Rogue Amoeba makes great Mac software to take care of all your audio needs. Some of their products include Fission, Airfoil, Audio Hijack, and Nicecast. Fission is for lossless audio editing (see our review). Airfoil allows you to send any audio to your AirPort Express (look for a review when version 3 is released). Audio Hijack Pro allows you to record any system sounds and Nicecast allows you to broadcast your music over the internet. I was lucky enough to get an interview with the CEO of Rogue Amoeba, Paul Kafasis.
Steve: Paul, thank you so much for joining me. First of all, I'd like to know how you got into software development?
Paul: Glad to do it.
I actually started out on the press side years back. I was doing software reviews when I came upon a great tool that was being given away. I wrote to the author and suggested that he sell the software. He indicated that this wasn’t possible for him, as he was in Russia. Casting journalistic ethics aside, I offered to set up a small business with him. I handled the customer support and purchasing side, while he did the coding. That coder was Alex Lagutin, one of Rogue Amoeba’s three co-founders. Alex and I worked together at two additional software companies before he, Quentin Carnicelli, and I eventually founded Rogue Amoeba, almost five years ago.
As far as what got me interested, I find it fascinating to be part of the process of creating something from nothing. As developers, we have incredible power in terms of design and functionality, but we have to wield it wisely because it affects so many people.
Steve: What is your background with audio?
Paul: At Rogue Amoeba, only Alex came in with real audio knowledge, from doing work in the audio industry. Quentin and I have no background with it, and we’ve never hired based on audio experience. A wise friend has said that a good engineer can learn just about anything and it’s true. We’ve picked up the audio concepts we’ve needed, and five years in, we’re pretty knowledgeable about it all.
Steve: All of Rogue Amoeba's software programs are very innovative and highly regarded in the audio community. Where do you get your ideas?
Paul: Well, thank you for the praise! If I may, I’d like to say that I hope our software is well-regarded in the Mac community in general, not just audio circles. People often have the misconception that we’re an “audio company”, but we see ourselves as a consumer software company that makes audio products. The difference may seem minor, but our software is built with the average user in mind, not just audio professionals.
Alright, I said my piece. So, where do we get our ideas? By and large, the problems are identified by our users, then we work out the solutions. Users tell us what they’re trying to do, then we work to determine the best way to accomplish that desired goal.
The genesis of Airfoil is a good example of this process. Airfoil allows users to send any audio to the AirPort Express, which is otherwise limited to receiving audio only from iTunes. When the AirPort Express came out, users came to us to let us know that they wanted this functionality. However, no one said “Make an application that takes any audio and sends it to the AirPort Express”. They wanted a plugin in Audio Hijack Pro to talk to the AirPort Express, or to turn the AirPort Express into a standard system audio device for output. Ultimately we decided to make this a distinct application, and created out a design that has worked out well. This never would have happened without hearing from existing and perspective users.
We’ve got countless examples like that. Our audio editor Fission came about because we heard from users who wanted to do some very simple editing and didn’t need or want to use the higher level editors that are out there. Audio Hijack 1.0 didn’t have Timers, because we didn’t know people would want to do timed recording. Once we added that, it became the single biggest use case for the app.
I could go on and on, but I think the point is clear – our ideas start with talking to and listening to our users. We’re not necessarily very smart, and we’re certainly not omniscient, but we do listen well to what our users tell us. We build off that input, and hopefully, it results in some great apps.
Steve: What is it like being the CEO of a company like Rogue Amoeba?
Paul: Picture your dream job in software development. You get to work with great people, designing and managing great projects. There’s little if any bureaucracy, useless or dull work is rare. You work from home, setting your own hours, and you get to do all sorts of fun things like panels with other developers, meetings with other software companies, and presentations for users. Doing all this, you earn a pretty great living. Best of all, every Thursday, a company-funded clown troupe comes to entertain you.
Now, toss in a lot of paperwork, dealing with the government for taxes and more, and throw in some support work, particularly the escalated tickets. Also, subtract the clown troupe. Now you’ve got my job. Even with the distinct lack of circus performers, it’s the best job I can imagine. Except maybe being a photographer for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.
Steve: What's your current hardware setup?
Paul: My main work machine is a Dual G5 2 GHz. That still sounds fast to me, but it’s over three years old now and it’s starting to show its age. I’ve got a 1.83 GHz Core Duo MacBook that I use for travel and Leopard testing, and a Dell Dimension something-or-other for running Airfoil for Windows. You can see how much I care about that PC, since I know almost nothing about its specs. It’s running XP, I know that much. It’s also off about 99% of the time.
Steve: Other than software from Rogue Amoeba, what is in your dock?
Paul: You know, I don’t actually keep much of our own software in the Dock. I usually have multiple versions loaded on my machine at a time (Audio Hijack Pro 2.7.3 for support and testing and Audio Hijack Pro 3 for development, for instance). They change a lot, so I have to pick them more precisely than the Dock allows, using LaunchBar. I do have Nicecast in there, which I run 24/7.
Other items in my Dock of interest: Adium (AIM/GChat) and Snak (IRC client) for various work communications. I use both Mail and PowerMail for email, because PowerMail’s search functionality is vastly superior to Mail. To go with the mail clients, I have the indispensable SpamSieve. I’ve got iTunes playing music and Nicecast broadcasting it, 24/7. I’ve got NetNewsWire for necessary news and distractions, and I’ve got Coda and BBEdit for working on the website as well as documentation. I find I flip between BBEdit and Coda for text editing. I use a few other applications, but I launch those via LaunchBar, they’re not always in the Dock.
Steve: Can you tell us anything about the mysterious AHT?
Paul: I can and will. AHT was never meant to be so mysterious – we simply posted on our own site to get testers, and suddenly, it was all over the Mac web. Whoops!
AHT stood for Audio Hijack Timeshifter. The app’s real name is Radioshift, and it’s our next big application. Radioshift is designed to put radio on your schedule, acting as a TiVo for radio. The core of Radioshift is its guide, which lists tens of thousands of local and internet radio streams. With this guide, users can subscribe to stations and programs in a single click. We’ve got plenty of users using Audio Hijack Pro to do timed recording, but the process isn’t nearly as smooth as it could be. Radioshift aims to bring this ability to many, many more people, by making it easy.
Radioshift is also a great tool for simply listening to internet radio. Instead of using your browser and two or even three different media players, you can do it all in Radioshift. Find live content in the guide, click Listen Now, and you’re all set – no need to launch the horrible Windows Media Player, or use QuickTime Player or RealPlayer.
Radioshift has been in development for about a year now, and we’re almost ready to ship. We think it’ll really change the way people listen to and record radio, and we’re very excited about it.
Steve: After reading your blog post about creating iPhone ringtones with Fission, I am curious about plans you may have for iPhone audio apps.
Paul: Right now, we’re not planning anything on the iPhone itself. That may change in the future, we’ll have to see. I’ve toyed with lots of third party software for the iPhone, and it’s great to see the iPhone extended. However, the closest thing to a real product I’ve seen is master iPhone hacker Craig Hockenberry’s Mobile Twitteriffic, which is free. There’s no market for paid software on the iPhone, not yet anyway.
Steve: Are there any other new apps or major updates to current apps you can tell us about?
Paul: I’d love to, because we have some major updates coming. We’re working on Airfoil 3, a major update to our software to send any audio to the AirPort Express. We’ve talked about Airfoil 3 on our site, but one of the major announced features is Airfoil Speakers, a complementary application. With Airfoil Speakers, you can turn any computer into a virtual AirPort Express for use with Airfoil, enabling you to send audio around your house to more than just physical AirPort Express units. In addition, we’re improving syncing with multiple units, and with the local machine, so audio plays at the same time on all outputs. We’ve also got a hidden feature that’s going to wow some people, or should at least prove more impressive than Leopard’s “secret features”.
Going back to your previous question, the one idea I’ve had for an iPhone app is a copy of Airfoil Speakers. This is one application that might make some small amount of sense to have on your iPhone – it’d be flashy, if nothing else, turning your iPhone into a mobile AirPort Express, at least on local WiFi. We’ll see what happens in the coming months though, with both the iPhone and the iPod Touch.
We’re also working on an update to Audio Hijack Pro, that’ll be version 3 as well. That’s got a much improved interface, ID3 tag editing, and of course, Leopard compatibility.
Farther ahead, we’ll likely begin work on Fission 2 towards the end of the year. We’ve got plenty of ideas for improvements there. But in the next couple months, we should be shipping Radioshift, Airfoil 3, and Audio Hijack Pro 3.
Steve: What books or resources could you recommend to someone looking to start building apps for OS X?
Paul: I won’t really speak from a coding perspective, as I don’t do any application programming here at Rogue Amoeba – we’ve got far, far better programmers than I’ve ever been. But from a design and development perspective in general, not necessarily related to OS X specifically, I’ve got a few ideas. Tog’s books (Tog on Interface and Tog on Software) are old, but still great, that’s Bruce Tognazzini. Donald Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things is an essential. You wouldn’t think the designer of Visual Basic would have anything useful to say about design, but Alan Cooper’s The Inmates Are Running The Asylum is a great read.
I’ve also drawn wisdom from books like Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Blink, Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner, and more. Perhaps my favorite book to recommend though is Randy Komisar’s The Monk And The Riddle, a book about starting businesses and living life.
Steve: Thank you very much for your time! It was a pleasure interviewing you. Good luck on whatever is coming next from Rogue Amoeba!
Paul: Thank you, it’s my pleasure. As far as what’s coming next, just keep an eye on rogueamoeba.com.
By the way, check out our review of the latest software from Rogue Amoeba: Radioshift!