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5 questions with Brent Simmons, creator of NetNewsWire

Scott McNulty

Hot on the heels of releasing NetNewsWire 3 Brent Simmons, developer and creator of said program, sat down with me in the virtual HQ of TUAW (a.k.a. the Internet) and answered my questions five. Read on to hear what Brent has to say about NNW's new UI, the feature he would have liked to have included, and what apps are most often in his Dock.

TUAW's questions are in bold, and Brent's answers follow them.

What new feature in NNW 3.0 is your personal favorite? The one you find yourself using all the time?

I think my favorite is probably the Attention report, since it lets me know what feeds I don't like so much, so I can
unsubscribe from them.

It goes against my best interest to say this, but I'll say it anyway: unsubscribe! Not from the good feeds, but from the feeds that aren't updating anymore or that you don't really like that much.

I'm down to 87 feeds, myself. It's the first time in more than five years that I've had less than 100 feeds. I'm trying to unsubscribe from one a day.

If this sounds negative, it's not meant to -- it's meant to be liberating. Our job, after all, isn't reading news, it's creating things. We can subscribe to fewer feeds and trust in our various webs and circles to make sure we get all the news that's important.

It seems that line between web apps and traditional desktop apps is blurring more and more, what with Google Gear bringing Google Reader offline. What do you think NNW has to offer that someone can't find with a webapp?

Local storage. Spotlight searching. AppleScript support. The richer UI. Things like a standard customizable toolbar, or cmd-comma to open your preferences window, all the consistencies of Mac apps. Avoiding the network latency -- as cool as Ajax is, it's still a trip to a server and back.

My personal favorite thing is connecting to other apps. NetNewsWire can send HTML email via Mail. You can post to using Cocoalicious or Postr or other app. It can send news items to VoodooPad and Twitterrific; it sends podcasts to iTunes. It adds contacts to Address Book and calendar events to iCal. It supports a common clipboard format that other newsreaders and apps support.

My all-time favorite bit of app-to-app communication is how NetNewsWire lets you choose a weblog editor such as MarsEdit or ecto. Whenever you want to post something to a weblog, it's a piece of cake -- just click a button or hit the keystroke and the item opens in your weblog editor, ready for editing.

But, beyond all the reasons, for me it's like this: I was a web developer for years -- more years than I've been a desktop app developer -- and I'm a big fan of web apps. But I also dig Cocoa, and I especially love the places where the web and the desktop intersect, in browsers and feed readers and weblog editors and Twitter clients. It's kinda boring to argue
advantages of web vs. desktop. I just happen to really love this particular space, this kind of app.

While Google might start with a web app and move toward the desktop, and someone else might start with a desktop app and move toward the web, where you end up is still this cool crossroads where the best brains are at work.

In fact, it was just a month or so ago when I wrote on my weblog about "the end of desktop vs. web apps."

You spent a good deal of time working on the revamped UI for NNW 3.0. What was the toughest UI choice you had to make? The easiest?

They're all tough decisions. The hardest thing may be nuking the stuff I think is cool but that nobody else likes. On the other hand, that may be the easiest thing, because the only person disappointed is me.

If you could have watched me, over a period of a few weeks last fall, move the tabs to the right, then to the bottom of the window, then to the left, turn them into a weird grid, put them in a floating window, move them to the top, then below again, all the while changing how the thumbnails and buttons are drawn, and having shadows and not having shadows, and having blue backgrounds and not, and even, one night, a weird diagonal striped background -- if you could have watched all that, right before perishing from boredom you would have said, "Hey, this guy's having a tough time figuring out the tabs."

But that's the way I am with everything. I have to try it all.

What is the one feature you wanted to include in this release but just couldn't get it in?

It's a small thing: Combined View pagination. It should work kind of like search results, where it has multiple pages. This prevents the situation where it has to render 500 items at once, which takes more time than rendering just 10 or 20 items.

I got part of the way there, but didn't have time to complete the feature. So it's a high priority for 3.0.1.

Doesn't sound like a big deal, I know, but that was one thing I so totally wanted to get done.

Finally, what are some apps other than NNW that you use all the time?

I'm a Cocoa programmer, so I use Xcode all the time. Sometimes I wonder if I don't really like it, or if it's just like that I don't like IDEs. Programmers are intelligent people and sophisticated computers users, so you'd think that they would be more productive and happier with a literate interface instead of all this heavyweight point-and-click madness. You'd think they would demand it.

I'm also in Terminal a lot. I also use MarsEdit, iTunes, VoodooPad, Camino, Mailsmith, Mail, BBEdit, Twitterrific, and iCal. I've got SpamSieve running in the background. And GrowlTunes. I hardly ever chat, but when I do use Adium and Colloquy. A few minutes ago I uploaded NetNewsWire 3.0 using Transmit.

One of the things I love about being a Mac developer is getting to meet the folks who make the apps I use. In a way, my /Applications folder is also my social network. Which is cool.

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