November 2, 2015

Here today gone tomorrow

(Originally posted on 2015-10-19)

Two things happened:

  1. Write for Mac and Write for iPad ceased development
  2. Glamdevelopment’s website has gone dark. They are the developers of Outlinely.

Sunk costs of software adoption

I liked both products. I wrote about them. Here and here. I have them installed on my machine and I use them periodically. They are not going to be developed any more.

What does that mean?

That means that bugs are not going to be fixed. New system features are not going to be supported. For instance, El Capitan gives us Split View. It is never going to be incorporated into these products. Outlinely would be an useful product in split view. They will continue to function till some system change makes them unusable.

Let me make this clear so that we completely understand each other: The developers selling a version of the product are just selling that version. There is no implied agreement that the product will continue to be developed. As a consumer we are buying the present version and nothing else. There is no guarantee of an upgrade path, or compatibility with future versions of the OS update.

As an user, however, when you decide to adopt a product into your workflow, there are investments you make in that decision.

  1. The cost of the application.
  2. The time spent learning how the product functions. Getting to know how some of these products work takes time and energy. You put in the effort since you believe that the product is going to add value to your workflow and it is this time spent pursuing the benefits of using the product you lose when you have to move on to another solution.
  3. The work which is stuck in the application. Most of these applications have their own file formats and all your work in it gets saved to these file formats. If the application ceases development, and you can't use the application anymore, you are caught with files which are not readable anymore. In other words, you are locked out of your own work.

So, from the perspective of the user it makes sense to choose a product which is going to continue to be developed. The time and energy commitment to learning to use the product is better served that way.

What does the user do?

How does an user who is looking for a solution to a problem find a solution which is going to have legs? Going to be developed for a few years? Is going to evolve with the OS?

Sadly, there are no easy answers. There is an answer but it is not the most efficient of answers. Buy from established developers is the answer. But I am not sure it is the most efficient answer. When you buy from an established outfit an ancillary benefit is the history they bring to the transaction. If you are looking for a text editor, you can buy BBEdit. You are not going to have any problems with the developer disappearing or the product being abandoned. Barebones has been making BBEdit for 20+ years, and they are not going away anytime soon. You are going to get a fantastic text editor, which is well-supported and has a record of keeping up with system updates for a long time. Taking the trouble to learn the ins and outs of BBEdit will stand you in good stead for a very long time. It is an investment worth making. If you are looking for an outliner, buy OmniOutliner or OmniOutliner Pro. Omnigroup, the developer, has also been around for a very long time and they are very well established in the marketplace. They are not going away any time soon. Both of these products are great examples of well supported and consistently updated pieces of software which are a pleasure to use.

So, what is the downside?

By definition, the established houses are risk-averse and it shows in their software. In the current marketplace of text editors, BBEdit certainly lags behind both SublimeText 3 and Atom in terms of features. The newcomers are hungrier. They are more interested in differentiation and they are eager to adopt new technologies. Multiple cursors in Sublime Text 3 and the webkit implementation of Atom being two indicators of this trend. OmniOutliner does things no outliner was really supposed to be doing, and that is unique to this product. Omnigroup has done a great job of keeping this product at the cutting edge of what an outliner is supposed to do. Although even in that market space, Outlinely with its Markdown roots and FoldingText with its different modes has shown us what more can be achieved through an outliner. Thus, even though this is not a statement which can be applied in every circumstance, if you are looking for innovation or innovative features in a category, the newcomers are a much better bet than the established powerhouses. So, when you adopt the established product you are giving up on some features which distinguish the newer competition. Is this trade off worth it? That is a difficult question to answer when you bring in another criteria to the decision. The offerings from the established products are usually priced higher than the newcomers. This is not always true, but generally true. An exception of course is that SublimeText 3 is more expensive than BBEdit. But SublimeText 3 is cross-platform and a license entitles you to use the product in every platform it is available in. Atom of course, is free.

So, what does the user do?

  1. Only adopt products which have a clear output path. You should be able to output your data from the product into an application independent format. Standardized formats are well supported across a wide choice of applications and they include, .txt, .rtf, .pdf, .doc, .md, and so on. Before adopting a product make sure that the data you input into it can be exported to a format which is universally accessible. If the product doesn't do that, take it out of your consideration set.
  2. Adopt multiple products in categories. If the outlining category is important to you, adopt OmniOutliner and one of the newcomers. If text editors are not that important to you (considering that I spent my life in text editors I have no idea who you are anymore), adopt one of the established ones, BBEdit is a great choice and don't worry about cutting edge features. Learn it well. You are going to find a lot of uses for it.
  3. Look at products which are task specific. They bring specificity to the problem they are trying to solve and that leads to innovation and improvements which the generalists do not have the motive to consider. Ulysses is great for writers of all kinds, the newest version of iA Writer is not bad, Byword is a great web publishing solution.

Silver lining

I must tell you about an application called Opal. I wrote about it on June 28, 2009, here. Yes. You read that right. 2009. It was last updated on 14th October, 2009. That is 6 years ago. I still use it. It works like a charm and is as efficient as it always was. Sometimes software surprises you.


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