Sparrow for Mac: a study in minimalist e-mail interfaces

Mac OS X users are about to have a new option for a native Cocoa e-mail client—as long as they use the IMAP protocol and prefer a very spartan user interface. Called Sparrow, the app’s developers recently launched a public beta to get some feedback on the features and design. With over 20,000 downloads in just one day, the developers are scrambling to massage the beta into a 1.0 release and answer the massive flood of user feedback.

We spoke with Dominique Leca and Dihn Viêt Hoà about their motivation to create a Mac OS X e-mail client, fueled by innovative iPad apps and frustration with vaporware projects. We also spent a little time with the beta of Sparrow to check out its Twitter-influenced user interface.
DIY Project

Leca cofounded an iOS development studio in Paris two years ago and hired Dinh, a former Apple software engineer, to code for the company. Two years later, both left to pursue other opportunities and decided to collaborate on Sparrow as a side project. Neither were prepared for the project to be so popular.

“We were amazed by the way Sparrow was received, and we weren’t imagining that it could make so much noise,” Leca told Ars. “We’re gearing up to make a final 1.0 version of Sparrow, thanks to the amazing feedback we have had.”

When he was at Apple, Dinh had worked on iCal and later iSync. He was also heavily involved in the development of the open source e-mail library libEtPan.

That library was used to build an open source Cocoa wrapper called MailCore, designed to be the basis of a Mac OS X IMAP client called Kiwi. Unfortunately, Kiwi has yet to materialize as an actual software product. However, both etPan and MailCore have been used in other Mac and iPhone e-mail clients, such as reMail and Notify. In fact, MailCore was considered as an option for another e-mail client project that was launched earlier this year called Letters.

Dinh had followed the early initial rush of work on Letters, but wasn’t happy with the choice of MailCore. He felt that as the main developer of etPan he could make a better library, which he calls etPanKit, and planned to offer its use to the Letters project.

However, Dinh’s offer was ultimately turned down. “First, it was decided not to integrate this new engine and to write a new IMAP engine from scratch,” he told Ars. “Secondly, Letters was going nowhere.” Ars confirmed that little progress has been made since the initial flurry of discussions got the Letters project off the ground in January.

With etPanKit in hand, and Leca offering to work on UI design and marketing (he has a business degree from French business school HEC), the pair decided to make their own IMAP e-mail client. And they forged ahead “against most advice of Mac developers around us,” Leca said.

“We kid a lot about it, but the Mac needs a great, alternative e-mail client, and in our coding fantasies we always talk about making the perfect one,” Panic’s Cabel Sasser told Ars back when Letters had just been announced. “What holds us back are only dumb, boring business things: it would take a lot of work, and we’re not sure the return would be worth it.”

The problem most developers fear is competing with Apple and “free”—Mail is already an adequate e-mail client for most users, and it comes free with every Mac.


Mac OS X users are about to have a new option for a native Cocoa e-mail client—as long as they use the IMAP protocol and prefer a very spartan user interface. Called Sparrow, the app’s developers recently launched a public beta to get some feedback on the features and design. With over 20,000 downloads in just one day, the developers are scrambling to massage the beta into a 1.0 release and answer the massive flood of user feedback.

We spoke with Dominique Leca and Dihn Viêt Hoà about their motivation to create a Mac OS X e-mail client, fueled by innovative iPad apps and frustration with vaporware projects. We also spent a little time with the beta of Sparrow to check out its Twitter-influenced user interface.

DIY Project

Leca cofounded an iOS development studio in Paris two years ago and hired Dinh, a former Apple software engineer, to code for the company. Two years later, both left to pursue other opportunities and decided to collaborate on Sparrow as a side project. Neither were prepared for the project to be so popular.

“We were amazed by the way Sparrow was received, and we weren’t imagining that it could make so much noise,” Leca told Ars. “We’re gearing up to make a final 1.0 version of Sparrow, thanks to the amazing feedback we have had.”

When he was at Apple, Dinh had worked on iCal and later iSync. He was also heavily involved in the development of the open source e-mail library libEtPan.

That library was used to build an open source Cocoa wrapper called MailCore, designed to be the basis of a Mac OS X IMAP client called Kiwi. Unfortunately, Kiwi has yet to materialize as an actual software product. However, both etPan and MailCore have been used in other Mac and iPhone e-mail clients, such as reMail and Notify. In fact, MailCore was considered as an option for another e-mail client project that was launched earlier this year called Letters.

Dinh had followed the early initial rush of work on Letters, but wasn’t happy with the choice of MailCore. He felt that as the main developer of etPan he could make a better library, which he calls etPanKit, and planned to offer its use to the Letters project.

However, Dinh’s offer was ultimately turned down. “First, it was decided not to integrate this new engine and to write a new IMAP engine from scratch,” he told Ars. “Secondly, Letters was going nowhere.” Ars confirmed that little progress has been made since the initial flurry of discussions got the Letters project off the ground in January.

With etPanKit in hand, and Leca offering to work on UI design and marketing (he has a business degree from French business school HEC), the pair decided to make their own IMAP e-mail client. And they forged ahead “against most advice of Mac developers around us,” Leca said.

“We kid a lot about it, but the Mac needs a great, alternative e-mail client, and in our coding fantasies we always talk about making the perfect one,” Panic’s Cabel Sasser told Ars back when Letters had just been announced. “What holds us back are only dumb, boring business things: it would take a lot of work, and we’re not sure the return would be worth it.”

The problem most developers fear is competing with Apple and “free”—Mail is already an adequate e-mail client for most users, and it comes free with every Mac. Leer más “Sparrow for Mac: a study in minimalist e-mail interfaces”

Avatar producer explains how to market to kids despite PG-13 rating


A PG-13 movie is the sweet spot for maximizing the revenue of a film. Movies that are rated “R” will by definition have a narrower audience, while any child with a parent can see a movie rated PG-13. “We were very conscious as we went through Avatar not to make an R-rated movie,” Landau explained. “There is a version that could have been R-rated, and if Jim [Cameron] had the opportunity to go back, he would change True Lies. True Lies is an R-rated movie, although you don’t think of it that way. We were very conscious about making [Avatar] accessible.”

3D needs to be planned for, not added later

Landau also had strong words about films that tried to quickly add 3D effects near the end of the process. In his world, 3D is inevitable, and he said that just as wearing sunglasses is a part of going to the beach, the same could be said for going to the movies. We asked about films with poorly done 3D turning the audience off the technology.

“I think that ultimately people shouldn’t have to think about 3D or not-3D, I think it should all be in 3D,” he said. “I think right now you’re doing a disservice to the consumer and the filmmaker by trying to convert movies hastily into 3D.” He brings up Clash of the Titans, where the conversion process was attempted in seven weeks, without any input from the film’s director.

“Converting a movie from 2D to 3D is not a technical process. It is a creative process,” Landau explained. “You have to involve the creators into the process. If you want a movie to be in color, would you ever shoot it in black-and-white and convert it?”

He sums up his feelings on 3D simply. “For us, 3D is a window into a world, not a world coming out of a window. We want the screen plane to disappear when you’re watching our movie, not for you to be ducking during every scene.”

Vía:
Avatar producer explains how to market to kids despite PG-13 rating.

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LinkedIn integrated with Windows Live, Facebook chat hits Hotmail

LinkedIn contacts are linked to their corresponding Windows Live contacts, enabling existing Windows Live features such as picture tagging and the e-mail address book to include data from LinkedIn. LinkedIn status updates will now be visible in Messenger, just like existing MySpace and Facebook contacts. And just as with those status updates, comments posted from Windows Live will be visible in LinkedIn. Users can also update LinkedIn status from within Messenger, the natural counterpart to the ability to see contacts’ statuses.

Connecting Windows Live profiles to LinkedIn is available immediately. Visibility of LinkedIn contacts in Hotmail has started rolling out already, and will be available worldwide in the next three weeks.
Hotmail

Speaking of Hotmail, there are more updates coming since the first Wave 4 revamp.

Facebook chat support is already coming to Messenger on the desktop and Messenger on the iPhone. Now it’s coming to the web-based Messenger in Hotmail too. The Messenger desktop application is already one of Facebook’s most-used applications; Hotmail integration is likely to further increase the number of people accessing Facebook’s features through Microsoft’s products.


By Emil Protalinski | //arstechnica.com

Microsoft has started rolling out multiple updates for the web services complementing Windows and Office. Over the last few months, the software giant has been regularly updating these services, but the number of features just announced implies today’s releases are not a coincidence.
Office

First up we have Office Web Apps, which Microsoft says reached the 20 million user mark (across the US, UK, Canada, and Ireland) in the 100 days or so since its launch. In addition to bug fixes and performance and reliability improvements, Office Web Apps are now available in seven more European countries.

The biggest new feature is that it’s now possible to embed public Excel and PowerPoint documents on your blog or website. Embedded Excel workbooks are automatically updated when they’re updated in Excel on the desktop, while embedded PowerPoint presentations can be viewed in full-screen mode with all the animations and transitions.

The Excel Web App is now supported on mobile devices, joining Word and PowerPoint. The PowerPoint Web App now has an Insert Clip-Art function that grabs photos and illustrations from Office.com’s image library.

Finally, files, there’s now a new “Open in [Office app]” available for jumping into Microsoft Office directly from the online file browser.
Windows

Secondly, Windows Live has announced a new partnership with business-oriented social networking site LinkedIn. Leer más “LinkedIn integrated with Windows Live, Facebook chat hits Hotmail”

Review: Microsoft Hohm and a whole-house power monitor

The basic sensor and display unit sell for around $100 (an earlier Black & Decker-branded variant can be had for around $65). If you want to connect the device to Hohm and to see usage trends, the WiFi gateway adds another $150.

Personally, I found the most value from the basic real-time display. Stick it in some well-trafficked spot and you’re sure to see it numerous times per day, getting a decent sense of how your home’s power load varies through the day and throughout the year. As for Hohm, it’s a nice site and well worth using, but it can also accept manual electric bill input at the end of each month. Unless you really need to chart your power usage throughout the day and to see detailed graphs throughout the month, the WiFi feature will probably be superfluous for many users, given its cost.


Microsoft’s Hohm energy efficiency and tracking service, still in beta, has a unique sense of style. Who expects a discussion about insulation R-values to involve pirate jokes?

“What do pirates look for in attic insulation?” Hohm asks. “The arrrr value! Insulation R-value measures how well a material stops heat flow, the higher the better.”

This can be a bit jarring at first—are the sorts of people who write about “arrrr value!” really the ones you go to for home improvement questions?—but if you’re going to use Hohm, you’d better get used to it.

“Read and follow the instructions that came with your new refrigerator. (This will not harm your street cred),” says a tip on buying more efficient iceboxes. You’ll also want to keep the new fridge away “from anything hot like an oven, direct sunlight, or visiting supermodels.”

When it comes to lighting your room, consider task lighting; it can save money because, the site informs us, “you won’t need to turn on the overhead light for your ironic cross-stitch.” Advice from Bob Vila this is not. Leer más “Review: Microsoft Hohm and a whole-house power monitor”

Belgian broadcasters try kneecapping DVRs, demand compensation

Belgians are probably most interested in knowing whether their country will survive its strife between the French and Flemish-Dutch speaking groups, or whether it will break apart into separate nations. Here at Ars, however, we’re more interested in the country’s peculiarities with respect to copyright law and broadband technology (and, of course, Belgium’s wide variety of beers and chocolate). We recently wrote about Belgian bandwidth hogs, and in the past on ISPs having to filter P2P and newspapers suing Google News. This week it’s Belgian broadcasters seeking to cripple Digital Video Recorders and get compensation for their introduction.

Ars got hold of a letter addressed to cable provider Telenet, a letter in which compensation and technical crippling of the DVR were demanded. A similar letter went to Belgacom, another cable TV provider. This letter, kindly provided to us by Inside TV International, was jointly written by the CEOs of the three Flemish broadcasters.


Belgians are probably most interested in knowing whether their country will survive its strife between the French and Flemish-Dutch speaking groups, or whether it will break apart into separate nations. Here at Ars, however, we’re more interested in the country’s peculiarities with respect to copyright law and broadband technology (and, of course, Belgium’s wide variety of beers and chocolate). We recently wrote about Belgian bandwidth hogs, and in the past on ISPs having to filter P2P and newspapers suing Google News. This week it’s Belgian broadcasters seeking to cripple Digital Video Recorders and get compensation for their introduction.

Ars got hold of a letter addressed to cable provider Telenet, a letter in which compensation and technical crippling of the DVR were demanded. A similar letter went to Belgacom, another cable TV provider. This letter, kindly provided to us by Inside TV International, was jointly written by the CEOs of the three Flemish broadcasters. Leer más “Belgian broadcasters try kneecapping DVRs, demand compensation”