Month: October 2011

Links: OS X Notifier App Growl Goes Closed Source, but a free forked version (that works in Lion) is available


This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog.

Here’s a few links on this issue:

OS X Notifier App Growl Goes Closed Source (Slashdot)

Episode 47 – Fork You Growl! Interview with Perry Metzger (from The Basement Coders Developer Podcast — if you care at all about Growl you should listen to this, preferably before spending any money on their allegedly broken App).

[growl-discuss] Growl 1.2.x for Lion source for XCode 4.1 (including a fixed HardwareGrowler)

Patched version project page on bitbucket

Download page for forked version

Growl-1.2.2f1.dmg direct download link (if it doesn’t work check the link above — there may be a newer version).

EDIT: Link to Growl Source Installation information for Growl 1.3 — it appears that after the Slashdot article was published, the Growl developers decided to release the source to Growl 1.3 (making the headline of the Slashdot article and this article inaccurate in the process).  However, this does not mean that the problems with the new version have been fixed (as of the date of this article) — it probably only means that they didn’t like the bad publicity about not releasing the source and decided to address that issue, in an attempt to blunt some of the criticism.

I’m presenting the above links so that anyone interested can check them out (and so I can find them again in the future). I will just say that I generally agree with the sentiments expressed in the podcast. I think it’s really underhanded when a project that has been free for years (and has accepted contributions of both cash and code from folks that probably thought it would be free forever) tries to go commercial, and it’s even worse when the commercial app doesn’t work as well as the previous free version.  And I won’t even get into the issue of the censorship, because the Growl developers have the right to censor whomever they want in their forums, but in this case it sure sounds like they were trying to deprive their users of the knowledge that someone else had fixed their buggy code and made it freely available.  If they choose to do that, then it’s up to others (like you and I) to let Growl users know that an alternative exists.

I hope that either the forked version gains acceptance (and exposure, since few people seem to know about it at the moment) or the original Growl developers see the error of their ways sooner rather than later. What IS it with developers turning greedy lately?  Keep in mind that had Growl not existed (and worked so well in its previous free incarnation), it’s quite likely that the Apple folks would have developed their own notification system and made it a component of OS X.

EDIT:  Two things you should know about Growl 1.3 before you fork over your two bucks:  First, due to App Store requirements, it no longer installs as a preference pane in System Preferences – it’s now an application (the podcast explains this in more detail).  And second, “Growl 1.3 and later do not have update checkers built into them, so you will need to keep up with when releases are put out”, according to the Growl Source Installation page.

Full disclosure:  I also censor comments — see my comment policy in the right sidebar — but it’s generally because they are spam or include one or more links that I consider spam, or because someone is being rude and nasty.  You can call me all the names you like, but I’m not going to approve such garbage for others to read.  However, there are right reasons and wrong reasons to censor comments or to ban a user, and I’ll leave it to the reader to decide (after listening to the linked podcast, which I strongly recommend before you form any strong opinions on this) whether the Growl folks should have banned Mr. Metzger.

Link and comment: Slate Reprints Blue-Box Article That Inspired Jobs


This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog.
Blue Box at the Computer History Museum
Image via Wikipedia
From a post on Slashdot, posted by timothy on Monday October 10, @05:09AM:

Slate has reprinted the piece that Ron Rosenbaum wrote for Esquire in 1971, explaining to the world that there was an underground movement of people hacking the phone system. (Rosenbaum is now a columnist for Slate.) According to the article’s new introduction and followup piece by Rosenbaum reflecting on its impact — and to the New York Times obituary for Steve Jobs — this article inspired Jobs and Wozniak to start building blue boxes themselves, an effort that made them several thousand dollars.

It has been reported (though I can’t recall the source at the moment) that this is the article that caused AT&T to turn its employees into common thieves.  The idea that people might have access to this information frightened them so much that they literally sent their people out to steal the copies of this issue of Esquire from every public library in the country (of course they missed a few).  Although this was long before the days of the Internet and the “Streisand effect“, it did have the result that those who had access to the article had a tendency to photocopy it and pass it around, so AT&T’s ham-fisted attempt at censorship probably gave the article far more exposure than it ever would have had in the first place.

I would daresay that one article probably had a significant effect on our modern way of life.  For one thing, it taught us that “security through obscurity” doesn’t work, and for another it forced AT&T and other phone companies to modernize their phone networks (probably much earlier than they would have otherwise intended) to prevent the type of “toll fraud” made possible by the blue box, and that made it much easier for alternative long distance carriers to offer their services.

Although I never had the technical skills to build a blue box, I definitely wanted to know how they worked.  The copy of Esquire at my local library had already gone missing but I discovered they still had a copy at the Grand Rapids public library.  Apparently the librarians there had apparently been tipped off about AT&T’s attempts to make that issue disappear, so they were keeping it behind the desk and you had to request it from a librarian.  Which I did, and then promptly asked where the photocopy machine was.  The librarian looked me over and said, “You’re not going to copy that article, are you?” and I said, “Oh, yes I am!”  She clearly disapproved, but still pointed me in the direction of the copier (the alternative would have been to attempt to forcibly pry the magazine back out of my hands!).  That copy of the article went back home with me and got shared with a few interested friends, and at least two of them later got jobs in the telecommunications field.

Of course, nowadays it would be a simple task for any modern computer to generate the same multifrequency tomes that blue boxes generated, but the last telephone company in the country to actually use that signaling method dropped it on June 15, 2006.  And now we have computers and the Internet and VoIP, but I have a feeling that much of that might still not be in existence had it not been for that one article, which literally gave birth to an entire community of hackers, many of whom later went on to do great things and to build the networks we have today.  It’s funny how one thing that seems so small at the time — in this case, one magazine article — can create such ripples throughout society.

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