Archive for April 12, 2016

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

TextExpander Adjustments

Greg Scown:

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 will apply a lifetime discount of 50% off the Life Hacker pricing to customers of any past version of TextExpander. That amounts to just US $20 per year. In our initial rollout, we offered the discount for the first year only, and that was a mistake. We value our long-term customers, and it’s important for us to demonstrate that in our actions.


We will continue to sell and support TextExpander 5 for OS X and TextExpander 3 + Custom Keyboard for iOS for those who need it.


We genuinely want to bring you the best TextExpander experience we can, unfortunately not all of our actions had the intended effect. For example, we staggered our customer emails over three days to ensure smooth server capacity so that everyone would have a good initial experience with the service. The server held up, but many customers learned of the new TextExpander from news sites or Twitter, rather than from Smile.

This last bit was something that had puzzled me. It was the biggest update to the product ever, and Smile already sends me multiple e-mails per month, so why was I hearing about this news from MacStories first? I think most developers have probably had this experience of doing something unusual for a good reason, only to find out later that there was a factor that you didn’t consider.

The yearly subscription is now $39.96 instead of $47.52. For previous customers, it’s now $19.96 for life. This discounted rate is still more than double the previous per-year average. That’s high enough compared with the competition that I would have to think about it, but it’s not completely out of line.

I don’t see the logic in a perpetual discount, though. I would think that the important question is whether the full price makes sense for new users. For most individuals, I think it probably doesn’t. So why not charge everyone $20/year? A cynical take would be that the goal is not, in fact, to get lots of new individual users. Rather, it’s to keep some of the existing customers hooked. The new pricing makes it easier to forget that you’re paying twice as much as before. Instead, it looks like you’re paying half as much as those who came after you. Meanwhile, Smile can go ahead and focus on the business users, as originally intended, and the business price is still within a factor of 2.5 of the advertised individual price.

The decision to keep selling TextExpander 5 strikes me as strange. On the surface, it sounds like what people wanted: the old product, with the old syncing, at the old price. But what is the future of the standalone version? There’s no announced commitment to add features, and it has the same name and a lower version number than the flagship product. I think the logical assumption has to be that TextExpander 5 is going to be stuck in maintenance mode. On the one hand, it’s a nice gesture to let people keep using and buying the product. And there’s no longer the fear factor of continuing to use a product that will be unsupported. But this feels like the final releases of Mac OS 9. Everyone knew that the X train was leaving the station. Long-term, you either get aboard or switch.

Overall, the adjustments seem like an attempt to assuage customers without fundamentally altering the strategy. The future of TextExpander is still a subscription product focused on sharing through Smile’s server. If that’s not what you’re looking for, today’s announcement is not going to change your mind.

See also: Katie Floyd, Paul Haddad, Roman Loyola.

Previously: TextExpander 6 and

Update (2016-04-13): See also: David Sparks, Dan Thorp-Lancaster, Michael Simon.

Mayur Dhaka:

This confirms John Siracusa’s speculation of TextExpander’s decision over the past episode of ATP. TextExpander’s increase in price was a concious decision for Smile to want to sell to the upper segment of their user-base and extract more profit from a reduced number of customers – the ones that consider TextExpander irreplacable.

What Smile didn’t expect, is the intensity and scale of the backlash from the other segment of its customers (the one that makes up the majority), not the backlash itself.

TJ Luoma:

Best of all, today’s announcement leaves me feeling much more that there are available options rather than “This is the future, either get on-board or get left behind.”

Adam C. Engst:

Although there was some initial confusion as to whether or not this meant that these [standalone] apps would receive ongoing development, Smile founder Greg Scown told me, “It’s a very feature rich product. We’ll be listening to our customers’ needs, and plan to bring in new features where they most benefit, as well as continue development to ensure OS compatibility.”

I had previously asked about that and gotten no answer.

John Gruber:

This seems untenable in the long run. How long are they going to keep developing TextExpander 5 in parallel with 6? It’s hard enough to keep one version of an app up to date, let alone two. And TextExpander 5 won’t be generating any revenue.

Update (2016-04-25): See also: Accidental Tech Podcast.

Update (2016-06-16): Dr. Drang:

Overall, the switch from TextExpander to Keyboard Maestro has gone much better than I’d expected. Because of Keyboard Maestro’s superior programming features, I’ve found myself creating new snippets that are more complex and capable than I could ever make in TextExpander. I’m happy with the change and don’t expect to go back.

Semi-automated Podcast Transcription

Tim Bunce:

The medium of podcasting continues to grow in popularity. Americans, for example, now listen to over 21 million hours of podcasts per day. Few of those podcasts have transcripts available, so the content isn’t discoverable, searchable, linkable, reusable. It’s lost.


Given the advances in automated speech recognition in recent years, I began to wonder if some kind of automated transcription system would be practical. This led on to some thinking about interesting user interfaces.

This (long) post is a record of my research and ponderings around this topic. I sketch out some goals, constraints, and a rough outline of what I’m thinking of, along with links to many tools, projects, and references to information that might help.

Lessons Learned From 30 Years of MINIX

Andrew S. Tanenbaum (via Jeremy W. Sherman):

My idea was to write the system, called MIni-uNIX, or MINIX, for the new IBM PC, which was cheap enough (starting at $1,565) a student could own one. Because early PCs did not have a hard disk, I designed MINIX to be V7 compatible yet run on an IBM PC with 256kB RAM and a single 360kB 5¼-inch floppy disk—a far smaller configuration than the PDP-11 V7 ran on. Although the system was supposed to run on this configuration (and did), I realized from the start that to actually compile and build the whole system on a PC, I would need a larger system, namely one with the maximum possible RAM (640kB) and two 360kB 5¼-inch floppy disks.


The L4 microkernel runs on the radio chip inside more than one billion cellphones worldwide and also on the security processor inside recent iOS devices like the iPhone 6. L4 is so small, a version of it consisting of approximately 9,000 lines of C was formally proven correct against its specification, something unthinkable for multimillion-line monolithic systems. Nevertheless, microkernels remain controversial for historical reasons and to some extent due to somewhat lower performance.


Although funding has now ended, the MINIX project is not ending. It is instead transitioning to an open source project, like so many others. Various improvements are in progress now, including some very interesting ones (such as being able to update nearly all of the operating system drivers, file system, memory manager, and process manager) on the fly to major new versions (potentially with different data structures) while the system is running. These updates require no down time and have no effect on running processes, except for the system freezing very briefly before continuing. The structure of the system as a collection of servers makes live update much simpler than in traditional designs, since it is possible to do a live update on, say, the memory manager, without affecting the other (isolated) components because they are in different address spaces

Wikipedia has more information about L4:

After some experience using L3, Liedtke came to the conclusion that several other Mach concepts were also misplaced. By simplifying the microkernel concepts even further he developed the first L4 kernel which was primarily designed with high performance in mind. In order to wring out every bit of performance the entire kernel was written in assembly language, and its IPC was 20 times faster than Mach’s.

Jeff Bezos on Decision Making

Matt Rosoff:

He first says Amazon is the best place in the world to fail because the company is willing to take big risks with the knowledge that 90% of them will fail.

But then he goes on to carefully distinguish two kinds of decision-making that affect how he thinks about risks.

Type 1 decisions are not reversible, and you have to be very careful making them.

Type 2 decisions are like walking through a door — if you don’t like the decision, you can always go back.