Casual larceny

I’ve seldom felt like such an idiot. If you want the secret recipe for making Steve feel like a first-class fool, here’s how you go about it. First of all, you need to ask me to recommend some software. In this case, the request arose out of my recent column about Apple’s OS X in networked environments – and from a comment that I didn’t actually make in print, namely that I find Apple’s Finder woefully underpowered. Not in terms of how long it takes to copy a file – if I want underpowered file copying, I start up Windows Vista – but rather how well it does at helping me work on collections of files, folders and even servers. I must apologise in advance to the Mac evangelists, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Leopard (OS X 10.5) was a retrograde step, and that neither it nor OS X 10.4 is a patch on the immediacy and usability of Windows Explorer.

Casual larceny

In particular, the way that Leopard ditched the idea of each mounted volume (local, removable or networked) having its own large and obvious icon on the desktop results in a confusing and messy nightmare. Here, I have four servers with ten shares on them and that’s quite unmanageable, even on a monstrous Mac Pro with a 30in HP monitor. Happily, all is not lost: just as PC users have a solution to the inadequacies of Vista in XYplorer (www.xyplorer.com), for Mac people the equivalent is Path Finder from Cocoatech (www.cocoatech.com). These two utilities manage a balancing act that the big players seem to have decided is beneath their concern, namely to be friendly, powerful, focused on the user and not distracted by change for change’s sake. Perhaps tellingly, both of them come from smaller and less well-known software houses, companies that can’t make their name unless they keep a close, persistent relationship with users.

This is where I came to feel like an idiot, because I recommended Path Finder to someone before I’d checked out their attitude to the work of others. I feel uncomfortable around copyright thieves, you see – although these days, it’s such a widespread pastime that it often seems as if honest consumers are the exception rather than the rule. I’m not especially bothered by the casual passage of information about how to rip DVDs and CDs between junior staff members, because the mixed messages they receive about what’s legitimate usage and what’s illegal in the world of consumer media are completely absurd, and the range of devices directly supporting DivX and MP3 can easily produce the impression that ripping is a guilt-free process. But I don’t want to get into this whole minefield of intellectual property in the performing arts here. My sense of stupidity arose because the guy who I’d mistakenly trusted with my recommendation is a technologist.

Giving technologists the tools to do their jobs better is normally a rewarding activity, far more so than with end users, because part of what makes a nerd a nerd is their appreciation of a good piece of code. My usual test for this faculty is to show people xxcopy (www.xxcopy.com), the work of an impassioned and highly reactive one-man developer. If they appreciate the way he’s done it and how well it works, and they can see the point of deploying it on their network servers, then it’s almost a dead cert that they’ll arrange to pay for a software licence – for a reason far more personal than just staying within the lawful because it’s the right thing to do, because they respect the author. Techies identify with the level of effort and commitment required to turn out a good robust product, and they can easily put themselves in the position of the guy who did all the work.

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