Posts Tagged ‘apple’

droid does?

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Verizon has been pitching their upcoming new consumer smartphone (the Droid) pretty aggressively (bonus points for using hipster douche background music in the spot). I’m currently out of contract on my verizon phone and am looking to upgrade, but verizon’s offerings are notoriously lacking. I have no interest in either a Windows mobile device nor a blackberry. I want something whose interface and usability is on par with my iPod touch, but AT&T is a non-starter for me (bad reception near my house on the South Shore) so I won’t be getting an iPhone.

Unfortunately, it looks like I’ll have to keep waiting. After carefully following the reviews for Verizon’s new Android phones (including the Motorola Droid and the HTC Eris), there are some fatal flaws (for me) in the lineup. The Droid has one of the ugliest, unusually shaped qwerty keyboards I’ve ever seen, and it’s got that curious directional pad off to the side. Well, it turns out that there’s a good reason the Droid has that screwball d-pad: the Droid doesn’t do multitouch input (pinch to precisely zoom out, expand to zoom in, etc). Apparently both the phone and the Android 2.0 software claim to support it, but it’s not enabled on the Droid. So either the support is bad/buggy/incomplete for the Droid’s higher resolution display, or Motorola fears Apple’s patent wrath (in a way that Palm doesn’t because of either cross-licensing or Mutually Assured Destruction from Palm’s own smartphone patent portfolio). With regard to the Eris, this is the hardware for the HTC Hero, which was universally received as underpowered. It also doesn’t run Android 2.0, which I’d want for integrated Exchange support.

Anyway, it looks like I’ll be waiting for another Android 2.0 device, the Palm Pre on Verizon, or a Verizon iPhone. Weak.

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.

New-computer choices

Monday, September 28th, 2009

My 2006 Core 2 Duo iMac is showing its age a bit (well, compared to Nehalem-class hardware), and I’m wanting to get a new computer, but the choices here are not easy.  My requirements for my primary operating system are:

  1. Must support an Exchange 2007 client
  2. Must support my work VPN
  3. Must be reliable

For now, #1 whittles things down to either Windows or MacOS.  (I’ve used wine to run outlook.  It crashes randomly).  If an open-source Exchange 2007 client comes about soon (it may be possible considering ongoing interoperability legal action in Europe, and I’ve read rumors of a Google-developed library), this might no longer be true.  Both Windows and MacOS support my VPN, so that’s a nonissue.  Reliability is the remaining issue.  At work, my desktop is Windows, and for the most part, it works.  That said, every now & then I have to waste about 2 hours out of my day with some bullshit issue (updates stop working, networking goes batty, stuff like that), and my time is valuable.  2 hours of time at home is 2 hours not spent with my family, or not regrouping after a day at work, or possibly 2 hours not working when I need to be.  Hence, I’m strongly leaning toward a new Mac, but the only hardware I’m remotely interested in right now is a Mac Pro, which costs more than $1000 more than a Dell of equivalent class.  (Yeah yeah, they use Xeons versus regular Core i7s.  I’ve seen the benchmarks.  BFD).  Even so, it might be worth it, but this is a tough choice to make — if only Apple had the mythical midrange tower (the laptop-component-featuring iMac does not count).  I may be going back to running Windows primarily at home, and I’m not too thrilled about that.

Apple’s iTunes 9 kills syncing with Palm Pre, again

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

As noted over at precentral, Apple’s latest update to iTunes once again kills the ability to sync an iTunes library with a Palm Pre.  I mentioned this last time when Apple did the functional equivalent with iTunes 8.2.1.  Unless Apple intends to force a data-negotiation phase with iPods (which would require mandatory firmware updates to every existing USB iPod), Palm will be able to continue working around such annoyances.  In this case, Palm will likely spoof the manufacturer ID (in addition to vendor-ID spoofing, which they’re already doing).  But at some point, this is going to have to stop.  Apple will have to decide if they really are going to force a firmware update on all existing iPods, and Palm will have to decide if they want to keep chasing Apple’s annoying counter-moves.  (It may be a moot point anyway — Apple may run out of options completely and may have to eventually give in, or use lawyers instead of technological means.  It’s not clear if the hardware on old iPods can be made to facilitate an authentication handshake — if the USB microcontroller isn’t software-programmable and is just a dumb data transport, then Apple is out of luck there).

In the end, customers lose.  Palm’s customers lose for obvious reasons, but Apple’s losing customers as well.  I’ll never understand the mentality behind turning your back on people who want to use your portal and presumably can & will buy music.  (Apple made the point pretty clear yesterday that people who use iTunes overwhelmingly buy stuff).  The other problem here is that Apple is already under investigation by the FTC regarding potential anti-trust issues (stemming from the App-store rejection of the Google Voice app).  Do they really want to take on another anti-competitive, anti-consumer cause?  I get that Apple wants to “control it all”, and in many ways, that’s worked for them over the years.  But if they continue being so rigid with it, they’re going to ultimately wind up losing control (under Federal regulations), in addition to losing the customers they’re literally booting out of their store (iTunes).

Snow Leopard Exchange Bug Confirmed

Monday, August 31st, 2009

After the official launch Friday, several people within my company are now reporting the same bug I experienced with Exchange support in Snow Leopard.  Email folders and calendar events just disappear from the server.  This looks very nasty.

MacOS 10.6 “Snow Leopard” Review

Friday, August 28th, 2009

I’m a member of the Apple Developer Connection, which gives me access to Apple’s “developer preview” releases of MacOS.  The latest release, launched today, is version 10.6 (dubbed “Snow Leopard“).  I’ve been running the last developer preview (build 10A432) for two weeks now.  Though developer previews are subject to Apple’s NDA, the non-disclosure terms do not apply to publicly-available programs and information.  Fortunately, a friend of mine found that his fresh install of the retail disk that arrived from Apple today is also build 10A432 (that is, the publicly available disk is identical to my installation).  Because my experiences reflect those of use with (what is now) a publicly-available product, I can share those experiences now.

Though this is not a comprehensive review, these are my perspectives as an end user.  Overall, I like the responsiveness, disk-space efficiency, and (as a geek) the promise of improved capabilities through the rearchitected (“refined”) kernel.  I had severe data-loss issues with Exchange support such that I would strongly advise caution before using it in a critical setting, and I had a couple of kernel panics that are troubling.

Installation went smoothly and took about an hour.  I ran the installer from within my pre-existing 10.5.8 installation on my Core 2 Duo Late 2006 iMac, which has 4GB of RAM.  I disliked the fact that the installation of Rosetta (Apple’s mechanism for emulating PowerPC execution so that you can run older applications written for PowerPC on Intel hardware) is disabled by default.  I thought they could do something more intelligent like look in your /Applications folder and check for PowerPC applications.  It’s a minor issue, however — I had read that this was a known change, so I enabled the optional install.  More serious to me was that the installation deleted Xcode.  I suppose this, too, was an optional installation, but this seems rather stupid.  It’s Apple’s software that ships as part of a fundamental part of the operating system.  If you’re upgrading the rest of the OS and are saving settings and so on, why on earth was Xcode passed over?  I reinstalled it after I discovered it was gone, but finding my basic tools (gcc et al.) gone was disturbing.  The installation initially did seem to reclaim about 6GB of disk space, but after reinstalling Xcode, the difference was negligible.  Allegedly the major source of reclamation is removing unused printer drivers and installing them on-demand instead, but since I had already removed them, it makes sense that I missed out on the big disk-space savings.  I also installed 10.6 on my late-2006 Macbook Pro, which roams more often and therefore I’ve left the printer drivers on it.  The disk savings was closer to the claimed 6GB on that machine.  Regardless, both worked fine with my networked Brother laser printer after the upgrade.  The installer no longer gives installation-type choices (“upgrade in place”, “archive and install”, “erase and install”) — it just does an upgrade.  Apparently you *can* “erase and install” manually, if you erase your disk before booting the DVD, but that’s not the method I chose.

After installation, the first thing I did was configure Mail to use my work email account, which is hosted on an Exchange 2007 server.  This is probably the big user-noticeable feature that’s added in 10.6, which is otherwise mostly a rearchitecting of the kernel with very few user-visible changes.  I was very excited about Exchange support.  For those that don’t know, Exchange integrates calendaring, a user database, and email.  All information is stored on the server and fetched by the client, so that you can have multiple clients connected to one server, yet they all have a synchronized “view” of your account’s email, calendar, and contacts.  It’s a Microsoft standard, and frankly it’s annoying to use because there are so few non-Microsoft clients.  I had been using (the Rosetta-requiring) Entourage 2004 client, which is functional but has a terrible interface and is slow.  Setting up my account was trivial.  Mail quickly started fetching my mail, and before long my calendar was synchronized with iCal as well.  Exchange contacts were accessible as expected in Mail, and things seemed to “just work” — until they didn’t.

About 3 days after using Mail, disaster struck.  Somehow, one of the clients (either my iMac or Macbook Pro) was out of sync and deleted several folders worth of email from the server.  I lost about 3000 emails, possibly permanently.  (I’m in the process of finding out from our IT group how difficult it might be to restore them, since I know that our email is archived as per Sarbanes-Oxley compliance).  Most of these were not critical emails, but this was extremely troubling.  I immediately disabled my Exchange account on my 10.6 clients.  Apple’s bug-reporting tool has been broken for weeks, so I’ve no idea if they’re making progress on this issue.  Worse, a backup could not save me — it’s a synchronization bug that wipes out your emails on the server.  I haven’t seen anyone else report this issue.  Obviously I looked in the trash (on all my clients) and saw nothing — this clearly seems to be some sort of bug in the synchronization mechanism Apple is using.  I have perhaps 15,000 emails on my account, and I do wonder if their testing has overlooked cases like this.  I also have about 20 filtering rules (for mailing lists), which may have complicated the issue, and I always have several clients connected to the server simultaneously (usually my Outlook 2007 client at work, my iPod Touch, and then my laptop & iMac at home).  Regardless, I’ve been doing this with Outlook and Entourage for a long time now and have never encountered this, so I’m definitely chalking this up to some sort of bug that Mail either has or triggered in the other clients.  The take-away point is that users should be extremely cautious of using Mail for their Exchange accounts until Apple releases an update that mentions something about improved Exchange support.  I certainly won’t be using that feature until then.

Other than Exchange support (which is unusable for me now), changes are subtle.  There’s a new look to context menus for items in the Dock, which was the only interface issue I noticed as different.  Window decorations and the Finder look identical to 10.5.  Bootcamp adds support for reading HFS+ volumes from Windows, which is nice.  The other major differences are all under the hood.  I did not do any benchmarking, but threading and context switching seem much, much faster.  (I hate reviews that say useless crap about how something “feels snappier” — how is that quantified, exactly?  It always seems to be in the reviewer’s head).  Specific things that I noticed as improved was the responsiveness of Expose and the Dashboard.  The Finder has been rewritten in Cocoa, which may also explain its speed improvements.  And surprisingly, Firefox 3.5.2 is much more responsive on 10.6 than 10.5.  Opening new tabs is far quicker than before, and I get far fewer “spinning beachball” pauses when I’ve got lots of tabs open on Safari or Firefox.  These perhaps are the effects of scheduler and memory allocation improvements in MacOS — things that have, traditionally, been kind of crappy in performance, and which seem to be addressed in the marketing material for 10.6 (things like the “Grand Central” multicore dispatch mechanism, which seems to reveal heavy work on the scheduler).  10.6 also has support for a 64-bit kernel and extensions, but my hardware does not have a 64-bit implementation of EFI and therefore is not compatible with Apple’s 64-bit kernel.  (It’s possible to run a 64-bit kernel on 32-bit EFI, but Apple isn’t supporting it, which is fine.  Even on machines where a 64-bit kernel is supported, it likely does not make sense to enable it by default until drivers and 3rd-party extensions have a formal, rigorous qualification process).  Likewise, my graphics hardware does not support Apple’s hardware-accelerated h.264 playback, so I can’t comment on that, either.  Unlike the 64-bit kernel, I do hope that Apple aggressively rolls out expanded hardware support for this acceleration to other models.  It may well be that Apple will support these features on all new Macs, which would be great.  Now, they are of limited (or nonexistent) value for upgraders.

Unfortunately, the architectural and performance improvements aren’t all ideal, either.  When using Safari on a guest account that I was testing, I managed to trigger a kernel panic (!) twice when using the “Top Sites” feature, which I normally disable on my own account.  Unfortunately, this feature is enabled by default.  Thinking it was a fluke, I tried again, and boom, panic() again.  Apparently Apple has not taken the advice from my blog (that is, “don’t panic()”).  🙂  Again, I haven’t seen other reports of this issue, but I have not had stability problems on this hardware for the 2.5 years I’ve had it, including some 3D graphics use.  The panic log showed that the failure occurred in com.apple.ATIRadeonX1000, therefore this may be a graphics-driver issue.  I say “may” because any other driver in the system could’ve DMA’d memory into the driver earlier that caused the eventual fault.  It’s tough to say.   So, it would seem that a few corner-case bugs still require addressing.  In the meantime, I’m disabling “Top Sites” everywhere and will be on the lookout for an update.  I’m also going to beware of 3D graphics, actually.

So to summarize, these are the Pros and Cons from my experience — on newer hardware, I’d think that the “Pros” would also include hardware acceleration for h.264, but perhaps an update will come with that.

Pros:

  • Improved application responsiveness
  • Disk space reclaimed
  • HFS read support from Windows (via Bootcamp driver)

Cons:

  • Potentially catastrophic Exchange support
  • Mysterious kernel panics that seem graphics-related (using Safari’s Top Sites feature)
  • Features that seem tightly restricted to a small-ish subset of installed hardware (h.264 hardware acceleration, OpenCL support)

On the whole, it seems a fairly solid point-zero release (10.5.0 had its share of troubles).  The only potentially glaring problem is if the Exchange issue is encountered by many more people, given that it is the primary end-user feature of this release.  I’m hopeful for an update on this issue and perhaps hardware acceleration for h.264 as well.

iTunes update kills syncing with Palm Pre

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Apple’s latest update to iTunes (8.2.1) has apparently “fixed the glitch” wherein a Palm Pre could effectively mimic the iPod interface and convince iTunes to let it sync as an iPod does.  In other words, it used to work, and now it doesn’t.  What an epic fail for interoperability.  A buddy of mine (who has a Pre and wanted to see what the update does on his non-primary Mac) watched his log during the update and noticed that the new iTunes replaces USB .kexts.  Laaaaame.  It’s shady enough to break support for the Pre at the app level, but mucking around in the driver stack to do it?  Weak.  Presumably the Windows version is doing the same thing, since I believe there is a USB driver there, too, to detect that it’s an iPod & prevent Windows from automatically mounting the filesystem.

I like a lot of Apple products and generally prefer OS X over anything else (nice mix of power-user options, orthogonal configuration choices, and “it just works”), but this is both stupid (wouldn’t you want everyone to standardize on your portal — iTunes?) and plainly irritating to users.  How many iPhone/iPod sales have they just protected with this move, versus how much ill will did they just stir up?  I get that Apple is a company for the mass-consumer market that doesn’t care about this and just buys iEverything.  It’s not a company for geeks like me, no matter how much I dig the geek-ish options in OS X and the automatic inclusion of all my handy unix tools.  I think they know that people like me won’t buy Apple stuff (again) if they do crap like this, or if they do stupid things like eliminate non-reflective LCD screens in their lineup.  (The clock is ticking on that one — I’ll probably get/build a PC for my next computer to upgrade from my 2006 iMac if they don’t offer a sub-$2000/non-crappy antiglare option in the next year or so).  They just don’t care, because I’m not statistically significant compared to people who just will just buy Apple stuff because it’s hip.  It’s frustrating, but it’s not surprising.  Microsoft does much the same stuff with their pricing/feature/partner-maneuvering stuff, which is similarly annoying.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear you out there, OSS people.  Don’t talk to me about Linux until you’ve got something that’s configurable without jacking around in an ever-changing layout of .conf files or doesn’t require non-stop incompatible updating.  FreeBSD is awesome & much better on the configuration/consistency front, but unfortunately has craptastic desktop hardware support for gadgets like cameras.  Neither of them have an Exchange 2007 client (crossover-office is cool, but still crashes occasionally).  Long story short:  it sucks, but I guess I’m just glad I’m not a Pre user right now.