I’m sure many of you are already familiar with the name Frank Reiff, developer of “A Better Finder Select,” A Better Finder Creator & Types,” and A Better Finder Rename.” After all, updated versions of his well-received products can be regularly found in all the better on-line and print-based Macintosh magazines. So when Frank advised me of an update to one of his products, I asked if we could interview him and provide our readers with some information about himself. So, sit back, relax, and learn a little bit about Mr. Reiff and his software.
My Mac: First, let me welcome you to My Mac. To start off, can you tell our readers about yourself, your work and how you first became involved with the Macintosh?
Frank: I’m 26 years old and working as a researcher at the Computing Department at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. At the moment I am working mainly in the Software Engineering field, but I also have a background in Human Factors. I’m also working on a part-time Ph.D in Computer Supported Cooperative Work.
My first contact with the Macintosh was at the start of my PhD in the Department. At the time we were a 95% Macintosh shop as far as office machines were concerned and we were using Sun workstations for our development work.
It was then that I came up with the idea for a flexible group support tool which I called PublicSpace. It was my ambition to deploy this system into the “real world” rather than keeping it within the research lab. It was and still is my belief that this is the only way to get real feedback on the design of groupware software such as PublicSpace.
Since nobody really uses UNIX boxes for everyday work such as writing, I chose to implement my system on the Macintosh with the intention of releasing it into the public domain.
My Mac: What were the first products produced by you?
Frank: My first ever shareware product was PublicSpace. Originally it was released as freeware and announced on a couple of Macintosh websites which I personally visited frequently. I was initially very surprised by the overwhelming interest in the product and quickly became flooded with support questions, comments, etc. So much so that it quickly became a full-time job, which was a problem because I already had one of those. After a while I decided that I had to charge for the product or simply take it off the web. That’s how I became a shareware author.
Since then I have released a file tools series called “A Better Finder” which is doing very well.
My Mac: What type of computer do you use at work and at home?
Frank: I use an Apple G3/266 Mac at work and a PowerTools 604e/200 at home.
My Mac: Regarding your computers at work and at home… any special changes to them? Have you tweaked or adjusted them to run better?
Frank: I have had to play around a lot with my machine at home to get it to work at all. Unfortunately, the Mac does not lend itself to that kind of messing around. Windows machines are essentially component-based and you can throw your own machine together. This is essentially what people like Gateway and Dell are doing anyway. But the Macintosh is not designed to be as open as that, and people depend on Apple for many of the drivers. My machine at work has never been opened and I am quite happy to leave it closed as long as it just keeps working.
My Mac: What are your favorite pieces of shareware/freeware that you would consider essential for Mac users?
Frank: I cannot imagine living without DragThing. I also like Kaleidoscope, even though it keeps crashing my machine.
My Mac: Have you considered working on something similar to Kaleidoscope, with a mind to improve its stability?
Frank: The problem with something like Kaleidoscope is that it is impossible to make it crash proof. Essentially you have to hack the operating system to change the way in which it displays windows and buttons and such like. Apple has the opportunity to do this in a much cleaner fashion, since they have access to the operating system code. Having said that, Kaleidoscope is one of the best shareware products to ever grace the Macintosh. I myself am a registered user. It would have been nice if it had been one of mine!
My Mac: What are your feelings for the future of the Mac and the Mac OS? Where would you like to see the Mac OS go?
Frank: I believe that the introduction of Mac OS X will be an important step towards a modern Macintosh. The Mac user interface is still the best on the market, but the underlying operating system is a terrible relic of a time long gone. There are many applications which I would want to develop, but where I know that developing them on a Macintosh is a waste of time because the current Operating System cannot support them.
Accepting international standards, rather than continually reinventing the wheel and making it difficult for users to live in a world which is dominated by the Windows platform is something that Apple has to stop doing.
Rocking the boat with inventions and leading-edge technology is something that Apple can do without closing itself off to the wider world and the realities of it. Apple may have been right to introduce its own standards for a variety of connectors and hardware, but I don’t want to have to buy an expensive adapter for everything I need to do. What is the problem with connecting a VGA monitor or a PC keyboard to a Macintosh? I believe Steve Jobs may have finally understood this.
If the Mac is going to survive it needs to be better than the rest while remaining open to it.
My Mac: What are your favorite software programs? Why?
Frank: I like Netscape Navigator because it allows me to waste time surfing the net and Eudora Pro so that I can keep in touch with people. The new version 4.1 is really coming along very well.
My Mac: What would you consider to be the “ideal” Mac for you?
Frank: It would look like a Mac, but have a decent, modern OS underneath it. It would support nice things such as multi-processing, fast network access, would never crash, never halt or act up in any way. It would also obviously be very fast and still affordable. It would also come with one of those huge 35 inch LCD displays and I would get paid to use it 🙂
My Mac: Can you explain to our readers how you get the ideas to produce the software products that you do?
Frank: Some ideas derive from my work as a researcher, others from my everyday work activities, things such as “wouldn’t it be nice if..”
My main source for inspiration, however, are my users. I encourage them to get in touch with me if they don’t like something, would like to see some new features, or even if they have ideas for new products. The end-users know best what their needs are and listening to them is the best way to ensure that you are producing useful software.
My Mac: What kind of software and other hardware do you use at work?
Frank: I use lots of tools at work. I use Eudora Pro, Netscape Communicator and IE for my Internet needs, CodeWarrior for Mac programming, Claris Homepage for web design and many other more specific tools for various other tasks. I also own a portable Zip drive which I use to transfer files from work to home (unfortunately, local telephone calls are not free in the UK).
My Mac: What’s a typical day like for you?
Frank: Come in late. Answer my mail, mostly support questions, registrations, PR stuff, etc. This usually takes about 2 hours. Then I get down to my day job as a researcher which involves mostly reading, writing, coordinating with other group members and a fair amount of Wintel Java programming. Before going home I usually spend some time answering more email and surfing through Macintosh news sites. Most evenings I spend an hour or so at home working on the new versions of my tools and answering yet more email.
My Mac: Can you provide us with some background on the Mac in the United Kingdom? (Popularity, cost, user groups…)
Frank: The Macintosh is very much an enthusiast’s machine in the UK. Traditionally there have not been many shops which have sold Apple computers, even though this is starting to change with the introduction of the iMac. Until recently you needed to go to a specialist store to even buy a Mac, but now you can buy an iMac in many high street stores. I think this is partly because Apple have never really advertised very much in the UK. Also, Apple has never really penetrated the education market in the UK.
The publishing industry in the UK is, however, just as Macintosh-centric as anywhere else in the world.
My Mac: Which version of the Mac OS is the most popular there?
Frank: Mac OS 8.5.1 of course! Even though many people are still using old Macintoshes with System 7 running, because their employers are refusing to buy new Macintoshes…
My Mac: What do you have in store for the Mac public? New utilities, projects, etc?
Frank: I have a couple of new ideas which I may want to turn into products. Top of the list would have to be an ergonomic break tool, since I need a good one of those for myself. I also have some ideas for some web production software, but that could still be a while. My highest priorities at the moment are to finish my Ph.D and to keep updating my existing products. A French version of my “A Better Finder” tools will hopefully be released by the end of the month.
If any of your readers can think of a cool tool that they would want to see done, tell them to get in touch with me. I am always open to new suggestions.
My Mac: A final question for you… What suggestions would you give to Mac users who would like to follow your example and develop shareware for the Mac?
Frank: I would tell them that it is a very exciting thing to do, but that you cannot do it half-heartedly. If you are unsuccessful, it is very, very depressing. If you are successful, it can become very stressful. The vast majority of users have a positive attitude and it can be a really rewarding experience to communicate with your users, and it often is. But every shareware author that I know has also had his/her fair share of abusive and obnoxious messages. Your shareware career can also take over your life very quickly.
Also don’t expect to get rich; very few people make a lot of money from shareware. There are only a handful of people making enough money to live on it. Success too, does not come overnight and especially with utility software, it may be over very quickly. Some shareware authors have seen their utilities integrated into the Mac OS and this cannot be good for your sales…
My Mac: Thank you, Frank, and continued success with your software products.
And for all My Mac readers, check out Frank’s website at http://www.publicspace.net/ABetterFinderSelect to explore some of the software that he’s developed. Have fun!