The Computer Blog

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Quick Look: Microsoft Wireless Notebook Mouse

I’m fussy about my computer mice, and that results in me going on a binge to find the perfect mouse every now and then. My most recent obsessions centered around finding one for my PowerBook and one that would declutter my desktop environment. The PowerBook does have Bluetooth, but I haven’t been able to find a Bluetooth mouse I truly liked. I have been looking at wireless mice because of that and decided to give the Microsoft Wireless Notebook Optical Mouse a shot. MicroCenter was selling it for $29.99.

Many manufacturers have been making notebook mice smaller than desktop fare, as if somehow one’s hands shrank when we started using notebooks. I’m sure they’re trying to make them more portable, but that totally ignores the ergonomics that make a mouse unfriendly. I’ve been reluctant to try any of these smaller mice, and the Microsoft Wireless Notebook Optical mouse does fit that category. One of the reasons I wanted to try it, though, was because it arched up a bit higher than many of the notebook mice I had seen.

The mouse is a standard three-button mouse with a mini-receiver that plugs into your computer’s USB port. The mini-receiver stores in the bottom of the mouse and turns it off when there, saving the single AA battery that powers the mouse. The mouse is approximately 4 1/4” long, about 2 3/8” wide, and stands about 2 ¼” high. I immediately noticed that my wrist sat flatter on the desk than when using a bigger desktop-sized mouse. I found that a bit distracting, though I wouldn’t call it uncomfortable. Cursor response was fast and accurate, as was vertical scrolling performed by the mouse’s scroll wheel. The mouse does not come with any software drivers at all, and it did not appear to need any. The mini-receiver has a small green LED that lights up when the receiver is on. The receiver itself is shaped like an inverted “J”, and its top rotates approximately 100 – 110 degrees in either direction as needed to clear paths to other nearby ports. With the receiver rotated 90 degrees (vertical), the receiver is completely out of the way of any ports; but on my PowerBook with its side ports, it does slightly interfere with typing on the keyboard. I prefer to put the receiver in the rear USB port since it covers the Firewire port I’m not using as much. (If I needed it, I’d rotate the receiver into the vertical to clear a path.

Overall, the mouse is acceptable. It rates high on portability, average on features (nor FWD or BACK buttons much less anything else), average in ergonomics (I prefer larger mice), and good in value. I can’t comment on battery life, yet; I haven’t used it long enough. I like how the receiver stores in the mouse, though it does appear that storing it in the mouse is the only way to power it down . If you’re comfortable with a small mouse and are looking for a wireless and portable mouse with only three buttons (including a scroll wheel), then this one will fit the bill.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Apple Switching to Windows? – Another Dvorak Miss

John Dvorak wrote another smoke-filled article projecting that Apple would soon switch to the Windows operating system. His conclusions were based on the observations of a professor of psychology who was “reading between the lines”. Dvorak also concludes that Jobs’ pursuit of some of the Apple rumor mill websites only makes sense in the light of this fantastic proposition. Frankly, the basic explanation, and one hopefully not missed by our psychology professor, goes more to the core of Jobs’ psyche than that. It’s simply a control issue, and there’s plenty of popular media around that describes Jobs as a “control freak”. If that’s true, then any leak out of his company would be worth pursuing, not counting the fact that Apple doesn’t ever want rumors to affect current hardware and software sales.

Further, Dvorak says that during Apple’s “switcher” campaign “nobody switched”. From what I heard and read, I would agree that Apple’s switcher campaign was not as effective as they had hoped it would be. But there were people who switched. I don’t think I can really claim to be one of them because I switched just before Apple started with that advertising campaign. My own personal experiences with both platforms convinced me to make the change, and I am glad I did.

Dvorak insists that Apple’s market share would increase with a switch to Windows. I beg to differ. Apple’s market share would plummet as it would lose its current Mac user base and be unable to differentiate itself from the other PC makers out there. Hardware alone would not be enough. Despite the fact that Apple’s hardware design is consistently more attractive than that of other computer makers, what makes a Mac is the overall integrated experience; and OS X is as much a part of that as anything else. The fact that Dvorak doesn’t understand that just convinces me that he may know Windows well, but he has no clue what the Mac is about.

Part of his argument is that Microsoft and Apple only extended their business agreement for Office on the Mac for 5 years. He asks, “What happens after that?” The answer: “Who knows?” With Jobs current momentum, why would he possibly sign a contract for a term longer than that? Why would he need to? Apple could develop its own version of Office that could supercede Microsoft’s on the Mac platform and might even find its way into the PC world. Granted, there’s no evidence of that. AppleWorks is nowhere close, development on it has stopped, and iWork is really a “poor man’s” substitute for Microsoft Publisher and PowerPoint. But my point is this: Who five years ago—except for Jobs himself—could have predicted Apple’s move to Intel CPU’s? Jobs may have a long-range plan, and I believe he does and has stated it. He has said he wanted to take back computing from Gates. An Apple switch to Windows simply does not fit that picture.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

My Last iMac?--How the MacBook Pro Changes Things

Apple announced yesterday that they are shipping the MacBook Pro this week, and the computers will be shipping with faster CPU’s than expected. After looking at the machine’s specifications, I finally got clear about what my future Mac roadmap looks like, and it is “iMac-less”. As much as I love it, my current G5 iMac may be the last iMac I buy.

The MacBook Pro looks like it’s just as powerful as the 2.0 GHz Intel iMac, and the Build-To-Order 2.16 GHz version may be even faster. The MacBook Pro uses the same CPU, has the same bus speed, and uses the same graphics set as its Intel powered big brother. Like the iMac, it has two USB 2.0 and one Firewire 400 ports and also like the iMac, unfortunately, it will support only 2GB of RAM. Available hard disk sizes are finally at a point where I can load up all my stuff and still have some breathing room, i.e., 100 and 120 GB; and you can get a 7200 RPM hard drive that will just about match desktop hard drive performance. So, the MacBook Pro can easily be thought of, for the first time in Apple’s history, as an iMac in portable form. It’s both magic and sad that either one of them will ultimately prove to be as powerful as my dual 2.0 GHz G5 PowerMac.

This means that buying a MacBook Pro and using it as my everyday machine becomes imminently practical. I will still keep a PowerMac in the house to work video and really heavy graphics work, and I’d hook them up via a KVM switch to at least a 20 inch Apple monitor, an Apple keyboard, and—more than likely--a Logitech mouse.

For me, the advantages of such a set-up are great. I currently have three machines, but most software agreements let you run their packages on two, a desktop and a portable, so I have to choose which one is not going to have a package or spend the extra money to equip it. I also would be able to load all my data on just one machine (the MacBook Pro) vice having it loaded on one machine and off-loading to the second only what I need to work on. That would eliminate transporting files from one machine to another on a routine basis. Thirdly, any kind of monitor upgrades would improve usability on both machines. That’s maximum bang for my buck.

There are disadvantages, too. Twice a day I would have to plug and unplug my Macbook Pro (someone will come up with a docking port, I hope). The machine is expensive, almost as expensive as a refurbished Quad 2.5 GHz PowerMac, which is quite a machine. To make it work the way I want, if I needed an extra or new display, then the monetary savings of not buying a 3rd machine would vanish. Though much better than they used to be, a MacBook Pro’s hard disk is still a bit small for this era. A 160GB hard drive would be better but also drive up the cost by several hundred dollars. (Seagate just released the first 160GB notebook hard drive. I’m hoping it becomes an option by the time I’m ready to shell out the cash for the MBP.)

Still, there’s a high probability that my next Apple computer purchase will be at least a 2.0 GHz MacBook Pro.

I would not have guessed that Apple’s shift in this direction would have caused me to rethink how I want to work.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Apple on the Cheap – Poorer Displays

My 20 inch, acrylic-surrounded, ADC Apple Cinema Display is a beauty to work on. Its picture is bright and crystal-clear, absolutely the best LCD display I have ever used and, so far, have ever seen. My 17 inch iMacG5’s screen looks like it is infused with microscopic patterns of black sand, and this has been a characteristic of Apple’s LCD displays ever since they moved to the aluminum DVI models. Don’t believe me? Take one of Apple’s current 20 inch aluminum displays and put it side by side with one of the older ADC models.

I’ve been aware of this for some time. What brought me to say something about it here was a discussion on one of Apple’s support forums by a new Intel iMac owner who had previously owned a 20 inch G4 “lampshade” flat panel iMac. These iMacs were the same generation as my 20 inch screen, and they have the same beautiful clarity and brightness it does. He complained about the new Intel iMac display’s “graininess” and established that it also affected the previous generation G5 iMac. I’m here to tell you that I noticed the same thing with my 20 inch G5 iMac, which was a first generation machine. All the G5 iMac’s suffer from this problem, which is to say that all Apple’s machines that use an LCD have since then.

If you are on a G5 or Intel iMac, open a white Finder window and look closely at the screen as you drag the window around. You’ll see a very fine but noticeable river of what looks like beach sand on the display. This is non-existent on my 20 inch Cinema Display but is noticeable on my 2.0 GHz G5 iMac.

What does this mean? It means that for some time Apple has been sticking lower quality displays in their machines. This is a crying shame because working with a display as beautiful as my 20 inch ACD is makes for an almost luxurious experience, especially after spending the day behind 17 inch LCD displays by a famous PC manufacturer. And luxury is what the Mac needs to be about. It’s part of what sets off using a Mac from the PC experience.

Apple can correct this problem by improving the quality of the screens it’s putting out there, whether that’s by changing the actual screen component, changing protective coatings, or whatever else they need to do. Otherwise, in its rush to gather more of the Windows market share, Apple is shooting its users in the foot.

This is one time (and not the only one) when older not newer is better.

(Note: For several reasons, I've been thinking of moving my personal stuff off my G5 iMac to my dual 2 Ghz G5 PowerMac. The luxuriousness of the 20 inch display is one of the reasons why, though not the only one. But the poorer quality displays on Apple's current product line is one reason why I'm very hesitant to buy anymore desktops, greater speed or no.)

Monday, February 06, 2006

Apple’s Switch to Intel – More Observations and Personal Impacts

Once again, my wife and I got into a discussion of why or why not to buy a new Intel-based iMac. She feels like I need to get one to “stay on the cutting edge” and to be able to write about it here. I’d love to be able to do that, but spending another $1800 or so will not help out our finances and I really don’t want to go through another painful and frustrating transition. I’ve been through too many. It’s been less than four years since I transitioned to Macs from PC’s with all the expenses that entailed, and that was considerable since I run Adobe’s Photoshop, Illustrator, In Design, and Go Live packages as well as Microsoft Office. (Owning Windows’ packages of those applications didn’t help me at all.) Additionally, I followed Apple from the G4 to the G5, and not only are both those CPU’s being abandoned, but my G5’s will never see their full 64 bit potential. I also followed Apple from OS 10.1 to 10.2 (Jaguar) to 10.3 (Panther) to 10.4 (Tiger) and have lost the use of some software applications to those operating system upgrades. So, the thought of making another major transition in the short time I’ve been with Apple is rather abhorrent. Whenever I consider the pro’s and con’s of the new Intel machines against the current G5’s, I keep coming back to the latter’s one major: They Just Work.

Photoshop and Illustrator performance hits aside, I don’t want to move to an Intel CPU because I’m waiting for Flip4Mac to finish an Universal Binary version of their Windows Media Player. If I move before that’s done, I’ll have to suffer through not being able play any Windows Media Files; and a lot of the movies friends send me in e-mail are in that format.

Moreover, the buttons on my Logitech MX510 mouse will stop working, except for the prime three already covered by native drivers in the operating system. I would probably be able to get them back by purchasing a copy of USB Overdrive (which is in Universal Binary form already). However, I am interested in possibly running Logitech’s S530 mouse and keyboard combo that’s being released this month. I’d put hard money down on a bet that says it will only come with PPC drivers.

I still have no clue, too, whether my Epson Perfection 1660 flatbed scanner will work under Rosetta. There’s a good chance it will not, and I would be out of having any scanner that worked on an Intel based system. However, the scanner is already hooked up to my dual processor 2.0 G5 PowerMac, so I would not be totally out of a scanner. But still…

I also have seen conflicting reports about whether Corel Draw will run under Rosetta. Corel Draw is no longer being updated for the Mac; so if it doesn’t run under Rosetta, I’ve lost it altogether. I can probably afford that, but I’ve got to check. I’ve got lots of neat clip art in Corel format I don’t want to lose.

Interestingly, these things can drive me in two directions, one of which is back to Windows. I find that ironic and wonder how many other Mac users are taking a look at moving some or all of their computing back to Windows because of the swap to Intel. My other choice is to keep a G5 machine or to never move to Intel at all, at least as far as my desktops are concerned.

While I intend to order the Universal Binary version of Final Cut Studio, I suspect I will not be upgrading my PowerMac for several years to come. (And, frankly, if I did upgrade it, it would probably be to a Quad G5.) Until I resolve the above issues, I probably won’t be upgrading my iMac, either. The machine it makes the most sense to upgrade is my PowerBook to a MacBook Pro but ONLY if I have some kind of capability of running Windows. That’s sad but true. Otherwise, a G4 PowerBook or a Windows notebook will be my next purchase.

There is no Universal Binary for PocketMac, so synching up Address Book with my cell phone probably is probably a “no-go”, as is synching up Palm Desktop, my Address Book, or Entourage with my Palm Tungsten E.

The other big impact involves a subject that is still esoteric, and that is the subject of security for the Intel Macs. No matter what you believe about their security, I maintain they will be attacked more than G5 iMacs were simply because hackers have ready access to the same or similar hardware. With a G5, you needed one to check your attack code. With an Intel iMac, you have what you need if you own a PC. Yes, I am aware that older X86 CPU’s have stack execution enabled and the new Macs don’t. Still, even with their faster speed, I would never opt to own an Intel-based Mac if it’s going to become a virus and worm magnet.

One of my sons was kidding me last night about how I wind up buying a machine within six months of the time I write I won’t. There’s some truth in that. Sometimes, it’s because I get better info than I had or something else changes. That could hold true for the Intel iMacs as well. If Adobe was to quickly release CS3 in Universal Binary, Flip4Mac and PocketMac did the same (the latter so I could sync up either my Windows Mobile powered cell phone or my Palm Tungsten E with my Mac), and Microsoft released a Universal Binary update for Office 2004, I’d probably move. Until then, I will plan on sitting tight on any desktop upgrades.

The scenario for us that probably makes the most sense is —once someone releases a version of Virtual PC that will work on Mac OS X for Intel or someone figures out how to dual boot Windows XP and OS X on a MacBook Pro—to replace my current 12 inch PowerBook with a 15 inch MacBook Pro and run the MacBook and whatever PowerMac I have via a KVM switch with my 20 inch Apple Cinema Display. I’d hand my 2.0 Ghz iMac over to my wife and we’d sell her 1.8 GHz G5 iMac. My wife doesn’t want to do that because she believes I need to keep an iMac, but I don’t see how we can afford to do anything else. So, in the end and at least for now, we won’t be upgrading anything. There’s a very good chance it could be 18 months or more from now before we do.