is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
Back in the Day
Casady & Greene were around for nineteen years, which is hard to believe because I’ve only been working with their products for the past ten or so. But during that time, I grew quite fond of Spell Catcher, still the best spell checking utility ever, Conflict Catcher, an indispensable machete for cutting through the thicket of Mac OS 8 and 9 extensions and control panels, and SoundJam MP, the literal progenitor of Apple’s very own iTunes.
These were somewhat geeky utilities, loaded with preference panels full of options, settings and methods for tweaking the tweaks, but they were well-written, stable and really, really enjoyable. They became such an important part of the way that I worked that I was extremely reluctant to make the move to Mac OS X without them, and in fact much of my delay in upgrading could be laid down to the fact that I was holding out for a modern release of Spell Catcher that I could run under Jaguar.
Now C&G have decided to call it a day, citing “a series of economic disasters from which we were unable to rebound.” That sounds painful. This is more or less the same fate that’s befallen most of the other utility publishers whose products I’ve adored in the past — Now Software used to publish a full line of really powerful utlities and programs before they were reduced to selling just Now Up-to-Date and Now Contact. Even their fiscal and spiritual successor, Power On Software, has lost much steam in recent years.
Why did this happen? From the perspective of innovation and quality, the Macintosh utiltities market is remarkably robust; I’ve seen some of the best Mac software ever released in the past year or so. And yet, I think the market is suffering desperately at the same time. Apple’s market share continues to dwindle precipitously, and the increasingly widespread abundance of software engineering skills and tools, in combination with the anyone-can-play distribution capability of the Internet means that there are more utilities in competition for user dollars than ever, and they’re cheaper than ever. Software — as an art and a business — keeps changing, and change has victims.