Things That Are A Bit Like Other Things

How to change your friend’s OS/X Yosemite system font to Arial

Apple made a lot of visual changes in release 10.10 (“Yosemite”) of Mac OS/X. One of the most obvious was to change the system font, as used throughout the desktop, from Lucida to Helvetica.

Helvetica.
Helvetica.

A lot of people love Helvetica, so presumably they were happy. Others were less satisfied, leading to a little rush of code and articles to help you switch the system font back to Lucida or to some other font that happens to appeal.

But these people are missing the point. The substitution you want to make is not to your own desktop, but to that of your most type-conscious Mac-using Helveticaphile friend. And it is to switch the system font from Helvetica to Arial.

Delightfully, you can do this without needing admin privileges—no password required, all you need is to get control of their keyboard for a couple of minutes.

Here’s how:

1. On your own machine, provided you are also using a Mac, install Yosemite System Font Patcher and its dependencies following the instructions in its README:

$ git clone https://github.com/dtinth/YosemiteSystemFontPatcher
$ brew install fontforge --with-python

2. Retrieve and patch the Arial font files so they report themselves as system fonts:

$ cd YosemiteSystemFontPatcher
$ cp '/Library/Fonts/Arial.ttf' '/Library/Fonts/Arial Bold.ttf' .
$ bin/patch 'System Font Regular' 'Arial.ttf'
$ bin/patch 'System Font Bold' 'Arial Bold.ttf'

3. The above should have created two new font files, in the current directory, called System Arial.ttf and System Arial Bold.ttf. Make these available somewhere you can easily retrieve them on your friend’s machine (shared in the cloud or whatnot).

4. On your friend’s machine, when you see the opportunity, retrieve the System Arial.ttf and System Arial Bold.ttf files and copy them into the $HOME/Library/Fonts directory. You must be logged in as your friend to do this, as it must be their home directory whose font library you are copying into.

And you’re done. The change will only take effect for apps started after the fonts have been installed, or globally from the next login—if you want to make it happen immediately, I’m afraid you’ll have to log your friend out.

Arial.
Arial.

Now, see how long it takes them to notice. For best effect, engage them in conversation about how clean and elegant Helvetica is, with reference to their own desktop.

Things That Are A Bit Like Other Things

What are, or were, Nintendo good at?

Marco Arment:

At the high end, there’s room for a small number of huge-budget blockbuster titles that usually involve realistic sports simulations or killing people, none of which Nintendo does well. They compete by pushing the boundaries of cutting-edge graphics hardware, which Nintendo doesn’t produce anymore, and licensing real-life sports teams, which Nintendo doesn’t do. Or, more often on the PC side, they operate massively multiplayer online social fantasy worlds, which Nintendo also doesn’t do well.

While I can’t disagree with much in this article, it’s a bit sad that so much of it is a litany of things Nintendo doesn’t do well. It’s as if their success during the past decade was more-or-less accidental, resting on a passing fad rather than any very distinctive quality.

I don’t think this is true.

Nintendo have, or had, one area of great strength: they made consoles that were fun to play with more than one person, in the same room, together. The enormous success of the DS and Wii came about because of games that were wildly fun to play socially, with friends or family who were actually physically present.

Nintendo have often been criticised for not “getting” multiplayer, because their online multiplayer support has never been as slick or effective as that from Microsoft in particular. But for millions of players, Nintendo have long had the best multiplayer support of all.

(In light of this, the Wii U looks a bit alarming because of the way its controller layout—with one big controller and multiple smaller ones—privileges a single player. The sense of equal competition is at risk.)

Whether there’s anything Nintendo can do to halt their present decline, I don’t know. If there is, it surely must have something to do with live, local social gaming.

Computers · Operating systems · Things That Are A Bit Like Other Things · Things that Are Gone

Windows Phone: a bit like BeOS

Today’s possibly stretching-a-point Technology Analogy

In a previous article I compared the situation of Windows 8 on the desktop to that of OS/2 in the late 80s.

Windows Phone 8 is in a different position. While Windows 8 gets its awkwardness from the need to provide compatibility with the dominant platform—which in this case means earlier versions of Windows—the dominant platforms competing with Windows Phone are iOS and Android. And it’s totally incompatible with both.

So, why choose Windows Phone? Not because it has greater capabilities, all in all, than its competition. It doesn’t have any very significant platform-exclusive applications. It isn’t any more open (in either a useful or fun kind of way). There are two reasons you might choose it: a preference for its interaction design, or integration with some networked services.

BeOS is an operating system dating from the mid-90s developed, according to Wikipedia, “on the principles of clarity and a clean, uncluttered design”. (Sounds familiar?) It was pretty to look at and nice to use. It had decent networking support and made good use of the hardware available to it.

But it was always going to have niche appeal. By the time of its release, Windows 95 was dominant and generally tolerated by mass-market users, while Unix-based operating systems like Linux, FreeBSD, and NeXTSTEP were working their way down from higher-end workstations with hacker appeal. BeOS was incompatible, no cheaper, no more open, and ultimately more limited by lack of useful applications. It remains a likeable curio.

 

Computers · Operating systems · Things That Are A Bit Like Other Things

Windows 8: A bit like OS/2

Today in Technology Analogy Week…

In 1987, three years after the world’s perception of the possibilities of the PC had been changed by the Apple Mac and two years after the Mac’s cheap knockoff Microsoft Windows had been released, the world’s leading PC manufacturer released a new operating system.

OS/2 was the perfected pinnacle of many years’ development by serious software developers. Although IBM had initially worked on it with Microsoft, by the time of release it had become an IBM product alone. It was solid, sophisticated, fairly demanding of PC hardware of its time.

Given the resources, OS/2 worked well. But its compatibility with the popular software of the time—for MS-DOS or Windows—was always a bit awkward. Running such “legacy” software felt uncomfortable, as if you were ignoring the major part of the operating system and always on the verge of tripping up on the edges of its competent compatibility. But legacy software was almost all the software available: very few applications ever turned up in OS/2 native form.

The maddening problem of OS/2 was that it tried too hard to do everything. Its developers did all the right things, but it wasn’t different enough from the other popular operating systems of the time to be something you could choose for its strengths alone. It had to rely on compatibility with whatever everyone else was already using; but its compatibility with the technologically weaker market leader just wasn’t satisfying enough.

(You can see where this is going.)

In 2012, five years after iOS and its cheap knockoff Android, and two after the iPad, the world’s leading PC operating system manufacturer releases its new operating system…

Windows 8, like Windows Phone 7, is broadly a satisfying design—but only if you run nothing but native apps on it.

In the case of Windows 8, “native” means managed-code Modern UI software, a category so nebulously defined that nobody I know has yet explained to me the best method of developing for it. Meanwhile, Microsoft have effectively categorised every existing Windows application as a legacy app: they’re available only on the premium version of Windows (i.e. Windows 8 rather than Windows RT), and only in a subsidiary desktop mode.

Think about that for a moment. Windows 8 was released a few days ago. With it, Microsoft have designated every existing Windows application as a “legacy app”.

But Windows 8 isn’t a clean break. Like OS/2, it tries to do everything. It isn’t different enough from the other popular operating systems, iOS or Android, to be something you could choose for its strengths alone. It has to rely on compatibility with desktop Windows, and its compatibility isn’t very satisfying.

Next in Technology Analogy Week: How Nokia’s decisions during the last two years resemble British bands of the 80s and 90s whose managers have decided they must conquer America

Computers that are Televisions · Things That Are A Bit Like Other Things

More on Apple TV and games consoles

Further to my previous post: I’m used to thinking of iOS devices (iPhone, iPad) as undermining the PC. From that perspective, my response as a developer is partly skewed by frustration at seeing relatively open platforms replaced by more closed ones.

Thinking about an iOS device as an alternative to the games console—the classic successful closed-system consumer computing product—makes an interesting change. But it’s a perspective in which my response is also skewed, this time by general affection for Nintendo in particular.

The best-selling console worldwide at the moment is Microsoft’s Xbox 360. It has been around for roughly 7 years, unusually long in console terms, and has so far sold about 70 million units. (That’s perhaps 30 million in total behind the Nintendo Wii, which sold far more in earlier years but has now almost stopped selling. I believe that Xbox 360 sales are now also falling, though I can’t remember where I read that.)

Meanwhile, the iPad has been available for about 2 years and has so far sold… about 70 million units. An interesting coincidence.

Historically, it seems to have been the case that that technically successful improvements to input devices in gaming—joystick, D-pad, motion controls, touch, motion tracking, arguably even the ability to provide your own CD as soundtrack in the original PlayStation—have prompted significant increases in popularity.

Meanwhile, improvements to output devices—most obviously 3D, but also things like resolution and frame rate increases—seem to appear incrementally and be largely ignored. (Anecdotally: whenever my kids play with a 3DS, the first thing they seem to do is switch off the 3D.)

The Wii, Xbox 360 and iPad have all carried improvements in input technology over earlier games devices, but as with any technology in gaming, their success depends entirely on their use in fun games. The initial success and later decline in the market of the Wii’s rather basic motion control is well documented (it’s all about Wii Sports, right?). Kinect, for the 360, has sold around 19 million units and is probably also slowing in sales: is the natural size of the market limited, or does it just lack worthwhile games?

So, what happens next?

I pretty much admitted in my previous post that I don’t know how you drive an Apple TV. I’ve never seen one in action.

I assume that a version with apps would need to be controlled from an external iOS device. (Apple execs have talked quite convincingly in the past about the disadvantages of a large vertical touchscreen.) I’m guessing that this logic might be one of the inspirations for Nintendo’s forthcoming Wii U, which looks quite like a Wii controlled by an external iPad-like controller.

It seems hard to imagine why many people would consider buying a dedicated games console when they can have a device like an Apple TV box that plays up-to-date games with minimal fuss, is regularly upgraded, and presumably is supported by major games companies because of the potentially huge market ahead of it.

But it all depends on the input device.

What sort of compelling big-screen games are made possible by a touchscreen controller? They can’t be the same as the current touchscreen games. Those won’t benefit from any extra distance between controller and screen.

I don’t think I believe that Apple would launch an interactive TV without some understanding of how games will work to their best advantage. Games are a big deal, both on the iPad and in existing home entertainment contexts. What don’t I know?

Operating systems · Things That Are A Bit Like Other Things

Was Windows popular?

Paul Robert Lloyd writes: “As more services require a Facebook account to use them, I wonder if it’s set to become the next Microsoft Windows; a popular piece of software that becomes the only choice available.”

I first read this as “an unpopular piece of software that becomes the only choice available.”

Plenty of people grumble about Facebook. Windows doesn’t seem to have inspired many people to delight when its manufacturer became the biggest company in the world, as Microsoft did in 1998. To me, it feels as if both are unpopular in an emotive sense, despite their ubiquity—though I feel more confident saying that about Windows than Facebook.

But my perspective is probably horribly slanted. Was Windows popular, in its heyday of the late 90s? Popular, that is, in the sense of being widely loved rather than just widely used?

Perhaps it was. I was in the privileged position at the time of being able to look on Windows from a height as a user of Unix workstations and tedious geek blah, so I would never have appreciated its value as a straightforward way of running a personal computer.

Perhaps there were millions of people given liberation and joy by the friendliness and flexibility of Windows, and by its universal availability as a result of its straightforward, resource-friendly design.

Were there?