About My Mountain Lion Review

As I have for the past 13 years (yikes!), I wrote a review of the latest major release of the Mac operating system, OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, for Ars Technica. There are several ways to read it.

The Web Version

I consider the web version to be the canonical version. It has the best formatting and the most features. I believe that good writing for the web includes a lot of links. A web browser is the best place to inspect and follow those links.

The free web version has ads, and it’s split up into multiple “pages” (which are actually much longer than a single printed page). This kind of pagination annoys some people. I actually like it for very long articles because it helps me keep my place across multiple reading sessions. I can remember I was on page 8 instead of remembering my exact position in a very long scrolling web page.

That said, I also really like how an Ars Premier subscription eliminates all ads from the Ars Technica web site and gives me the option to view any article on a single page. I use single-page view on very long articles when I’m searching for some text using the web browser’s “Find…” feature. I use it all the time on short articles.

Some people think Ars Technica forces me to break my article up into many tiny pages. That’s not the case. I choose how to paginate the article. I like to break it up by topic, if possible, which means that the “pages” vary widely in length. This year, Ars Technica actually asked me to merge several pages together to reduce the total number of pages (and I did).

The screenshot of TextEdit in the HiDPI section will actually display at Retina resolution on an iPad, both on the web and in the ebook versions. I briefly considered doing every image in the review at Retina resolution, but the Ars Technica CMS currently has no officially supported way to display Retina images to capable browsers. Some screenshots would also require more pixels than any one of my (non-Retina) displays have. Maybe next year.

The eBooks

This year, I created the Kindle and ePub versions of the article myself. They’re both generated from the canonical HTML version. Both ebook formats have severe limitations, most of which are imposed by the reader software.

For the best ebook reading experience, use a device or application that supports Kindle Format 8. KF8-capable readers support amazing new technologies like text that flows around images and the ability to tie a caption to an image. Yes, that was sarcasm.

Unfortunately, many Kindle reading devices and applications don’t support Kindle Format 8—most notably, the iOS Kindle app. The Mac version does support KF8, however, as does the Kindle Fire.

The Kindle ebook is a single file that contains two versions of the content: one in Kindle Format 8 and one in the older Kindle format. Open the same ebook file in both the Mac and iOS Kindle reader applications and you’ll see two very different appearances.

Apple’s iBooks app displays the ePub version of the book almost as well as the KF8 readers show the Kindle version, but it has an annoying habit of stretching the content to fit the vertical space of the page when a large image causes a mid-page break. This can cause the image captions to be separated from their associated images by big swaths of whitespace.

[Update 7/26/12: Thanks to some help from iBooks guru Serenity Caldwell, the whitespace issue has been resolved. The ePub version now looks pretty nice in iBooks on an iPad.]

Lesser reader applications and devices display the Kindle and ePub files in progressively more depressing ways. Most (all?) ebook reader applications also don’t provide a nice way to have a text link briefly display an image on top of the content, or a way to show a larger, un-cropped version of an inline image. I really wish ebook readers had the same capabilities and behaviors as modern web browsers. Alas, we are far from that goal.

(I was not involved in the creation of the PDF version, but I imagine I’d find the limitations of the PDF format similarly frustrating.)

The Pricing

The Mountain Lion Kindle ebook is $4.99, which is the same price as last year’s Lion ebook. I considered a lower price, but Amazon’s ebook royalty system is geared towards higher-priced (or maybe just smaller) ebooks. Even at $4.99, more than half the purchase price goes to Amazon. You can read Amazon’s pricing page and do the math for yourself for a 7.5 MB Kindle ebook.

At various times, people have asked me if I have a flattr account or something similar through which they can send me money. It’s always felt weird to me for anyone to send me money “just because.” I’m much more comfortable creating something and then selling it to people who want it. My Mountain Lion review provides just such an opportunity.

Last year was the first year that Ars Technica tried selling ebook versions of my writing. The results certainly exceeded my expectations, but I didn’t get any part of the ebook profits. This year, I will.

So if you’re one of those people who has asked about sending money to thank me for my writing, my podcast, or whatever, only to be rebuffed by my discomfort with receiving “money for nothing,” now’s your chance to pay money for something: buy the Kindle ebook or subscribe to Ars Premier for a month or a year.

The Stats

  • 25,935 words
  • 167 images (31.6 MB)
  • 206 links to other web sites
  • 66 links to other parts of the article
  • 143 links to other articles at Ars Technica
  • 371 original screenshots (252 MB)
  • 10,339 words of research notes
  • 1,253 lines of Perl code across 10 scripts to generate three different formats from the canonical HTML source: Ars CMS, ePub, and Kindle
  • All three formats were generated 251 times (so far)
  • Total size of all files associated with the writing process: 877 MB.
  • I saved the document 2,195 times while writing it in BBEdit
  • The article content was constantly backed up onto 9 different hard drives on four Macs in two different locations (thanks to Dropbox, Time Machine, and SuperDuper), and pushed up to two different online backup services (Backblaze and CrashPlan)
  • Applications used: BBEdit, Dragon Dictate, TextEdit, Simplenote, Photoshop CS6, VMware Fusion, xScope, Xcode, Yojimbo.

Highlights from the Future

In an earlier post, Highlights from 2011, I worried that the audience for my brand of tech writing was an ever-shrinking portion of a much larger, broader market. I often feel the same way about my podcast, Hypercritical—the third thing to share this name. (In order: 2009, 2010, 2011.)

But the web traffic and ebook sales from last year’s Lion review showed me that, at the very least, my audience is still growing in absolute numbers even as it may be shrinking as a percentage of the whole. For that, I continue to be very grateful, and I hope this year turns out just as well. Thanks to all of my fellow nerds for allowing me to continue to do this.

Wednesday, July 25 2012 at 8:40 AM — 150 notes
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