Why I Stuck With TextExpander
Sunday, March 5, 2017 at 10:32PM
Stephen Millard in Technology, TextExpander

Around a year ago Smile released their new version of TextExpander. This new version created quite a bit of 'heated debate' in the Mac community and whilst many eschewed the update I chose not to. I'm glad I did and I thought others might find it interesting to get some idea of why that's the case.

TextExpander for All

Let me begin by saying that I don't think TextExpander is for everyone. The reasons I'm explaining here are my own and don't apply to everyone. There are in fact lots of different software choices out there that cover a variety of use cases.

The big change when TextExpander updated in 2016 was that they switched from a pay per release model to a pay monthly/annually subscription model. We're inundated with more subscription services every week and so in many cases TextExpander was the straw that broke the camel's back. After all should text expansion really be a subscription service?

I'm not sure it is ... but I'm also not sure that TextExpander necessarily falls in the same class of text expansion apps in what it does. Also subscription services are clearly one of the increasingly prevalent ways that products and services are being made viable in an app economy that is based on the race to zero cost and constraining functionality through freemium models and in-app purchases.

Essentially I was about as thrilled as everyone else about the shift to a subscription model, but I can see some benefits to a cloud based management system for the snippets (vs. cloud based storage of snippets) and I can appreciate Smile wanting to find a suitable economic approach to support ongoing development.

Encryption

Another issue around Smile's cloud approach was that there was in effect no encryption of the snippets in their cloud based management system. Now for those who managed their snippets locally on a single Mac I could see that this would be a big issue. For those who synchronised them via Dropbox or the like though I feel it was already an issue. Arguably Smile is smaller scale and the system is untested and so inherently runs the risk of being less secure ... but at the same time it is probably less of a target and I always imagined it was being run on a larger infrastructure (e.g. Google, Amazon, Microsoft) where there would inherently be additional security from that platform.

Note that Smile recently addressed the encryption issue; but really this should have considered prior to launch in my opinion. It seemed a fairly obvious consideration to me.

I was synchronising my snippets already using Dropbox but I saw no issue in synchronising them via Smile's service instead. Why? Quite simply there's relatively little that unscrupulous parties would be interested in. Things like my address and my phone number are in there but in the UK there are certainly other ways to get that information. My more sensitive information is available to me only via my password manager. My snippets are things that are very useful to me and worthless to others.

Cross-Platform

Getting back to my explanation, just a couple of months before this update occurred and the TextExpander for Windows beta was released I purchased a copy of Breevy as this was a Windows based utility that was compatible with TextExpander on the Mac. Prior to that I was using AutoHotKey (which I still use but not for text expansion), but I was tired of trying to keep my expansions manually in sync and Breevy offered a quicker way to manage that.

Breevy was okay but it was no TextExpander so when news of the Windows TextExpander client came to light I was sold. For the new version of TextExpander this was essentially the killer feature for me. Cross platform services and applications are always my preference given that I straddle operating systems so regularly.

The Power of 'The Cloud'

However this was not my only reason. I've been working with and on cloud systems in various guises for a fair few years now and whilst at times it seems reminiscent of a mainframe to dumb terminal approach I can see benefits to the cloud approach for future use cases of TextExpander.

We've already seen the improvements Smile have brought to bear with TextExpander for teams and the centralised management this permits. Also the public sharing of libraries is a nice upgrade to the previous URL based updates of the previous version of TextExpander as it means you can centralise it to an (almost?) always available platform.

I'm hoping we'll see external hooks come in so that we can update snippets online from web services. Whilst you can already hook into web services using scripting on the Mac side for at run time information pull, it would be useful to have a push update that automatically syncs to all devices as this would mean faster expansion and easier maintenance.

I would imagine there are other options available too. Imagine having a specialist library which you could pay to access (either as a nominal fee subscription or one off fee) and that access was controlled via the cloud. There was someone doing this at ChemExpander.com at one point but maybe the TextExpander cloud system could provide a better way for this?

I'm sure there are many other ways an always available centralised cloud store for snippets could be harnessed (and I do have a wish list somewhere) but one thing's for sure and that is there is potential to take snippets to a new level.

Service Updates

One thing that Smile's move to the subscription model has promised is an ability to roll-out more updates. There have certainly been a lot of incremental updates across the board and the development of the Windows client to a version 1.0 release but I'm not sure if any of this is really tied back to the subscription model or the cloud architecture. Maybe the subscription model has allowed Smile to better manage and cost out resources to deliver more but that's only a question Smile could answer with any authority.

Conclusion

I'm certainly happy with my choice and look forward to the future developments. Again I'm not sure that a cloud based subscription supported service is required for everyone. If you're a power user or you work across Mac and Windows then I'd say it is worth a look. For everyone else there are cheaper options to carry out simple text expansions and they would be worth checking out first.

Article originally appeared on Thought Asylum (http://www.thoughtasylum.com/).
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