By John Gruber
Learn anything, anywhere with Skillshare. Get your first two months free.
Is there a more aptly-named Mac developer than Unsanity?
Seriously, the shit these guys come up with is just nuts. Their latest is Labels X, which brings to OS X the file labeling functionality that the old Mac OS had since 1991’s System 7.0.
Labels X allows you to apply labels to Finder items via a contextual menu, and more amazingly, adds a “Labels” column to Finder list views. It’s so smoothly integrated into the Finder that it doesn’t feel like a third-party add-on, but rather a natural part of the Finder itself.
In fact, it might even be better than if Apple itself had added labeling to the OS X Finder. Compare Unsanity’s Labels X to Apple’s implementation of Get Info comments. Labels X uses the same label info as Mac OS 9; that means you can set labels on one OS, and see them on the other. Makes sense, right? In contrast, Apple’s OS X Get Info comments use a completely different storage mechanism than do classic Mac OS comments — with no bridge between the two.
One could argue that this isn’t a fair comparison. File labels are stored as HFS metadata, easily accessible to both Mac OS X and 9. Classic Mac OS info comments are stored in the desktop database, which Mac OS X doesn’t use. But users shouldn’t have to worry about implementation details. What matters is the end result — that software from Unsanity, a small third-party developer, integrates seamlessly with Mac OS 9 file labels; and software from Apple doesn’t integrate at all with Mac OS 9 file comments.
How Unsanity does this beyond me. I’ve been running Windowshade X ever since it came out, with very few problems (and no problems at all in the most recent versions). My instincts tell me that these haxies can’t possibly be stable. But they are. I have no idea what they’re doing under the hood to achieve these effects, and perhaps I don’t want to know, but the results border on the miraculous. Their haxies do what they claim, with no ill effects. (They also come with nice installers and documentation.)
With every haxie they release, I think to myself, this can’t possibly work. Then I download, install, and prove my instincts wrong. Like, say, with Labels X — there exists no public API to add new columns to Finder list views. But there it is. I know in my heart they’re using black magic (a.k.a. undocumented hooks) to perform these tasks. I know that there’s a non-zero probability that this could have an adverse effect on system stability. But damn if they don’t just work.
More confounding than Unsanity’s technical savvy is how they turn a profit charging no more than a measly $7 for these things.