[I wrote most of this in April, then wrote some more of it in May (sparked by an entry I wrote about Eudora problems), but didn't get around to finishing and posting it 'til now.]
I've been disappointed with lack of forward progress in various technological stuff lately.
Some examples, in way too much detail:
- I was pretty satisfied with my Palm m500 a couple years ago, but there were various ways I wanted to see it improve--bigger capacity, faster, higher-resolution (and bigger screen), various sound-related improvements, WiFi support, etc. In mid-2005, I moved up to a Treo 650; my other option around that time, along a slightly different path, would probably have been the LifeDrive (which is now no longer available). Neither of those really does everything I want, though; I feel like Palm has been basically stagnating for a few years now. I still love the company, I still want them to succeed, I still own Palm stock--but I feel like we were zipping along the improvements curve and then suddenly stopped. The next-generation Treo 755p is out now, and it definitely appears to be an improvement over the 650, but not all that big an improvement. I would probably have bought one if the iPhone hadn't come along, but I'm still disappointed that Palm hasn't made any really big strides in the past couple years. (And don't get me started on the whole Palm operating system fiasco.)
- Hard drive capacity in laptops has not increased nearly as fast as I want it to, at least not in Apple laptops. The PowerBook G4 I bought in 2002 had, I think, a 60GB hard drive; I think I later upgraded it to 80GB. My fifteen-month-old MacBook has a 120GB hard drive. Doubling drive capacity in four years is, I admit, pretty cool, but I would have expected it to double roughly twice in that period.
- Software GUIs feel to me like they haven't significantly improved in a while, and in some ways are taking some steps backward. (Because AJAX apps, amazing and cool as they are, don't yet provide the full range of affordances and interactions that desktop apps do.) I was talking with Twig a while back about the threaded comments interface in LiveJournal, and it occurred to me that trn (a threaded newsreader) had a good tree-like threading interface twenty years ago, whereas today's threaded interfaces (including LJ's) seem generally clunky to me. I do like Slashdot's experimental new interface, where you can click an item and it'll expand right there in the window without a page refresh (go, AJAX!), but there are some mildly clunky things about that as well.
- Tagging and folksonomies are certainly interesting, but they leave a lot to be desired. They don't really solve the Indexing Problem; it feels more like saying "the Indexing Problem isn't really the right problem to be addressing, so let's go deal with some other related areas." (Yes, yes, my employer's software is obviously one way of trying to address the Indexing Problem, and it does a much better job than I would've expected a few years ago. But still.) (This item isn't really like the other items on this list, but I decided to leave it here anyway.)
- People have been saying that E Ink will turn into a usable product "within five years" for nearly ten years now. I saw a Sony Reader at Fry's back in April or so, and was really disappointed--it's a very awkward size, and the interface is really clunky, and the page background isn't very white so the contrast between foreground and background isn't as high as I'd hoped. I'm glad that it exists, and it's not awful for a first step, but I wouldn't want to carry one in its current form. I want something the size of a paperback book or smaller (and much thinner), with a natural and intuitive interface and a screen that really looks like paper. And I've been expecting something like that for years--there were clunky wrong-size ebook readers years ago, and I kept expecting that they would make big improvements over time. The iPhone screen is awfully nice, but at the moment there's no way to load long documents onto it, so it's not a good option either.
- I've been wanting a good To-Do-List application for years, one that would run just as well on my Mac desktop as on my PDA or smartphone. I was thrilled a few years back when someone pointed me to Shadow Plan, but it still just doesn't quite fit my model of how I want a To-Do List to work. (If I could really articulate my model, maybe I could write the app myself, but I can't quite.) And the Mac desktop version is really minimal and not very Maclike. The guy who wrote Shadow has often been extremely responsive to customer input, but his development cycle tends to be a little slow, and the arrival of a child in his family has slowed it further; the last official release was nearly two years ago. Kam (I think?) recently pointed me to iGTD, which sounds potentially promising, but the GTD system has never really fit my head (but iGTD isn't completely wedded to GTD), and anyway there's no to-do-list app for the iPhone yet so I wouldn't have my to-dos with me all the time.
- Fifteen years ago, when I started my tech writing career, I learned to use FrameMaker, which was one of the most powerful document-processing systems available. It ran on UNIX, Windows, and Mac, and it was the tool of choice for Tech Pubs departments everywhere, except the ones that used Interleaf. (And a few that used things like MS Word, and a few holdovers that were still using SGML tools.) When I left SGI, I bought my own personal copy of FrameMaker, I liked it that much. It had various major UI clunkinesses, but we got used to working around those, and it was incredibly powerful. But development on it was extraordinarily slow. Major bugs and deficiencies went years without being corrected. A few years ago, they decided to stop developing it for the Mac entirely. So I started looking around at the Mac word processor scene, and there just wasn't anything out there that came anywhere near the power of FM. I have an idea in my head of what I want the ultimate tech-writing tool to be, but it generally starts with building a pretty GUI on top of DocBook--and when I talk with my friends who've actually used DocBook, they near-universally dislike it. As far as I can tell, there's no longer one preeminent obvious tool to use--and the tools that are out there mostly don't even have the power that FM had fifteen years ago. (And by "power" I don't mean featuritis.) These days for my personal writing I use a mix of Pages and BBEdit, and my tech writing is all in HTML at this point so I can mostly use Dreamweaver, but there's always a background frustration level that the tools aren't improving very fast.
- And then there's Eudora. As I described in that entry back in May, I love many things about Eudora. But development on the Mac version has been near-nonexistent for years. QualComm promised a big new version, saying it was just around the corner for a couple of years; then they finally decided to cease development altogether. The development team is now working on Penelope, which appears to essentially consist of adding something resembling the Eudora GUI on top of Thunderbird; after about ten months, they're on the verge of releasing version 0.1beta, and they don't recommend it for use by ordinary Eudora users until version 1.0, probably due out in 2008 at the earliest. I did try out Thunderbird briefly a couple months ago and found it much more to my liking than I had expected, so it's possible that Penelope will eventually suit my needs. But probably not anytime soon; also, as of late July, Mozilla wants to reorganize the way Thunderbird is developed. See the several postings after that for lots more info, including a depressing-to-me suggestion that the world seems to be moving away from desktop email clients. (I'm fine with the world doing that; it's just that it has a negative effect on me personally, because I love desktop email clients and don't like in-browser email clients; see earlier notes about AJAX.) But what other options are there? I tried Apple's Mail.app briefly, and didn't like the GUI or the relatively low-power filtering; but that was a couple years ago, so I may try it again at some point. I've heard good things about Mailsmith, but it hasn't been updated in over two years; I don't think I want to move from one abandoned mailer to another. Anyway, the cost of moving from one mailer to another is high, given the volume of mail I get and the ten-plus years' worth of archived mail that I'd have to port; I haven't yet found an easy way to try out a mailer for a little while and still be able to switch back to Eudora if I need to.
With all of this stuff, I keep using the old stuff, hoping that sooner or later something new will come along that'll work better for me. And, really, most of the old stuff does a reasonably good job of meeting my needs. I've just gotten used to new WOW! technology coming along all the time (to be fair, some pretty WOW!-looking technology does come along every now and then, like the iPhone), and I'm frustrated that after periods of rapid improvement, several of my favorite pieces of technology feel like they've been stagnating for years.
And let's not even get into the fact that we don't have jet-cars yet.