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Interview: Growl's project lead on coming to the Mac App Store

After the news yesterday that the popular notification service Growl was officially coming to the Mac App Store with the release of OS X Lion, TUAW tracked down Project Lead Christopher Forsythe and had a quick conversation about the reasons behind the decision and the future of Growl in general. Forsythe says that the change to the Mac App Store has been discussed "amongst ourselves for probably about two or three months now," and that using Apple's official store "just makes sense."

Perhaps the biggest piece of news we learned from Forsythe is that in the Mac App Store, for the first time since its creation seven years ago, Growl will not be free. Devs working on the project are "still talking" about the final price, but "it most likely will be a dollar or two dollars at most," according to Forsythe. Some may turn up their noses at paying anything for the results of an open source project, but Forsythe says the reasoning behind the charge is simple: "I'm a grown adult," he says, "and my wife wonders why I spend time working on my open source project and not with my two-month old." For all the work Forsythe and his fellow devs have put into Growl, a few bucks seems little to ask.

Money is also involved in the other main reason the team wants to move to the Mac App Store. If nothing else, they're offloading the issue of actual distribution to Apple. "We don't have to worry about supporting a download infrastructure any more," says Forsythe, "and that's huge for us." Currently, bandwidth for distributing Growl is all handed by CacheFly pro bono, but Forsthye has seen huge charges covered by them in the past, and the one time the project switched to Google Code, Forsythe says all of Google's bandwidth was eaten up in "a couple of hours, a very short period of time."

Yesterday, we heard that some of the more technical Growl services would be dying off because of the switchover, but Forsythe says that's not exactly true. While perception has it that the Mac App Store is ruling out a few Growl services, many of the changes are just so he can focus his team on what customers actually use, and not as much on edge use cases. Services like GrowlMail and GrowlSafari won't be officially supported in the Mac App Store version, but anyone who wants to use those services will still be able to download a PKG installer from the Growl website and be off on their merry way. That's good news for average users like myself and others. Forsythe plans to put his team working on the core Growl app, and let other developers deal with the more complicated function and addons.

As for developers of apps that hook into Growl, Forsythe says it's pretty simple: if anyone currently uses the Growl with Installer framework (which allows third-party apps to actually install Growl if users don't have it), they'll have to switch over to the one standard framework the app will be using. The Growl team has had a lot of complaints from users who believe Growl is spyware because a developer uses it to post less-than-helpful notifications ("It's really annoying," he says), so the new Growl framework won't actually install the whole app.

The way it will work is that in the new framework, developers who want to use Growl without having it on the user's system will get a simplified version of the notification to run, with just one style in just one place on the screen. "So if the user doesn't have Growl installed," says Forsythe, "they can use Smoke notification in the top corner. If the end user wants to configure that, they'll need to install Growl." That seems like a good balance; it allows devs to take advantage of Growl and its basic function, then send customers on to the full app if they want more features out of it.

Finally, Forsythe says that revamping the code like this is giving his team an opportunity to really focus on what they want Growl to be going forward. While the average user won't "miss anything," according to Forsythe, it's true that some services will need to be worked on outside the official Growl team. "If [a service] takes up the same amount of resources it takes to put a cool feature into Growl itself, I'd rather we put the work into Growl itself." That work means we'll see updates to the core app, like a new feature called RollUp that will help get rid of what Forsythe calls "screen spam." Instead of having your screen fill with a bunch of notifications, you'll get just one note after a while that will then expand out into a log of notifications you may have missed.

That sounds great, and hopefully we'll see more helpful features like that going forward. Growl has been a solid addition to the Mac lineup throughout its history, and it's exciting to see the open source effort join Apple's official store. There will undoubtedly be some growing pains, but in general, this seems like an excellent move for Growl, and it should be a nice app to add to the Mac App Store's offerings.



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Developer Mac OS X

After the news yesterday that the popular notification service Growl was officially coming to the Mac App Store with the release of OS...