For years I’ve maintained a page of Macintosh Tips and Tricks. It’s one of the most referenced pages on my blog, so someone must be using it, despite the fact that it was only up to date for Mac OS 10.5. I’ve finally gotten around to updating it for my current world. I hope it continues to be useful.
Here is a jumble of thoughts about the iPad, after finally getting a chance to watch the Stevenote last night. If you haven’t watched it, I think that there are some parts of it that are worth watching, particularly the app developer parts. When I first saw the online coverage of the iPad announcement, I wasn’t that impressed. On the surface, the iPad is pretty unsurprising. It’s a tablet and it’s based on the iPhone OS (or may be we should really be calling it OS X Touch).
One the one hand, the iPad is the same iPhone OS that is familiar to 70 million iPhone users. On the other hand, some of the keynote demos show that the larger form factor is going to have some interesting UI potential.
I usually try to pay careful attention to presentations by game developers. It’s not because I am a big gamer myself, but it’s because the people doing games are usually doing some of the most insane, crazy, and interesting things in the business, and it’s worth paying attention to the things that they say are important. Both of the game demos for the iPad had some pretty interesting UI and commentary on the experience of the machine as a whole.
The other really interesting part of the keynote was the iWork demo. I am very impressed with the way that iWork has been adapted to the touch screen. There are a number of really cool multitouch gestures that were demonstrated. This is going to be the beginning of some very interesting user interface stuff.
I spent most of yesterday watching the Oracle/Sun strategy webcast, and a major theme was the way that Oracle plans to tightly integrate Sun’s hardware, and to optimize the entire hardware and software stack. The Oracle Exadata database machine was repeatedly touted as an example of this kind of integration. If the benchmarks and early customer experiences are indicative, this integration has paid off handsomely, as it has also with the Sun Storage 7000.
The new A4 processor powering the iPad received only brief mention during the keynote, but here too is the same kind of integration. Details on the A4 are very scarce, but speculation is that it was done by the team that Apple acquired from PA semiconductor. It appears to be an ARM compatible (iPhone apps do run) system on a chip design, and I would bet that it is contributing to the (relatively) low price, long battery life, and high performance (according to Gruber) of the device.
I think that it’s worth noting that companies like Google are also doing this kind of vertical integration, building their own custom PC designs, having custom Linux kernels and other software. Many of us in the “open” world decry vertical integration because it is almost inevitably closed, but the kind of engineering virtuosity that is on display does impress.
Apple appears to have gotten iPad users a deal on 3G pricing from AT&T. I am not really sure that this is a step in the right direction. If Apple is to believed, we are entering a world where a person could have no less that 3 devices (phone, pad, laptop) in need of wireless data (and voice) connectivity. A contract/plan for each device might be great for the carriers, but it is horrible for the users. Since even Apple has backed down in the face of the carriers, it doesn’t look like this is going to change much, but it ought to.
Will I buy one? I’ve been toying with the idea of buying Kindle for some time now. I wanted the size of the Kindle DX, since I wanted to read PDFs of books and research papers, but I felt that $499 for the DX was too much to pay for a book reader. The iPad is obviously a much more capable device than a Kindle, and I’d expect Amazon to upgrade their Kindle iPhone app to run on the iPad.
I think that the iPad would be vastly superior to my iPhone as a means of showing my photographic portfolio. I can also imagine using an iPad as a tethered shooting target, which would definitely be interesting. The tablet form factor could lead to some pretty interesting photography applications, and the iPad CPU appears to be reasonably capable.
I’ll say this much – I definitely want to play with one.
Some thoughts on yesterday’s announcements:
The laptop refresh was a surprise to me. I wasn’t expecting anything until Intel’s Nehalem based laptop CPU’s and chipsets hit the market late summer or early fall. The basics of the machines haven’t improved that much, and won’t until that happens. I’m wary of the unibody built in battery – I had to have my MacBook Pro batteries replaced recently, and the built-in battery would make that a lot harder. As a photographer, I like the wider color gamut of the LCD, but I don’t like the glossy finish. I also find there replacement of the ExpressCard slot with an SD card slot odd. It would have been more “Pro” to at least use a Compact Flash slot.
In any case, I’m not in the market for a new laptop, so the minor changes and the nice price reduction don’t mean much to me at the moment.
Snow Leopard, on the other hand, is of great interest to me now that my primary box is a Mac Pro. I’m eager to have OS X taking better advantage of the all the hardware threads in the box. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more discussion of this in the keynote, but I also understand that having more than 2 cores is still a bit out there. I’m also disappointed that there was no mention of ZFS in either the workstation or server editions of Snow Leopard.
I guess that Snow Leopard is not as ready as many people (including me) thought. It won’t be shipping until September. Apple has taken a very reasonable approach to pricing the upgrade. The biggest issue for me is that I’ve been having problems with 10.5.7. I uninstalled it from the MacPro, and my work laptop wigged out on me last week during JavaOne, and I am very suspicious that the problems are 10.5.7 related. Jeffrey Zeldman is chronicling his own set of problems with the update. It’s going to be a long time between now and September if Apple doesn’t sort this out.
The iPhone 3.0 stuff was pretty much a rehash of what was previewed back in March. The only surprise was the “Find My iPhone” feature, which really ought to be a standard feature. I’m not sure if I’m going to buy MobileMe just to get this ability. Everybody is going to get an upgrade to this version of the software so there’s nothing but happiness all around.
What’s not so happy is that some of the features will be unavailable because AT&T isn’t ready to support them: MMS and Tethering. I’m not really sure that I would actually use the MMS. I do most of my picture sharing via Twitter or Facebook. I am pretty sure that I would use tethering, either when riding the ferry or when traveling for work. However, if AT&T adds another $30 a month for the privilege, I probably won’t do it. I can get a Boingo account form $10 a month. True that it won’t work everywhere, but it will work on the ferry and in major airports. Does AT&T really think that we don’t know how to comparison shop?
The iPhone 3GS is a nice upgrade. I’d be happy with the speed, but I’m going to get a speed increase (supposedly) from the iPhone 3.0 software. Faster 3G data would also be nice. The battery life improvements don’t cover the 3G radio usage, which is how I pound my iPhone.
There are two features which really stand out to me: the compass and the camera.
I travel a lot, and I get mixed up a lot. Having the compass to help decipher directions would really be a help to me. I can think of several occasions in the last 6 months, where I could have saved some aggravation if I knew what direction I was pointed in.
The improvements to the camera look really good. Chase Jarvis is calling it the photographer’s iPhone, which is pretty much a no brainer. There was no mention of speeding up the amount of time it takes to get the camera to come on, which is one of my biggest gripes with it. Is it really a decisive moment camera? No way. But it looks like it is a much better camera than what we have now. I could probably justify $199 to upgrade my 16G iPhone 3G – it’d be a lot cheaper than a camera.
Unfortunately, I’m not going to get to do that. At least not until December 2009, due to the subsidized pricing of the iPhone. Lots of people are complaining about this, but that’s the way that the carriers have always worked. It’s not something new, in fact, its a sign that AT&T has a little more pull on Apple that we thought. So I’ll be waiting at least until December. The problem is that if I wait till December, I’m only 6 months away from the next iPhone product launch (if they keep to the current schedule), and as TechCrunch points out, if Apple lets its exclusive contract with AT&T expire in 2010, then you’d actually have carrier choice. That would be a good thing, and since getting onto Verizon’s huge network can only help iPhone sales, I’d bet that the iPhone is on Verizon in 2010. That’s not an impossible thing. Verizon made its first appearance ever at JavaOne this year, a sign that things are starting to change over there. I guess I’m going to wait and see how AT&T treats me between now and then. But they should be painfully aware that people are buying the iPhone, not the carrier.
For the past three or four years, I’ve been promising myself that I was going to buy myself a Mac Pro. This mostly a result of digital photography, which makes rapacious demands on computer systems. In the last 9 months or so, it’s also been because I am doing more work using virtualized machine images. In any case, every time Apple had an event, I was telling myself that I was going to buy the machine, but there was always some reason why it never happened. The announcement of the Nehalem based Mac Pro earlier this year finally pushed me over the edge. And pushing was required. There’s been a lot of benchmarking which casts the performance of these machines in questionable light when compared with the machines that they replaced. Until a bunch of applications are rewritten to take advantage of the large number of cores in Nehalem based systems, these boxes are only slightly better than the ones they replaced, and a bit more expensive.
I ended up getting an 8 core machine, because these are the machines that can be expanded to an outrageous amount of memory, something which is a necessity for systems doing a lot of Photoshop. Due to the benchmarking controversy, I got the 2.66GHz processors, so that single threaded programs wouldn’t suffer as much. Here’s a quick rundown on my experience after having the machine for a few weeks.
All of my hardware moved over without a hiccup, except for my Logitech Z-5500 speakers. I needed a TOSLINK to TOSLINK cable, which was rectified by a trip to Radio Shack (yes, we have one on Bainbridge Island. It’s not Fry’s but once a year or so they save my bacon.). The machine is much quieter than I expected. The last desktop machine that I owned was a homebuilt Windows box, and that thing was really loud. The Mac Pro is quieter than some of the external FireWire drives that are plugged into it. Heat would be a different story. My office is already several degrees warmer than the rest of the house, and now it’s probably another several degrees warmer. I’m having to be very careful about leaving my office doors open in order for things to cool down. Figuring out how this works in the summer is going to be interesting.
Performance wise I am pretty happy. Things are definitely snappier than my Sun supplied 2.6GHz MacBook Pro. I moved some external disks off of Firewire and into the Mac Pro’s internal SATA drive bays, and I am sure that the change in interface made a big contribution to the improved speed. The machine has 12GB of Other World Computing RAM in it, so it basically doesn’t page unless I am doing something big in Photoshop or have several VirtualBox VMs open at the same time.
There are some things that I miss:
We don’t have TV, so we do a lot of NetFlix and other DVD’s. This happened mostly on the MacBook Pro via Front Row and the Apple Remote. The Mac Pro doesn’t talk to the Apple remote, and I miss that. If people have suggestions for controlling Front Row on a Mac Pro, please leave them in the comments.
I got used to having the laptop hooked up to the LCD display, and using the laptop LCD as my “communications display” for IM, IRC, Twitter and so forth. Now I’m back down to a single display and missing it. I’m also missing it in Lightroom.
The Mac Pro came with an Apple keyboard, and the keyboard I was using was a Microsoft Natural Keyboard from 2000, and some of the keys were starting to get hard to push. So I figured that I would try the Apple keyboard. So far I don’t mind it, but keys are in different places, and the new keyboard has 9 years of muscle memory working against it. But that would be true of just about any keyboard.
Any time I get a new machine I update my Macintosh Tips and Tricks page. I definitely have some updates that I could make, and I might make some of them after JavaOne. The rumor mill is suggesting that MacOS 10.6 Snow Leopard is going to ship this summer, so I might just wait until that happens, since I expect a lot of things to need updating, rearranging, etc.
I did have a problem when I tried to update the machine to 10.5.7. Things were behaving very oddly, so I restored the machine back to 10.5.6 with Time Machine. Time Machine backups on an internal SATA drive take less time (and make less noise) than on an external FireWire drive. I’m going to give this another try after JavaOne. And for prospective commenters, yes, I repaired permissions and used the Combo Updater.
Photoshop occasionally makes use of the additional cores, but it’s the large amount of RAM that is really making the difference at the moment. The same is true for Lightroom. Perhaps the next editions of these programs, coupled with 10.6, will do a better job of keeping multiple cores busy. In the meantime, my Lightroom to Photoshop batch jobs are definitely running quite a bit faster than before.
On the whole
On the whole, I am happy with the machine, and I expect to be a lot happier when 10.6 ships this summer.
MRR Software has released a beta of Syrinx 2.0 just in time for PyCon this week (or ApacheCon EU or EclipseCon, if you are at one of those events). My biggest complaint with Syrinx 1.0 was that it was using up a lot of memory and CPU. That’s totally fixed in Syrinx 2.0. I’ve left Syrinx running for over a day with very little discernable growth in memory. I used to have to restart it several times a day. Scrolling and searching are both much faster as well. Retweet and URL shortening have been added, which pretty much takes care of me featurewise, although I’d like a retweet button in the button bar of a tweet, and I’d prefer bit.ly as the URL shortening service. Minor complaints to be sure. The last UI issue for me is that Syrinx 2.0 now expands the current tweet from it’s slightly compressed list element version. This is a problem for tweets that contain links (the best kind), because you have to click once to zoom the tweet, and then click again to open the link. I know that MRR is working on this one.
Several week ago I also switch my iPhone client from Twitterific to Tweetie. I love everything about Tweetie except for 2 things:
1. Tweetie goes to the network all the time. This wouldn’t be a problem if iPhone latency was just a bit better.
2. I don’t like the way the Tweetie segments replies and direct messages. I like having tabs to see just those things, but I don’t like it that they no longer appear in the main view. Syrinx is doing it the way that I prefer.
My favorite features about Tweetie are:
1. Network lag aside, Tweetie is speedy.
2. The swipe actions, particularly favorites – I now favorite a lot more. This saves me from losing tweets with interesting links when I am in a hurry. I fave them on the phone and then read the faves from the desktop.
3. Instapaper support. I’m glad this is here, but I use it less than I thought I would, because of favorites
4. The landscape mode keyboard – This is taking some getting used to, but it’s good practice for iPhone 3.0
5. Ability to say how many tweets to load – good for making sure you don’t miss anything
6. Retweeting – too bad it doesn’t fit in the swipe bars.
There’s still no direct message rolodex, something that I am sure I will be wishing for this week at PyCon.
At least I’ll be well armed for the next few months, where I’ll be at a number of conferences.
Let’s suppose that you were trying to port dtrace probes from (Open)Solaris to Mac OS X, and the makefile for the probes on (Open)Solaris calls for the -G option, which isn’t recognized by dtrace in 10.5. You might want to check out this mail thread to find out what to do.
The driver for this is an effort to port OpenSolaris’ dtrace probes for Python to run on OS X. One benefit of this will be that we’ll have access to John Levon’s ustack provider for Python on the Mac. If someone wants to tackle a port for FreeBSD 7.1, it would be great to get this support into all dtrace enabled platforms.
I’ve updated the Growlified Tweet script to deal with some changes in the Twitter API. Enjoy!
Much is being made of Apple’s decision to leave the Macworld show. You can look at this from several angles:
New Product Announcements
From Apple’s point of view, leaving Macworld is a major win. This unbinds them from the need to pull out all the stops in order to have new products ready for an arbitrary deadline. It also will improve Apple’s holiday sales. No person knowledgeable about Apple would buy anything (unless it was freshly announced) in the 2-3 months before Macworld. You’d be nuts to. Now consumers won’t be able to count on an event to in order to help guide their buying decisions.
My guess is that it has become harder and harder to for Apple to time their announcements for the show. On the computer side, the Macintosh hardware cycle is now irrevocably linked to Intel’s hardware roadmap. Intel has their own schedule about when they ship products, and it overlaps badly with Macworld. Take the Nehalem release as an example. If Apple stays true to form and uses server Nehalem’s in the Mac Pro and laptop Nehalems in the iMac, then there is no reason to believe that there will be significant (non clock speed bump) release of either the Mac Pro or the iMac this January. As far as Intel has said, the Nehalem launch dates simply won’t allow it. On the other hand, Intel is reasonably good about telegraphing the direction of their hardware, so you might be able use these dates as a guide for new computer product launches.
As an individual purchaser of Apple products, I’m not excited about this, because it increases the risk that I’m going to buy something and then be unhappily surprised. But as an Apple stockholder, I think that this will actually be a better move for Apple’s business in the long run.
The Macintosh community
Some people are lamenting the end of the Macworld show (not a forgone conclusion) as a blow to the Macintosh community. I’m not sure that I agree with this. Macworld doesn’t have to die just because Apple is pulling out, and even if Macworld did die, then maybe there would be another event to spring up in it’s place. For me personally, I’m getting more than my fill of Macintosh news, commentary, and other interaction via the Internet. Back when I lived in Boston, I used to attend Macworld, but my attendance was mostly walking the exhibit floor, occasionally talking to a vendor, and then taking off. I actually have much better relationships with Mac developers now. All I have to do is drop them e-mail. Personally, I think it’s pretty clear that there’s something wrong with the traditional trade show / conference model — and I don’t just mean Macworld, here. I’d like to see something different emerge, and I hope that the problems with the economy will force that different thing into existence.
Apple’s succession plan / Steve Jobs is sick
This is perhaps the most troubling angle. People (rightly or wrongly) attribute a large amount of Apple’s success to Steve Jobs. I’ve personally experienced the Steve Jobs effect – he returned to Apple when I was working there. Many of us also remember the train of ineffective CEO’s that preceded Steve’s return. Could Apple continue on its path of success if Jobs were to leave the company? With the right leadership, it could, but it is hard to know if the rest of the team is up to the job. I hope they are.
I have usernames on most of the major lifestreaming services (Twitter, FriendFeed, identi.ca, and so on). For a variety of reasons, I really only use Twitter, and the only way that Twitter is useful / manageable for me is the existence of rich client side applications.
Mac OS X
For some time, I’ve been using Craig Hockenberry’s excellent Twitterific. I liked the UI, and the feature set was good. From time to time, I would try the Adobe AIR based twhirl, which had the virtue of also being a FriendFeed and identi.ca client. Unfortunately, I could never keep twhirl because of a bug in AIR 1.1 that caused clicked URLs to open in a new Firefox window instead of a new tab. That bug was fixed in this weeks AIR 1.5 release, so I gave twhirl another try earlier this week. I liked having FriendFeed and identi.ca up (having identi.ca up meant that I saw Allison Randall’s messages about the Parrot Developer summit and their new release schedule). I didn’t like having a window for each service — I don’t care about keeping it separate, and I’m still having some trouble finding a theme that works for my aging eyes. Twhirl also doesn’t seem to remember window positions between runs, which makes the multiple windows even more of a pain. I also miss seeing people’s “real names” and the Growl notifications that I was getting from Twitterific. I put twhirl back on the shelf, but will probably come back to it again.
A week or two ago, I discovered Syrinx, which is a Twitter only client. There were a few things that persuaded me to try it out. The ability to set a bookmark at some point in the message stream and then go back to it. This seems to work better for my style of reading than individual read/unread markers on each Tweet. The keyboard shortcut means that I can jump right to where I left off, which is nice. Syrinx also lets you search the stream, which is useful. I follow enough people that searching is useful. I was also (incorrectly) under the impression that Syrinx would save a slice of the message stream locally, which would be a nicety. I can page backwards on the Twitter site, but that way lies pain. Syrinx has a way of tracking twitter “conversations” and finding the supposedly relevant tweets and presenting them. I like this idea, I just wish it wouldn’t take over the main message stream window in order to show it. The biggest problem with Syrinx is that there something awfully bloated in there, which means that after some time, the app is eating memory and slowing down. Which means you have to restart it, which means you have to catch up first. MRR, the author of Syrinx, knows that this is a problem and is working on a solution. I hope that won’t take a long time.
Because of the AIR 1.5 release I also tried TweetDeck this week. I tried it, and there were some interesting features. I liked the ability to make my own groups of people – but Twitter should be supporting that. I also liked the way that replies and direct messages could be in their own column – I really liked that, actually. I liked the idea of TwitScoop, but what I’d really like would be a TwitScoop of my Twitter network – that would be cool. TweetDeck was great when I put it on my 30″ main display. You can see lots of stuff and quickly see if there is anything useful. Unfortunately, I’m not willing to dedicate that much screen real estate — whatever client I use has to live (and share) on the “outboard” main LCD of the MacBook Pro.
When I got my iPhone, I started using Twinkle. There pretty much wasn’t anything else, and I sort of liked the idea of having some kind of location awareness of people using the service. Turns out that very few people that I know use the Twinkle location stuff, and I’ve pretty much switched to using Brightkite for that kind of thing, and even there, the jury is out. User interface wise, I like the fact that it colors replies and direct messages differently — it makes them much easier to pick out. I don’t like that I have to tap on a tweet containing a link in order to open the link.
I’ve since switched to using the iPhone version of Twitterific. I don’t have to tap on tweets to follow links, and Twitterific is pretty good about storing a decent number of tweets on the phone. I can usually take a 2 hour plane flight and not have missed much when I land on the other side. I’d love to not miss anything at all. One annoyance is that Twitterific for iPhone doesn’t remember the last tweet that I was looking at very well, so I end up doing a lot more scrolling than I should have to.
Here’s a consolidation of the some of the things that I think are important in rich clients for Twitter and services like it.
- Good management of windows – I don’t want a window for each service – I want one big stream.
- Good visual design that easily lets you differentiate between different kinds of messages (tweets/replies/direct messages). Make links easy to see and follow.
- Keep a local, searchable, history of messages.
- Provide a good, low maintenance way for me to keep my place in a busy stream.
- Give me a way to follow conversations (chains of replies). I would be happy to have a menu for this.
- Integrate some of the third party services that are springing up, like TwitScoop.
On the mobile side, there is one feature that I would consider killer.
I want a “direct message” rolodex. There are people who I want to direct message on a frequent basis. I don’t remember everybody’s twitter user name – that’s what computers are for. I want a “picker” that contains a “speed direct message” list. That would be awesome.
This is one space where rich/desktop applications are by no means dead.
It’s been a while since I reported on the state of my Macintosh. Here are a few apps that I’ve been using a lot recently.
I’ve had Evernote installed for quite some time, but I didn’t really start using it until after I got my iPhone. So I was interested to read Ars Technica’s report that 57% of Evernote’s users are using the iPhone client. Evernote is a great example of the “rich application architecture of the future”. Evernote’s family of applications include desktop clients for Mac OS X and Windows, a web applications, and mobile clients, most notably the iPhone. All of these pieces work together to make a great integrated solution. This is the kind of ecosystem that we were building around Chandler, although we never got to the mobile part, and as the Evernote data suggests, we would have been fine just creating an iPhone client. Of course, hindsight is 20/20.
Apple helped Evernote tremendously by providing a barely functional notes application on the iPhone, and then providing no way to sync notes back to a Mac. So the iPhone Evernote client fills a great hole in the iPhone application suite. That got me started using Evernote for information that might need to move back and forth between desktop and device. The next step up for me was that I started using Evernote to take notes for conferences. I used to use Ecto for that, and I would then rewrite my notes into a blog post. But I missed having the raw notes, so I decided that instead of creating a billion drafts in Ecto to hold the raw notes, I would just take all the notes in Evernote, and then write the posts in Ecto. This of course had the added benefit of me being able to use other features of Evernote. I definitely think that the Evernote team is doing something that desktop and mobile software developers ought to be paying attention to.
Another good example of this desktop/web/mobile trend is the fantastic 1Passwd password manager for Mac OS X and iPhone. I got 1Passwd as part of a MacUpdate software bundle some time back. It took me quite some time to start using it, because I was happily using Firefox’s built in password manager. 1Passwd has the advantage of working with Firefox, Safari, and NetNewsWire on my desktop. It does a much better job of dealing with odd web site logins. It does a great job of managing my ridiculous number of passwords. Actually it has a great password generator built in, which makes it easy to stop the common practice of having a few relatively easy to remember passwords that you use everywhere. Which is just plain bad security. 1Passwd also has an iPhone version, which means that accessing sites from my iPhone is no problem at all either. Great piece of software.
The last piece of software is PathFinder, which is PODS (plain old desktop software). PathFinder is a great replacement for the Finder, and the latest version, 5.0, adds a dual plan feature that makes file management tasks much easier. You can also manage sets of tabs. I use this feature to manage projects, by creating a set of tabs for each project. I can then flip a PathFinder pane into exactly the configuration that I want for working on that project. It’s a shame that Apple has been so lackadasical about improving the Finder. Maybe this will improve with the rewrite of the Finder for Snow Leopard. In the meantime, PathFinder is a good solution for those of us that need a little more than what the Finder provides.