Archive for October, 2009

Apple ignores glare-averse customers again

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Apple announced updates to three different lines of macs yesterday (the mini, the macbook, and iMac).  As previously mentioned, I’m in the market for a new desktop computer, but I’ve been waiting to hear what might come of the previous rumors about updated iMacs.  Apple did a few things yesterday with their announcement that are just plainly frustrating to me.

First, it’s highly irritating that Apple continues to basically jam shiny, eyestrain-inducing, glossy, pro-glare displays down their customers’ throats.  None of Apple’s 13″ laptops (neither Macbook Pro nor Macbook) offer an “anti-glare” display option (the opposite of which is most obviously pro-glare).  None of their newly announced iMacs have an anti-glare option, either.  My office has some ambient light — it just does.  Also, because I’m not blind, I can see reflections from ambient overhead lighting in any glossy display.  I realize this apparently doesn’t bother some people, but there are a lot of us out there that it does bother.  I’m willing to pay for the option, and I’m glad that Apple offered it on the macbook pro, but it’s disappointing that the option hasn’t spread throughout Apple’s lineup.  Frankly, the glossy displays make no sense.  Even people who tout the benefits of glossy displays (better contrast ratios) on TVs will tell you that strict control of ambient lighting is key.  Basically, to do it right, you have to operate your home theater with thick curtains & strict adjustable low ambient lighting.  In other words, you have to operate the thing in the dark, and then it’s pretty stunning.  I have some friends that prefer the “cave” experience for computing, but I am not one of them.  Call me weird — I like to have the lights on, and sometimes I even open the blinds in my office.  I am not a Morlock, and I’ve been led to believe by Apple marketing that their hipster-douche customers in their commercials are also not strictly basement-dwellers.  So what the hell is up with this display lineup?  I’m glad for other people that eyestrain is not an issue, but I’m also irritated that Apple ignores the rest of us.

The other odd thing about the latest lineup is the pricing.  Apple announced that a (mobile/”Clarksfield”, I believe) 2.8 GHz version of the Core i7 (“nehalem”) processor will be available in the 27″ iMac for $2199.  The Mac Pro features the older 2.66 GHz Core i7 and starts at $2499, and features no display at all.  What.  The.  Fuck.  Yeah yeah, the Mac Pro has a Xeon in there (uselessly, I might add) which jacks up the price, but Apple’s stated intention for putting the i7 in an iMac was to give “home professionals” an option when they didn’t want to get a Mac Pro.  Is this really an option?  Despite the garish 27″ display that comes with the higher-end iMac, wouldn’t it be smarter to get that?  Apple is basically charging an extra $300 for expandability, while simultaneously removing the bundled monitor.  And it’s great & all that Apple’s willing to take a stand against the US Chamber of Commerce on the cap-and-trade proposals, but how exactly is this “environmentally friendly”?  They’re encouraging people to ditch computers sooner rather than encouraging modularity that would allow both choice and upgradeability.  Then again, I suppose that might hurt Apple’s sales — which is the real reason behind all this bizarre pricing, I think.

Finally, and I realize it’s a nonissue for many customers, but what the hell is up with the obsession of building a desktop computer that’s “thin”?  Who the hell cares?  Are you taking it somewhere?  Make the damn thing 2″ thicker where necessary, put some appropriate curves on it to draw the eyes away from the thicker portion, and boom, you can put a desktop Nehalem (retail price:  $280) and possibly even desktop graphics in the lower-end iMac.  Instead, this fetish with “thin” computers absolutely hamstrings the design.  I’ll be curious to hear the reports on how loud the fans on these new iMacs may get and how often heat is a problem.  I’m betting Core i5 and i7 variants of the iMac may see significant issues with heat-related defects.  Bye-bye soldering!  You’d think that Apple might’ve learned this lesson from Microsoft with the Xbox 360 (overheating leading to soldering coming apart, leading to complete unit failure — caused by jamming a lot of hot parts into a tiny box that cannot dissipate the heat being generated), but instead Apple appears to be running head-on into this train.

Fuck it, I’m building a hackintosh.

Windows 7 hype annoys me

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Windows 7’s launch is impending, and the review sites are frothing with praise (specifically, ZDNet).  You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone in technology talking about how awesome Windows 7 is, how it totally rights Microsoft’s ship after Vista.  I’ve run the RC version of Windows 7, and I gotta say, I don’t see the big deal — at all.  The interface is nothing short of irritating.  It looks like what the gnome folks would come up with if you asked them to copy KDE.  It’s seriously that bad.  The knock-off version of the dock/taskbar?  Lame.  Could they waste more space around taskbar icons, by the way?  It probably wouldn’t be as annoying if it wasn’t so goddamn huge, but it is.  But, that’s cosmetic.  What about the nuts and bolts?

Here’s the deal:  Windows 7 is Windows Vista plus 3 years and a shittier interface.  That’s it.  The driver model:  the same.  The security model:  the same.  64-bit compatibility requirements for software vendors?  (You can’t ship a program with a Windows 7 compatibility logo claim unless it works under both versions):  Check, same as Vista.  Graphical whiz-bang enhancements?  Same.  UAC?  Same.  Windows 7 is better about not having so many different versions (Vista Home Basic/Home Premium/Business/Ultimate/Enterprise?  Really?), but that’s not something I care about that much.  (Windows 7 Professional will do the trick for me — I can log on to my work domain if I need, and it has Windows Media Center).  The notable differences seem to be that they added “XP compatibility mode” (running your Windows XP-compatible programs in an XP Virtual Machine — only available on some versions of Windows 7), Digital Cable Tuners (cablecard-capable tuners) will no longer require OEM certification (ie, they will work on homebrew computers), and allegedly managing networks is more intuitive than Vista’s god-awful Network and Sharing Center.  Oh, and they fuglified the desktop interface.

Ok, so these are nontrivial differences.   But, they aren’t the focus of the hype, previews, and reviews of Windows 7.  Instead, the coverage mostly talks about how much more “streamlined” Windows 7 is, and how it won’t have the pitfalls of Vista.  Why?  Because drivers and applications have caught up to the new API requirements of Windows Vista, and these are the same requirements for Windows 7.  Applications can no longer write willy-nilly into the registry, and drivers have to comply with a newer version of Microsoft’s driver API (ie, the revision introduced for Vista).  In other words, the benefits that reviewers believe are the primary benefits of Windows 7 are available today in Windows Vista, for no other reason than applications & drivers are now compatible.

I actually like Windows Vista.  I’ve seen the compatibility problems that people complain about, but I knew that those were the hallmarks of poorly written applications.  Also, most applications seemed to be updated within 6 months of Vista’s launch.  I use Vista Enterprise at work every day, and things generally work fine.  (At home, wifi mysteriously craps out.  There are other general Windows annoyances.  As far as I can tell, none of that is dealt with in Windows 7).

Microsoft got destroyed in the press and in (followup) online reviews because people were used to their poorly written applications from Windows Version X working in Windows Version X + 1.  Vista changed all of that, and for the better.  The security measures implemented in Vista were badly needed, and they did break quite a few drivers and applications.  Users seem to have all decided this was Microsoft’s fault.  In a way, it was, but not because “Vista sucks”.  It was Microsoft’s fault because they rolled out bad solutions beforehand and reaped the rewards when they had to fix it.  Yeah yeah, Vista performance was slightly worse than XP — it ran like crap on old hardware.  That’s all true.  But that’s always been true for Windows upgrades.  (Good luck installing Windows XP on Windows 98-class hardware).  Windows 7 will likely be successful because it isn’t a major deviation from the prior version of Windows that every major vendor has been writing to.  This is exactly why all the “best version of Windows ever!” hype regarding Windows 7 is so frustrating, but I suppose I should expect it to continue.