A Butler named Alfred

Preface: The following is not strictly company or product news. So if you’re the kind of visitor who feels his time is wasted whenever we show up in your RSS reader without providing cold, hard info, please feel free to skip this rather lengthy blog entry.

There’s a new kid in town, as the Eagles once put it so aptly. A new Mac {hot key/web search/iTunes control/what have you} utility that attempts to make a Mac user’s life easier and more productive. The name is Alfred, and from what I see on its product page, it seems to be a well-designed application.

And in a lot of ways, it’s, shall we say, a tribute to Butler—even more so than You Control, for instance, ever was. Now, I’m not complaining about that. On the contrary, I feel honored, and I can see why a Butler-related theme is a somewhat obvious choice for that kind of application. I wouldn’t even be surprised if the lack of significant Butler updates over the last few years were part of the motivation that brought the aforementioned new kid to fruition, much like a temporary lack of updates for Riccardo Ettore’s otherwise excellent TypeIt4Me was one of the key reasons for me to create Textpander (which, of course, is known as Smile Software’s TextExpander these days).

So despite what people might think, I have no issue whatsoever with their decision to create an application that shares a lot of its functionality with Butler, and outfit that with a name and an icon that remind me of Butler as well. If anything, I consider this new competitor a wake-up call. Yes, it’s high time for Butler to evolve. And trust me, we love the honorable sportsmanship that’s customary in the Mac software world.

But there’s one thing that got to me, and that’s the one thing they couldn’t possibly have been aware of.

The name.

Let me tell you about a man named Alfred Ruck. He was an entrepreneur, he was a free spirit, he was a war hero (and that’s despite the fact that he was a German army officer in World War II), and he was my mom’s oldest brother. He also was a kind of dad to her, because she never knew her father, who had died young. And for us kids, he filled the role that’s occupied by a grandfather in most families. Looking back, and comparing what he did decades ago to what Rob and I try to do now, he’s also been a role model for me.

So I guess it goes without saying that his passing away a few years ago left a hole in the lives of those who knew and loved him, including myself. But even as he went to join his beloved wife, who had died years earlier, he left me something that constitutes a direct connection to Many Tricks—money, plain and simple.

You see, there’s a reason why Many Tricks went offline last winter and generally ceased to exist for a while. I had worked a lot over the years, I felt like I hadn’t always made the best business decisions. Simply put, I was severely burned out. So I needed a break from everything that was even remotely related to the software business, and in typical fashion for this condition, I didn’t even have energy left to let people know I needed that break. Instead, I just vanished to think about what I wanted to do from there on out.

The vanishing obviously confused a lot of people, angered some, but the break was still undoubtedly necessary. It gave me time to develop a new vision both for myself and Many Tricks, and it was during that time that I realized that Rob’s coming on board was paramount for the future of Many Tricks—the future of my “babies”, if you will. There were things I didn’t want to do anymore, there were things I just didn’t know how to do, and what’s more, there was just too much to do for days that could never be coaxed into having more than 24 hours. If I was to continue development work, someone else would have to run the business. It was very obvious to me that I absolutely had to convince Rob to join Many Tricks after years of half-joking about it, because I felt like I knew him well enough, I trusted him more than anyone else in this industry, and I knew we shared the same ideals when it came to software. If you’ve visited this site before, you’re probably well aware of the happy ending that story had.

But it still took me half a year to sort these things out, and if you’re self-employed, it’s far from trivial to just drop out for that amount of time. There were bills to pay, after all, and this was where uncle Alfred’s legacy came into play. He was a clever businessman, he invested wisely, so when he died, he left a surprisingly sizable fortune for his surviving siblings, nieces, and nephews. And my 1/16th share of that legacy helped keep me afloat both while taking that break I so sorely needed and while patching things back up thereafter.

It’s fair to say that Many Tricks might not exist anymore without his posthumous help. And that’s why I started to refer to my most precious creation, the little Butler, as “Alfred” in private a while ago. That was my way of commemorating the original Alfred, and thanking him. Prior to today, I never even considered making that public, but now that the new kid is around, I feel like my hand is being forced. If I ever want to tell this story, it’s now or never, because the longer I wait, the more the name Alfred might be affixed to something else, and the more it would seem like I was trying to steal someone else’s thunder.

So there you have it. There are not only two Butlers now, there are actually two Alfreds. Welcome to the club, Alfred.

And most importantly, thank you, Alfred.

17 Responses to “A Butler named Alfred”

  1. Derek Butterfield says:

    Good to see you back.

    I think the name “Alfred” is another reference to Butler, Alfred Pennyworth being the butler to Bruce Wayne aka Batman.

  2. Mark says:

    Great post, Peter. Worth reading in every way. Great to hear about your uncle Alfred. Sounds like a wonderful person and someone who’s legacy will continue will live on through the endeavors of people like you.

    Also, you have a gift for writing rarely seen by more analytical type thinkers, no offense of course! :)

    Thank you for your work on Butler and the rest of your software. Use it every day and my life is better for it—and I have a feeling uncle Alfred would be proud of that.

  3. Bill Earl says:

    Thanks very much for the rather colorful explanation, Peter. I had imagined you had a serious physical ailment that you didn’t want public. I did know there was some real reason you dropped out. It’s great that you’re back in the saddle.

    Looking forward to Butler 5 at some point, and I’m sure much more. I hope your future’s bright.

  4. Barbara says:

    It’s beautiful to read your description, Peter, thank you! As I have no experience in “leaving a reply” I’m not sure about how much of my feelings are suitable to be posted on this way. Anyway, being your sister (and therefore another 1/16th of Alfreds nieces and nephews) I want to say that Alfred couldn’t have been honoured more precisely. A long and lucky life to all your projects!

  5. Tom says:

    Thank you, Peter.

    During that long silence of Many Tricks I’ve been bugging you quite penetrantly, methinks, and I dearly hope it wasn’t too painful for you; but if it was, I hope that you can forgive me.

    Anyway, now it feels a bit as if you’re written this long blog entry especially for me, thank you for allowing such a deep insight into your life and soul.

    Here’s wishing all the best for you.


  6. Enric says:

    That was a wonderful entry, Peter. I had the luck to know your uncle Alfred. Although I just met him once and he was already a very old man, I could see all the strength and goodness that emanate from him. It is great to know that his generosity is not wasted. Congrats!

  7. Annette says:

    Thank you, Peter, for honouring our uncle Alfred with these wonderful words and for letting his free spirit live on through your own way of being and doing things!

  8. TomCom says:

    Well, all of your family’s here!

    Following your work, I have to say that maybe the issue come from the fact that Butler has not seen a major update for a few years now (how many? 2 or 3, maybe), while you were still working or even launching new products. It’s hard to understand.
    I sincerely think you’re the most gifted programmer on the mac “scene”. Butler is a little odd for begginers, but its possibilities are just mindblowing once you master the UI. Sadly, the launcher interface, which happens to be the most visible part of it, is pretty… ugly and would deserve a nice makeup I’m willing to pay for. Work on that, put a huge “buy me” on it after a while, like Witch’s (very effective!), and your bank account will thrive as much as you deserve it.

  9. MuppetGate says:

    Agree with TomTom. Butler needs an update.

  10. Rob Griffiths says:

    Butler is very much still active, very much still in our release plans, and very much will be updated — it’s just our most complex project, and one that must be done with much care. It’s a complex program, and we’re attempting to both simplify the UI while bringing in even more features, and that’s tricky.

    But a new Butler is coming, honest.


  11. Tom says:

    While I, too, crave for an update for Butler I have to disagree with its interface being “ugly”. It is slim, it is functional, it is fast. And for me, there lies the beauty of Butler, that I use it without thinking about it, that it does not distract me from what I want to do. It’s like my hearing aids, like my reading glasses, like my handkerchief, like my Swiss Army Knife: It’s there all the time, when I need it I use it—without having to use my brains, so to speak.

    And while I, as said, crave for an update for Butler, for the life of me I cannot really pinpoint what it is that I want, since I still haven’t dug deep down into everything that Butler already offers. I guess I, and perhaps others, too, want that the developer offers new stuff to which we can say “oh” and “ah” and “yeah right, that’s what I wanted all the time”, i.e. that the developer reads what’s between the lines in our mind.

    For me it’s just that Butler is THE single most-used app on my machine (launching apps & opening files, multi-clipboard, web searches, a few Appleskripts, turning drives and folders into menus under my fingertips) and I’d love to just sit back and let the developer think about what I could need or use next. Kind of lazy, I admit. But I guess that’s why I’m just a dumb user and not a developer.


    (Oh. One idea I DO have for Butler, and it’s about the multi-clipboard which I use all the time: I’d love to have some way of manipulating the contents on-the-fly, i.e. stripping surplus spaces/whitespace -> editable clipboard?, and deciding whether to paste with or without style.)

    I do not envy you, Peter, for the task of trying to find out what your users might find useful and then implementing this. But in the past you’ve done a terrific job, and so I’ll just try to be patient and trust in your intuition and great programming and design abilities, that you’ll satisfy my needs even before I realize that there is a need, like so often you did before.

    Cordial greetings, Tom

  12. Bill Earl says:

    Another (minor) suggestion for Butler, which is probably already on the list. The ability to duplicate (or copy & paste) an existing AppleScript Smart Item, which can then be modified to create a new one.

  13. user says:

    “Butler 5 pre-sale: Support Butler by purchasing Butler 4 now, and you’ll receive a free copy of Butler 5 when it ships!”

    I believed it anno when I bougt it.
    It was not fair because it was not long at all to any update
    Moreover, the hacked version can be downloaded from the net

    not honest:
    Butler 5 pre-sale: Support Butler by purchasing Butler 4 now, and you’ll receive a free copy of Butler 5 when it ships!

    • Rob Griffiths says:

      Can you explain what about this you don’t think is fair? We’re promising that anyone who purchases Butler 4 (or has purchased Butler 4) will get a free copy of Butler 5 when it ships. How is that possibly dishonest when we haven’t yet shipped Butler 5? According to our published timeframe, Butler 5 isn’t due out until the end of the year, so it’s hard for me to see how you’re judging us on something that’s not yet even supposed to be done.

      Nonetheless, if you feel something has been misleading or you’ve been ripped off, please email me (use the About Us page), and I’ll issue a refund.


  14. Chrish says:

    Just tried it…. You really don’t have anything to worry about. Alfred while polished and a nice app does not even come close to doing what Butler 4 is today.

  15. user says:

    I love and use this great software.
    was promising and a lot more potential in it.
    for that reason I bought it. but for the same reason I waited for the updates.
    I probably misunderstood something I read the article by Alfred.
    native language is not English, sorry
    I look forward to the upgrade (especially in the clipboard/pasteboard functionality)



  16. Tom says:

    Methinks this is a fine blog entry to add this comment:

    “Happy Birthday, Peter! May you be healthy and happy!”