When I look these days at the applications that I rely on (and enjoy) the most, I note some interesting trends. The best address a highly specific need, are absent of feature bloat, almost never crash, don’t interfere with other applications, are well designed and are developed by small companies (or individuals), most of whom communicate frequently with their users via email and (especially) RSS/weblogs.

  • Adium. A multi-protocol instant messaging application. (I use this as a replacement for iChat.)
  • Bookit. An application for maintain bookmark synchronization among several browsers. [Weblog]
  • ChronoSync. An application for performing on-demand or scheduled synchronization between folders.
  • Cocoalicious. An application for managing Del.icio.us tagged bookmarks. [Weblog]
  • DropDMG. An application (droplet) for creating a variety of archives. [Weblog]
  • Hog Bay Notebook. An outliner and information repository with an excellent user interface. [Weblog]
  • Life Balance. Task management application. [Weblog]
  • NetNewsWire and MarsEdit. RSS news aggregator, and Weblog management tool (respectively). It’s truly hard to find examples of applications that are better-done (in all aspects: design, implementation, documentation and support) than these. [Weblog]
  • SpamSieve. A Bayesian-based spam management plug-in for Apple’s Mail application (and others). [Weblog]
  • SuperDuper. A utility for creating bootable (and other) backups to disk or file. [Weblog]
  • Transmit. Would, along with NetNewsWire, get my vote for the most well-done MacOS X application. Hard to imagine a better S/FTP file transfer tool. [Weblog]
  • WhatSize. A utility providing visibility into filesystem usage (including management services — view and delete).

Contrast these to large-company applications, characterized by feature bloat, relatively unstable, interfere with other applications, and developed by organizations that are impossible to communicate with, and who have websites that are impossible to use. (Some even force me to read Spanish content, simply because my IP address is in Spain.)

  • Adobe Acrobat 7. I installed this 450 MB behemoth, and now I’ve got new Word and Excel PDF toolbars that won’t go away, create bigger files (with no additional functionality) that MacOS X’s “Print to PDF” feature, and install themselves as the sole (and un-needed) second-row toolbar.
  • Microsoft Office. Half a gig and getting bigger. In the latest version, I’ve lost the understanding of how to update a style based on the current selection. :-(
  • Macromedia Studio MX. Just *try* to fire this up and create a simple website. But now that Macromedia has been acquired by Adobe, the situation should improve. Yeah.
  • PGP. Version 9 appears to me to be developed by “cross-platform” engineers, as both the application and responses from PGP support have a “Windows” feel to them. The PGP-Agent frequently begins to consume 100% of the CPU. Tabbing out of a data input field reverts its value. And just try to find a place on their website to report a bug. Ugh.

This isn’t to say there are no good applications from medium-sized to larger organizations. There certainly are:

But the conclusion to me seems to be that the best end-user applications are being developed by small groups and individuals that have a passion for what they do, and develop a “relation” with their users, especially through weblogs.


  • Todd

    I couldn’t agree more with your argument. Paul Graham has made a similar argument in “Hackers and Painters.” However, Graham was primarily speaking on the productivity of large vs. small software companies; whereas you are speaking on the quality of the products from large vs. small software companies.

    Nice write-up. I even downloaded a few products I had never heard before.