Blogs

Sponsoring Daring Fireball with Mac indie deals

A couple of months ago, Keith Alperin of Helium Foot Software had a good idea: gather a few small independent Mac developers together to sponsor Daring Fireball for a week. He asked for other indies who were interested in participating. I am a DF member and daily reader, and have a great deal of respect for John Gruber, so I jumped at this. It's a great opportunity for me to further support Daring Fireball, and of course leverage its popularity to introduce more people to my products.

We have set up a special site, Mac Indie Deals, as a portal to the four participating developers: Dejal (me), Decimus Software, Xeric Design, and Helium Foot Software. We are each offering special discounts off our products for this week only, using the coupon "DF08".

So, welcome Daring Fireball readers! Check out the Dejal Products page for a summary of the Mac software available from Dejal. Feel free to download and try any or all, and use the "DF08" coupon to get great discounts... but be quick!

If you're not a Daring Fireball reader yet, I highly recommend it. John covers all sorts of Mac-related topics, with insightful commentary on the issues of the day. A must-read.

A professional press release via prMac

On Monday I did a major upgrade of Dejal Narrator, my app to read out stories in multiple voices, to version 2.0. I usually send out press releases when I do major and minor product releases, but have previously just written and sent the releases myself, using a collection of email addresses I've gathered over the years.

But for this release, I decided to try something different. I had tried free distributions via prMac.com in the past, often while doing my own releases too. It seemed like a good service, but the three-day delay for free releases lacked the immediacy I wanted. So this time I put it to a real test: I used their Writing Service to craft a press release using their experience and skills to get the message across, and paid for the Extended Distribution to get the release out immediately and to a wider audience.

So how'd it work for me? Ray from prMac was prompt and friendly, quickly crafting a release that captured the essence of the product. There was opportunity to review and tweak the wording, but very few changes were needed. Then on release day, I submitted it for posting, which was done soon afterwards. I quickly noticed lots of sites mentioning Narrator, that normally don't pick up my press releases (such as Macworld). The prMac service definitely has a much wider range of publishers than my self-created list.

I'm not sure if it's related or not, but I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that the Apple Downloads software listing site selected Narrator as a "Staff Pick"... not only showing it as the "Featured Download" on the Home & Learning category page, but as the "Featured Download" at the top of the All Categories page, for a couple of days (it's been bumped now, though). Quite the honor! I'm willing to give prMac the credit for gaining Apple's attention like that. You can't buy publicity like such a prominent spot on Apple's site, but for a few dollars you can buy an excellent press release distribution. I plan on using prMac again for future releases.

Narrator as Apple's Featured Download

Narrator 2.0 released

Narrator version 2.0 is now in general release!

Use Narrator to read out a play or story with different voices for each of the parts. It uses speech synthesis to read out marked passages using specified voice attributes. You can choose different voices, rates, pitches, inflections, and volumes for each character in the story. The words are highlighted on-screen, and there are also a couple of silent read-along options for stage directions, or for you to read out your own parts.

Narrator 2 is a major upgrade, a complete rewrite. It requires Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard" as it uses the latest technologies. Version 1.1.4 will remain available for people who aren't ready for Leopard.

This upgrade includes a much-requested feature: the ability to export the speech to an AAC sound file, or export directly to iTunes. This is great for listening to stories on an iPod or iPhone, or directly in iTunes. Make your own audiobooks! The tracks can be bookmarkable, too, keeping track of where you're up to when listening to them.

Narrator 2 also has several other enhancements, including preferences to substitute words to fine-tune the pronunciation, the ability to organize your work into multiple chapters, a fancy new look consistent with other Leopard apps, Spotlight and Quick Look support, various text features like tables, links, lists, spelling and grammar checking, and more. It is also localized for English, German and French, and is a Universal Binary, to run natively on Intel and PowerPC machines. See the release notes for details of the enhancements in this version.

This is a paid upgrade (just $9) for existing customers. But I'm offering a generous free upgrade period: everyone who purchased Narrator since October 1, 2007 is eligible for a free upgrade. If you qualify, just contact me to get your upgrade license.

You can see Narrator in action without even downloading it: check out this video, if you haven't seen it before:

Movie screenshot

Here's a feature graphic for Narrator 2.0, as currently seen on the Dejal home page:

Download Narrator 2 now!

The Easter egg hunt is on!

The Easter mEgg Hunt begins today. This is a promotion organized by Houdah Software, which could perhaps be described as a cross between MacSanta and MacHeist: a seasonal-themed promotion that presents a challenge to get the discounts.

The challenge is pretty easy: you simply visit the site of a participating company and hunt through their pages for a small easter egg. When you find it, you click it to get a coupon code good for software discounts at other participants. You can then keep hunting for more eggs to get discounts for other products.

We are pleased to participate in this promotion. There are many other great products available from other companies... but exactly how many is a surprise!

Enjoy the hunt!

Narrator 2.0b5 released

Narrator 2.0b5 is now available.

Well, remember how I talked about the only reason for another beta would be important bugs? It turns out that the previous beta had a doozy: the help book wasn't included correctly! Oops. Apparently a last-minute change to it broke it.

So, here's another beta, that fixes that, plus fixes an issue opening the Welcome document for non-English localizations.

Sorry for the hassle, if you downloaded 2.0b4! You can download Narrator again to fix those issues. (Of course, if you don't care about the help book, you could skip this beta release.)

As always, I welcome feedback, if you find any other issues.

Narrator 2.0b4 released

Narrator version 2.0b4 is now available. Unless any important bugs come up, I expect this to be the last beta release of version 2.0.

This update is mainly about some final tidying up before the general release. One big change is that the user guide is now available using Apple Help, so you can read about Narrator without needing to use a web browser. I've long resisted Apple Help, and still don't particularly like it, but I think it's important to embrace the standards. People expect Apple Help, so now I provide it. You can read the same help online via the new Support page, too, if you prefer. Many thanks to my German localizer, Ulf Dunkel, for his help in converting and updating the old User Guide as Apple Help.

Another change in this beta is the addition of an extra page to the Narrator Assistant, that appears after entering the license details. It includes buttons to post reviews to VersionTracker, MacUpdate and iusethis. These were also added to the Help menu, along with the Narrator Voice Talent page (where you can get more voices). The product listing sites thing is an experiment, to see if that helps spread the word about Narrator. Reviews on these sites really does help encourage others to try the app, so I very much appreciate them. If you like Narrator, please tell others on such sites, your own blog, friends, family, user groups, etc. And of course if there's something you don't like, or you have ideas for improvements, I'm always interested — head over to the Narrator Forum.

Sometimes people go through the entire trial period and never get around to buying. Now, Narrator offers TrialPay as an option for such people, so they can get Narrator at no cost by trying or buying a third-party service, that they would probably use anyway. You don't have to wait for the end of the trial, though; you can choose this at any time via the Dejal site.

You may also notice that the Narrator product pages have also been updated with more descriptive text and images, plus a new Narrator Support page has been added. It summarizes all of the support resources in one place, so should be quite helpful. I'll revise other products' pages to include a Support page as I update them.

Download Narrator now!

ScreenFlow: the iTunes of Screencasting

Fraser Speirs just posted a great summary of ScreenFlow, a new Leopard-only screencast recording application:

“Tweak it afterwards” makes it sound lightweight. It’s not. In other screen recording software, such as Snapz Pro X, you define a region of the screen to be recorded and if a dialog pops up somewhere you didn’t expect, you start all over again. ScreenFlow does away with all that: you record the entire screen, and zoom in or crop the video later. That alone justifies the application for me. You can also add highlights such as cursor circles, click targets and sounds and keystroke overlays - all automatically and all after the fact.

I totally agree. I've been thinking about adding some screencasts to the Dejal site for a while, but it looked like a lot of work with the previous tools. When I saw ScreenFlow, I saw a product that would make it much easier.

It'll take me a while to get around to adding screencasts — I'll probably add them after major upgrades of the various apps. But I've just added my first one, a very simple recording of listening to the Welcome document that comes with Dejal Narrator. This movie doesn't show off much of ScreenFlow's features, though the icon zoom at the end was a trivial example of what can be done very easily in ScreenFlow:

Movie screenshot

Two interesting links, two great apps

Here are a couple interesting links I came across today:

The Oscars in 60 seconds, via Mahalo Daily.

The Ebb and Flow of Movies: Box Office Receipts 1986 - 2007, via Jason Kottke and Daring Fireball.

And a couple of third-party products I've recently bought and highly recommend:

A while ago I bought Flying Meat's Acorn, which has just seen a 1.1 update. It isn't perfect, but for many image editing tasks it is a better solution than the heavyweight Photoshop (which I also own). The 1.1 update has some welcome improvements, like percentage scaling.

Yesterday I bought a new screencasting tool, ScreenFlow. It's a Leopard-only app, and very impressive. I plan to use it to add screencasts for some of my products, over time.

Migrating from disk images to ZIP archives

For many years, I've been releasing my Mac OS X software on disk images. For a long time, they seemed the most elegant way to provide software to people: they provide a single downloadable container that can be saved in a compressed state, and they can include a pretty background image that explains how to install the app.

A more recent innovation was to include an alias (actually a symbolic link) of the Applications folder, with an arrow in the background indicating to drag the application to that folder to install:

Simon disk image

But all that complicates the release process for me, and for my customers.

For me, when I do a release build I need to copy the build to a standard location then run FileStorm, an application that builds the disk image, then upload the resulting disk image. Doesn't sound too hard, except that FileStorm tended to misbehave for me all too often, resulting in incorrectly laid-out disk images and other problems, requiring several attempts to get it right. It also had compatibility issues with Leopard, forcing me to run it on a Tiger machine, which had other complications.

For my customers, disk images have more hassles. After downloading, they are usually mounted automatically by the OS, though sometimes that didn't work for some people. The images are "internet enabled", so people downloading via Safari get only the contents of the disk images, while people using other browsers get the disk image window as above. Then they need to find it and drag the application to install it... but some people run it directly off the disk image, then wonder where it went after they've dismounted the disk image (or restarted their computer). Plus the disk image has to be dismounted, another hassle.

There's got to be a better way... and there is. The humble ZIP archive.

A ZIP archive is a simple compressed file. They can be created and expanded using built-in commands in the Finder. So for me, creating one is a trivial operation; no more messing around with FileStorm. And they are more convenient for my customers too. After downloading, the archive is automatically expanded, with the application appearing in the download folder. They can then easily install it by dragging to the Applications folder, or try it directly from the downloads folder if preferred — without it mysteriously vanishing after a restart.

So, as I release new versions of my apps, I have been switching to the ZIP archive format. Downloads work exactly the same from my site, but the result is much more convenient for everyone.

As always, I welcome feedback on this. So far, I haven't had any complaints, though one potential problem has come up: one person with an incorrectly installed copy of StuffIt had difficulty expanding the archive by double-clicking on it. The solution was simply to tell the Finder to use the built-in archive expander instead (which is called "BOMArchiveHelper" on Tiger or "Archive Utility" on Leopard).

Sending flowers for Valentine's Day? Get Narrator free!

Valentine's Day is coming up this week. If you plan to send flowers to your sweetheart, you can do so via FTD.com, save 10% on your flower delivery order, and get a free Household license for Dejal Narrator, the fun speech synthesis app to read stories in multiple voices!

Simply visit the Dejal TrialPay store and choose FTD Flowers, or Grower Flowers, or one of the many other options available there if you prefer, and you'll not only get quality flowers delivered by a popular delivery company, you'll get Narrator at no extra cost — a $24 value!

How TrialPay works:

To take advantage of this deal, click this button to begin:

Please help me evaluate this by contacting me if you have any thoughts on TrialPay — whether you choose to use it or not.

If you're a developer and want to find out how TrialPay can help you, you can find out more information on the TrialPay merchant site.

Time Out 1.5.2 released

Time Out version 1.5.2 is now available.

Time Out is a popular free break reminder tool, that supports normal breaks and micro-breaks.

This update adds support for Spaces in Leopard. The break now appears on all Spaces, even if you switch Spaces mid-break. It also switches the distribution format from a disk image to a ZIP archive... which I'll discuss more in a later blog post.

Remember, Time Out 1.5 is freeware; you are welcome to use it at no cost. However, donations to support development of version 2 are always appreciated... and since I've announced version 2, everyone who donates (any amount!) will be eligible for a Time Out 2 license at no further cost. This offer will expire when Time Out 2 is released.

Download Time Out now!

Simon on your iPhone, APC notifier, and more

One of the nice things about Dejal Simon is its flexibility. Not just in the wide range of website, server, application, etc monitoring services and notifiers, but that it can be extended by anyone, not just me.

As you may know, I have a page on the Dejal site devoted to such extensions, the Simon Extras page. Newly contributed services, notifiers, and reports tend to get bundled into the application in the next feature release, but you don't have to wait — you can download the new goodies now. In fact, existing customers need to do so to get them, as the bundled ones are only visible with the default data install for people first trying Simon (I have plans to improve that situation in the future via an enhanced update mechanism).

Here are some of the recent offerings:

  • iPhone: A report template to display reports on an iPhone or iPod touch (try it yourself with a live demo: point your iPhone at www.dejal.com/simon/iphonedemo):

    iPhone demoiPhone demo

  • APC Masterswitch: A notifier script to restart an outlet on an APC Masterswitch with Network Management Card v2.6.1. This has been requested by many others, so I'm sure will be much appreciated.
  • TCP Port Scanner: A service script to check all TCP ports on a server, to identify which are open.
  • Network Time (NTP): A service script test that an NTP server is responding.
  • Incoming Mail (POP) via SSL: A service script test that a POP3/SSL server is responding.
  • Port Available: A service script like the Port services, but simply checks if a specified port is open, without actually communicating on it.

Visit the Simon Extras page to download these and other handy goodies.

Narrator 2.0b3 released

Narrator version 2.0b3 is now available.

This beta update has a few more tweaks... getting closer to the general release!

  • Reduced the font size of the description field, to allow seeing more text.
  • Added description field values to the welcome document.
  • Now removes the show/hide toolbar button in the Preferences window, as per Apple's Human Interface Guidelines.
  • Changed the trial reminders to count downwards instead of upwards.
  • Added a nifty trial reminder in the window titlebar.
  • Removed the random daily license reminders; redundant now that the window title has a reminder.
  • Fixed a bug were automatic reading might not occur if the document takes too long to load.
  • Changed the way the version and release numbers are updated internally.
  • Added French localization, thanks to Philippe Bonnaure.

Download now!

Added a Dejal products page

I've just added a Dejal Products page to the site.

This page serves as a quick summary of all current applications available from Dejal, plus links to the older applications and tools that I keep available for those who want them.

I imagine I'll use it for brief lists of my apps, as often appears on third-party promotion pages, e.g.:

Dejal produces Simon, a website/server monitoring tool, Time Out, a free break reminder, Caboodle, a snippet keeper, Narrator, to read stories in multiple voices, and more.

Get Narrator for free via TrialPay

[TrialPay]I have added a new payment option to the Dejal Store: TrialPay.

This is an interesting concept. Instead of directly buying one of my products, you try or buy one of the many products offered via the TrialPay service, and get my product for free as part of the bargain. They have many products available, including ones you'd likely buy anyway, such as eBay, Blockbuster, Stamps.com, and hundreds of others.

In fact, with Valentine's Day coming up, now's a perfect time to use FTD.com for flowers and get Narrator as a free bonus!

How TrialPay works:

Initially I am only offering a Household license for Narrator via TrialPay. Based on my experience with how well it works, and feedback from my customers, I may extend it to all of my products. But for now, you can get Narrator for any number of people in your home for free — a $24 value!

To take advantage of this deal, click this button to begin:

Please help me evaluate this by contacting me if you have any thoughts on TrialPay - whether you choose to use it or not.

If you're a developer and want to find out how TrialPay can help you, you can find out more information on the TrialPay merchant site.

Narrator 2.0b2 released

Narrator version 2.0b2 is now available.

This beta release has a few important fixes, plus some new features:

  • Added preferences to re-open the documents that were open last time you quit, and to create a new document if nothing else opened.
  • Fixed a bug with the new Dictionary preferences page, where changes were not remembered.
  • Fixed a bug when speaking if a blank Dictionary replacement text was specified.
  • Fixed a bug with saving documents, where it'd still be marked as having changed after a save.
  • Fixed a couple of bugs with deleting Chapters or Characters, that would prevent saving the document thereafter.
  • Improved the button titles for the Chapter and Character deletion alerts.
  • Added German localization, thanks to Ulf Dunkel.

It's a recommended update for everyone on 2.0b1. Download now!

I don't have any further issues to fix for the 2.0 release. So please try this and let me know if you find any further bugs, or have any suggestions for tweaks or new feature ideas. Feel free to post to the Narrator Forum or contact me privately.

Stevenote thoughts

Well, that was an interesting Stevenote. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to be there this year. I enjoyed Macworld last year, but couldn't make it again. So I had to settle for reading the live-blogging coverage via MacRumors.com. They did a good job, though.

As expected, it didn't top last year's... it'd be hard to top the iPhone introduction! The rumor sites pretty much nailed the announcements, too.

The biggie of course was the new MacBook Air, Apple's re-entry into the sub-notebook market. I say "re-entry" as I would count their previous PowerMac Duo models as their first attempt at this market. Those were popular machines in the day, but the new Air is certainly a vast improvement. I personally am happy with my 17" MacBook Pro, and need the Pro power and large screen, since I use it as my primary development machine. But I'm sure the Air will be a popular model with people who want a compact lightweight laptop.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of it for me is the multi-touch trackpad. Readers of my blog will know that multi-touch is an interest of mine, so I'm pleased to see it come to the MacBook line. I only hope that they make the new pinch, rotate, etc gestures available for other MacBooks in the next OS update.

Another new product is Time Capsule, an AirPort Extreme base station with a built-in hard drive for seamless network-attached storage. This promises to be a boon for people with laptops, to avoid the hassle of having to plug in and dismount an external drive to do Time Machine backups. Of course, a concern is what happens if the built-in drive dies, as hard drives are wont to do, but presumably it wouldn't be too hard to swap it out, and it does include a USB port that supports an external drive.

The Apple TV enhancements, including movie rentals, seem worthwhile improvements. I have a Mac mini hooked to my TV, so don't really have a need for an Apple TV, but it seems a good device for many others. I can see lots of potential with this little gadget. The rentals make a lot of sense. Most movies are only worth watching once, so it's silly to buy them. We subscribe to NetFlix, a convenient DVD-by-mail service, but instant download of HD movies would be much more convenient.

Lastly, the new iPhone update seems to include many welcome improvements. The new location feature goes a long way towards GPS functionality, while the ability to save web clips to the home screen, and rearrange the home screen, both seem excellent additions. Shockingly, I don't have an iPhone yet, as I'm stuck into an existing contract till June, but you can be sure that my wife and I will be getting them once we're free of that... hopefully once the 3G rev is out, too. :)

All in all, nothing too surprising this time, but not a disappointment, either.

Narrator 2.0b1 release

Narrator version 2 is now in public beta release!

Narrator 2 is a major upgrade, a complete rewrite. It requires Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard" as it uses the latest technologies. Version 1.1.4 will remain available for people who aren't ready for Leopard.

This upgrade includes a much-requested feature: the ability to export the speech to an AAC sound file, or export directly to iTunes. This is great for listening to stories on an iPod or iPhone, or directly in iTunes. Make your own audiobooks! The tracks can be bookmarkable, too, keeping track of where you're up to when listening to them.

Narrator 2 also has several other enhancements, including preferences to substitute words to fine-tune the pronunciation, the ability to organize your work into multiple chapters, a fancy new look consistent with other Leopard apps, various text features like tables, links, lists, spelling and grammar checking, and more. See the release notes for details.

For new customers, the license prices will be going up about $5 after the beta cycle -- well worth it with the added features. But during the beta testing, you can buy at the version 1 prices.

This is a paid upgrade (just $9) for existing customers. But I'm offering a generous free upgrade period: everyone who purchased Narrator since October 1, 2007 is eligible for a free upgrade. If you qualify, just contact me to get your upgrade license.

Here's a feature graphic for Narrator 2.0b1, as seen in rotation (with ones for Simon and Time Out currently) on the Dejal home page:

Download Narrator 2 now!

Featured blog posts of 2007

My blog posts often just cover new releases, but sometimes I post general-interest or developer-interest topics. Some highlights from 2007 included:

I hope you enjoyed these posts.

Dejal year in review: 2007

The year 2007 was a good one for Dejal, with lots of releases, nicely growing revenue, and other goodness. Here are some highlights from the year:

LeopardApple released Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard" in October. It is an excellent upgrade, with hundreds of enhancements, both at the UI level and in terms of frameworks and tools for developers.

Simon: My flagship website and server monitoring tool had two significant updates, versions 2.2 and 2.3, with several fix updates bringing it to 2.3.5. These versions added the versatile Script service and notifier, plus several other plug-ins and lots of other improvements.

Time Out: Version 1.5 of this popular freeware break reminder app was released, with 1.5.1 as the latest release as of this writing. This version added a much improved icon, layout tweaks, and other changes.

Caboodle: This handy snippet-keeper app was updated to version 1.1, with the current release being 1.1.3. These releases added import and export functions, enhanced printing, and many other improvements.

Narrator: My fun speech synthesis app hasn't been updated for a number of years, but I've been working on a rewrite of it using Leopard technologies, which is currently in private alpha testing, and will be available publicly soon.

BlogAssist: This useful HTML markup tool was updated to version 2.1, with 2.1.2 the latest release. It added a very useful Services menu command, allowing inline replacement of text -- something I use daily. Plus other changes.

Macfilink: My affiliate link cloaking app was updated to version 1.4, with 1.4.2 the latest currently. It didn't have many changes, since it is a very simple app that does one job well, but it had some tweaks.

Dejal site: The Dejal web site also had a number of improvements in 2007. Back in January, the entire site was migrated to a new server, driven by a hybrid of custom PHP code and the Drupal CMS. It uses my custom code for the product and store pages, among others, and Drupal for the remainder -- basically any page with a navigation menu or login fields in the sidebar is a Drupal-powered page. Using Drupal allows easy blog posting, forums, FAQs, plus combined account management and commenting. I also added a Developer section, where I share some of my Cocoa code for other Mac developers. The screenshot slideshows were also improved, using JavaScript instead of reloading the page each time, and I added JavaScript to the Store pages to make them prettier. Speaking of the Store, I also implemented PayPal's Instant Payment Notification service, allowing purchases to be processed promptly and automatically.

2007 was also an interesting year in terms of Mac events. I attended Macworld for the first time (as an attendee only, not an exhibitor), which was quite interesting. I also attended my second WWDC.

What will 2008 bring? I don't want to pre-announce too much, but you can expect updates to all of my current apps, some of them major upgrades with significant new looks. One such is Time Out version 2, which I'm really excited about. Another is Narrator 2, which will be going into public beta testing very soon.

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