How Panic manages to find beauty in FTP and SSH.

It may be cool to be a developer these days, but that wasn’t always the case—especially not in 1998, when Cabel Sasser and Steven Frank started Panic. Running a fledgling software company was daunting and exhausting, but the duo was having so much fun they didn’t care.

“Steven once compared our relationship to that of R2-D2 and C-3PO,” Sasser says. “I roll around making strange noises and interfacing with things, while he stays the course, flapping his arms and fretting about protocol. But they need each other to succeed, right?”

Yes, even an FTP client can look great and be easy to use.

When Panic started, developers had to worry about more than coding a great app; they also had to figure out how and where they were going to sell it. The internet wasn’t the e-commerce juggernaut it is now. Developers needed to hit the streets.

“It’s almost impossible to comprehend now, but back in the day, if you wanted to sell an app, you had to manufacture boxes, sign up with an expensive distributor, try to get your boxed app onto the shelves at the computer store, and pay extra for placement on the endcap,” Sasser says.

With Transmit, the elegant FTP app Panic debuted in 1998, the company established what’s become a core principle: “Take a complicated thing and make it easy, beautiful, and powerful,” Sasser says.

Acknowledging that file-transfer apps aren’t exactly the most exciting, Sasser says he’s well aware that a lot of customers would be satisfied if Transmit simply did the bare minimum. An FTP app doesn’t have to wow you. Nor do Panic’s other apps, like Prompt, an SSH client, or Coda, a file manager and text editor.

But Sasser expects more. He wants Panic’s apps to appeal to your design sensibility as well.

Take a complicated thing and make it easy, beautiful, and powerful.

Panic cofounder Cabel Sasser

“The matrix is really simple: Too much design and you can alienate power users. Not enough and you’ll intimidate new users,” Sasser says. Striking the right balance applies to functionality as well. “Balancing design and functionality is one of the most difficult parts of our job.”

After decades spent developing software for the Mac, Sasser and Frank have earned the respect of customers and other developers alike. Sasser chalks this up to Panic’s core tenets: honesty, personality, and responsibility.

“As humans, we always know when a company is selling us some PR flimflam. It never works,” he says. “So we are always absolutely honest and up-front.”


Originally published on the App Store and Mac App Store.



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