by Jason Snell & friends

Six Colors coverage of OS X Yosemite...

Flashlight makes Spotlight shine brighter

OS X Yosemite brought some nice improvements to Spotlight, so on a whim I decided to forego my traditional launcher-plus-kitchen-sink Alfred and see if I might get by with the built-in alternative.

So far, I’ve actually been pretty pleased. Unlike previous iterations, Spotlight is much faster at launching applications, which was primarily what I was looking for. Alfred, with all of its various powers and capabilities, ended up being a little heavier than what I was looking for—I never even touched most of its features.

But I did miss some of Alfred’s additional features—I made myself a “Paste as Plain Text” OS X service that ended up being a lot harder to create than I thought—so I was intrigued by Nate Parrott’s Flashlight project.

Spotlight with Flashlight
Searching IMDB via Spotlight (with Flashlight)

Flashlight extends Spotlight with a number of additional plugins, letting you quickly bring up a weather forecast, quickly perform a Google search, query Wolfram Alpha, and more. All of these results show up in Spotlight’s preview pane, which is essentially treated as a webview. (It also seems to use the mobile version of some of the sites, such as IMDB, which is a little peculiar, but probably fits better.) You can also write your own plugins, presuming you’re conversant with Python.

Spotlight with Flashlight
The Flashlight interface.

As Parrott himself notes, Flashlight’s kind of rough and is, in essence, a hack, since it relies on code injection (obligatory security warning). But it’s a clever, free utility nonetheless, bringing a little additional juice to Spotlight without getting in the way of its simplicity and elegance. Still, it’s probably not going to get any devotees of LaunchBar, Alfred, and so on to toss their preferred solutions to the wind.

For my part, I haven’t ended up missing Alfred as much as I thought, especially when my muscle memory retrained itself after a few days. We’ll see if Flashlight increases my dependence on Spotlight.

[Dan Moren is a freelance writer, podcaster, and former Macworld editor. You can email him at or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]

Taking Apple’s lead

Yosemite title bars

Apple’s often been a company that leads by example. When a new version of OS X was released, developers would often take cues from the design and functionality of the operating system and Apple’s own bundled apps. In its designs, Apple was demonstrating to all the other developers about how this generation’s apps should work, what metaphors to use, what approaches were consistent with the design philosophy behind the current release.

This isn’t to say that all developers slavishly followed Apple’s lead. Some would break with Apple’s examples and create things that were idiosyncratic and sometimes downright amazing. (Loren Brichter, author of Tweetie and Letterpress, is a great example.) But many others would diverge from Apple’s example and the result would just feel wrong. Apple’s designs would set the tone for the platform, and if you diverged too much you were taking a risk.

But the vast majority of apps wouldn’t diverge too much from the examples. I think most developers welcomed the hints that Apple would give with their designs. Those hints give them a starting point, a base design that can then be diverged from as necessary.

I bring all of this up because with the release of Yosemite, I feel like Apple’s not sending such clear signals to developers. And the two most glaring examples are the title bars of windows and the new dark Dock and menu bar option.

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Lickable no more ↦

This year Stephen Hackett’s written an excellent review of Yosemite’s design:

At this point, I’m not sure referring to Yosemite’s UI as Aqua is even correct. If Aqua defines the structures and underlying philosophies that shape OS X, then it’s still present, despite the ever-growing number of changes from those original lickable buttons. However, if Aqua is just a collection of colorful buttons, windows with title bars and a predictable color scheme, it may have died the second Craig Federighi showed off Yosemite this summer.

Aqua is gone. We lick the interface no more.

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OS X Yosemite Review

OS X Yosemite

Mac users fearing a merger between iOS and OS X are going to have to wait a little longer—perhaps a lot longer. With OS X Yosemite, Apple’s latest free update to OS X, the company has focused on connecting its two device ecosystems without turning either into a slavish copy of the other.

Sure, Yosemite (named after California’s majestic national park) takes cues from iOS—these are two operating systems issued by the same company, after all. But this release is more about linking the two systems together rather than adding a thin veneer of iOS dressing over the 30-year-old mouse-and-keyboard interface that makes a Mac a Mac.

Yosemite’s marquee features are probably Continuity and iCloud Drive, and while they can work if you’re exclusively a Mac user, they’re obviously at their best when providing bridges between OS X and iOS. This is a release that’s designed to let the Mac and iOS work better in tandem, but it’s still the same familiar Mac OS you’ve come to know, albeit with a few variations that will feel familiar to iOS users.

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Yosemite, by CocoaConf ↦

When I went to college, and people asked where I came from, I would say, “It’s a little town you’ve never heard of. If you miss the turn-off to Yosemite, it’s where you end up.” (I’m from Sonora, a lovely little Gold Rush-era town just up Highway 108/120 from Yosemite Junction. I spent the first couple of years of my life in Groveland, the last town before the park if you enter from the north.)

What I’m saying is, the choice of Yosemite as OS X’s name actually makes pride swell in the heart of this American bear. I’m from there, more or less. And even better, the good people behind CocoaConf are going to stage an Apple conference in Yosemite National Park next year!

The event’s being held April 20-23, 2015, at Yosemite Lodge, right in the heart of Yosemite Valley. It’s going to be spectacular. I am on the list of speakers for the event, along with great people like Andy Ihnatko, Jim Dalrymple, Serenity Caldwell, Guy English, Brent Simmons, Neven Mrgan, Matt Drance, Michael Lopp, Dave Wiskus… the list goes on.

It’s going to be amazing. And registration is now open.

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