Microsoft Flow

An IFTTT competitor from Microsoft. It’s not quite a direct competitor as the focus seems to be more towards corporate users wanting to automate moving data between services, rather than turning on your lights when you post to Instagram.


UK Web Host Accidentally Wipes Some Customers’ Servers

BBC News:

Web hosting firm 123-reg has accidentally deleted an unspecified number of its customers’ websites.

The company, which hosts 1.7m sites in the UK, said an error made during maintenance “effectively deleted” what was on some of its servers.

“We can conclude that the issues faced have resulted in some data loss for some customers,” the firm admitted.

It has started a “recovery process”, but said customers with their own data backup to rebuild their own websites.

The web host, which has 800,000 customers in the UK, would not say how many websites had been deleted but said it was a “small proportion”.

According to the 123-reg status page, this “routine maintenance” appears to have affected an unknown number of their VPS users.

The damage goes far beyond lost data, and affected 123-reg users are losing business every minute their websites are down. If I were a 123-reg user that wasn’t affected by this, or I had a full backup, I’d have immediately lost all confidence in their ability to manage their infrastructure and protect their users.

And this isn’t just websites that are affected. Some of these users may be running mail servers, databases, or used for specific tasks that can no longer be performed until the server is resurrected.

If Digital Ocean ever accidentally wiped my VPS, I could easily be back up and running in about 15 minutes–but I’d switch to another hosting provider.


Smile Updates the Pricing and Availability of TextExpander After User Feedback


Our changes to TextExpander last week caused concern among our customers, and many shared their passion for the product with us. We are equally passionate about TextExpander and have made these changes so that we can expand the customer base and continue to enhance the product for all users.

To some of you it may seem we don’t care about our individual customers any more and only care about business use. We care about both, and in the changing software world a single focus is not a viable long term strategy for TextExpander. We did not make these changes easily or lightly, but for the long term life of the product so we can all enjoy it and engage with it for many years to come.

Change is difficult, and we didn’t get some things right at the start. We’re listening to your feedback, and are making adjustments, effective immediately.

The blog post acknowledges the criticism from some of its users and Smile has made some significant changes to how TextExpander is made available. I’m very pleased to see that Smile has listened to its users, and is taking steps to try and address their concerns. Many software companies would have chosen to just stick to their guns, especially in the hopes that, given enough time, things would eventually calm down. Kudos to Smile for having the patience to gather feedback and not make any knee-jerk reactions when the first wave of negative comments started to arrive.

Personally, I’m very pleased to see that support and sales of both TextExpander 5 and TextExpander 3 for iOS will continue, though it’s clear that Smile sees the future of TextExpander as a subscription-based service. One common criticism of the subscription pricing was that it was expensive for individual use. Now, however, existing TextExpander users can now enjoy a permanently discounted Life Hacker plan that’s just $20/year. I think that’s a perfectly reasonable price, and one that many users will take Smile up on.


iCloud’s Second-Class Mail for iOS

I’ve been using iCloud, along with its predecessors .Mac and MobileMe, for personal email since 2005. While it may not have as many features as other services, it’s always served my needs and been extremely reliable. iCloud’s mail service is far from perfect, however, and this is especially true for iOS users.

While Apple touts the iPad as the future of computing, it seems the iCloud team didn’t get the memo.

Many of iCloud Mail’s features, such as mail forwarding and server-side rules, can only be configured through iCloud Mail’s web interface–something that requires the use of a desktop browser. If you attempt to visit iCloud on your iOS device, the most you can do is read the iCloud setup guide1. You cannot even view the configuration options available, so it stands to reason that there are a lot of iCloud users out there who don’t even know some of these additional features even exist.

iCloud is a fundamental part of Apple’s vision for the future of computing. Unfortunately, its reliance upon a desktop computer for even the most basic of options completely undermines the notion that an iPad can be a PC replacement. There’s really no excuse why Apple can’t allow for its own cloud service to be configured on the very devices it’s used the with the most. These options should be available in iOS, either within Settings or even through a separate app or web interface. For context, Gmail users on iOS have no such problem, and many of its features can be configured through either the Gmail app or the web interface.

During Apple’s event to launch the 9.7″ iPad Pro, Phil Schiller noted that the majority of 12.9-Inch iPad Pro customers had switched from Windows PCs, and remarked that there are 600 million PCs in use that are more than five years old–a statistic that was “really sad”.

Funnily enough, there are hundreds of million PCs running Windows that can configure iCloud Mail’s features, compared to zero iOS devices. Now that’s sad.

  1. You can try and use a browser that supports different user agents, but I’ve found that the iCloud web interface is so complex that it’s just unusable on an iPad. 


The Trouble with 3D Touch

Jason Snell, writing for Macworld:

Although Apple’s proud of the peek/pop interface that it unveiled with the iPhone 6s, I’m skeptical of its utility. Most of the time, when I accidentally initiate a “peek” of the content behind whatever I’m pressing on, it’s content I was already trying to see by tapping. Loading a “peek” doesn’t really take any more time than actually tapping on an item and loading the result, and returning back to the previous screen seems a lot less work than holding your finger on the glass while you peruse a “peek” to see if it’s worth opening the rest of the way.[…]

3D Touch is only on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus models, so app developers (including Apple) can’t count on it being there. As a result, apps are designed so that the most common tasks users want to perform are the easiest ones to perform. Tapping on content to view it, then tapping or swiping to get back where you were before, is the most common gesture on almost every app I use. We’ve perfected it!

Steve Jobs once said “you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology“. 3D Touch feels like a feature that proves why this is true.

As the iPhone becomes more evolutionary than revolutionary, every new feature counts. It does seem as though Apple had this pressure-sensing technology but needed a reason to include it, rather than developing it for a specific purpose.

Jason’s suggestion for changing the behavior of 3D Touch make perfect sense. I own a 6s Plus and almost never remember that 3D Touch even exists, let alone use it.


TextExpander Release Follow-up

Smile has published a follow-up article with a statement that includes clarification on their support of TextExpander 5:

For those who prefer to stay with TextExpander 5 for now, we intend to support it on El Capitan and the next major upgrade of OS X […]Beyond that, neither we nor anyone else know what to expect of Apple or OS X. We also hope to encourage you to join the new TextExpander at some point in the future.

I’m pleased to see that Smile were quick to respond to some of the concerns surrounding the release of TextExpander 6 and the move to a subscription model, and that they intend to support TextExpander 5 in the next version of OS X.

Give that OS X currently operates on an annual release schedule1, and usually arrives at the end of summer, TextExpander 5 has about 15-18 months left, at best. That’s not the worst prognosis, though I am concerned about their “intent” of support. Intentions are not commitments, and while Smile may want to support TextExpander 5 in the next version of OS X, if an update like OS X 10.12.12 causes the app to stop working, it’s not certain if Smile will actually fix it or just call it a day.

What I do find concerning is that the follow-up makes no mention of continued support of TextExpander touch 3 for iOS. The app has been removed from the App Store, so it seems they’ve completely dropped support for it. This worries me for two reasons:

  1. I use iOS almost exclusively, as do many others, so if the next update to iOS somehow breaks the app or the keyboard, there won’t be a fix.
  2. It’s not certain what will happen to apps that make use of TextExpander’s SDK for snippet support, when the SDK is updated. Will snippets continue to work and sync from TextExpander touch 3, or will any updates to the SDK require the new, subscription-based app? If it’s the latter, then every time I update my apps, it could be the last time my snippets will work.

I realize I sound overly negative about TextExpander’s move to subscription pricing. Don’t get me wrong, I actually think the subscription model, when done well, is a great idea. I subscribe to a number of services, as well as support indie writers and developers through subscriptions and patronage.

When it comes to TextExpander, however, the reason for a subscription isn’t compelling, nor does it make sense for individuals. Even in the follow-up, Smile were awkwardly attempting to explain how their own syncing service could be of benefit to individuals:

Everyone can benefit from sharing. People who work alone have peers, or belong to civic, volunteer, hobbyist, or church groups. Before now, none of them could share snippets with each other. Now, they can. And we’re doing our best to ensure they will.

Either Smile are going for the hard sell or they don’t know the majority of their individual users at all.

  1. If the rumors about the rebranding of OS X to macOS are true, the annual release cycle may be abolished–in favor of more frequent, smaller updates. 

  2. Apple really needs to change the name of OS X. 


TextExpander Now a Subscription Service

MacStories reporting on the major change to TextExpander’s pricing that comes into effect with the latest versions of its iOS and Mac apps:

With the new Mac and iOS versions of TextExpander, Smile has introduced a new pricing model. To use TextExpander going forward, you will need one of two types of accounts: an individual or a team account. Individual accounts cost $4.95/month or the equivalent of $3.96/month if billed annually. Team accounts are billed on a per user basis of $9.95/user per month or the equivalent of $7.96/user per month if billed annually. Existing TextExpander users can take advantage of a 50% discount on the first year of an individual account. […]

Pricing is hard to judge because everyone values software differently. By the same token, TextExpander is not a new app – it has been around for many years as a paid-up-front utility, which is what this new pricing model will be measured against by existing customers. I can’t help but feel that those customers will be unhappy, perhaps very unhappy.[…]

Here’s the thing that will make the new pricing model difficult to swallow for some customers – Dropbox and iCloud sync of snippet libraries, which previously didn’t cost anything extra, are being replaced with a subscription-based sync solution with a relatively high price, and if you have a large library of snippets built over many years, they will be inaccessible unless you sign up for a subscription.

Smile has, to much surprise and ire, drawn a line in the sand with this new release of TextExpander, and access to new features and future versions of the app will require a subscription.

Subscription pricing models aren’t anything new, and even 1Password recently launching their Teams and Families plans, which is what TextExpander is going to be compared the most to. However, unlike TextExpander, 1Password’s new subscription services are optional–those who prefer to continue using 1Password as standalone apps that sync with Dropbox or iCloud can continue to do so1. More importantly, 1Password’s subscription services are aimed at groups of people, there’s no individual subscription.

1Password’s approach to subscriptions is that it’s a value-added service. 1Password works exactly the same before, and after, Teams and Families were launched, though subscribers have access to a range of extra features and functionality.

Smile’s approach with TextExpander, however, appears heavy handed. Instead of trying to entice users with the benefits or features of their new subscription service, the company has issued an ultimatum to their userbase. A subscription is required for any future versions and there is no committment to the support of TextExpander 5 and TextExpander Touch 3, should any OS updates affect functionality.

I’ve worked at many companies that use TextExpander in some form or another, so switching to a subscription model almost guarantees that Smile has a constant revenue stream for years to come, likely more than standalone software licenses would have ever brought in. Unfortunately, it really does feel like Smile’s bottom line was the primary motivation for a subscription model – requiring individuals to subscribe as well makes no sense at all, otherwise.

While it’s going to hurt individuals who have loved using TextExpander for many years, I can’t help but think that Smile is, well, smiling all the way to the bank.

  1. My wife and I looked into 1Password for Families as we’re both frequent 1Password users and often need to share login or account information. Ultimately, it was overkill for our needs and didn’t offer us any benefit over a shared Vault in Dropbox.