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You are here: MacNN Forums > News > Mac News > Year in Review: Pick of MacNN 2015, Part 1 -- Charles Martin

Year in Review: Pick of MacNN 2015, Part 1 -- Charles Martin
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Dec 29, 2015, 06:52 PM
Like everyone on the staff at MacNN, I write a lot of stuff. Thousands of words a day, at least 15,000 a week, and often more. When I was asked to pick five articles that I wrote (and, in Part Two of this, five articles written by others) that were my favorite, my mind just went blank. I said to Managing Editor Mike (and I quote), "I can't even remember what I had for breakfast yesterday!" I tend to live in the present and looking forward, not much in the past and looking back. Still, there are a few memorable highlights, so here they are.

The biggest thing, for me personally, was the e-book I co-wrote with my esteemed colleague William Gallagher; a guide to both writing a book and then publishing it yourself if you so choose to called Pixels and Paper. It sprang from our collaboration on documenting the process by which William wrote another book, one that would exist as both a softback tome and a digital e-book. The time has come where authors can, for certain kinds of projects, take the reins and do it themselves with much less risk than ever before.

Unlike most other books on the subject of self-publishing, however, we talked about both the mechanics of getting a manuscript ready for the digital and print worlds, but also about how to write a book that doesn't suck. We also cover not just e-books but your own printed books. It's a bit meta to write a book about how to write books, yes, but we think this one is the most complete and up-to-date technology-wise we've seen ... and it's available on the iBookstore or Amazon's Kindle for a mere $5. Did we mention that self-promotion is an important part of the process as well? I think we did.

Summer Project: E-publishing, a nine-part series, can be found here.

Related to that was another nearly book-length series I worked on with William and Mike, entitled The Feature Thief. It was a week-long, six-part series that looked at Apple's peculiar history of creating a program that people grew to love, then ripping it away from us, giving us back its bare skeleton, and then attaching some meat on the bones over several weeks, or months, or on some occasions years, until what we usually had was an all-new program that was better than what came before it, but only marginally less painful for previous users than having a baby (though equally worth it most of the time).

We documented some of the many examples of Apple doing this (as opposed to just killing things outright, as they did with Open Transport and the Newton), including Pages, Final Cut Pro, iDVD, iMovie, iWeb, AppleWorks, and more recently iPhoto. When it happens to a program you rely on or at least use often, you howl like a banshee about it: I am still upset about the gutting of podcasting tools in Garageband (a format, I might add, that Apple once championed, and of which about 90 percent are created on Macs as a result). Usually (the Garageband case being a notable exception), the lost features inside the new, stronger/better framework, are eventually put back, and those not emotionally affected can usually see why Apple felt it needed to do what it did.

I liked this series because while we wanted to provide both a timeline of progress and some backstory to recent Mac converts about this, we were also unafraid to call out Apple for hurting some users in what was (usually) a necessary process, but didn't always need to be quite as devastating as Apple would occasionally make it. We got some attention on this series from Apple itself, and let's just say they still mostly like us, even if we were occasionally direct things at times.

Start here with the introduction to The Feature Thief, then do a search on the term to find the other five parts. Mac veterans made this one of the most popular series we ran all year.

In addition to features, I also get to write reviews from time to time, about one every five or six weeks on average. It was great trying out so many fun and mostly terrific products and letting you know about them, but I think there's one in particular that stands out as a very different sort of review: the one I did about QuarkXpress 2015. It was a rare two-part review, because as the meme goes "one doesn't simply review the current version of QuarkXpress." At one time, QXP was one of the most important programs on a Mac -- one of just a handful that professionals and business users found so compelling they would (gasp) buy Macs for the offices.

An entire industry was reborn on the back of Quark and its various rivals from Adobe (Pagemaker, Framemaker, Pagemill, and finally InDesign), which along with hardware innovations like Macs and laser printers reinvented the print world in the same way iTunes and the iPod would change commercial music forever. These programs and hardware literally changed the direction of my life once the "Desktop Publishing" revolution was fully underway and I entered college; journalism as both a field of study and a profession would never be the same, and I hit it right in the middle of the revolution.

So the first part of the review was a history of QuarkXpress and my own history with it, which traced the rise of digital publishing. In part two, we got to the brass tacks of the 2015 incarnation, particularly from the point of view of someone who had defected to the Adobe camp years earlier. It's certainly the most personal review I've done in years. A Quark PR person wrote a thoughtful note thanking us for the review, which was nice.

So here's part one, and then part two.

As William has mentioned in his piece, our Pointers column is part of another mission, and that is to help readers at all levels. The column includes tricks and tips you may not know about, program recommendations to make your life easier, or tutorials about how to do a specific thing. They are written for different levels of user, so both a novice and a veteran Mac user can get something out of them. We offer these columns three times a week, with William writing the majority of them. We take some turns to accommodate scheduling, but I'm generally responsible for the mid-week Wednesday ones.

I recently wrote one that was an expanded version of one I'd written earlier in the year about the value of off-site backups, but we continue to get or see in forums like ours a lot of questions about backups and in particular about how backups can help with moving over to a new(er) machine. We've all had to do this, and depending on how you were handling things up to the point you decided to upgrade, it can be pretty easy or quite difficult.

The column was about how to make the backup not just for saving your files from disaster, but how to make backups to archive and preserve your documents for transferring to new or different machines, how to backup stuff for archival purposes, and how to make sure your important documents stay usable -- even beyond your lifetime, if that's necessary. It's a lengthy read (from me? really?) but it has received some nice comments on how thorough it was, so it's an example of a recent piece I'm proud of.

Before I get to the last of my five article highlights for the year, I should mention something else I labor on mightily that isn't a news story or a feature or a column -- it's the MacNN Podcast. As the host and producer/editor, I'm obviously biased, but I really think we have a fun little tech news summary and commentary podcast going on, and I hope you'll take the opportunity to give the latest episode a listen (though you might want to wait until after you've seen the new Star Wars movie). It's just Mike and I most of the time as the kids have all grown up and moved on to their own podcasts (sniff), but occasionally we have a guest or a cameo from the UK contingent or elsewhere, and that makes it all the more fun.

Finally, among the many other things I do around here, I also write news stories. There have been some good stories I feel we at MacNN (as a team) have covered much better than most outlets, like the DOJ prosecution of Apple in the e-book "conspiracy" trial, or the meltdown of the GT Advanced partnership, or the LA Unified School District fiasco. We don't just report the good Apple or tech industry news, we cover it when something goes south with the same vigor, such as when Apple and other tech companies were found to be illegally blocking tech recruiters. A PR agency, we aren't.

This extends to shady goings-on in the community. Mike did a great report on fraudulent "Mac software bundle" companies that don't pay the developers, and audited our own involvement with the good bundlers and the (now discovered to be) bad ones. When our pals at MacUpdate started copying techniques seen on other sites that had been abused in order to "upsell" other installs beyond the ones the user had come for, we went to the source to get their explanation for why -- instead of just jumping on the attack bandwagon.

Turns out they had a pretty good reason, but they hadn't really done a good job of communicating their rationale. We reported what MacUpdate was accused of, what their explanation for it was, and encouraged feedback on both sides. It seems like readers responded to that, and so we feel like we helped clarify a story that could have turned into miscommunication. It was kind of the MacUpdate crew to let us talk to them about it, and nice of readers to take that in and give their views. That's something we'd like to do more of next year.

You can read the interview with MacUpdate founder J. Mueller here.

As others have mentioned, we've turned 20 in this crazy business, as of late this year, and we'll be celebrating in different ways throughout the year. I have been with MacNN as both a reader and a writer, and now editor of the site, off and on for the last 15 of those years. For me, getting to work with this team, and this site, for you the readers, has been the highlight of my year.
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Dec 30, 2015, 02:14 PM
It is interesting, in relation to "The Feature Thief", that a number of the applications that Apple tore apart were applications that they originally acquired from others, tweaked and then slapped the fruity logo on. FCP, iDVD, iMovie and even the pre-iTunes-store iTunes. Like Microsoft, they are masters of innovation through acquisition. When they finally decide to do the ground up rewrite, they get it horribly wrong.
Charles Martin
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Dec 30, 2015, 06:58 PM
You're only half right: of the four programs you mention, iTunes was originally Soundjam MP, and Final Cut Pro was originally developed by Randy Ubillos at Macromedia (he moved over to Apple, and FCP went with him). Randy helped develop both iMovie and iDVD while at Apple, however. Almost all of the other programs we mention in that series were developed in-house (the iWork suite for example), so your claim doesn't really hold up at all.
Charles Martin
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