boinx products, as I noticed the same thing with Compartments from LittleFin Software and TapeDeck from SuperMegaUltraGoovy (yes that really is the name of the developer of this fine audio recording app). I suspect that programmers need to include something in a a program’s code in order for the App Store to recognize it as installed, so perhaps these programs just need to include this code in future versions.

The first program I purchased on the App Store today was a game called Chopper 2 from Majic Jungle Software. I own the first version of Chopper, and thought this would be a good time to upgrade to Chopper 2. The price was certainly right: Chopper 2 is just 99 cents (for a “limited time” according to the App Store). Purchasing was easy, and proceeded much like a purchase in iTunes. Once I clicked the Buy button, I saw a cute animation of the Chopper 2 icon flying from the App Store to land in the dock, along with a download progress indicator below it. Once installed, the Buy button became an Installed button in the App Store. Unlike my other apps that the App Store recognizes as installed, Chopper 2 was listed in the App Store under the purchases tab. It seems that only apps purchased through the App Store show up on this list.

One of the most interesting things I noticed about the App Store was the dramatic reduction in prices on some of Apple’s products. Aperture, for example, retails in a physical box for $199, but costs just $79.99 as a download through the App Store. This is less than the price of the Academic version of Aperture, which unfortunately is not available for upgrade pricing. (I wonder if the App Store version of Aperture will be eligible for upgrade pricing when a new version comes out.) Even more dramatic is the cost reduction of Apple Remote Desktop. Yesterday this product cost $299 for the ten seat version and $499 for the unlimited seat version. But today it can be downloaded from the App Store for just $79.99. And since the App Store description doesn’t mention a seat limitation, this might be the unlimited version, which could make this a very tempting purchase. What is not clear to me, however, is whether the terms of the license for this product would allow me to use it to manage a small group of computers where I work. The license reads that I can install the software on computers that I “own or control,” so perhaps this might be permissible. In any case, it’s interesting that the version of ARD on the App Store makes no mention of a limit on how many clients one can control; I’m still not clear on why Apple decided to sell two different versions of ARD based on the number of clients anyway.

There are plenty of good apps available at good prices in the App Store. There are also quite a few not-so-good apps available, but I suspect the overall quality level of the software available will improve with time. Noticeably absent from the App Store are the big third-party software companies, like Adobe and Microsoft, which is perhaps not surprising. Staples like Roxio’s Toast and Parallels Desktop are also absent. Given the time of the year, I was really surprised not to find any of the major tax preparation programs available on the App Store. Neither Intuit’s TurboTax nor H&R Block at Home (formerly known as TaxCut) are currently available.

Another surprise was the absence of iBooks from the launch of the Mac App Store. Amazon’s Kindle app is on the App Store, so I suspect it won’t be long until we see iBooks released for Mac. But this raises an interesting possibility of having three programs on my Mac where I could spend my iTunes gift cards: iTunes, the App Store, and iBooks. Perhaps this is the start of a trend, and someday Apple will enable the use of iTunes cards in iPhoto for paying for cards and calendars.

In general, I think the App Store is off to a strong start. There are some inconsistencies in how it recognizes installed apps, and I hope Apple improves on this feature in a future update. I think the App Store could eventually move closer to the functionality of the MacUpdate Desktop App, recognizing all of the software on your computer and alerting you to any available updates. The current number of apps for sale in the Mac App Store is modest; at the moment, there are only 7 programs available in the news category, 8 programs in the Weather category, and 9 in the Medical category. But I suspect the number of available apps will grow quickly as developers recognize the potential of this new marketplace for Mac software.

Podcast Producer 2 and the iPad

Shortly after I got my iPad, I discovered something interesting. Whenever I visited one of the many web pages on my Snow Leopard Server with embedded videos created by Podcast Producer 2, the videos wouldn’t play. When I clicked the thumbnail, the image would just turn to a black square.

Some of you who read my blog know that I’ve written many posts about Podcast Producer 2, a key component of Snow Leopard Server. I’ve described various techniques for getting Podcast Producer 2 (PP2) to “play nice” with Windows Internet Explorer, and how I substituted the Quicktime plugin for the open source Flash player Flowplayer. Of course, Flash doesn’t work on the iPhone, but that wasn’t a major issue since Snow Leopard Server dishes up a different version of a PP2 page for iPhones. I had hacked together a solution that would serve PP2 videos inside Flowplayer when viewed on a computer browser, but serve PP2 videos inside the native H.264 player on the iPhone.

But my little cludge didn’t work on Mobile Safari on the iPad. That’s because Snow Leopard Server doesn’t serve up a different page for iPads like it does for iPhones. Perhaps this is deliberate, since the bigger screen real estate on the iPad doesn’t necessitate the compact presentation of an iPhone-optimized page. Or perhaps Apple didn’t include in the latest update to Snow Leopard Server specific user agent detection code to serve iPad-optimized pages.

Whatever the case may be, I reported this situation as a bug to Apple a few days ago. I had hoped that the most recent Snow Leopard Server update would include code that would produce PP2 pages that could be viewed on the iPad, but no such luck. Hopefully, this will come in an update down the road. But until then, I’ve developed a workaround.

Here’s how I got PP2 to play nice with the iPad…

First, I downloaded the open source javascript library Modernizr from This little gem allows one to detect whether a client’s web browser can handle HTML 5. Mobile Safari on the iPad can display HTML 5 video, and in fact, Apple explicitly recommends using the HTML 5 VIDEO tag to display video on an iPad optimized page in this technote.

I put the Modernizr javascript file in my web directory (I just put it at the root level). Then I added a line in the custom wiki theme that I use for PP2 pages. The line I added is just a simple SCRIPT tag that references the Modernizr javascript file. Essentially, every page the PP2/Wiki Server produces that uses this custom wiki theme will include a call to the Modernizr javascript library. This wasn’t hard to do; in fact, the process was very similar to what I did to add a call to the Flowplayer javascript library that I described in great detail in a previous post.

Next, I added the following bit of code in the expandMedia function found in wiki.js (and compressed_wiki.js)…

else if ( {
var objectHTML = '<video autoplay width="'+img.width+'" height="'+(img.height+(extendHeight?16:0))+'" src="'+fullSrc+'?sessionID='+server().sessionID+'" controls></video>';
embed.innerHTML = objectHTML;

Essentially what this code does is call on Modernizr to test whether a browser supports HTML 5, and if so, uses HTML 5 to display the PP2 video instead of presenting it with the Quicktime plugin. I use the autoplay attribute to cause the video to click when a user clicks on the thumbnail. And the controls attribute causes the video to be displayed with whatever playback control bar is provided by the browser.

Again, I describe in great detail in this previous post the process for editing the wiki.js and compressed_wiki.js files, since I used a similar technique for swapping out the Quicktime plugin for Flowplayer. I would certainly recommend making backups of the original wiki.js and compressed_wiki.js files, as well as any modifications, since these files will likely be overwritten by future Snow Leopard Server updates.

With these changes, the Podcast Producer 2 videos on my website can now be played on an iPad. Indeed, as an added bonus, these videos are now displayed using HTML 5 on any web browser that supports HTML 5, like Safari and Chrome. The Modernizr script detects whether the page is being viewed in an HTML 5 capable browser, and if so, my code swaps in the appropriate HTML 5 code.

My iPad is happy now. Here’s hoping that the folks at Apple who maintain the Snow Leopard Server code will produce an update that will work with an iPad someday. Until then, my little hack seems to do the trick.

MacHeist 2009 has started

If you haven’t yet checked out the latest MacHeist, it’s not too late. Just for registering at, you’ll get the Process application from Jumsoft, for free! And if you go through the initial steps of the “heist,” you’ll be rewarded with two more applications: MacDust (a chache cleaning utility) and the novel game Pandora’s Pests.

And this is just the start. After you complete the first steps of the heist, which involves finding and uploading the URLs of a series of nine TGA graphic files to the MacHeist “Main Frame,” you’ll be presented with a cryptic “countdown” screen to the next stage of MacHeist 2009. As I write this, the estimated time remaining is 17 days to the “decoding” of these TGA files, which suggests the next stage of the MacHeist will start around February 5. So if you haven’t got in on the fun, there’s still time!

Free Software from the MacHeist Giving Tree

If you haven’t yet visited the “Giving Tree” at MacHeist, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to get some free software.  I’ve got a lot of “loot” over the past few years from MacHeist, and the fun has just started this year.  Already announced are two freebies: Synergy, an iTunes “extender” utility, and Enigmo 2, an outer-space themed puzzle game from Pangea.  Plus there are other presents to unwrap on Christmas Day.  Check out the MacHeist Giving Tree at

And while you’re at it, sign up to become a MacHeist agent at

MacHeist 3 is coming!  Take it from Dr. Phil…you don’t want to miss out!

MacJournal 5

Today I downloaded the update to MacJournal, and I’m writing this blog entry with it. I’ve used MacJournal for a couple of years to write blog entries, organize information, and keep a personal journal. The new version was announced at last week’s MacWorld Expo, and I’ve been eager to give it a try.

My initial impressions are general positive, but nothing too exciting. The familiar MacJournal interface has not changed significantly, although it has a cleaner, more “Leopard-like” appearance. This version has improved MacJournal’s ability to work with many different kinds of content, including images and videos. The icon for the program has changed; I’m not sure I like the new blue icon as well as the old red one, which seemed to have more “character.”

One thing that I’ve always loved about MacJournal is the full screen feature. This allows you to clear your screen of all distractions, presenting a simple, clean area where you can focus on your writing. This feature hasn’t seemed to change much in the new version. In fact, most of the changes I’ve discovered so far in the new version are rather subtle. There are a few more preferences available, including the ability to automatically discover “wiki style links,” which I assume means words in CamelCase (where a middle letter is capitalized in a new word formed by joining two words). I’m not quite sure how I would use this feature yet. There is also a “smart journal” feature that is similar to the “smart mailbox” in Mac Mail and the “smart album” in iPhoto. Another nice feature is the ability to assign a “star rating” to entries.

I’ve just been using the program for a short time, and I’ve found a few small annoyances. The full screen editor didn’t work at first, but that could have been a problem with Leopard’s Spaces feature. In any case, it’s working fine now, so I’ll just chalk it up to something that is probably happening at the OS level. I’ve also found that sometimes the “smart quotes” feature isn’t very smart, occasionally positioning the quote marks in the wrong direction. I’ve also found that this feature doesn’t seem to be compatible with my blogging platfrom. Again, this could be something in the OS, rather than in the program itself.

All things considered, this upgrade wasn’t a huge leap for MacJournal, but considering it was only $19.95 to upgrade, I’m not complaining. The one feature that may be worth this price is the ability to work with more kinds of content, and in particular, PDF files. Still, it would have been nice to have seen a few more features in this upgrade. In particular, I would have appreciated more tools for adjust the formating of images in blog entries.

MacUpdate and MacHeist

This past week, the venerable MacUpdate has been running a special bundle promotion.  For just $49.99, one could get a bundle of eight very useful Mac programs, including one of my favorites, ProfCast.  If you are a professor using Keynote or PowerPoint on a Mac, and want to easily make enhanced podcasts of your lectures, ProfCast is for you.  It simplifies the process greatly, and helps you focus on more important things than editing XML and publishing RSS feeds.

But wait…there’s more!  If enough people buy the bundle, one or two more applications will be “unlocked.”  If 3,800 bundles are sold, the drawing program Intaglio would be added.  And if the 6,000 bundle figure is reached, TechTool Pro will be included.  I’ve been using earlier versions of TechTool Pro for many years, and it’s one of the best testing and diagnostic tools available for the Mac.

But wait…there’s still more!  The great minds behind MacHeist have developed an even more appealing way to get the bundle.  If you buy the MacUpdate bundle through their special link, you’ll not only get all of the apps in the bundle, you’ll also get four additional programs, plus special preview access to two programs in beta.  All told, that’s 15 programs (16 if TechTool Pro is added) plus a free membership in MacUpdate if you send out the bundle invitation coupons.  That’s about $3 a program.

What a deal!  If you use a Mac, you owe it to yourself to at least check this out.