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#1670: Arc Web browser hits 1.0 release, “Do You Use It?” polls about Apple features

The innovative Web browser Arc has reached 1.0 and is now available for free with no waitlist. Adam Engst looks at the new features Arc has acquired since his 7000-word review of the app in May. We also introduce Discourse-hosted polls that will give us all a sense of how heavily TidBITS readers use particular Apple features (and why). Finally, we close with a link to a fascinating keynote address by an Amazon S3 engineer that transcends technical details. Notable Mac app releases this week include Safari 16.6, BusyCal 2023.3.1, Fantastical 3.7.17, Camo Studio 2.0.5, Pixelmator Pro 3.3.11, Timing 2023.4.4, Agenda 18.0.1, and Quicken 7.2.

Adam Engst 20 comments

Introducing “Do You Use It?” Polls

Every year, Apple makes a big fuss about the new features in its forthcoming operating systems, and tech publications write about many of them, often before Apple’s final releases. But after the excitement of the eventual release wanes, how many people end up using those features in their everyday lives? Were they legitimate efforts to improve the user experience, or just some product manager’s idea being thrown against the wall to see if it sticks?

I’m sure Apple has statistics on feature use because David Shayer once explained how seriously Apple takes user privacy when recording usage statistics (see “Former Apple Engineer: Here’s Why I Trust Apple’s COVID-19 Notification Proposal,” 11 May 2020). Apple undoubtedly uses that information to allocate development and testing resources, but the company never shares such details with the world. The closest we get is when Apple either lets a feature stagnate or removes it entirely—remember Dashboard and iDVD?

Why should you care? In theory, you shouldn’t. In an ideal world, you’d sit down with the complete list of features in each of Apple’s operating systems, give each one a whirl, and see if it solves a problem or otherwise improves your life. If you have time for all that, I’m impressed! Exploring new features is literally my job, and even I can’t find the time to examine everything Apple introduces.

But I can think of three reasons we might care about how heavily certain features are used:

  • Social proof: When we lack the time or expertise to evaluate something for ourselves, we often fall back on social proof: “Are people like me using this feature?” It’s a shortcut, to be sure, but we all do it, and it’s not necessarily problematic as long as you don’t just accept the crowd’s opinion as the gospel truth.
  • Evangelism: It’s entirely human to want to share. If we think some feature makes a real difference in our lives, we want to tell others about it. To an extent, that applies on the negative side too. Although I seldom cover features for which I have no use, I sometimes feel the need to call out unchecked marketing (see “The Dark Side of Dark Mode,” 31 May 2019).
  • Curiosity: We all have opinions about the utility of many Apple features but no way of knowing the extent to which others share them. I’m particularly curious if my instincts as a tech publisher are on target or if I need to adjust my beliefs to match the TidBITS readership.

All this is by way of introducing something I’ve started in the Discourse software that powers TidBITS Talk and our article comments: “Do You Use It?” polls about Apple operating system features.

These polls aren’t statistically significant because respondents self-select from the pool of regular TidBITS readers. But the results should provide a sense of what people who read TidBITS—and thus are like us—think about these features. I suspect some polls will generate more responses than others due to the strength of feeling people have for the feature in question—that’s fine and perhaps indicative in itself.

The beauty of building the polls in Discourse is that after people vote, they can post an explanation of why they voted as they did, what aspects of the feature they feel are well or poorly implemented, what alternatives they use, and so on. I’ll break branches off into their own topics as necessary.

I haven’t yet figured out precisely what I want to do with the results here in TidBITS. In some cases, covering the poll results might be an excuse to write about the feature itself. In other cases, I might merely link to the results after a few weeks to get them into the historical record. Similarly, I’m not sure how frequently I want to start a new poll—one or two a week might make sense, but it needs to stay fun and not become onerous. We’ll see.

One final point. My first two polls were driven by wondering how many people rely on Stage Manager on the Mac and the iPad, and the third stemmed from a throwaway comment in the discussion—does anyone actually use Launchpad?—that triggered so many comments I had to turn it into a poll to clean up the conversation. But future polls will cover features that undoubtedly enjoy broad adoption, like Time Machine or Spotlight. I also plan to use the polls as an excuse to call out helpful little features that many people probably don’t even know about, like proxy icons. Such polls will include an answer to account for those currently in the dark, and you’ll also be able to change your vote afterward, such as from “I didn’t know this feature existed” to “I use it daily.” I hope that happens for some people!

Here are our first three “Do You Use It?” polls. Click through to the Discourse poll, make sure you’re logged in with your TidBITS account, and vote!

 

Adam Engst 30 comments

Innovative Web Browser Arc Reaches 1.0 Release

I seldom write about beta software, particularly in great depth, but the utility and maturity of Arc, the new Chromium-based Web browser from The Browser Company, caused me to make an exception with “Arc Will Change the Way You Work on the Web” (1 May 2023). Nevertheless, recommending an app with a waitlist was awkward, even though TidBITS readers generously posted invitation codes in the article comments.

I’m pleased to note that The Browser Company has now released version 1.0 of Arc, making it a free download for everyone. Since I penned my 7000-word opus, I have changed none of my core opinions about Arc—I still feel it is the most impactful app I’ve used on the Mac in years. I particularly appreciate being able to switch fluidly between the synced copies of Arc on my iMac and my MacBook Air, and I’ve become increasingly fond of Arc’s iPhone companion app because it contains pinned tabs to all the websites and pages on which I rely. (That said, the iPhone app still doesn’t display Favorites, an annoying and seemingly easily rectified lapse.)

My sole disappointment has been with the responsiveness of The Browser Company. None of my bug reports or suggestions were acknowledged (though some have been resolved), nor did my article generate any communication despite being more comprehensive than anything else ever written about Arc. (Yes, that’s authorial pique speaking; in contrast, I got a nice note from the developers of the WebKit-based Orion after just a brief mention in “A Roundup of Vertical Tab Support in Mac Web Browsers,” 5 June 2023.) Other TidBITS readers have noticed a similar lack of response to support questions. This silence feels at odds with how garrulous The Browser Company is on The Service Previously Known as Twitter (sadly) and YouTube, and the company’s seeming desire to encourage community (such as by creating a Credits page with over 34,000 names of beta testers. Perhaps the company will devote additional resources to customer support now that the beta period is over.

[Update: I’ve now heard from The Browser Company with an apology for the silence. I hadn’t internalized how many tens of thousands of users were beta testing, but as I suspected, the communication problem was too few staff for the volume of inquiries—thousands per day. The company is now focusing on scaling up. -Adam]

Arc’s developers have been far from idle in the months since my review. A significant release with new features and interface polish has arrived every Thursday like clockwork. Some of the more compelling changes include:

  • Boosts: Although The Browser Company promotes Boosts heavily as a fun way to personalize any website, what keeps me from muttering “Waste CPU cycles drawing trendy 3D junk” under my breath is how Boosts are an accessibility win for those who need to make websites easier to read. Don’t like something about a site you regularly use? Create a Boost to change it. You can even use the Zap feature to remove entire elements from a page. Boosts get a section in the Library sidebar, and a Boost Gallery collects submissions from the community if you want to see what others have done. And no, I didn’t keep the Boost for the TidBITS site shown below.
    TidBITS website restyled with an Arc Boost
  • Optional toolbar and Site Control Center: If Arc’s lack of a traditional wide toolbar at the top of the page is too jarring, you can now turn one on by choosing View > Show Toolbar. Or don’t—I prefer Arc’s small toolbar at the top of the sidebar, where you can access Boosts and other site-specific settings in the new Site Control Center.
    Arc's Site Control Center in the small toolbar
  • Option-click for Split View: Arc’s Split View is great when you need to work back and forth between two tabs, such as when I’m copying an article I’ve written in Google Docs to a new post in WordPress. To make it even easier to create a Split View, you can now Option-click the second tab to create a Split View with it instantly. Now there’s no need to select both tabs, Control-click, and choose Open in Split View.
  • Better multi-window behavior: Despite Split View, sometimes you need to open something in another window. In Arc, you can now drag any tab or favorite out of the window to create another window with its contents. It’s a full-fledged Arc window, although the sidebar is hidden by default. I love this feature, though I’m less happy about how unpinned tabs are now window-specific and don’t sync across systems. Sometimes I want those synced and have to remember to pin them temporarily.
  • Page translation: When you visit a page in another language, Arc automatically offers to translate it. I don’t need this often, but it’s handier than the Google Translate extension I had been using.
    Arc's built-in translation
  • Multiple adblocker detection: Arc’s developers found that more than a third of people who import from Google Chrome have multiple adblockers enabled, which can radically hurt performance in any browser. Arc now detects that on import and prompts the user to pick one.
  • Peek at any site: It’s now easier to open any link in a Peek over the current tab so you don’t lose your place—Shift-click a link. If you dislike this feature, turn it off in Arc > Settings > Links.
    Arc Links settings
  • Air Traffic Control: Although I’m a massive fan of Little Arc, the standalone window for links clicked from other apps, I’d prefer to open some links in a Space. The Air Traffic Control feature accessible in the Links settings lets you specify where links that match or contain specific strings open.
    Arc Air Traffic Control rules
  • Paste New Tabs: You can now create a new tab with the contents of the clipboard by pressing Command-Option-V. If the clipboard contains a URL, Arc makes a new tab with it; if it contains text, the new tab loads with search results.

I still haven’t wrapped my head around Easels and Notes, so I can’t say any more about how they might be helpful. Nor do I ever peruse my archived tabs, media, or downloads—the Library sidebar remains terra incognita.

But I don’t care—Arc has become such a part of my work life that I actively dislike using other browsers now, not the least because I’m addicted to being able to press Command-Shift-C to copy the current page’s URL, something I do many times per day as I write and edit. I’ve built up hundreds of pinned tabs across my four Spaces, and I can quickly switch among the many sites I need to use without losing my place in any of them. And as I noted, I can easily do all that on either of my Macs or my iPhone because Arc lets me make a mental map of everything I have stored.

Arc may be overkill for those who use just a handful of tabs at a time, but if you spend much of your day working in websites, I recommend giving it a try. Arc is free to download and requires macOS 12.1 Monterey or later. Remember, though, that it will take a few days to set up your Web mise en place before you really start cooking with fire.

Watchlist

BusyCal 2023.3.1 Agen Schmitz No comments

BusyCal 2023.3.1

BusyMac has issued BusyCal 2023.3.1, bringing support for specifying more than one alarm in Quick Entry. The calendar app now displays the duration of an event as part of Time to Event in the Info Panel, provides additional date insertion options in the Edit menu, adds an option in the Calendar settings to hide graphic or attachment previews from events, improves natural language parsing, and improves support for macOS 14 Sonoma. ($49.99 new from BusyMac or the Mac App Store, free update, in Setapp, 59 MB, release notes, macOS 10.15+)

Fantastical 3.7.17 Agen Schmitz No comments

Fantastical 3.7.17

Flexibits has issued Fantastical 3.7.17 with added support for Markdown syntax in Fantastical Openings templates. The calendar app adjusts the Create From Input shortcut action so tasks can be created without a due date, resolves an issue with access to local Reminders, fixes a bug where Todoist sync would get stuck when trying to archive or delete projects, addresses a problem that caused the week view to stick when scrolled with the right arrow key, resolves an issue with events appearing with incorrect color in Dark mode, and eliminates a couple of crashes. ($56.99 annual subscription from Flexibits and the Mac App Store, free update, 69.4 MB, release notes, macOS 11+)

Camo Studio 2.0.5 Agen Schmitz No comments

Camo Studio 2.0.5

Reincubate released Camo Studio 2.0.5 with two oft-requested features for the virtual-camera system: 4K resolution and green screen support. If you have a real green screen, you can now dial in a Chroma Key instead of using Camo’s ML segmentation feature. The update also adds an option in preferences to select from light or dark appearance, enables you to set any audio delay value you’d like (rather than 100ms increments), fixes the “Connect a device” prompt being shown in your feed when switching between UVC devices, and displays the exact FPS rate instead of rounding up. A quick update to version 2.0.5 fixes an issue with notifications. ($39.99 annual subscription or $79.99 lifetime license, free update, 44.5 MB, release notes, macOS 10.13+)

Pixelmator Pro 3.3.11 Agen Schmitz 3 comments

Pixelmator Pro 3.3.11

The Pixelmator Team has issued Pixelmator Pro 3.3.9, improving the Denoise tool and RAW image support. The updated Denoise tool enables you to adjust the amount of noise you want to remove from images via the Denoise Intensity slider or by entering a specific value. The release now supports opening and editing compressed RAWs from Fujifilm cameras (including X-T4 and X-T5 models), along with compressed and uncompressed RAWs from the X-S20 model when running macOS 13 Ventura. Compressed Fujifilm RAWs can be opened and edited in Apple’s Photos using the Pixelmator Pro extension. The update also improves the Crop tool with a more precise Straighten slider and improves support for PDF export.

Shortly after this release, versions 3.3.10 and 3.3.11 were issued to add support for importing LUTs as color adjustment presets and entire LUT folders, and to add a new Support submenu in the Help menu for reporting issues. ($49.99 new from Pixelmator and the Mac App Store, free update, 589 MB, release notes, macOS 11+)

Timing 2023.4.4 Agen Schmitz No comments

Timing 2023.4.4

Daniel Alm has released Timing 2023.4, adding support for importing iPhone calls into the time and productivity tracking app. After enabling the Phone Calls integration, you can import calls from your Mac’s call history, including the caller’s name and the call’s duration. The update also sorts archived projects last when sorting projects by name, improves tracking for Discord, asks permission to use the Screen Recording API for apps that do not support tracking window titles using the Accessibility API (such as Adobe Premiere and After Effects), reduces false positives for Private mode detection in Chrome and Brave, adds browser tracking for the Sidekick Web browser, and improves compatibility with tracking FaceTime Audio calls. Subsequent maintenance releases updated Timing to version 2023.4.4 to resolve a rare crash in the Timing tracker app, add support for Orion Browser, and add Asana, Google Docs, Google Drive, and Todoist to the Office domain lists. ($96/$120/$168 annual subscriptions, free update for current subscribers, in Setapp, 23.9 MB, release notes, macOS 10.15+)

Agenda 18.0.1 Agen Schmitz No comments

Agenda 18.0.1

Momenta has issued version 18 of Agenda, adding password support to the date-focused note-taking app. Premium subscribers can now lock the entire app, individual notes, or whole projects to prevent unauthorized viewing, and they can be unlocked using Touch ID, Face ID, an Apple Watch, or a privacy password. The release adds sort options for the notes list, enabling grouping of notes by project or color and sorting by assigned date, creation date, edited date, or title. Agenda 18 also improves the color picker, fixes a bug that always expanded the time and date pickers in the event and reminder sheet, more reliably detects reminder and event updates that force the inspector to refresh, significantly reduces memory use during printing of notes with attachments, and fixes attachment import for text bundles when alt-text is empty.

Version 18.0.1 followed this release to fix a bug where the title would deselect when you added a new note, adjust wrongly named menus for sorting, fix handling of dates older than 5 years, and ensure the Change Password button in Settings appears properly. (Free with a $34.99 annual Premium subscription or $119.99 one-time Premium purchase, free update for subscribers, 72.9 MB, release notes, macOS 10.14+)

Quicken 7.2 Agen Schmitz 5 comments

Quicken 7.2

Quicken Inc. has issued version 7.2 of Quicken for Mac with new features and improvements for the financial management app. It’s now easier to choose which accounts you would like to add from a financial institution that holds 15 or more accounts, you can now view your securities by Name or Symbol on the Investments Dashboard Holdings card, and you can save a Biller’s website URL in Quicken to pay bills more quickly. The release also enables you to link a new account to a “hidden” account, improves the process for adding or updating eBills for financial institutions that have updated the security of their logins, adds the ability to change tag colors in the Tags list using multi-select, fixes a bug that prevented the graph from displaying in the Home Dashboard Net Worth card, and improves performance when using the disclosure buttons to expand and collapse data in large reports. ($34.99/$51.99/$77.99 annual subscriptions, free update for subscribers, 3.2 MB installer download, release notes, macOS 10.15+)

ExtraBITS

Adam Engst No comments

Lessons from Building and Operating Amazon S3

Andy Warfield, a VP and distinguished engineer at Amazon, has contributed a guest post to the All Things Distributed blog based on his keynote at the USENIX FAST ’23 conference. He sums up:

I came to Amazon expecting to work on a really big and complex piece of storage software. What I learned was that every aspect of my role was unbelievably bigger than that expectation. I’ve learned that the technical scale of the system is so enormous, that its workload, structure, and operations are not just bigger, but foundationally different from the smaller systems that I’d worked on in the past. I learned that it wasn’t enough to think about the software, that “the system” was also the software’s operation as a service, the organization that ran it, and the customer code that worked with it. I learned that the organization itself, as part of the system, had its own scaling challenges and provided just as many problems to solve and opportunities to innovate. And finally, I learned that to really be successful in my own role, I needed to focus on articulating the problems and not the solutions, and to find ways to support strong engineering teams in really owning those solutions.

Parts of this lengthy post will likely be over your head technically (as they were over mine), but the more down-to-earth nuggets are fascinating. Warfield moved directly from grad school to a startup and then returned to academia as a professor before eventually joining Amazon to work on its Simple Storage Service—Amazon S3. Despite the name, S3 is anything but simple.

The scale of Amazon S3 is mind-blowing: it holds over 280 trillion objects and averages over 100 million requests per second. It’s built on literally millions of hard drives, and it’s entirely likely that a single data request might be served by over 1 million individual drives. S3 is so large that the problems it presents—and the solutions it requires—are fundamentally different than what one might expect from just increasing the size of a smaller system.

Warfield takes a side trip into the history of hard drives to note that the capacity of hard drives has increased 7.2 million times while physical size has decreased 5000 times. To help visualize the technical wizardry encapsulated in hard drives, he updates the analogy of a hard drive head scaled up to the size of a 747 airplane flying over a grassy field, where each blade of grass is a bit of information. In his version, the plane only flies at 75 miles per hour, but the air gap between the bottom of the plane and the top of the grass is just two sheets of paper. As it flies, it counts each blade of grass and misses a blade only once every 25,000 trips around the Earth. Amazing.

Finally, Warfield closes with some views on the importance of “ownership” in an organization. Whether with grad students in his lab or engineers at Amazon, he found it more effective to encourage people to come up with their own thoughts than to feed them ideas. The sentence that resonated most deeply for me:

I consciously spend a lot more time trying to develop problems, and to do a really good job of articulating them, rather than trying to pitch solutions.