Did Hulu deserve an Eddy?

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Our annual Editors’ Choice Awards always inspire passionate debate—and that’s just within the Macworld offices. While our list of winners reflects the consensus of our editors, not every pick is unanimous. And sometimes those debates spill out from behind closed doors and onto the pages of Macworld.com.

Case in point: our decision to give an Eddy Award to Hulu, the online video-sharing service operated jointly by Fox and NBC. Few would contest that Hulu is a solid service that’s gotten better and better in the past year. Few would also dispute that it’s a wonderful complement to the video download service offered by Apple’s iTunes Store. But does all that merit an Eddy Award? That, as it turns out, is a point of contention.

Taking the position that Hulu shouldn’t have been considered for an Eddy Award is senior editor Rob Griffiths; offering up the counterpoint that Hulu deserves its trophy is Macworld.com executive editor Philip Michaels.

Amazing? Yes. Eddy worthy? No

I’ve used Hulu many times; it really is an amazingly well done Web site. It’s fast, efficient, and lets me catch up on programs I may have missed live or failed to record on my Tivo. But at the end of the day, it’s just a Web site—one that requires the tremendous assistance of a web browser like Safari, Firefox, OmniWeb, or Camino, just to function. Without a browser to present its interface, Hulu is nothing but a collection of useless code. To me, any Web site, no matter how incredible, shouldn’t be eligible for an Eddy.

The Eddy awards, to my mind at least, should present products that represent the best of the best of the Mac-related marketplace, at least relative to software. Regardless of how well done a given Web site is, at the end of the day, it’s still just a Web site. It will (or should) look and act the same in many versions of Windows and Linux. There is absolutely nothing that Hulu has to do—other than obeying web standards—to make their site work well on the Mac. While Hulu’s developers may have a Mac in house for testing the site, they don’t necessarily need any Mac programmers. In short, there’s nothing at all that the fine folks at Hulu had to do to make sure their site worked on the Mac—short of making sure that it did, in fact, work on a Mac.

But really, if the Eddy awards are open to Web sites, which require a “host” program to make them work, then I don’t see why we shouldn’t have an entirely new assortment of winners next year. For instance, I’m going to nominate Dragon Naturally Speaking 10 for an award—it is, hand’s down, the best dictation program I’ve ever used. What, you say it’s not out for the Mac? (Yes, I know about MacSpeech, which uses Dragon’s engine…but Dragon is simply amazing.)

Hulu, the Eddy award winner, as seen on Linux in Fusion, another Eddy award winner.
Ah, but why should that matter? Hulu isn’t really for the Mac either, is it? To use Dragon on your (Intel-powered) Mac, you just need to first install its Mac-based helper application. In this case, that’d be Fusion or Parallels, the virtualization applications. Once installed, you can then run Dragon within Windows XP Pro inside of Fusion or Parallels. What, that’s cheating, you say?

How is this any different than Hulu and its required Web browser helper application? Both programs have a similar level of Mac specificity: none. In the case of Hulu, the browser does the hard work of presenting Hulu’s interface to the user. In the case of Dragon, it’s Fusion or Paralells that’s doing the hard work. But in both cases, the end result is the same: you can use a piece of software on your Mac thanks to a native application serving as the final application’s host. Hulu uses a browser for a host, while Dragon happens to use a virtualization application.

As this simple example shows, it’s a slippery slope we slide down when we start recognizing “applications” that have absolutely nothing to do with the Mac as Eddy award winners. To me, the Eddy awards should recognize those programs that actually run natively on the Mac, not web sites that work simply because they’re visible in a native Mac web browser. That doesn’t mean Hulu’s a bad web site—far from it, in fact. But it’s not a Mac program any more than Dragon Naturally Speaking is a Mac program.—ROB GRIFFITHS

Web-based services deserve Eddys, too

My colleague, Mr. Griffiths, argues just inches above this sentence that no Web-based service should ever win one of our Editors’ Choice Awards. Mr. Griffiths is a good man, a wise man, a man whose counsel I would not hesitate to seek in most matters Mac. And, judging by the argument he advances above, he is a man who apparently filed the above article from his lead-lined bunker in 1999.

Because the fact of the matter is, the world of computing is an ever-evolving one, and there’s an ever-increasing number of ways to skin the proverbial cat. Maybe it’s via a piece of software you’ve installed on your Mac. Maybe it’s on a mobile version of that OS on one of Apple’s handheld devices. Or maybe it’s through a Web-based service you access through the browser of your choice. All offer equally valid ways of getting things or blowing off steam or accomplishing whatever it is you wish to accomplish.

As an example, let’s consider Google Apps, the online-based collection of productivity tools that let you create documents, spreadsheets, calendars, and presentations, easily share them with colleagues, and access them from anywhere in the world where you’ve got Web access. A lot of the stuff you see on Macworld.com—iPhone reviews, FAQs, and anything else requiring a lot of collaboration and back-and-forth—gets its start as a Google Doc or spreadsheet. The instructions for uploading podcasts and videos, posting articles, and updating the front page of Macworld.com? Those are available to our staff in Google Docs, too. It’s a remarkably useful set of tool that’s helped us stay productive and work together, even with editors and collaborators who never set a foot in our San Francisco offices. It’s no wonder that we gave an Eddy to Google Apps as part of last year’s awards.

And yet, under the brutal edict of Rob Griffiths, we’d never even consider such an application for our awards because it runs through a browser as opposed to an operating system. Is it useful? Sure. Will it help you work in ways you couldn’t easily pull off without it? Absolutely. Oh, but it’s Web-based? Well, then no dice, Mr. Google. Take your suite of Web tools and pound sand.

You’ll forgive me for saying this, but that’s crazy talk.

The purpose of the Editors’ Choice Awards should be to highlight great products for Mac users—regardless of whether they’re available on a disk or through a browser window. That’s why the same year that we handed a trophy over to Google Apps, we also recognized Amazon MP3 for pushing new changes in the online music retail market as well as the great online photo-editing site, Picnik.com. That’s also why two years ago, we gave an Eddy to YouTube for… for… uh…

OK, you’ve got me on YouTube.

But the point is, there are a lot of great products and services out there that can assist, enlighten, elevate, and, yes, even entertain Mac users. Some run on the Mac itself. Some plug into the Mac or access it wirelessly. Some run on an iPhone or an iPod touch (and we’ll be honoring our favorite iPhone apps later this month). And some, you use via a Web browser.

Hulu is one of those great products. The fact that it’s browser-based shouldn’t preclude it from being recognized as such.—PHILIP MICHAELS

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