Big and comprehensive, or small and sleek?


At the weekend, I was thinking about applications and whether I prefer a big application that does everything, or a number of small ones that do things collectively. I mulled over writing a post about it, and then lo and behold, I find that Dave Hyatt has been thinking about similar things in relation to Safari. Curses — I'm puffing along a couple of miles behind the bandwagon once again, waving my arms and yelling, "Wait for me!".

Anyway, I've been thinking about it, so I'm flippin' well going to post about it anyway. I used to like big capable applications. I used to (saints preserve us) use Entourage. It must — I thought — be more efficient to have your email, calendar and address book all in one application, and all there ready to do your bidding. But then, with Jaguar, I switched over the the Mail/iCal/Address Book combo, and found that it was just as convenient. On a modern machine on OSX, there's no penalty for having lots of apps open, and you can switch between them with a flick of your command-tab thumb-little-finger. They are sleeker and faster, and all have a well-defined purpose, like traditional UNIX command line programs. This was really brought home to me when I started using Keynote. It's a brilliant program, but it isn't a drawing program by any stretch of the imagination, and the drawing tools are somewhat inadequate if you want to do anything beyond basic stuff. But OmniGraffle draws figures beautifully: copy, paste, done. OmniOutliner exports Keynote text to an outline, or vice versa. Again, it all works wonderfully. Want an equation in your presentation? No problem; use EquationService. So, it seems to me that the key is interaction not integration. A single app is never going to do everything you want (or if it does, it will be hellishly sluggish). If you can use a number of small apps to build in the features you want, you get the best of both worlds. Apple seems to be going in the right direction in this respect, with the Services menu, the system-wide availability of the Address Book and so on. With Applescript being upgraded and improved, roll-your-own integration may get even more of a boost.

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