Alternate Option
Thoughts from me.
Friday, May 13, 2005 1:15 am
Apple’s Sherlock shame
Apple has 2 ways of maintaining their applications: Good, and totally shite. Sherlock falls into the latter group.

Sherlock arrived much heralded. It was a Internet search tool, that used multiple the search engines. This preceded Google, so it wasn’t a horrible idea. But multi-engine searching could be done on any computer platform with Metacrawler, and the benefits of searching more than one search engine was dubious anyway. Unfortunately Copernic decided to enter the Macintosh market at the time. Bad move.

Despite all that, and a brushed metal interface; phrases like VT-Win, relevance search and all that, made it sound good. Sherlock was a star attraction, even showing up in Apple ads, “Dad, why is the sky blue?”, “Why does a curve ball curve?”.

Somehow, Apple managed to insert ads into their search results.

Sherlock also came with other searches e.g. Amazon and auction searches. Apple encouraged 3rd party plug-in development, for a while. Sherlock plug-in downloads became popular for a time. And then Apple itself lost interest in updating their own bundled plug-ins.

Even more worrying, was that Apple decided to make this Internet search tool, the official file find tool as well. By default, command-F in the Finder launched Sherlock. Result: every file find caused a delay while a bloated (even back then) application launched.

File finding also incorporated file indexing, with the funky VTWin technology. In practice, indexing was total and utter crap. Actually, IMHO, the operating system was crap, and would never have handled it. UltraFind, which performed in-file searching without indexing, was more realistic, faster and better.

Sherlock was one of the first applications ported to Mac OS X, and it looked the same. It did start to make some sense why a brushed metal interface was chosen. Nonetheless, the Internet plug-ins continued to be un-updated; neither was the speed. Soon, Sherlock became useless.

And then when Jaguar arrived, Apple revitalised Sherlock—announcing it as one of the key Jaguar features. They did so by making a clone copy of a shareware company’s (Karelia) only application—Watson. Ethics aside, it was a home-run, a great leap forward. It was the golden days again. Movie times and trailers, flight details, auctions, dictionaries… you name it. File find, and indexing was removed from Sherlock. It was a focused Internet search tool now—even demoed by Steve Jobs on stage.

Scratch deeper though… and reveal superficial beauty. Sherlock was no comparison to Watson. Personally I suspect it made users appreciate Watson more.

Apple announced Panther for release a year later, and Sherlock entered maintenance mode immediately. Bugs were left unfixed e.g. It took minutes, to switch between channels (plug-ins), and the movie finding tool was buggy. There was no localisation either.

Apple claims that they had Dashboard on their minds when they created Exposé, which probably explains why Sherlock was mothballed during Panther development. After 1 year of Jaguar, and 1.5 years of Panther, Dashboard arrived. So did Spotlight. Sherlock—having lost its Internet searching task to Safari’s Google box, lost the rest of its functions to Dashboard. And also now Spotlight reminded us how file searching should be.

Although Watson outclassed Sherlock in every way—of all Apple’s conquests (LiteSwitch, Konfabulator) I think Watson stood out as being the best “original”—Karelia sold Watson to Sun Microsystems and stopped supporting it. Watson is still available for download. But its replacement is slow to show up.

Now, Sherlock sits like a lame duck in the Applications folder. After huge wastes of Apple programmer, developer and user time, it looks like it’s on the way out. Good riddance—Sherlock was a program that—by its nature— needed continual attention and little updates. Which is something Apple (and maybe Karelia) just could not do. Apple was happy enough to just create a little homeruns. Pity about Watson.

Hopefully this will be Sherlock’s last OS X appearance.

[posted with ecto]

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