2006-07-11

QuickTime

The other day, while ostensibly talking about VMware Player, I started to rant about QuickTime Player. I've just gone back and edited that post to condense the lengthy aside back down to the salient point, which was that a demonstration version of an application should either let you use all the functionality or at least let you explore all the functionality.

But I'm still offended by Apple's QuickTime Player, so I thought I'd let the rant live on.

QuickTime Player, if you don't know, is part of Mac OS (which we pay about $120/year for) but is full of grayed-out menu items saying, in effect, "you're not really welcome to use this OS you think you've already paid for, but give us more money, you hateful plebs, and maybe then we'll consider letting you use the rest". Being able to see what you're missing out on only rubs in the fact that Apple are ripping you off, charging $120 for an OS full of barely-useful or non-functional shite but denying you stuff like a simple movie-playing application.

People laugh at Microsoft's plans to have all those different editions of Vista? We Mac users have had that for years. We've had the iLife edition, the QuickTime Pro edition, and the .Mac edition, and we can even mix and match them.

Of 10.4's "Top [10] Features" according to Apple, I don't or can't use:

  1. Spotlight (too slow, too inexhaustive, too unfocused)

  2. Dashboard (utterly devoid of any obvious function)

  3. Safari RSS (even if I hadn't bought NetNewsWire, a link to the free download of NetNewsWire Lite would have been more useful and a lot less effort)

  4. iChat AV (I have no camera, and Adium supports the protocols people I know use)

  5. Automator (unlikely to replace cron(8) and Ruby)

  6. QuickTime 7 (crippled unless I pay $29/year to use it)

  7. .Mac Sync (useless unless I pay $99/year to use it)

  8. VoiceOver (I'm not blind)

  9. Parental Controls (I'm not a parent, and I don't believe in censorship)

  10. Mail (slow search, awkward editing; it was better in 10.3)


So why did I buy 10.4? It's not like Steve came round my house with a gun! I bought 10.4 because that was the only way I was going to get Java 5 on Mac OS. A free download on Linux, Solaris, or MS Windows, but it's been $120/year in Mac land so far. (Java 6 may be the first time a Java release isn't tied to an OS release. We can only hope.)

Two things in 10.4 are genuinely useful to me on a regular basis: the dictionary and thesaurus. Okay, so that's actually one thing, Dictionary.app. But it's really nice. A few more denizens of /usr/bin became a little less out of date with 10.4, too, but I could have built them from source if I'd really needed them, and I already had, where I had really needed them.

Did I mention the new bugs in 10.4? NSTextView has always been a bit buggy, but 10.4 introduced a bunch of bugs that get me all the time. They may be fixed now, but I wouldn't know, because they made me give up on the couple of applications I'd been using that relied on them. Safari's got worse for me. More spinning rainbow wheel, and, most recently, a lot of cases where the back button just disables itself and I lose my history for that window.

I've just realized that when Firefox gets check-as-you-type spelling correction, Dictionary and iTunes will be the only Apple applications I'm using.

Anyway, about the QuickTime tax. It's a tax, rather than a one-off fee, because each "major revision" requires you to buy a new license. There are ways around paying the tax, because the crippling is done at a high level. If all you're bothered about is the fact that full-screen is disabled, then, as ars.technica mentioned today, it's easy to Get fullscreen in Quicktime without paying for Pro. I knew that the full-screen functionality is available in the underlying libraries without the need for a license, but I didn't realize that the player application has the code to disable the feature in the wrong place. (The method called by the "Full Screen" menu item causes a license check.)

If you want more of the functionality than just full-screen mode, you could try QuickTime Amateur, which uses the QuickTime for Java library.

If you're interested in QuickTime for Java, you should check out the source to QuickTime Amateur. It's a much better introduction and guide than the O'Reilly QuickTime for Java: A Developer's Notebook, which is just a collection of small demo programs.

There's probably a QTKit (the Objective-C veneer over the underlying ugly Pascal-crossed-with-C late 1970s monster that is the QuickTime API) equivalent to QuickTime Amateur, but I haven't heard about it.

If you're interested in playing stuff QuickTime can't manage, VLC is worth a look. It's a little ugly and awkward to use, though. Not that QuickTime Player is going to win any prizes in those departments.