Tuesday, August 31, 2004

iMac G5 - Initial Reaction

Well, the "hurricane" of the Keynote came and went. Cleanup ensues.

I was a little shocked, to be honest, not a lot shocked, a little. I assumed that the "all in the monitor" rumors had some truth to them. I feel like I shouldn't be shocked at all, but I am.

First the exterior. It is neat. But I like the sunflower iMac the best as of this point. The big white space at the base of the monitor is ... *okay*. Not sure they could have done much else with it, though. I am a huge J. Ive fan, and this is no exception to his excellent work. But I'm not sure it is his best.

But I still like it. It may become the iMac of preference for me soon enough as I'm a big fan of future-looking devices. I like that on the iMac page (graphics) Apple says that you can purchase a mount for the iMac and hang it on a wall or desk-mount device. Now that's cool.

Overall it does look neat to me. Okay, as I type this out, I'm liking it more ... I'm trying to resist. Must ... maintain ... composure.

Interior is neat. Clean, simple, powerful. Design feat.

Video: This is the first real thing that got me. The second is the *optional* bluetooth. A unit this slick should be wirless from the git go. Not a good move, IMHO. But the video. 64MB?! So it can run Doom III, but golly gee, guys!! 128 should have been the starting point. And there is no option to upgrade.

Granted, video cards produce a lot of heat. Maybe the beefier cards just couldn't pass the temperature muster, or the size muster given the need for a fan on the card. But still.

Bluetooth: $50 option alone, but if you purchase the system and there is an option of "Bluetooth + Apple wireless keyboard and mouse" for only $99. That's a good deal.

Other gripes: Base RAM. Still at 256MB. Not good. Wireless ready. The top two models should have it built-in, so the cost of this puppy keeps going up.

Would I buy one. If I had the money, yes. After all you other folks jumped in first to work out the bugs and stuff :-). Give me the 20" model with a 250MB HD upgrade, AirPort Extreme, bluetooth/keyb/mouse deal, 2GB RAM. That'd work ... that is, except for the price: $3320.00 in USD. Granted, I could get the RAM cheaper elsewhere, and probably would, so knock off $1125 from Apple.

Desktop space (and floor) is a premium in our house, so though I'd rather the full power of dual processors, this would do.

How about you? Like it, hate it, jury still out?

Sunday, August 29, 2004

The Calm Before the Storm: Expo Season

Hurricane season. Us East-coasters just love it (tongue firmly planted in cheek). Knowing a hurricane is coming is one thing. The anticipation of *where* it will hit is entirely different. God must get a lot of 911 prayers during this time.

We're watching Francis right now. It is in the mid-Atlantic region heading toward the Caribbean, and it is a deadly category 4 to boot. Over on Accuweather.com I looked at the projected path ... not good for any of us unless a cold front pushes it out to sea.

Reminds me of Apple Expo season. You know something new is coming and everyone chimes in on the "projected path" (aka rumormill) of what will be introduced. I'll be the first to admit it. I love a good Apple rumor. Especially hardware rumors. They are, IMHO, the juiciest and most likely to make a big splash if/when they are finally revealed.

Take the new iMac G5. iPodFrance has someone on the inside who's taken some pictures at the location of the Paris Expo. Stuff that *could* be new. But, just like the hurricane, you won't know for sure until it makes landfall. Just ask the folks down in Florida. Charley's projected path wasn't where it hit.

So the first elevator shot was shown to be a fake, and the latest picture of a palate with what appears to be a new *something* of Apple's is on the bottom left. Looks to be new hardware, but it just isn't clear enough. Kind of like the BigFoot footage ... not quite clear enough to tell if it was Uncle Bernie in a gorilla suit, or a prehistoic bipedal ape caught outside of the shadows of the woods.

"Its all fun and games until someone loses an eye." Just had to throw that quote from Disney's Tarzan in. Great line. Really, though, speculation is fun, but if taken too seriously, it can be depressing. I certainly wouldn't base investments on what Apple *might* reveal.

Then again, if it is as the rumors say, it might be worth the risk. As always, take them with a grain of salt.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Windows, Spy/malware, Macs: Money, Pain, Relief

I became a Mac user after many years of supporting Windows (and DOS) for different companies. I used to sum up my job saying that Bill Gates paid my salary (to support his products). Windows has always been a "green" machine for IT techs. A lucrative field to work in. Windows = Money.

What drove me to the Mac is an all-too-familiar experience. Others share a similar story: "It just works", the interface is more intuitive (OS 9), the almost 100% true PnP, significantly less "tinker time" to get a system with everything working/installed compared to Windows, etcetera. Macs = Relief.

Switching to Mac at home but having to stay Windows at work became extremely frustrating. Productivity suffered with Windows down-time ad nauseum. Another all-too-familiar story. But I continued to make a living fixing Windows (and DOS) through the introduction of XP Pro. I'm thankful for all the money I made back then.

But Windows is also a pain. More specifically, the things that can be done to Windows, especially at the virtual hands of trojan horses and the increasing irritation of spyware. Windows = Money, Spy/malware = Pain, Macs = Relief.

I spent 1.5 hours helping a Windows-using friend troubleshoot his XP Pro system last night. Not exactly how I wanted to spend the night off. His problem is combination of trojan horses and spyware. His system is relatively pristine except that he's now on DSL and has musically-inclined kids who look for stuff to listen to. We all know where that can lead.

I relived the pain of troubleshooting Windows last night. Sometimes Macs can be equally frustrating and puzzling, but with Windows, the experience is too common. I've been toying with the idea of moonlighting again doing IT work. Last night pushed my decision out a little further yet again.

My family time is incredibly valuable to me. I don't want to spend my evenings fixing other people's problems that I know would be solved if they would buy a Mac. It may take some coaching from me to get them over the "I did this in Windows ... how do I do it on a Mac?" routine, but once over the hill, the coast is mostly clear.

I have a quite few examples of people I've helped switch from Windows. All required a little hand holding. Today, support calls are rare. Two examples are my parents who are in their 70s. Things just work right 97% of the time. Not the same with my Windows' using family and friends. Macs = Relief. Relief for me from the time-consuming headaches of Windows support. Usually with family and friends it's all freebie support. They'll call with a "quick question" that turns into a complete system rebuild because they decided to edit the registry cuz their friend did.

Though for some I recommend Windows, I don't believe in Windows to the point where I can have a clean conscience recommending it to everyone. It isn't for everyone. I try to play the "balanced advisor" when asked, I favor Macs and gently nudge people in that direction. But if they insist...

Don't get me wrong. I know a Mac can still be screwed up to the point of sledge hammer behavior. But many of the complicating factors (spyware, trojans, etc.) are mitigated making the system that much better (IMHO!).

Windows may bring in money, and my willingness to fix it isn't gone, but with the pain of spyware and malicious software, the money looks less and less enticing as the days go by. For me, my money is on Macs - well-spent relief.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Review: D-Link Fast Ethernet Print Server DP-301P+

Networking both of my printers (Epson Stylus C82 and Apple LaserWriter 360 Select) has been something I've wanted to do for years. Finally, CompUSA put the D-Link DP-301P+ Print Server on sale last weekend. I picked it up and here are my thoughts about it.

This model is for parallel printers - plugs into the parallel port and sticks out the back (or side, depending on where your port is) about 3 and 1/4" before cables are plugged in. Add another 1/2 to 1" for the patch cable and power supply.

Difficult to have the printer close to a wall if the port is in the rear as on the LW 360.

First test was on the LaserWriter 360. A sturdy printer made by Apple back in the 90s, though slow by todays standards, it works like a champ. This is the main printer I wanted to hook up as I print B/W more than color.

Installed the print server and via Safari on my Mac, I connected via the default IP and configured it. Was able to do a test page, was able to see it in several configurations via Print Center. Saw it via the Windows network, IP, Rendezvous. The latter was my choice, though I tried all three.

Here is where the problems began. I would send the print job from the Mac and I'd notice the light on the printer flashing - receiving data, then nothing would print. Curious, I checked the print server via the network and it was unresponsive. After numerous attempts, including rebooting the printer, I had to reset the print server by unplugging the AC adapter. There is no reset button, so that's the only option.

It is worth noting that the link light was out when I checked it, explaining why I couldn't get to it via the LAN.

All seemed fine again until I tried to print. Same problem.

Installed the drivers/utility that came with it on my Windows XP Pro box to see if there was something I was missing. The Windows utility, while convenient, does what the web-based configuration does.

Installed the printer on XP as well. Nothing. I was able to do a test print via the config utility, but the same thing happened on XP as happened on the Mac. Frustrated, I considered returning it, but instead decided to try it on the Epson.

Here is where the DP-301P+ shines. I reset and reconfigured it, ran test prints, prints from Word 2003 (XP) and 2004 (OS X) and all were successful. Pictures printed flawlessly. All of my networked systems have the driver installed and all print without a hitch. The Macs all use the Rendezvous protocol as well, which is pretty nifty.

My best guess with the LaserWriter 360 is that there is a problem with the printer itself. I normally have it hooked up to my XP box and shared to the Macs and other PCs on the network. But sometimes that fails and either the PC or printer need to be rebooted to work - 9 times out of 10, the printer is the problem.

I've tried new parallel cables, but that's not the issue. The fact that no computer, Mac or PC could print successfully to it says that the problem is the printer, not the computers. Suggestions are welcome on this issue.

Features from the box:
IEEE 1284 Compliant
Centronics (Parallel) Port
Multi-Protocol Support: TCP/IP, NetBEUI, Appletalk & LPR
Supports SNMP
Bi-Directional Communication
Web-Based Management
Pocket-Size, Light Weight
Mac OS Support for Postscript Printers Only

Pros: Handy device and at $29 after rebates, a great deal when compared with the $70 and up costs of the competition. If your network supports 100Mbps, then printing is speedy, almost as if connected directly to the computer.

Cons: Would be nice if the technology could e squeezed into a smaller package - though this is small, don't get me wrong! The problem is for those who are space-constrained and want to flush - or almost flush - the printer against a wall or in a corner. Other than these, I don't have many drawbacks.

Recommendation: A good buy. I'm learning to like D-Link more and more. Used to really dislike their design - mind you, it isn't Apple in this category, rather, it's more industrial in appearance. I also have a D-Link 802.11g Wi-Fi router that I'm quite happy with, so this makes 2 of their products that have done well under my abuse :-).

For the money, it can't be beat. Haven't tried it on other laser printers, but I imagine it would perform well. My LaserWriter problem is most likely the printer itself and had nothing to do with the print server.

Comments are welcome! Anyone own this print server and like it/dislike it? Anyone got it working with a LaserWriter Select 360?

The One Utility To Rule Them All ... SideTrack

Came across this utility a while back via MacSurfer and I've just gotta say that it has made my Mac computing experience *that* much better. MacBidouille (French Mac enthusiasts "Hard Mac") happens to be running a little blurb on it today which prompted me to offer up my thoughts and ramblings on it.

Raging Menace's SideTrack.

Here's a snippet from their page:
SideTrack is a replacement driver for the trackpad (touchpad) found on Apple PowerBooks and iBooks. It brings many of the advanced trackpad features found on Windows laptops to MacOS X.

Back in the day I used to manage an IT group for a large company. I had plenty of laptops to play with, none of which were PowerBooks or PowerMacs. Of all the laptops I used (IBM ThinkPads from the C700, 600, 600E, 600X, T series and X series, Dell C series), I liked the IBM's the best, but I liked Dell's trackpad as a pointing device as opposed to the eraserhead of the TPs - which, for those who don't know, Dell had both, and now IBM does both due to demand for the trackpads.

The software included with the Dell trackpad was (is) by Synaptics and allowed for side to side and vertical scrolling as well as tap to click, tap a corner for right-click, etc. It became essential for me, even second-nature, when viewing long documents or web sites.

Over on my Pismo 400 (circa 2000 AD), I had a simple trackpad (same company made it that made the Dell's) with no options other than to tap to click and/or drag. Didn't help in showing Windows users how awesome the Mac was. "Your mouse has one button? Can it scroll? No? ... uhh, hey, I've gotta go now." I'd counter with the fact you could plug in a multi-button mouse ... but they were already gone.

Then I get my 17" PB last year and came across SideTrack. I was seriously excited - still am. It is simply a must-have utility for me. My PB has a "wide-screen" trackpad and I've got a generous allotment of room on the right for a vertical scroll "bar". Works like a champ, especially the recently released beta - as Chevy says, "Like a rock!"

Even though the beta is pre 1.0 (at 0.9), it performs flawlessly on my P'Book. So much so that I put it on my wife's Pismo and my niece's new iBook. My wife simply browses, emails and writes the occasional document, and she gushed when I showed her the vertical scroll feature. No more making sure the pointer was over the correct scroll button in Safari, just slide a finger up/down and voila!

Be aware that this beta does expire in November. Not sure what it'll end up costing, when released, if they even plan to charge for it. But it is worth money in my book. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of bucks to shell out, so if you guys from Raging Menace read this, I'm not rich.

Pros: Feature-rich trackpad enhancer for PowerBooks and iBooks. Windows users switching to the Mac from a notebook with these features will feel right at home.

Cons: None that I can think of.

Recommendation: Go for it, but understand it is BETA which means it can mess your system up. Though I'm gushing about how awesome it is, always take precautions. Back up important files, repair permissions, have an escape route mapped out, etc. Download and install it at your own risk!

Comments? Good or bad experiences with SideTrack?

OS Personality Test

Came across this link over at svenrox's blog. Clicked it and took the test.

Here's my personality. Kinda blew me away. Thought for sure I'd be Mac OS.

You are Palm OS. Punctual, straightforward and very useful.  Your mother wants you to do more with your life like your cousin Wince, but you're happy with who you are.
Which OS are You?

Life is full of surprises.

Click the graphic to take your test.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Netscape 7.2 - Comments

Charles Moore over at Applelinks posted a little blurb/review on Netscape 7.2. I read it with interest as I'm always looking for a better browser. Currently I use Safari. Occasionally I launch Firefox, but it really - REALLY - took a turn for the worse with the 0.9.x release(s). Toyed with OmniWeb, Shiira, et al. Though they are cousins to Safari, they're just not up to snuff. I have trouble getting into the sliding drawer motif in OW. It just doesn't feel right. I want to look to the top, not to my right or left, then scroll up/down for all the thumbnails. Maybe I'll get used to it.

Some niceties have been added, mostly subtle things, like the newly animated Nescape logo. There's the obvious "new tab" button. But in general, I agree with Charles that it's almost a dead-ringer for Mozilla. Both seem design-antiquated to me.

"And it's fast! I can't say categorically without stopwatch comparisons that Netscape 7.2 is faster than Mozilla or Firefox, but it feels like it could be. A very satisfying browsing experience speed-wise. It also starts up gratifyingly quickly. So far it's been rock-stable too, with no buggines or erratic behavior." Charles Moore

My perception is a little different - but for clarity, yes, it is faster than any Netscape I've used to date. I ran Safari and Netscape side by side, Safari beat it hands-down on several pages not in my Safari cache.

As an aside, I don't think Safari is the perfect browser. I'd like to see some of Firefox's features added to Safari such as right-clicking on a nested folder in the bookmark bar and having options pop up to open in tabs, etc. Yes, I can go thru the motion of click folder, move mouse to right/left, down to the bottom of the list of bookmarks and click "open in tabs." I think Firefox is more efficient at this.

Launching Netscape brings up the annoying registration login screen. Easily bypassed, but it always feels like I'm *supposed* to click on it in order to use the app. Of course that's not the case, could just be registration sensitivity. Seems like 75% of the sites I hit now-a-days requires free or paid registration ... but I digress.

Customizing Netscape is fairly easy, but here's where it becomes painfully obvious that the application is NOT an OS X UI-based app. Okay, the other painfully obvious part is the overall UI. It just isn't ... pretty. I don't like the layout of the prefs. I don't like that my scroll-wheel mouse (MS Intellimouse Explorer 2.0) doesn't scroll where it should be able to.

Browsing: My preferred font is Verdana. I like it because it is highly readable to my eyes. Better than Lucida Grande or Arial, IMO. But Verdana in Netscape is not as crisp as Verdana in Safari. Minor quibble, but a quibble nonetheless. The forward and back buttons on my mouse don't work, instead, the scroll wheel - tilt to the left and the browser goes back to the previous page, to the right and it goes to the next page if one was loaded. Odd. Fixable, I'm sure, but I just didn't like the app enough to take the time.

Tabs: Okay, so it does tabs. But how the heck do I load a group of tabs? I just can't figure it out. There's no "open in tabs" option, and no right-clicking on the nested bookmark folder in the toolbar. Uhh, why isn't this feature added yet? Netscape guys, check out Firefox, please. If someone knows how to open a folder of bookmarks in tabs all-at-once, I'm all ears.

Lastly, Netscape (and I think all the gecko-based browsers) is not AppleScript friendly. Safari is the best at that at this stage, although it could be polished and enhanced - like the "click at" won't click in the search box or the URL box, but I can set it to click any of the buttons in the toolbar, bookmarks in the bookmark bar, tabs and links. Just no clicking in those two GUI elements.

Netscape is powerful - it is excellent for many folks who need or want a browser/email/composer/AIM client all-in-one. It is indeed a bit leaner and faster than it was in the past, but as I indicated above, my testing gives the speed-nod and overall victory to Safari as "Best Browser on OS X".