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.

Here are my thoughts on the various reading options.

The Web Version

I consider the web version to be the canonical version, and the version with 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 the exact point 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 website 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 my 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 on logical section boundaries, 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 eBooks

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

Reading the Kindle version using a device or application that supports Kindle Format 8 provides the best experience of any of the ebook formats. Kindle Format 8 readers support amazing new technologies such as 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 still does not support Kindle Format 8. The Mac version does, 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 Kindle Format 8 readers, 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 separate from their associated images by a big swath of whitespace.

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 to show a larger, un-cropped version of an inline image. I really wish ebook readers had the same capabilities and behaviors as a modern web browser.

(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 as last year’s Lion ebook. I considered a lower price, but Amazon’s ebook royalty system is definitely geared towards higher-priced (or maybe just smaller) ebooks. Even at $4.99, more than half the purchase price is going 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 be sending me money “just because.” I’m much more confortable 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

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.