Forwarding Address: OS X

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Serving Notice

One OS 8/9 feature I've often missed in OS X is that the old Notification Manager allowed background processes to display little floating windows, rather than big clunky dialog boxes, when they needed to tell you something. OS X has not made any new strides here; in fact, except for aesthetic touches like Quartz rendering and throbbing blue buttons, its notifications are arguably less sophisticated than those of its recent ancestors. (Ask me about the Safari bug involving tabs and undismissable alert dialogs.)

OS X does have the raw material for much-improved notification services, though. Note the success of application-specific enhancements like Mail.appetizer and the various iTunes what-song-is-playing helpers. Then there's Growl and LanOSD, both of which offer hooks allowing applications, AppleScripts, and shell scripts to easily trigger nice auto-dismissing alerts in a variety of styles. For example, here's an AppleScript that uses Growl to tell you what iTunes is playing:

tell application "iTunes"
	set theArtist to artist of current track
	set theName to name of current track
end tell
tell application "GrowlHelperApp"
	notify with title theArtist description theName icon of application "iTunes"
end tell
Here's the same thing for LanOSD:
tell application "iTunes"
	set theArtist to artist of current track
	set theTrack to name of current track
end tell
tell application "LanOSD"
	message kind "iTunes" text theArtist & " - " & theTrack icon "info"
end tell
These examples are of course not very useful by themselves, but they do show how easy these services are to use. It wouldn't be that hard, for example, to write a cron script that popped up a notice when your favorite RSS feed got a new post, or when your blog got a comment or trackback, or when local disk free space dropped below 10%. The main thing about this style of notification is that it is minimally intrusive -- you don't have to dismiss it, move it out of the way, or deal with " requires your attention" alerts that aren't even smart enough to dismiss themselves after you've activated the app in question.

I hope Apple takes the hint from all this activity and puts some of their supersmart interface people to work on making this part of the UI not just prettier, but better.


  • > I hope Apple takes the hint from all this activity Agreed, I'd be very excited for Apple to get involved in this space and "Konfabulate" these projects. A win for Apple getting involved would be that all these little polling Apps and Scripts wouldn't actually have to take up Dock or Menu bar space. They could occupy the same sort of space as the languishing Services...

    -adam (

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:02 AM  


    Check out growl, it does what you're talking about perfectly.

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