The Computer Blog

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Apple's New iMac

When I checked Apple’s website this morning, I found they had already posted pictures and specifications, including price, of their new iMac. Once again, Apple has proved me wrong, or at least that’s how it would appear. I like the damn thing. The real question is whether my wife will want one. If she does, I’ll probably find some way to get her one and then give her old flat panel to my sister.

The 20 inch iMac, priced at $1899, costs the same amount of money as her old machine. It sports a 20 inch flat panel screen and a single 1.8 Ghz G5 processor. It has two Firewire 400 ports and three USB 2.0 ports with two more USB 1.1 ports available on the keyboard. The lower end models are 17 inch flat screen versions sporting a single 1.6 Ghz or 1.8 Ghz G5 processor and are priced at $1299 and $1499, respectively.

The beauty of the first flat panel iMac was the machine’s ability to make itself unnoticeable when you were working on it and noticeable when you were not. I wasn’t sure if Apple could capture that same charisma with a square form factor, but I think they just might have done it. I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve seen one and have had a chance to plunk on its keyboard.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Is Apple Snagging the Kids but Losing the Parents?

In an article about “Engineering the teenager only-PC”, CNN noted that teenagers have fallen in love with the iPod and iTunes. While this was leading to the teens becoming interested in Macs as Apple had hoped it might, the teens are reporting that their parents have been resisting buying Macs because “they don’t run Windows”. While those of us with experience on a Mac realize that “not running Windows” is one big reason to buy one, most adults are simply not that educated. Most people settle for the status quo and what they are familiar with; and most parents are totally ignorant of the fact that Microsoft Office for the Mac, in v.X and 2004 versions, makes owning a Mac at college largely invisible.

Has Apple miscalculated?

It’s true that the Apple stores opening across the country are serving to introduce the Mac to the uneducated masses. The question is whether they are working fast enough to do the company some good. If teens are failing to sway their parents and are forced into buying Windows machines anyway, the answer would seem to be “no”. Apple needs some mechanism to reach those parents and show them how buying a Mac for a college student is an advantage, not a disadvantage. …like a targeted advertising campaign…maybe another version of the Switcher campaign where once beleagured Windows-bearing parents talk about how switching to a Mac has made their lives and the lives of their students better. No matter what, Apple needs to do something or else the momentum the iPod has brought them may crash to a halt at every local PC retailer’s cash register.

Random failures? Look to Power...

I asked my son Tim how his PC was doing, and he replied that he had to often cycle the on/off switch on its power supply before trying to boot his computer to get it to work. Obviously, his power supply is having some problems. I had a spare CompUSA 400 watt power supply I believed was good, so I sent that to him yesterday via the United States Postal Service, which is rapidly establishing itself as the leader when it comes to getting my parcels where they are going undamaged, if not always in a timely manner. The whole affair got me to thinking about Tim’s PCs’ histories. Seems to me he’s had a lot of squirrelly problems, more than I would expect anyone to have. Our conversation about the power supply leads me to suspect he might have pretty ratty power at the wall socket.

I asked if he was using a battery supplemented Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) and he said “no”. He commented he had put his PC’s on better surge protectors, which is what most people do. I don’t feel that’s enough. If you really want to protect your investment in your computing equipment, UPS’s are the only way to go. I happen to like the “APC” brand. They have performed excellently for me.

A good UPS will not only protect your equipment from power surges (most of the really good ones will promise to replace your systems up to a certain dollar value if they are damaged by a lightning strike while connected) but will also smooth out less obvious power fluctuations that can invisibly shorten the life of your PC. Their battery backups make them an even better value since they kick in to keep your PC running when power drops out. That protects your data and your equipment at the same time. Who hasn’t seen the lights in their homes flash off when the power company switches substations or some car hits a power pole down the street, not to mention the standard summer afternoon thunderstorm? All my Macs and PC’s except for my Powerbook---which I run off the house voltage only on occasion--have an APC UPS hooked up to them. And the PowerBook is run off an APC surge protector when its plugged in.

If you’re seeing random failures and everything else you’ve checked isn’t causing the problems, suspect the power supply. And if you’re seeing a high failure rate on multiple machines or a sinle machine after multiple repairs (including replacing the power supply), I’d start suspecting the power being supplied from the tap. The computer’s power supply and the power being supplied to it both must be up to snuff to make one’s computing life pleasant. Ignore them and you might just be throwing both money and time down the drain.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

XP Lite? Whom are they trying to kid?

You may have seen the headlines that Microsoft has become so concerned about the headway Linux is making in Asia it has offered a version of Windows XP called “XP Lite”. A better name for this version would be “XP Crippled”. It won’t let you use a video resolution higher than 800 x 600 and you can only multitask three applications at a time.

The Asians are smart people. They’ll see through that approach and continue on their Linux upward trend. “XP Lite” is a sop, a bribe, a half-hearted and typically Microsoftian approach to the problem. If Microsoft had been serious about wanting that market share and not as arrogant as they are, they would have brought down the price of XP across the board. That, of course, is not going to happen.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Microsoft has seen its best days. Its arrogance and its pricing policies are driving consumers away from it. XP Lite? XP Slight is more like it.

XP Lite? Whom are they trying to kid?

You may have seen the headlines that Microsoft has become so concerned about the headway Linux is making in Asia it has offered a version of Windows XP called “XP Lite”. A better name for this version would be “XP Crippled”. It won’t let you use a video resolution higher than 800 x 600 and you can only multitask three applications at a time.

The Asians are smart people. They’ll see through that approach and continue on their Linux upward trend. “XP Lite” is a sop, a bribe, a half-hearted and typically Microsoftian approach to the problem. If Microsoft had been serious about wanting that market share and not as arrogant as they are, they would have brought down the price of XP across the board. That, of course, is not going to happen.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Microsoft has seen its best days. Its arrogance and its pricing policies are driving consumers away from it. XP Lite? XP Slight is more like it.

Friday, August 13, 2004

New iMac? Ho-Hum...

Mac news sites today are all clamoring about a new G5 iMac to be released in the next few weeks. According to the rumor mill, the new all-in-one computer design will have the components mounted vertically behind a 17 or 20 inch LCD screen. It will be very similar to the Sony VAIO W700G. I’ve seen them and think they look cool, but wouldn’t buy one because the screen size was too limited.

The one thing I loved about the old iMac design was that the articulating screen let you position it right where you wanted it and in a way that helped you forget you were working on a computer. If the rumor mills are correct, the new iMac design is ergonomically no different than a tower hooked up to a “same size” monitor. Even with a G5 processor, this makes the new design a “ho hum” event for me. Maybe I’ll change my mind when I actually see the new design. But for now, looking at Tiger and the new designs Apple has come out with lately, the old Apple is looking a bit tarnished. We’ll see how it really turns out.

Microsoft Intellipoint 5.1 for Mac Shows No Mouse

I downloaded Microsoft’s Intellipoint 5.1 Mouse application today. While it installed without a hitch on my Quicksilver running Jaguar, I found that on my Panther powered MDD PowerMac, the preference pane showed the wrong mouse. In fact, what it showed me was a regular Microsoft two button mouse icon with a big red ?x? through it. I uninstalled the application completely and reinstalled it but got the same result.

The MDD is running an older MS mouse, an Intellimouse Explorer 3.0 while the Quicksilver is actually running a newer Intellimouse Explorer 4.0.

I solved the problem by uninstalling 5.1 and reinstalling Intellipoint 5.0. The preference pane now shows the correct mouse.

This is the first time I’ve had this problem with an Intellimouse upgrade. But it just goes to show you that QA is a problem not only for Apple but for Microsoft...which is why I'm going to wait awhile before taking my XP machine to Service Pack 2.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Linux Overtakes Mac on the Desktop

Several Mac sites reported the news story today that Linux has overtaken Mac on the desktop. I fully support the use of Linux as an alternative to Windows. Still, I think it’s sad this is the case. Why? Because I believe Mac OS X is already what Linux hopes to be…an elegant Unix based operating system for the consumer. It has a beautiful graphical user interface. It is easy to use....something Linux is still not known for, though it has gotten better.

I have to ask myself “why is this happening?” I really don’t know the answer, but my guess is it’s mainly an issue of perception. While the average computer user is much more aware of Apple’s products than he or she was even a few years ago, the perception still exists…and for a reason…that Macs are simply too expensive for the average Joe. Apple’s prices are a lot more competitive than they used to be and really are on par or only slightly above its competitors for a machine with the same capability. But on the low end, the only machine below a grand is the eMac, and it is about $200 higher than a low end, Dell, Windows driven system. In the store, the average buyer sees dollar signs and forgets the amazing hassle and complexity that a Windows’ computer brings with it, even if it is running Windows XP. That leaves the masses with the idea that Apple is a company they just can’t afford, even if it’s not really true.

It’s hard to say what path really yields Apple’s brightest future. Most financial analysts seem to argue that the company needs to increase its market share, something Apple seems incapable of doing with its computers. Others say that those who fail to heed history’s warnings are bound to repeat its mistakes. Apple seems to have dead ears. While the iPod is all the rage, if Apple is going to remain as a computer manufacturer (and it may not), it’s got to focus equally as hard on the computers it’s producing and do whatever it takes to get them into a lot more customer’s hands.

iPhoto 4.02-Needing More QA

A couple of days ago, Apple released their 4.02 update to iPhoto. As of today, the update has been withdrawn from Software Update and even manual downloading. Why? Because immediately upon releasing the thing, Apple started hearing from a bevy of users that iPhoto 4.02 wouldn’t quit. Despite second thoughts, I was one of the people who downloaded the update as soon as it was released and hit the problem. iPhoto would take 20 – 30 seconds to quit after I told it to.

To recover, I had to delete iPhoto from My Applications folder, reinstall it from my iLife 04 DVD, and reinstall the iPhoto 4.01 patch. A lot of trouble to go to because…once again…Apple did an apparently poor job of performing quality control on its software.

Doesn’t Apple release its application updates in beta form to developers? If not, why not? It certainly does seem it needs to in light of the numerous times it has withdrawn updates lately. It needs to use some kind of test audience before it releases this stuff to the mainstream. Apple’s Software Updates are rapidly approaching the level of lack of credibility as Microsoft’s Windows’ security patches. It’s hard to trust either of them.