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AmphetaDesk Exclusive: 0.93 imminent, or port to Java by alien fungus-programmers? Its creator reveals all

posted by sbp at 2002-06-13 21:10 (permalink)

sbp: Today in the studio with us, we have Morbus Iff, creator of AmphetaDesk
sbp: So Mr. Iff, you're hours away from releasing the long-awaited version 0.93. How do you feel?
Morbus: Well, Sean, I feel good. I've drank my Gatorade, I've personally ... "released" twice, and generally, I'm raring to go.
AaronSw: Alright, here's the question I know all of our viewers are asking themselves at home, and in the process annoying the ones around them. How can AmphetaDesk possibly compete against the giant blogging juggernaut from the west? With its small feature set and use of the obscure language PERL, isn't it doomed to simply be a hyperlinked footnote in blogging history?
Morbus: Perl obscure? I won't justify the idiocy behind that one.
Morbus: At this point, I don't view myself as competing with Radio, personally.
Morbus: Competing becomes a game of one-upmanship - product against product. Often, you lose sight of the users.
Morbus: The power of Radio is that it can write. Winer charges for that power, and that's fine.
Morbus: AmphetaDesk is an aggregator. That's my goal right now. I don't assume the user wants to write. I don't assume the user has a website. I just assume the user likes information.
Morbus: If someone wanted to add writability to AmphetaDesk, I'm not going to stop them. It'd be pretty easy to do.
Morbus: At this point, AmphetaDesk is free, more user-friendly, and open sourced. Compared to Radio's tech audience which must fork out $40 for code they don't own, I've already won, even if the features aren't matching yet.
sbp: So, as more and more users become familiar with AmphetaDesk 0.92, what will make it worthwhile for them to upgrade?
Morbus: Welp, the problem with v0.92 was that it was like a slice of bread. it stood by itself, and you had to wait for me to offer you more of what you want.
Morbus: With v0.93, I've given you the whole damn loaf. It's a much better backend, a much stronger feature set, and generally, if you want it, you can have it pretty quickly.
Morbus: It all comes down to my home cooking. I love to cook, and now you can too.
sbp: A frying pan upside the head with love, eh? In any case, do you expect that many of your users will want to customize their source code? I also understand that the templating system is different in 0.93; do people really have to create new skins from scratch?
Morbus: I'll answer the easiest question first: yes, people have to make new skins. But, I don't see this as a downside, really. For one, if you've made a skin for v0.92, send it to me, and I'll change it over for you.
Morbus: Two, the number of people I know that have made skins was relatively low. The power of the new templating far outweighs the negatives, especially when I'm available to change them for you.
Morbus: As for the source code, I don't think its an issue of when - the alpha testers have already customized their source code, and in the coming weeks, I'll be offering HOW TO documents describing how they did it.
Morbus: With the knowledge in the HOWTOs and a little bit of Perl, anyone can extend their AmphetaDesk the way they want.
AaronSw: Updating their templates for them--wow, what incredible devotion from Mr. Iff! Does this new version also come with a moneyback guarantee?
Morbus: Sure, considering AmphetaDesk is free.
sbp: Whilst you're acclaimed for your devotion to your users, as the amount of users continues to grow, do you think that you'll be able to maintain the same level of involvement? Moreover, a myriad of interoperability controversies in the RSS world requires aggregator authors to have their finger on the pulse. Will AmphetaDesk be constantly maintained?
Morbus: Again, that's why this AmphetaDesk is so much better than the previous one. It's the whole slice/loaf thing again. With the slices, you needed the chef to prepare your next plate of food. With the new loaf that is AmphetaDesk, control of the source is yours, whether you're on Windows, Mac, or Linux.
Morbus: Anyone who knows Perl (a lot more people than know UserTalk, I bet) can put instructions on their website on how to update AmphetaDesk, or support this new RSS 1.0 modules, or do this and that.
Morbus: By no means am I removing myself from AmphetaDesk, but I'm making it far easier for other smart people to show their support.
sbp: Has Uncle Dave expressed any opinion on AmphetaDesk? Are you somewhat surprised that "he" hasn't been able to crush your little endeavour with disinformation from his all-powerful media empire?
Morbus: The only public opinion of heard from Winer is that he thinks the aggregator is a clearcut rip of his Radio aggregator. And I'd agree. That's been written in the AmphetaDesk documentation since first quarter 2001. Dave inspired me to do better than him.
AaronSw: Does that mean you've violated his intellectual property rights?
Morbus: As much as SunOffice and AbiWord has violated Microsoft's, sure.
AaronSw: Is Userland considering legal action?
Morbus: My vast cadre of angry lawyers haven't yet been contacted, no.
AaronSw: why are they angry?
Morbus: They haven't been paid. No one is giving thanks for AmphetaDesk.
sbp: Is it true that you're dropping support for Classic? Will you be introducing multiple-threading to make up for this cut?
Morbus: By no means am I dropping support for Classic.
Morbus: Right before I started freezing the code for the new release, I discovered a fatal crashing bug with AmphetaDesk under Classic Mac. The current thought from the creators of MacPerl is that it's a GUSI bug, and we're both working together to try and figure it out.
Morbus: Once it's hammered out, there will be a Classic AmphetaDesk.
sbp: So no multiple threading?
Morbus: Since threading isn't available under Mac Classic, there are no plans for threading. I don't like the idea of OS superiority - one AmphetaDesk working better somewhere else.
Morbus: But, depending on the demand for Classic support, I may reconsider.
AaronSw: Rumors have been swirling about a new Aqua interface for AmphetaDesk, developed by a man only known by his catch phrase: "I hate decaf coffee." Do you have any response to these allegations?
Morbus: They won't be rumors for long :)
AaronSw: What do you think of Rael Dornfest's aggregator, blagg, also written in Perl?
Morbus: I think Rael and his code (blagg, blosxom, amazox) is solid. I don't consider blagg a competitor however - it requires too much from the end user. Perl installed, manual config file editing, a command line, a filesystem that can support thousands and thousands of tiny files in a single directory, etc.
AaronSw: With a version number like 0.93, should new users be afraid and wait until 1.0? How polished is Amphy?
Morbus: AmphetaDesk is rather polished. My minor numeric upgrades are HuUUGe code upgrades. AmphetaDesk has been around since early 2001, has gone through about a dozen revisions, and has been downloaded about 26,000 times. It's stable.
Morbus: It's not 1.0 yet because I don't think it's great enough for a 1.0 release.
AaronSw: Well, we all know you've been working on this release for months. What's next on the horizon, and when should users expect 1.0?
Morbus: Well, first, there won't be a 1.0. I'd jump right into 1.1. I hate when people say "zero" like "oh". Drives me up a flippin' wall.
Morbus: As for the horizon, probably the one feature that will absolutely make it in a 1.1 release is the "don't show items I've seen before". It's oft-requested.
Morbus: Other than that, the tech end of things will include stronger support for all the various RSS 1.0 modules, template switching, a possible plugin architecture and so forth.
sbp: And ordering by last-update? When is that addition planned?
Morbus: Channels or items? Channels are already ordered by last update, but in the current version, you could order them alphabetically, reverse alphabetically, by date added, etc. It's a few lines of code - another loaf/slice sort of thing.
Morbus: As for items, that will come later. Since RSS doesn't force date and times on items, AmphetaDesk will have to figure that out by it's lonesome self.
sbp: Another often requested feature for AmphetaDesk is a search engine for the thousands of available feeds. Are you planning to add such a functionality?
Morbus: I'd love to, but the difficulty isn't the code, but rather the people who create RSS.
Morbus: People aren't putting in decent descriptions of what the channel is about, so searching will ultimately fail due to lack of strong data.
sbp: What about a title search?
Morbus: Same sorta thing. I'd like to, but searching for "semantic web" isn't going to return this Swhack weblog.
sbp: Ed Murray notes that he is very keen on Newzcrawler. Have you used this product? If so, how does it compare to AmphetaDesk in your opinion? If not, do you see it as a serious competitor from what you can tell?
Morbus: I don't consider any aggregator a competitor unless it's free, open sourced, and crossplatform.
Morbus: For that much, the only one I know of that is similar to AmphetaDesk is HotSheet.
AaronSw: AmphetaDesk is still a Web-based program in an age where GUI tools are back in vogue again. Do you have any plans to give AmphetaDesk a native GUI?
Morbus: None what so ever.
sbp: What is Bill Kearney's relationship to AmphetaDesk: how much is AmphetaDesk dependent upon his syndic8 site, and what is your personal opinion of him?
Morbus: Kearney and I have disagreements an awful lot, but we've always got smiles on our faces as we lace into each other.
Morbus: AmphetaDesk does use the feed export from Syndic8's site, and Jeff Barr (the creator of Syndic8) realizes and approves of it.
AaronSw: One of our viewers has kindly written in with this, er, question: "H3Y L00SERS. AMPHETADESK HAS TEH BAKDURS TO TASKE OVER TEH LUNIX COMPUTERS. IS NOT SAF3!!!"
Morbus: Oh, that's simple. There are these things called "Tree Files"...
Morbus: :)
sbp: You've said in the past "when winer left, we got kearney in his place. i'm not sure who I dislike the least." Have you been able to come to a resolution on that question yet?
Morbus: Nah, it was rhetorical. Kearney and I argue an awful lot publically, but most of the time, its because we can. Offlist, we're remotely civil.
sbp: Finally, the alien fungus-programmers? Java? Nekkid Winer conspiracies? Is there any truth to the allegations in this week's tabloids?
Morbus: Nekkid Winer does exist, but he's currently in rare form. You may be able to find him in seedy saunas howeever - consort your local authorities for more information.
sbp: Mr. Iff, we thank you for your time
Morbus: As do I, yours. Thank you. If any other readers have questions, be sure to mail them in!
sbp: Your interviewers today have been Aaron Swartz and Sean B. Palmer. Post production by Aaron Swartz. [fade out funky credit-music]
Morbus: [Morbus fumbles with his lapel microphone]. Mediiic!
TimBL: Thanks, Sean and Aaron, for that enlightening interview. The latest version of AmphetaDesk is available from disobey.com. Coming up next... Giant Man-Eating Zombies: Should they be allowed in W3C Working Groups, or not?

Aaron Swartz and Sean B. Palmer
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