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Entries in Macintosh (40)

Monday
Feb162004

Apple PDA Rumors and The PDA vs. The Laptop

Following a link from my well-connected Mac friend Andy, I read two long, detailed and very intriguing articles (part one, part two) by John Manzione at MacNETv2. The general gist of these posts is that PalmSource announced Mac OS Cobalt "non-support" slightly too soon for Apple, whom John suggests has a "Smart PDA" coming very soon (July '04).

Here's an interesting quote from part one:

"It will use an OS X-like OS, having full integration with iCal, Mail, Address Book, iSync, etc. It will be QuickTime driven, with support for the new codec’s, including Mpeg-4. The display will offer 65k colors and will be as large as the largest Sony Clie (there's that Clie thing again). The screen will be touch-sensitive, using Ink as the input software. Just imagine the latest Clie (!) with an Apple twist, meaning a whole new design concept, a flip screen, and a keyboard, FireWire, USB and Bluetooth. And it will be hard-drive based, using the same hard drive in that the new iPod mini uses, but I'm told the drive will be bigger. I have no idea what the cost will be, nor do I have any information about the processor, RAM, or anything else. However, it won’t matter if you have a Mac or PC, it supposedly works with both platforms through the introduction of iSync with Windows and an arrangement with Microsoft. (you don't think Apple advertised iLife '04 as being "Microsoft Office for the rest of your life" for nothing, did you?)"

and another about the reasons behind the long delay in part two:

"In the end, want Steve Jobs wants is what you get. He wants Wi-fi, Bluetooth, FireWire, Hard Drive, QuickTime, and OS X functionality. And he wants to be able to actually type an email, or an instant message, or input data quickly. You can’t do that today, no matter how nimble you are with a cell phone or PDA keypad (Although Sony’s Clies come pretty close). He wants to sync it easily with his Mac, and Dot Mac. He wants to watch video and listen to music, he wants to surf the web from anywhere, and he wants to get email anywhere. He wants something that will make him more productive and entertain him as well. He wants it all, and wouldn’t build a device until he could make it happen, on his terms."

Rumors like this have been floating around the Mac rumor mills a long time, so in some ways I'll take this with a grain of salt, but it would be great if such a product would appear. My guess is that should this Smart PDA from Apple surface, it's going to be high-end rather than low-end. Think the iPod of PDAs (in other words, not cheap).

The PDA vs. The Laptop
Now, relative to these two interesting articles was a chat I had with my colleague Matt Henderson recently about PDA usage. In a nutshell, Matt argued that there is not much that you can do with a PDA that cannot be done better or more comfortably on a Mac or PC laptop. Only those things which are truly useful for a majority of people when away from said laptop are truly practical to do on a PDA, such as checking your datebook, to-do list or addresses (PIM) and things like e-book reading and other remote-specific tasks (like retrieving data on a film you want to rent, showing photos, shopping lists, etc.).

Matt argued that while you can do many things with the current batch of PDAs out there, it's more or less "doing it with a PDA because you can" rather than "doing it with a PDA because it is better or easier". Web browsing is terrible, email is passable (but still limited and done by mainly über-geeks) and just about anything you can name as being "doable" on a PDA over a laptop is much more "make work" for the PDA than something a PDA can excel at and do better than a small, light, fast-waking, long-lasting wireless laptop (such as a 12" Powerbook, or what have you).

I argued the PDA side of things and yet Matt's responses seemed to undercut my defense. He asked me "how many business people do not travel with a laptop any more?" Not many to none I replied. Matt responded with something like "If so, why wouldn't a business person just check email or surf or whatever on their lightweight laptop rather than a Tungsten C or other PDA? Sure, you could use a Tungsten C, but would it be a better experience? And in reality, how many average business people would really do this? My sense is, only über-geeks would."

Hmmm. I think you've got a point there Matt.

We also talked about the question of true mass-market appeal of smartphones -- would these fall into the same category as PDAs? Will people be quite happy with semi-smart phones that maybe have some nice features (camera, MP3 player, minimal PIM info features)?

Yes, you can check your email on a Treo 600... but is it an imminently better experience than checking your email on the laptop right in front of you (or there in your bag)? How often are we really so far from a desktop computer that a Treo 600 would be that compelling for even checking email?

I'm not sure of my thoughts on Matt's questions, but I think he raises a very valid question in my mind: exactly what am I using my PDA for? Am I simply "making work" for it so that it feels more useful (and justified) or are there actions which are vastly superior when done on a PDA? Hmmm. Have to really ponder that one and not just give a knee-jerk reaction.

I'd love to hear your feedback on either the Apple Smart PDA rumors or this line of logic from Matt about PDAs vs. Laptops, as I'm, quite honestly, still brewing on both of them.

Friday
Nov212003

Pantherized

OS X PantherWell, I've taken the plunge. Thursday evening around 9pm I finished final prep work on the Powerbook (backups, disk checkups, verifications) and clicked the install button of Panther (Mac OS X 10.3).

The install went mostly smoothly. The only problem I encountered after booting into Panther for the first time were all of the apps except for the Finder crashing seconds after launch, which freaked me out a bit, I must admit.

With help from the excellent $5 Take Control of Upgrading to Panther e-book by Joe Kissel, I suspected it was a startup item, and used the Shift key after login trick he suggested to shut them down and remove them. Turns out it was a favorite system add-on called Default Folder X, which makes navigation and file naming much nicer. I had the incompatible 1.8 version, so I simply updated to the new 1.9.2 release and all has been well since.

General impressions:

Faster, snappier, zippier. This was what I'd heard alot about, from readings on the net and my good friends Andy and Matt. It's subtle but nice -- things just feel like they're acting a bit more quickly. I can see how those seconds might add up in a day, week or month's time. It's not earth-shattering speed, but it makes my older TiBook more useable.

Exposé is quite nice. This was a feature I began having interest in after a few visits to the Apple Store in the past few weeks. Basically you can set F-Keys, hot spots or even mouse clicks to show windows of all apps, apps of the frontmost app or can hide all windows at the edge of the screen. I can see this being very useful.

Finder seems odd to me. Not sure what I think of this change yet, but at least I can revert Finder windows to the old Jaguar way. The new Finder windows all carry a selection of icons on the left edge and have a brushed metal look. Selections seem different as well, as selecting a file selects a bar of color across the entire window. This might take some getting used to, but is pretty minor. I should give the new Finder approach a shot, even though it's a little different than my normal work style.

I also found a little higher resolution for my 21" screen that's slightly nicer. It's an odd pixel count though: 1344 x 1008. That's a bit weird, but those extra pixels compared to 1280 x 960 do help.

System preferences have been rearranged now, and mostly for the better I think. Since I'm a relatively new OS X user, this might be less of a problem for me than a longer-term user. Generally speaking though, I found everything I needed to find with very little searching.

Finally, all of my apps running under Jaguar seem just fine under Panther. I suspect I'll run into a few that will need updating, but so far so good. So, after a few hours of use I'm pleased with the Panther update.

Now, you could argue that $130 for these updates is steep and in some ways I can agree. It would seem some of the things like performance increases ought to have been there before. Still, better response and speed, Exposé, Fast User Switching and the other tweaks seem well done and worth some price. Maybe $49 would have been better. But Apple is a software company, so this is how they pay for the work they do.

I'm pretty happy with Panther so far, and that's a good thing. :-)

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday
Oct292003

Mac OS X Influencing MS Longhorn? Inconceivable! :-)

This morning I came across an interesting story at the Register about Longhorn (set to be released somewhere about 2006), discussing what it might include. OS X or Longhorn?But what caught my eye were screenshots that had apparently leaked out early. I thought these shots of Longhorn's Explorer were intriguing because its brushed metal, gradated appearance reminded me so much of Mac OS X!

As you can see by the sample above, I've taken a key part of a Longhorn screenshot and stacked it above an iTunes window. Quite interesting how the round 3D icons look similar to the play button of iTunes, and how closely the highlight on the Longhorn Explorer window's surface perfectly matches the brushed metal look of the iTunes window. Coincidence? Maybe the ol' Microsoft User Interface engineers have installed copies of iTunes for Windows? It sure seems to be influencing their design thinking.

Now, you might argue that Longhorn is still 2 years off, so these screenshots could conceivably change by 2006... probably to mimic whatever user interface Mac OS X happens to have by then I suppose.

So, the next time someone tries to claim Microsoft doesn't copy other people's work... well, I'll just smile and say to myself, "Yeah, right." :-)

Update 03 November 2003

On Saturday, I popped over to Shaun McGill's PDA 24/7 site while I was at the local Apple store and saw that he had posted an email from David, someone who had read this post last week and had some comments. I thought to clarify my post and respond to David's comments, I would post my email to Shaun here, for the record.

First, here is David's comment from PDA 24/7 in its entirety:

Topic: History of the Mac?
Date: 1/11/2003 (13:12)

David sent me an interesting email re rohdesign's recent Mac article- "I  dunno -- I left Mike a note about this. I don't know what your platform affiliations might be (other than Palm OS, of course), but I've worked with everything from Apple DOS (beginning in 1981), through PC and MSDOS, GEM (remember that?), Desqview and Windows on the PC platform. I'm a professional photographer and graphic designer (my wife is also a graphic designer) and have worked with Macs since about 1996. In 1993 I started working with Irix (SGI machines) while I was trying to learn 3D animation (never did get very good at it) and in 1994 started with Linux. The current machines run Win2000, MacOS and Linux.
 
Mike's lack of history with anything but MacOS is typical of a lot of Mac users, seemslike. It's as if computers weren't invented until they bought their first G4.  As a result, there's amazement over iCal (which has been in every distribution of Linux since the beginning, I think), which Apple users seem to think was invented by Apple. Same with almost every old Unix tool being slowly added to the OS X platform. Latest include some old XWindows things (updated slightly) in Panther. Jobs, of course, knows better -- he was using a Unix Mach 3 kernel years ago in his NeXt machines, and the Apple GUI was essentially shown to him full-blown by Xerox at the Palo Alto Research Center, running on networked Unix computers nearly a year before the Apple Lisa and "tombstone" Macs hit the streets.
 
The business of the "brushed metal" look as a theme showing up in both Panther and Longhorn screen shots at the same time being touted as "influence" is just silly. Linux (and other versions of *nix) have had multiple window managers available for years, and just one of the fun things about those window managers (in addition to being able to customize the way they work) is the wide number of themes that have been posted for them on the net -- literally thousands, including probably 100 or more that feature "brushed metal" and a couple that featured the "Aqua" Mac OS look before Apple actually made it available.
 
I love that the Mac is an Unix machine now. It's finally come full circle to embrace the core operating system from which it has filched bits and pieces to layer over a hackneyed single-tasking single-threading single-user antique operating system over too long a time. But it would be nice if Mac users, particularly those who maintaining widely read blogs, had some sense of history <G>..."

If you have an opinion on this post it here. When you post please be polite and constructive- I think David has a point but can see others differing a bit:)

Now, here is my email response to David's comments, sent to Shaun:

Shaun,

Well, what an ironic morning! I was at the local mall today, visiting the Apple store and checking out Safari on the new G5 when on PDA 24/7, I see a post from David, giving me a bit of a hard time on my recent weblog post from Oct 29. That was quite a surprise.

I guess I'm a bit befuddled, because I really believe David and I agree on nearly every point he makes -- except that I have no sense of computing history and that I only see Macs as a true platform.

David says:

"Mike's lack of history with anything but MacOS is typical of a lot of Mac users, seems like. It's as if computers weren't invented until they bought their first G4."

Wow, I have a lack of history? I can only see Macs? Nope. I grew up trying to program a ZX81, used a Commodore 64 for years, wrote many term papers on a Leading Edge PC clone running DOS with an amber screen and worked with paint programs on early Windows machines in college.

Actually, I didn't become a full-time Mac user until about 1990, in my design firm days. So, I feel I'm reasonably aware of general computer history. I might I have less deep knowledge about Unix/Linux, but I certainly do not believe computing starts and ends with Mac OS.

I have experiences with other platforms, and while I tend to give Windows stuff a hard time on my weblog, I certainly do believe those machines are useful and do the job. I just prefer a Mac for many reasons, and that's my choice. Because I love my Mac, I try to show its benefits to others, but by no means do I believe those other computing platforms are somehow complete junk. Hey, Windows PCs are 90-something percent of the computing world, so they must be doing something right. And as for Unix and Linux, OS X is a close cousin to those established OSes, so I feel more akin to them as a Mac user than distant from them.

"As a result, there's amazement over iCal (which has been in every distribution of Linux since the beginning, I think), which Apple users seem to think was invented by Apple. Same with almost every old Unix tool being slowly added to the OS X platform."

I'm not amazed by iCal. I tried it and felt it was okay, but way too slow, and decided not to run it. I don't know where David's iCal reference relative to me is from, because I have never mentioned it, let alone being fond of it. Neither have I suggested it was invented by Apple. :-)

As for Unix tools being added to OS X, I think that's great and generally am aware that they are ports or refinements to existing tools from the *nix platform. If I am not aware of where they are from I am always happy to know their histories. I've no fear of that -- I welcome it!

"Jobs, of course, knows better -- he was using a Unix Mach 3 kernel years ago in his NeXt machines, and the Apple GUI was essentially shown to him full-blown by Xerox at the Palo Alto Research Center, running on networked Unix computers nearly a year before the Apple Lisa and "tombstone" Macs hit the streets."

Of course Jobs does know better. But he's trying to sell an OS and hardware and I am not. He might neglect to mention that his new tools are based on old tools, but I'm not him and never have suggested otherwise. ;-)

I know that the new OS X is essentially a refined version NeXT OS, which was based on BSD. I know that Jobs saw the old Xerox idea of windows and all that other stuff, which he copied and turned into Macintosh. I'm a Mac fan and I know the history of the Mac reasonably well... never have argued that he hadn't, and have never claimed otherwise.

Now if the argument was that Apple copied Xerox and other *nix stuff (re my post) I agree! All of the technology we have now has been built on the shoulders of technology before it. Unix came because of experiences with mainframe and other older systems, so even it must claim influence from earlier technology.

I think David's key point is really this one:

"The business of the "brushed metal" look as a theme showing up in both Panther and Longhorn screen shots at the same time being touted as"influence" is just silly. Linux (and other versions of *nix) have hadmultiple window managers available for years, and just one of the fun thingsabout those window managers (in addition to being able to customize the waythey work) is the wide number of themes that have been posted for them onthe net -- literally thousands, including probably 100 or more that feature"brushed metal" and a couple that featured the "Aqua" Mac OS look before Apple actually made it available."

He seems bugged that I've not mentioned these brushed metal and Aqua-like skins have been available for *nix a long time, and therefore Apple or Microsoft have both been influenced. Got me there. My apologies for the lack of the mention.

However... right now (and for a few years now) those specific UI elements have been a standard and are specifically well-known as parts of OS X. Metal and Aqua may have been available as add-ons 'skins' for *nix boxes -- but as far as I know, they haven't been a default theme in any standard *nix distributions. Please correct me if I am wrong.

This is the key point of what I was getting at: OS X is well known for Aqua and brushed metal as the default theme, not as an add-on skin. Of course, the Longhorn UI guys may have been influenced by old *nix skins directly at some point... We'll never know. However, the close overall similarity between Longhorn's default UI and OS X's default UI seemed almost too coincidental to me, so I commented on it. I still think it was a fair observation to make.

"But it would be nice if Mac users, particularly those who maintaining widely read blogs, had some sense of history <G>..."

Wow, widely-read... Is he really talking about me here? :-)

I feel I have a reasonable sense of computing history, but not exhaustive, and I have never claimed it was. Who really does? I simply commented on what I saw as a close similarity between Longhorn and OS X, and feel it was a fair opinion to voice, and I stand by it.

I'm still not sure where David and I really differ much, other than his suggestion that I have no sense of computing history, I see only Macs and nothing else. I think I've defended myself pretty well there.

In the end, I'm glad for David's comments, because it gives me an opportunity to explain myself in this area. It also makes for interesting discussion. Hopefully David feels the same way. :-)

I just wanted to set the record straight on my thoughts about this post -- hopefully this update will help do that for the curious out there.

Friday
Oct242003

Panther Has Landed

Mac OS X 10.3Hey, the day has come -- Apple's Mac OS X Panther (a.k.a. 10.3) has arrived! I think tonight I'll stop by our local Apple Store at Mayfair Mall and check out the Night of Panther event happening there. I'd particularly like to see the environments feature (Fast User Switching) and what Mail might have to offer, as these two applications may suit my needs once I update. The email I received yesterday mentioned free stuff (maybe t-shirts) and a chance at winning a Mac, so Nathan and I will be sure to have a look around.

However, as excited as I am about Panther, I probably won't upgrade for at least a week or two (or more), so I can let others find out which apps are still in need of upgrades to run on 10.3. Let others ride on the bleeding edge. I should also plan the upgrade correctly and include a backup of my data, should glitches occur.

I've mentioned 10.3 before, describing the Fast User Switching feature as one I'm most excited about. In fact, a reader named David sent along a very nice, detailed note about the "environments" feature in Linux, pointing out that this has been around a really long time in the Unix world. While I may one day try out Linux, right now I'm quite happy with Mac OS X and have the patience to wait and see what Fast User Switching in 10.3 is like.

I'm also happy to hear that older Macs, like the Titanium Powerbook G4 I happen to use, should see some significant speed boosts with 10.3. I'll withhold my judgment on just how "significant" the boost is, still, it's good to hear that my Mac could become a bit quicker with a software update.

I've come across a few reviews of Panther out there, notably Walt Mossberg's article which suggests spam-weary PC users might want to check out OS X. Slashdot mentions a David Pogue New York Times review of Panther and has tons of user comments. OS News has a nice article that previews Panther and lets users know what to expect in the new OS. Macworld has a nice article that gives a clear overview of Panther's new features. I imagine there are others, I've just not gone looking for them.

Anyway, this weekend will involve a Panther peek, raking of leaves, caulking of house siding and a bunch of other necessary house tasks. Winter is coming, so I've got to get the house ready while it's still reasonably nice outside. :-)

Update: Just got back a while ago, from Mayfair and the Night of Panther event at the Apple Store. There was quite a turnout; the line for entry snaked across the main hallway and down a back hallway. I think my son Nathan and I waited in line about 30 minutes before getting into the store.

The crowd were definitely the Mac faithful. I saw some people in line with their iBooks and Powerbooks and many Apple-related t-shirts. Probably 90% were really hardcore fans (some of them looked like it was their first escape from indoors since the Apple Store opened nearly a year ago). We received 2 drawing cards, one for Nathan and one for me, and entered for our chance at a free Mac.

Had a chance to chat with a few fans around me about Panther, one of which had already installed the last beta and was psyched up to buy Panther. There was also a family there who oddly enough were still on Mac OS 9. Their daughter was having fun playing with Nathan.

Soon we were ushered into the store by Apple employees in black OS X t-shirts. I found an open iMac and got a close look at Fast User Switching. Wow, what a cool feature! It was indeed fast, and included a slick 3D effect, which made the screen look like one side of a cube that swung away as the new user's profile spun into place.

Expose is also very slick; basically, every window running on your Mac is shrunken to fit onto a single screen with a screen hotspot or F-key. Once the windows shrink down, you can roll over them until you select the window you'd like to work with, using the mouse. That new window comes to the front and all other windows are hidden away.

The new Finder also looked pretty good, with some new features similar to Default Folder X, one of the 3rd party utilities I run now. It offers a list of hard drives, your 'home' folder and favorites in a column on the left side of the main window. Dialog boxes for opening and saving also carry this new layout.

The user interface is much nicer, with OS X's signature pinstripes getting toned down and the top bar of windows getting a gray gradation rather than pinstripes. The iTunes-like brushed aluminum is also more prominent. Overall, the interface feels more refined and professional that Jaguar (10.2). This is good.

I can't speak to Panther's speed, since every machine at the Apple Store was at least twice as fast as my current Powerbook. I'll just have to wait and see how that fares once Panther is installed. I've also learned about incompatibility between Palm Desktop 4.1 and Panther, so this might be another reason to hold off on an upgrade for the time being. I'm sure PalmSource will resolve the issues, but I don't need to be fighting with HotSync issues right out of the box.

UPDATE 2005-11-23: Eric K. wrote about info on the permissions issues with OS X and sent along a link to a resolution from Palm's own website, in case you need this.

So, based on our field trip, I think Panther is a great upgrade. $129 is a bit steep if you're just reading specs, but when you actually see what you're getting in person for that price, it's a really decent deal.

So, Nathan and I left the Apple Store around 9pm. On the way out, we were given two sets of black Panther dog tags. One has the Panther X logo on it with the words "Mac OS X Panther v10.3, Worldwide Release" under it, while the other tag has simply the Panther X logo and no type below it. Each tag has a black Apple logo on the back. I opened mine and kept Nathan's in the plastic bag -- for when he becomes a Mac user in the future. ;-)

Oh, before I sign off for the weekend, if you're considering an upgrade from Jaguar to Panther, check out two great $5 Take Control e-books Take Control of Upgrading to Panther and Take Control of Customizing Panther (to be released soon). These are written by leading Mac authors, with editing by the folks at TidBITS. These look like excellent resource documents for Jaguar to Panther upgraders..

Hey, have a great weekend!

Monday
Oct202003

iTunes for Windows is Hot

iTunes WindowsJust read today on MacNN that Apple's release of iTunes for Windows has been nabbed a million times since its launch last Thursday. Here's the Apple PR release. Hey, this is great news!

Apple Music Store downloads were also up, with sales of over 1 million songs during the same period of time.

I know a few friends who have downloaded the app; Andy (a Mac user) says he was really amazed that the Windows port of iTunes is virtually identical to the OS X version, which makes sense if Apple wants to remind PC users of what OS X users get every day, system-wide. Julie at the Gadgeteer likes the new app and the iTunes Store as well:

It's almost 11:30pm, and I really should be in bed, but I just had to install the new iTunes for Windows. I've been waiting for this for a long while, and now that it's here, I think I'm in love! I only had a Powerbook for a few months, but in that time I really grew to love the iTunes app. Now I have it on my PC! I love the interface, and then there's the built-in store... My first purchase was Jonny Lang's newest album: Long Time Coming. At $9.99, I think it's a great deal. Right now, It's updating my iPod with all 3400 songs in my library (including the 15 new ones). Whee!!! New music to listen to tomorrow.

Meanwhile, another friend Michael Ashby, also grabbed a copy of iTunes for Windows, which he is planning to install, but has heard mixed reviews (I wasn't able to get specific negative reviews of the Windows app though). Slashdot also has a positive review of iTunes for Windows.

I'm happy to see it's released and hope Windows users enjoy it... maybe it'll even get some thinking about checking out Mac OS X in a local Apple Store... :-)