OmniWeb, Vienna, Keynote, Safari

Tuesday, 2006-09-12; 01:33:00

A few notes about a few apps I've recently been using

In July, I wrote about how I was trying to switch to OmniWeb after seeing impressive (for OmniWeb) rendering performance. In a nutshell, OmniWeb 5.5 finally approached rendering speeds of Safari, an aspect that had always been lacking in previous versions. Version 5.5 has been out of beta for about a week now. So how's the transition going?

Well, not really.

I managed to use OmniWeb 5.5 for about a month, after which I changed back to Safari and used OmniWeb intermittently. I'm still struggling to start using OmniWeb regularly. OmniWeb has yet to win me over in two ways: memory usage and the same old issue rearing its ugly head, rendering speed.

OmniWeb is a memory hog. After launching it and then closing the initial window, OmniWeb uses 74 MB of memory. Safari, in contrast, uses 15 MB after doing the same thing. I can usually keep Safari's memory usage to under 75 MB, as long as I don't visit YTMND that much. (For some reason, after browsing YTMND, Safari's memory usage is invariably in the 200-300 MB range. Somewhere in there, the site exacerbates a memory leak.) While this doesn't appear to be a problem since I have 1.5 GB of memory, it affects the speed of OmniWeb down the road. After having OmniWeb open for a day or so, its rendering speed gets noticeably slower than Safari. When that happens, I'll often just launch Safari and browse to the one website I need quick access to.

Another factor that I hadn't really considered was the fact that after quitting OmniWeb with a bunch of sites open, it takes a long time for it to open again. That's because it saves your browsing session, which means that it automatically navigates back to all those sites that you have open. Sometimes it takes a minute before the browser is fully responsive enough to where I can browse to a new website that isn't open. (This is often when I kind of give up and open Safari while OmniWeb is loading all of its sites.) This is exacerbated by the fact that OmniWeb's stability isn't on par with Safari's. I usually got one or two crashes per day when I managed to use OmniWeb regularly. I don't have any crashing problems with Safari. Also remember that after crashing, OmniWeb has to open all those sites again when I launch it, so I'll have to wait a minute or so before I can actually use it as a web browser again.

Even on a warm launch, OmniWeb's rendering speed is still a bit slower than Safari, which I guess is a bit to be expected since it's a bit of a memory hungry application. But I'm (obviously) very impatient when it comes to web browsing, and that makes all the difference between OmniWeb and Safari.

OmniWeb mini-review 5.5 rating
OmniWeb Rating: 3.5/5

I also previously mentioned that I didn't like OmniWeb's RSS features, and was going to try NetNewsWire Lite again. Well, Peter in the comments here suggested I try out Vienna instead. (Jeff, one of the developers, also personally e-mailed me urging me to try out Vienna.)

Vienna's a pretty good feed-reader. I'm not completely won over with it, but I have switched to using it pretty regularly in lieu of using Safari, even though I have still been using Safari pretty regularly. It's nice that it's open source, and the developer support site (which, incidentally has a convenient RSS feed) is quite nice; the developers regularly respond to any queries, bug reports, and feature requests. It's nice to know that the application is supported.

I do have many quibbles with it, though. The first is the interface. Here's a shot:

Vienna Interface

As may be evident if you've read past posts of mine about interface issues, I'm indifferent with regards to the brushed metal issue. I actually like the variety in window styles (as long as they're not something horrible like the Halloween-esque GarageBand window theme), since it helps me differentiate between applications. I wouldn't mind if they got rid of the thick borders, though.
Incidentally, I don't really know why I bought iLife '06. I got it for $59 instead of $79, since I'm a grad student. I do manage my photos occasionally, so I was interested in iPhoto. I was also curious about iWeb and whether I would feasibly be able to change to that over iBlog. (Verdict: emphatic no.) I suppose, in hindsight, that I wouldn't have been able to implement .mac comments were it not for the fact that I bought iLife '06. :P

The main thing that makes me cringe, though, is the toolbar on the bottom of the window. Why not use a standard Mac OS X toolbar? It has obvious benefits, like allowing people to customize the placement and size of the buttons, as well as whether they display text or an icon or both. The toolbar at the bottom of the screen seems unnecessarily restrictive, especially given the fact that there are only 4 buttons and a search field.

The "but OMG APPLE DOES IT" rationalization does not cut it with me. Yes, almost all of the iApps use this bottom-based toolbar. The only iApp that I use frequently, however, is iTunes, and I rarely need to use any buttons besides the rewind, pause, and forward buttons on the mini-window in iTunes. (In fact, I rarely use those anymore now that I have a remote.) I open iPhoto every once in a while, and same with iCal. iMovie, iDVD, iWeb, and GarageBand are apps that just sit on my hard drive. But again, the top-of-the-window toolbars are more useful.

The main developer says that he likes the interface of Vienna as it is now, because it is unique compared to other newsreader programs. I guess. I can't think of any other newsreader program that looks like this:

iBlog Interface

Oh, wait, that's iBlog. My bad. :P (For what it's worth, I'm not fond of iBlog's interface that much either. But it's power far outweighs the top-oriented vs. bottom-oriented toolbar "debate".)

I've already voiced my opinions on the Vienna support site about this, so maybe it's kind of unfair that I'm ragging on them again here. But whatever, this is my weblog.

Vienna is nice since it offers smart folders, Unified layout, and view filtering. Smart folders is just what you think: you define rules for the folder, and any feed articles that match the criteria are displayed in that folder. Default smart folders are: Flagged Articles, Articles from Today, and Unread Articles. In practice, I don't use this feature that much.

The Unified layout is very similar to Safari's feed view, in that it shows all article headlines and summaries in one long page. It doesn't differentiate the headers with regards to unread and read articles, though, which makes it a major pain in the ass were it not for view filtering. View filtering allows you to filter out articles in the current view so that you only see a subset of them. The filter has four settings: All Articles, Unread Articles, Last Refresh, and Today. When in unified view, I regularly use the Unread Articles filter so I only see those articles that I haven't yet read. The other problem with unified view is that the search box doesn't work when in this view, so you have to change to the Report or Condensed layout in order to search articles. (Unified view is pretty new in Vienna, which explains why it has a few hiccups.)

One other problem I have with Vienna is that with the latest build, I seem to be getting a lot of articles that are marked unread again even though I've clearly read them before. (They're not being marked simply as "updated", either.) I don't know if this is due to the feeds -- for one, the Hawk Wings feed constantly does this but apparently the feed is to blame, and for two, the RSS that iBlog generates for my weblogs makes Vienna mark them as unread and not as updated -- or due to a bug Vienna itself. In any case, it's not too much of an annoyance, but it would be nice if it were fixed.

Lastly, I really wish that Vienna was able to sync over .mac, or even externally if not via .mac. I really, really like the fact that Safari updates its unread count through .mac, and I would like that feature to come to Vienna. I still use Safari at work, and I have to wade through a lot of articles that I've already read when I use that as my RSS reader there. :(

Vienna mini-review rating
Vienna Rating: 3.5/5

In creating the spam e-mail graph that I posted yesterday, I mentioned that I used Keynote. It makes pretty graphs, but there are some real annoyances.

First, the max and min values of your axes must contain any data that you have on the graph. So if you have data points at 3, 10, 15, 25, and 80, your min value is constrained to be 3 or lower, and the max value to be 80 or higher. On the surface, this doesn't seem to be that bad, but it is. For example, the graph showing spam volume over the past year had one data point at 101. I didn't really care about actually showing that on the graph, and I wanted a nice and even 0-100 graph range. Nope, sorry, Keynote won't let me do that.

The thing that exacerbates this problem is that you are only allowed to have 10 graph intervals at max. I wanted to have a nice range from 0-100, which would allow me to make 10 intervals spanning a range of 10 units each. Since the previous issue constrained me to having at least a range of 0-110, I figured I'd make 11 intervals each spanning a range of 10. Nope, sorry! I had to make 10 intervals spanning a range of 11 units each. And that produced horrible numbers for the axis labels, which is why I chose a range of 0-120 with 20 unit intervals. Argh.

Keynote is also horrible when it comes to updating data. Since it likes to do live updating (a trend that goes hand-in-hand with the recent "Web 2.0" trend), updating data in the data table is a bit slow. Then there's the issue of deleting columns.

When I initially inputted the data into a Keynote graph, I realized I had a few datapoints at the start and beginning of the year period that weren't reliable, and I wanted to delete them. Big mistake. When trying to delete just 4 columns from the end of the data table (with 1 row and about 365 columns), it took literally 20 seconds for the interface to become responsive again after updating the graph. Even worse, when trying to delete a few columns from the beginning of the data table, Keynote locked up for five minutes -- at that point I didn't want to wait any longer and force quat Keynote. (Whaaat? It's the past tense of "force quit"!)

All these issues are inherent to both Keynote 2.0 and 3.0. I bought Keynote 2.0 with iWork '05, but only have a trial of Keynote 3.0 and iWork '06 that came with my iMac. (Note to self and warning to others: don't make a graph in a trial version of Keynote 3.0 ever again, because you can't save the file or copy the graph out to Keynote 2.0 except as an image.)

I did notice a nice difference between Keynote 2.0 and 3.0, which ultimately didn't help me one bit. If you have two lines of data delimited by tabs, the first consisting of labels using alphanumeric characters, and the second consisting solely of numeric data, you can select the first column label in Keynote 3.0's data table, paste, and the labels and data will be input as you expected. In Keynote 2.0, in contrast, Keynote will "recognize" that the labels aren't valid data, and will simply discard them. Argh.

Oh, by the way, what's with the gratuitous 3D graph options? They offer no advantage over the 2D graphs besides the fact that they skew the data when looking at it. Blah.

Keynote graphing features mini-review rating
Keynote graphing features Rating: 3/5

To come full circle, I want to return to Safari for a moment. I've always had the Debug menu activated, but in hacking .mac comments, I've found a couple of very useful features that aid in web development, particularly with JavaScript problems.

First off, there's the JavaScript console, but I've known about that for a while. I'm talking about the DOM tree inspector:

Safari DOM tree inspector

This is so useful it's not even funny. Specifically, when Javascript "script" tags produce markup that is ultimately rendered for webpage viewing, the DOM tree inspector shows this HTML markup. Because the typical "View Source" command doesn't do this (since this dynamic markup isn't in the static HTML file), this made it very useful for examining the effects of the various JavaScripts of the .mac comments mechanism.

There's also a way to turn off the cache, using just a checkbox. Go to [Debug --> Show Caches Window], and then check "Disable WebCore Caches". This is useful for when you constantly edit your page and don't want to empty your cache all the time. (If you don't want to disable your cache entirely, this window also allows you one-click access to emptying your cache.)

Safari cache window

Of course, there are all the other goodies in the Debug menu like User Agent spoofing, the ability to quickly open a web page in another browser, a quick link to keyboard/mouse shortcuts, the ability to turn of RSS support entirely, etc., etc. If you haven't turned on your Safari debug menu yet, you absolutely need to do so. To do so, quit Safari, open the Terminal, paste in the following command, and press return:

defaults write IncludeDebugMenu 1

Then relaunch Safari. Voilà, you'll have a Debug menu immediately to the right of the Help menu.

Safari web development features mini review rating
Safari web development features rating: 4/5

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