Mac-compatible Ding ready for takeoff

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My Mac tells me that I can leave behind my rain-soaked Bay Area home and head to San Diego for a one-way fare of $44. Or I could jet off to Detroit for $104. Or I could beat a path for Harlingen, Texas, for a pittance.

My Mac is getting this information from Ding, the Southwest Airlines airfare-tracking application that added Mac compatibility Monday. Ding sits on your desktop or in your Dock, awaiting news from Southwest of any fare deals. When the airline sends out such a message, the application notifies with you a ding or with an envelope icon in the Dock, not unlike the kind of visual cue you’d get from an e-mail client.

Ding has been available to Windows users for a little more than a year— something I noted at the time with considerable irritation. And apparently, I wasn’t the only Mac user feeling stranded at the gate by Southwest. “My husband is an avid Mac user,” said Anne Murray, the airline’s senior director of Internet marketing. “So how would you like to have been me for the past year?”

I’ve had a chance to play around with Ding since Southwest gave me a preview of the application last week—publicly whining about a lack of Mac support has its rewards, I guess—and I like what I see so far. I’ve already gotten a spate of fare updates, but not so many that I feel like I’m being besieged with data. For such a tiny app, Ding offers the kind of customizability Mac users would expect—while the program automatically launches at log-in, for example, you can disable that feature by Control-clicking on the Dock icon, just as you would with any Mac app. Want to disable that dinging audio notification? A menu option lets you do just that. (And for good reason, too: Greg Norz, Southwest’s senior Mac engineer, tells me that when he was testing Ding, he had the application running on several dozen Macs. Imagine the cumulative din created by 70 to 80 Macs simultaneously dinging every 30 seconds or so, and you can imagine why the ability to turn the audio cue on and off might be considered a vital feature.)

Obviously, what Ding delivers is not exactly life-altering information. But it certainly is convenient. My wife’s friends and relations live in the Washington, D.C., area, necessitating the occasional trip back east. Airfares can run us as much as $400 or so per person—or as little as $200 and change if we’re lucky enough to stumble across an online fare sale. What Ding does is deliver that information directly to my desktop, saving me the time and trouble of having to scour the Web for airfare sales.

There’s a greater significance to Ding aside from the possibility of me winging between Oakland and BWI for a fraction of what I’m used to paying. When Ding made its Windows debut last year, we had a situation most Mac users are all-too-familiar with: A company comes out with some Windows-only software and is non-committal when it comes to the question of Mac support. “Adapting the Ding software to Mac is on our list of possible enhancements for the future,” was what I was told a year ago, and forgive me if I found that choice in language less than encouraging.

Yet, here we are a year later, with a Mac version of Ding after all. I’m not sure what prompted that turn of events—pressure from Murray’s husband, my public kvetching, or just an outpouring of feedback from Mac users—but whatever the reason, it convinced Southwest that it was worth putting time and resources into adding Mac compatibility. A major corporation decides that Mac users are a worthwhile segment of its customer base—I don’t see how that can’t be considered positive news, and the optimist in me hopes that other companies follow suit with their online efforts.

And if not, well, I won’t be shy about putting my powers of public kvetching to use once more. I promise to only use my powers for good and not evil.

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