iPhone event

So Apple have announced an event for 6th March (see TUAW) Here’s my wishes:

  • Obviously the SDK is going to be released. I hope this provides support for the iPod Touch as well.
  • Flash would be nice
  • Enterprise capabilities? Well support for 802.11 authentication and LEAP would be nice!
  • There’s already a VPN client, but I don’t know if I can use it to get into IBM (I suspect not) One where I knew I could would be cool

Dear Apple

Well you kind of let me down with the Macbook Air. 1 USB port? No replaceable battery? Lack of the syncing stuff I hoped for. And the price…

However, I’ll let you off since you gave me this:

iPod touch update

£12.99 well spent. The touch was already eminently useable for most of my browsing and media needs, now it’s even more so.

My Macworld predictions

Everybody else in the tech universe seems to be making predictions about what Steve Jobs is going to come up with today, so here’s mine:

  • He will announce the new Macbook Air, as many have reported is likely.
  • Also as widely discussed it will be thin, very thin, and likely have nothing more in terms of ports than a couple of USB and power. Network? Wireless only. Peripherals? USB and Bluetooth, including things like headphones. No external monitor capability.
  • Explaining away the lack of Firewire, Jobs will announce that Apple will put their support behind USB3.0 and Wireless USB from now on with Firewire still supported for legacy reasons on desktop, Macbook and Macbook Pro hardware. Macbook Air probably won’t have enough disk for video editing anyway…
  • Disk will be solid state.
  • Will support two essential use-cases – standalone laptop machine in which case you will likely need the USB optical drive accessory, or much more interestingly it will be able to sync up to a host machine e.g. iMac. iTunes on the Air will sync to a host iTunes in much the same way as Apple TV does.
  • iTunes 8.0 will support DVD ripping and iTunes movie rentals. You can rip your DVDs to your host Mac and sync them to the Air or via USB optical drive directly. Movie rentals are a no brainer.
  • The syncing mechanism will be extended to include your home directory, settings etc, allowing your Air to be a truly portable mini-copy of your desktop Mac back home.
  • Naturally remote syncing will be supported via a combination of .Mac and Back To My Mac.
  • Time Machine will be updated so that it knows not to backup synced content on an Air that is already being backed up on a host Mac. That is if you are using the host Mac as the Time Machine destination.
  • It won’t have any sort of multi-touch interface, just keyboard and trackpad.
  • It will be powerful enough to run stuff like Aperture or Lightroom for photo editing with comfort, and the screen will be widescreen, probably not OLED yet.

Ok, I confess, this isn’t so much a prediction as a wish list. Whilst I love my iMac to pieces I would like to be able to take it on the road sometimes, especially when away on trips and I want to do some photo editing. I don’t need things like optical drives, external monitor ports or at a push a wired network connection. What I do need however is to not feel like I would have to maintain data between two machines. This is why I’ve never bought a companion Macbook for instance. Currently you either go mobile with a Macbook/Pro and compromise on disk and screen real-estate, or you stay deskbound with an iMac/Mini/Mac Pro. The Air would seem to fill the gap between the two allowing desktop Mac owners to take their data on the road without feeling like they have a whole management problem with two machines.

I know I’d buy one like a shot…

Sorting out my backup strategy

Historically I’ve been pretty poor at keeping backups of my data. Recently however I’ve become aware of the need to be more vigilant in this area. Touch wood I have never suffered a disk failure on any computer I’ve owned, so I reckon I’m overdue one. The fact that my iMac disk now contains the results of months spent ripping my CD collection as well as a growing library of photographs it is time to take it seriously.

For the past few months I’ve been using the excellent SuperDuper! to perform backups of the iMac. However although the software is good I didn’t set up a scheduled backup so it relied on me to remember to run it regularly. Secondly the backup was performed to a Lacie 500GB Big Disk Extreme. Whilst this is an excellent external disk and runs very fast over Firewire 800, it is actually two 250GB disks arranged in a RAID 0 configuration. RAID 0 means that the two disks combine together and data is striped over them. This makes read and write access faster than a single disk, but has a big potential problem when the disk is used for backup, namely that if one disk fails then you lose all your data. Effectively you are doubling your risk of a hardware failure. Not ideal.

With the arrival of OS X 10.5 Leopard and the built in Time Machine backup I’ve decided to sort out my backup solution in a proper fashion. Therefore I’ve just ordered one of these beauties:

Lacie 2big Triple

The Lacie 2big Triple is a 1TB triple interface (USB2, Firewire 400 and Firewire 800) drive. Like the extreme it actually contains two 500GB drives that make up the total capacity. The difference however is that this one supports RAID 1 as well. RAID 1 puts the disks in mirror mode, meaning that they both contain a copy of the same data. Thus, if one disk fails the other one is still there to serve your data. What’s more the drives are hot-swappable so you can replace the failed one and it will spin the new one up and copy everything onto it to bring it in line. In fact the disks can work in four modes: the aforementioned RAID 0 and RAID 1, plus JBOD which allows both disks to act as separate volumes, and Big which just creates a single volume without RAID support.

A couple of years ago consumer level (read affordable) hot-swappable RAID arrays were unheard of, so I’m really looking forward to throwing Time Machine at this beast. Unfortunately for the time being I’ll probably have to leave my Adobe Lightroom catalog out of the backup until the Leopard compatible fixes are available later this month. In the meantime I’ll back all my photos up to the old Lacie.

Of course, any comprehensive backup strategy will include offsite storage, afterall if the flat burns down or we get broken into then I could lose the iMac and the backed up data. I’m not yet sure what the best way to go with offsite is. Either buy a cheaper 500GB external disk and run a SuperDuper backup onto it every now and then and take it into the office to store, or try online storage with something like Amazon S3 or even .Mac. The latter is probably more reliable as I can script it to happen without needing to remember to bring a disk home every so often. I need to work out if it is cost effective for the 300GB or so of data which I need to have backed up.

iPod Touch

I’ve owned a number of MP3/digital music players, but up until recently only one of them was an iPod. The first two of note were versions of the original Creative Jukebox – the silver and blue ones that came in a form factor not dissimilar to an overweight portable CD player. The battery like was as woeful as the interface, and uploading songs using USB 1.0 was not fun.

In 2003 I succumbed and purchased a 15GB 3G iPod – the one pre-clickwheel with the touch sensitive row of buttons under the monochrome display. The size was sufficient at the time, even though my digital music collection was more than 15GB even at that time. I never found that not being able to carry around every single track I own limiting. In fact it was refreshing to have to consider what to put on the device.

The 3G iPod served me well. So well that I felt no need to ever upgrade it. I didn’t need a colour screen, and whilst video and photo display was enticing, viewing them on a tiny screen wasn’t. I swore that I wouldn’t upgrade until it either broke (which it hasn’t, nor has the battery diminished enough to warrant replacement either) or Apple produced a true video capable iPod, by which I mean one with a screen you could actually contemplate watching on a plane.

The iPod Touch fulfills my criteria, and so I’ve bought one. The 16GB model give me more space than I’ve had before (so no problem there. I’m even happy to sacrifice music space for video space) and has the killer advantage of wifi and web browsing. It is pretty much the perfect device for me. I’ll address the major features in turn.

iPod Touch 2

At last the effort I put in earlier this year to re-rip, encode and provide album art for all my music pays off. Coverflow on the touch is so much better for choosing what I want to play than looking at a monochrome list of albums or artists. For one thing I can now see the artist and album information at the same time. The killer though is being able to see the artwork. It is so much more like flicking through my CD collection. Something I can no longer do as it is all boxed up and in storage.

One entirely understandable but slightly annoying thing (certainly in comparison to the iPhone) is the lack of an external speaker (bar a simple one for the alarm and a couple of other things) A number of times I’ve found myself showing off the device only to say “of course you have to have the earphones in to hear the audio for this video” It is an iPod at the end of the day though and really meant for personal consumption.

If Coverflow is the eye-candy, then it’s made all the more better by the multi-touch interface. Using this is simple and effective. The damping effects when you scroll at different velocities are awesome.

Video playback. Not made much use of this yet, save for the Make Love Not Warcraft episode of South Park which was immediately downloaded from iTMS. Playback is good though. The YouTube stuff I’ve found flaky. Some work fine, some seem to hang the application (from which the touch recovers quite well after a short delay.)

Wifi and web browsing. The killer factor, and the reason I already love my touch. I’ve had mobile wifi in the form of my Nokia N80 for 18 months now, and whilst viewing HTML based web sites is possible, it is not a pleasant experience and I found myself heading to WAP sites in preference. Safari on the iPod Touch however is awesome. It renders pages faithfully and quickly, the landscape view is perfect and the zoom function easy to use and effective. Text input is excellent (most notably when in landscape mode) and little things like adding previous and next buttons to the keyboard popup to save you having to press to select individual fields on a form make it truly usable. One of the annoying things about the N80 was filling in forms. Something you typically have to do any time you join a public wifi network, even if it is just a userid and password. With the touch it is simple and quick. I need go no further to prove that the touch is a capable and usable web browsing device than to say that a friend managed to do the whole of the Facebook movie compatibility test application, in the full Facebook web UI not the cut-down iPhone/Touch optimized version, whilst connected to a public wifi point in the pub last Saturday night.

Yes, the lack of flash is an annoyance, but not a big one.

Lack of mail app? So what, web-based mail is perfectly usable (at least mine is)

iPod Touch 1

As for the lack of 3rd party application support. Well I did Jailbreak my touch, as you can see from the photo above. To be honest however I’ve not found any compelling additional applications for it. Yes I could find and install the mail app if I wanted to, but I don’t. When I show the device to people I end up demonstrating the hacked nature by running a terminal and typing ‘ls’ To be honest, so what if I can now ssh into my touch, or run a VNC client on it (honestly, why would you want to?) I’ll be doing a restore and upgrade if a new firmware comes out rather than keeping it hacked. Things may be different once the official SDK comes out I feel.

Battery life is superb. I charged it up on Thursday night before a day of work, followed by a flight over to the UK for the weekend. Music playback during work, the flights, lots of showing off and a good couple of hours of wifi usage and browsing over the course of the weekend failed to use the full charge up by the time I got back on Sunday evening. That’s good enough for me.

Annoyances? Well it seems to have a problem with the correct display of some album art. I’ve seen various thread on this and it seems to be a problem with the way iTunes stores album art and corruption of the data. Everything is displayed fine in iTunes, but some albums get the wrong art when transferred over to the iPod. I’m still searching for a resolution that doesn’t involve anything too drastic like resyncing the entire device.

Why didn’t I wait for the iPhone. A number of reasons. Firstly there’s no news on when it will appear in Ireland. I am not interested in getting a hacked one, the touch is much thinner and finally because I don’t believe in uber-converged devices. The battery life suffers and it tends to become a jack of all trades and master of none.

So in summary, I couldn’t be happier with my iPod touch!

Leopard

Like many, I found myself purchasing Apple OS X 10.5 Leopard on launch day. There are no official Apple Stores in Ireland, but a variety of O2 Experience Stores and 3G shops were stocking it. I found myself at the Blanchardstown O2 store to pick up my reserved copy. There was me and one other person, who was rather more excited than I was it has to be said.

I had some time to kill before the 6pm launch, so ended up buying something else, but more on that in another post…

My 24″ iMac is around nine months old now, and has been regularly backed up using SuperDuper. Given that, I decided to do a wipe and clean install, making a new backup of my Tiger install first. The install process itself was painless, with my only complaint being that I didn’t notice the skip button on the DVD media test portion until too late. That would have shaved about 20 minutes off the install time.

After configuring the OS after install (including setting up an account) I ran the migration wizard and pointed it at my backup. I chose to copy over accounts and data, but not applications, thinking that I would install those separately and thus cut down some of the cruft the machine had accumulated. The copy over took an hour and a half or so for over 200GB of data from my external Firewire 800 drive.

Unfortunately it seems that the migration assistant always copies over the System files, so a lot of application-specific stuff in /System/Library and under my home directory got copied over. This pretty much defeated the purpose of trying to do a clean install and re-install apps, but wasn’t a big hassle to clean up.

The second migration assistant gotcha was that it wasn’t happy about copying over account data where the “from” and ‘to” account had the same name. This wasn’t a problem for me as I just asked it to create a new account for the migrated data (a situation where being happily known as both Adrian and Aidy comes in handy!) With some forethought, the correct thing to do is to create a temporary account when you install Leopard which you can then delete once running the migration assistant.

Given that I spend the majority of time in front of a Windows or Linux OS at work, my Mac is a haven of usability at home. As such I don’t consider myself to be an OS X power user and I find myself being much less critical of some of the new Leopard features than others. I like the new dock. Yes the way that the stack icons work isn’t very intelligent. Translucent menu bar? Not a problem for me. I keep a fairly uniform background image anyway for when I’m doing Photoshop work as I find complex ones get distracting with the way the floating toolbars appear in Elements. Spaces is a very cool virtual desktop implementation. The only thing I’d like is to be able to set different background images so my photo editing space could be completely clean. Coverflow in Finder and quick look are very useful. I’ve not made use of Time Machine yet as I’m waiting to buy a Raid 1 enabled Firewire 800 external drive to use it with rather than the Raid 0 one I currently use as a (rather suicidal) backup disc. Given my iMac is desk-bound I’m not at all concerned about the lack of backup to Airport Extreme disks.

One thing I am looking forward to making more use of is iChat. My mother has just bought a new Macbook and therefore iChat will replace Skype as our primary communication method. Leopard to Leopard screen sharing will be a boon for helping her our remotely as well.

All said, I’m very happy with Leopard. Yes I can understand some of the criticism it has drawn with regard to some of the technical and UI design choices Apple have made. However, all I can say is that it is an improvement over Tiger, and it sure as hell beats Windows XP, Vista or any flavour of Linux I’ve used recently. I long for the day when I can use it full time at work. I regularly tell our PC-using UI designer that he should have requested a Mac just so I could use it instead 😉 Maybe I should just take the iMac in…

New iMac

As the purchaser of a iMac at the start of the year, I went through the usual doubts and uncertainties about how long my purchase would remain current. Just to recap, I got a 24″ iMac, with the following upgrades: 2GB RAM, 500GB SATA hard disk, 256MB nVidea graphics card. Although the 24″ iMac had only been out for a couple of months, I was aware that the overall design was getting on a bit, and was probably due an update sometime this year.

Yesterday saw that update, and I’m breathing a sigh of relief that there’s nothing too revolutionary about it meaning my current iMac doesn’t seem so obsolete (in reality it isn’t obsolete at all, it’s still a hugely powerful machine for what I do with it!) I’m quite impressed with the way that the 24″ model’s base specs have been upgraded. The processors have a boost, topping out with a 2.8Ghz Core Duo Extreme, whilst the maximum amount of memory is up to 4GB from 3GB. The graphics are ATI across the range rather than the previous ATI low end and nVidea high end choice, and 256MB is standard. Finally, the hard disk sizes are upped, with the max now being 1TB.

The thing I’m most happy with is that the overall styling is similar, albeit with a brushed metal and glass look rather than white plastic. Most importantly as well, the screen resolution hasn’t changed, with the 24″ still being 1920×1200. I’m quite happy that my iMac has a matt screen rather than the now standard glossy screen which to my eyes is not as good for photo work.

I’m also happy that the new models don’t yet have any HD drive, and have stuck with DVD for the time being.

The one thing I’m less happy about is the fact that the cost has decreased quite significantly, with the top end iMac 24″ now coming in at £400 less than I paid for a faster processor and equivalent memory, graphics and disk to the one I specced. Still, overall it could have been worse.

One thing Apple should be slapped for is shipping the top end iMac with 2x 1GB memory chips. If you want to upgrade to 3 or 4GB in the future you are going to have to chuck one or both of those away.

Thoughts on Beryl

I’ve had a pretty hardcore day of getting a design doc done today. I started at 6:30am and went straight through until about 7pm. All day was spent slaving over my Thinkpad, with it’s shiny new Beryl window manager running. I have to say I am extremely impressed by the experience of using it.

I start off taking advantage of an empty office to duck into one of the conference rooms to make sure that my Thinkpad and Linux would play nicely on a projector. Unsurprisingly it wouldn’t and I couldn’t get the Fn-F7 combo to work. After a bit of googling and a check of the internal forums I found a solution involving aticonfig –force-monitor=crt1,lvds

With that sorted and the projector displaying I fired up a presentation and displayed it. I then had an epiphany and realised that for the first time, virtual desktops make sense to me thanks to Beryl. Previously I’ve found having to click on an icon somewhere or remember a keyboard shortcut a little too tiresome, and ended up piling things on one desktop. However with a simple Ctrl-Alt and the push of the mouse I can watch my virtual desktops swish past in an OS X Quartz Extreme cube effect. It is so powerful to use in presentations. For instance I can have the full screen presentation on one desktop whilst a demo is set up and ready to go on another. No longer do I have to Alt-tab or escape out of the presentation to get to the demo, just swish over to another virtual desktop whilst my audience gaze in wonder at the Beryl eye-candy. I’m now even more impatient for OS X Leopard and it’s Spaces virtual desktop concept to arrive, but it doesn’t look quite so funky.

Talking of OS X, the other invaluable part of Beryl which I found myself making extensive use of during the day was the Expose-like ability to see shrunk versions of every open window, then click on the one you want to work with. The way it can show all windows across virtual desktops or just the ones in the desktop you are in is way cool, and so is the automatic (and much faster than normal) flipping over to the desktop hosting the window.

All in all, on an intense days work I’ve been nothing but impressed by RHEL, the IBM Open Client and Beryl. It is certainly a league above Windows XP for being able to get things done productively, and as much as it hurts to say it, it gives OS X a good run for the money as well. It seemed to run fine on my T42p, 2GB RAM and 128MB ATI Mobility FireGL T2 as well.

iTunes complete my album feature

I’ve just received an email from Apple about the new feature of the iTunes Music Store. If you’ve bought one or two tracks from a particular album you can now purchase the remaining tracks from the album. Up until now you either had to buy each remaining track individually, or stump up for the whole album. Which option you chose depended on the number of tracks and the album price. The more tracks, the more likely it was you’d end up paying again for the ones you already have through buying the whole album outright.

Now there is a “Complete my album” link on the ITMS homepage which takes you to a page displaying your incomplete albums, along with the price for the remainder of the tracks. Interestingly the page indicates that this is a limited time offer, and under each of mine it specifies the expiry as 26th June 2007.

Taking a particular example, I already own With or Without You from U2’s Joshua Tree, for which I paid the usual 79p. The regular price of the album, which contains 11 tracks, is £7.90 which if you bought it whole works out at 71.8p per track. The offer price to complete the album is £7.11 meaning they’ve simply removed the 79p cost of the track I already have, giving me the full benefit I’d have got if I bought the whole album originally.

To take another example, I own three tracks from Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, a ten track album again for £7.90. The completion price is £5.53, again simply taking off the cost of the tracks I’ve already bought.

Therefore, this offer appears to be better value when the album has more tracks, removing the existing hindrance should you wish to upgrade to a full album, something I’ve found myself doing a few times.

Hopefully, this is the first move towards discounting on ITMS. One issue I have with online music sales is that we do not see the type of discounting of music that we are used to with CDs in stores. You can’t walk into HMV or Virgin these days without there being a sale or offer on, which is more often than not used as a mechanism for clearing out old stock, both by the retailer and the publisher/distributor.

On another note, it is nice to see that the Elton John back-catalogue is now up. I’ve been after a good digital version of Tiny Dancer for ages and in the end resorted to getting it on CD. I think I’ll have to have a look through some of his old albums for some other choice tracks now.

Southampton Apple Store grand opening

Queue 1

Both Andy and myself were present at the opening of the Southampton Apple Store this morning. Having underestimated the popularity of the event and left my departure accordingly late I was glad that Andy managed to secure an impressive place in an even more impressively long queue, which almost reached down to the exit from West Quay onto the High Street.

After some frankly quite embarrassing staff whooping and hand slapping, they opened up the shutters to let in the hordes. With what seemed like a full complement of staff and of course a huge amount of punters the most immediate impression was that the store itself is, well a little small. I was expecting it to have two floors, as with most Apple stores I’ve been to. The DVD shop which was there before certainly did.

Filing in 2

I spent most of my time wandering around taking photos, some of which are now up on flickr (slideshow here) Andy meanwhile had a mission to spend, and came out with a new toy, but I’ll let him tell you about that 😉