The Computer Blog

Monday, September 25, 2006

Be Cautious of iTunes “Deauthorize All Computers”

When I bought a new Intel iMac, I wound up using the “Deauthorize All Computers” command to get the number of computers I really had synched up with the number listed in the iTunes Store. What I didn’t realize is that Apple only lets you use that command ONCE A YEAR! This is, in a word, RIDICULOUS!

I’ve been one of those people who have supported Apple’s DRM. As a writer and sometimes videographer and photographer, I understand the importance of copyright. While I feel the movie studios and RIAA have often gone too far, I have not had a problem with Apple’s implementation for the simple reason that what they were asking me to do or not do seemed reasonable. Until now.

There’s lots of reasons why a consumer can get out of synch with the number of computers they’ve authorized. Apple’s own iTunes Help file advises you to deauthorize your computer before performing any upgrades, lest the software monitoring you think you’ve moved your stuff to a new machine and cause you to have to use two authorizations for one computer. The same thing applies if you buy more than one new Mac in a year, something likely to happen in families especially now when the whole Mac community is shifting to new processors and software versions, however varied the pace may be. A complete reloading of OS X would also seem to posses the risk of needing additional deauthorizations, so limiting a complete deauthorization of all five of your licenses to once a year seems overly restrictive. I’ve had a hard time, in fact, in figuring out a scenario that would require you to limit the number of deauthorizations at all. As long as any account holder always has only five authorizations allowed, how are they going to cheat that?

Two Directions

When it comes to computers, my wife and I seem to be moving in two different directions.

I’ve got a dual 2.0 GHz G5 PowerMac I’m not using that much. I really like my Intel iMac; but to be honest, the software incompatibilities (primarily with my Adobe software) are driving me nuts. Frankly, I’m also in the mood to work on getting us as debt free as possible. I can’t do that if we’re upgrading computers all the time. The computers I currently own do meet my needs.

My wife wants an iMac with an iSight in it. I don’t think it matters to her whether it’s a G5 or Intel powered iMac, though I do know she feels it doesn’t make any sense to spend any money on a G5. While I do find the internal iSight convenient, it’s not a necessity for me. I’m just as happy with an external iSight on a stand, something I also own.

Also, we’ve been talking about a long term upgrade strategy. My favorite though not inexpensive one is to move me up to a Mac Pro and, at some point, a 30 inch Apple Cinema Display. But I don’t see any sense in going there if I also own an iMac, especially if I owned a 24 inch one. If I own any iMac, I don’t see the sense in buying any kind of a new display since my 20 inch Apple ADC Cinema Display is working great and is still the best LCD I own.

So, where does that leave us?

I proposed to my wife I give her my 20 inch iMac and move all my stuff onto my G5 PowerMac. I would resurrect my homebuilt PC and connect it and the PowerMac up to my Logitech keyboard and mouse via the IOGEAR ADC switch and an Apple ADC to DVI Adapter as I did before. I would lose some computing power since my iMac is actually more powerful than my PC; but for most things, that wouldn’t matter. The advantage to this is that my wife can step up to an Intel iMac running Windows (that would allow her to use her school-issued iPaq, something she’s shown little interest in under OS X); she would get an iMac with an internal iSight; I would get to see if I was really okay with just using a single Mac tower (eventually a Mac Pro) for everything; I would not feel under the gun to upgrade my Adobe software as soon as CS3 is released; and it would cost us no money to do this.

Connie thinks, though, I need the biggest and best of everything (bless her heart!) so she thinks I need to go buy a 24 inch iMac. I like the buggers but don’t want to go spend $2500 or more right now and then another $800 to upgrade Adobe software next year. That doesn’t count what I’d need to spend on a new Universal Version of Office or Final Cut Pro 5, a purchase I’m going to make anyway while Apple’s special deal is still good. (For $200, I can upgrade my copy of Final Cut Pro 4 to a Universal Version of FCP 5 complete with Motion 2 and Soundtrack Pro.)

Anyway, I’m not sure how to resolve this. I know that if I take this step I risk not having as many interesting things to write about in this blog; but I’m not getting paid for this and don’t have a huge readership so I’m not seeing the harm. Even so, I learned a long time ago I have to do what’s best for me and that ultimately works out to be what’s best for everyone. I’ll still find things to write here about, I’m sure. After all, we would still have one Intel iMac in the house and we will, over time, be getting more.

I’m not saying I don’t still love my iMac. I do. In fact, I might well be opting to stand "down" to a 24 inc iMac only if the damn thing could take 4GB of RAM. (And I still might anyway.) But Apple purposely limited it to 3 GB to avoid taking any hits on their Mac Pro sales. That’s a bitch, and a false argument for not giving its customers what they need. An iMac not be expandable, but its ergonomics are arguably better than those of a tower.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

First Look: The New 24 inch iMac

My wife and I went to the local Fry’s last night and, while looking at digital cameras, decided to see if they might have one of the new 24 inch iMacs. To our surprise, they did. They were displaying all their iMacs side-by-side, something that made making comparisons an easy feat. They had all three sizes there, i.e., 17, 20, and 24 inch iMacs.

The 24 inch iMac sits noticeably higher than any of the rest. Yet, it’s not as bulky as you might first think. It shares the same slim profile of the Intel-powered 20 inch iMac. Its Superdrive is located at the same spot as the 20 inchers, right in the middle of the right side.

The screen is noticeably brighter than that of the 20 inch. I’d love to see one side by side with my 20 inch Apple Cinema Display which is the old acrylic case ADC type and my personal benchmark for screen clarity and brightness. I think it might be competitive, though some buyers have commented that there is a slight but noticeable dimming near the corners of the 24 inch iMac’s screen. I didn’t see that, but I also wasn’t looking for it. My hope is that with this iMac Apple might be returning to the bright, crisp displays it used to make; and that would be a very good thing if true.

The usual Mac suspects (iMovie, iTunes) snapped to the screen, so the machine appears to be very responsive. From a performance standpoint, the new Intel powered iMacs are definitely the fastest iMacs ever built. That said, there is no technical reason why this model couldn’t have been built with the ability to access 4 GB of RAM. Instead, Apple limited the model to 3 GB of memory, an odd amount that drives the cost of maxing the machine through the roof if you try to do it in the typical smart-Apple-user fashion, i.e., buying third-party memory and doing it yourself. (More on that in a moment. It turns out that this machine is the rule breaker when it comes to that.) I suspect the sole reason it can’t address 4 GB of Ram came from marketing. It’s been reported that this machine seemingly was built to “bridge the gap” between the consumer iMac and the Mac Pro but allowing it to access 4 GB of RAM would have possibly affected Mac Pro sales. Indeed, I have been debating about whether to upgrade to a 24 inch iMac instead of a Mac Pro and the limited memory is one of the big hang-ups stopping me from doing so. If you’re wondering why I’m hung up on the 1 GB of RAM, I can sum it up in one word: Motion. I put 4GB of RAM in my current dual 2 GHz G5 PowerMac to support real-time rendering, so I’m very hesitant to back down to an amount less than that, even though I am not sure it would impact much.

That said, I discovered one thing about equipping the 24 inch iMac with memory that goes against common wisdom. For this model only, if you want 3 GB of RAM, I recommend you order it from Apple. Doing so only adds $750 to the cost. If you try to do the same thing using memory from Crucial, you’ll have to throw away (or sell if you’re lucky) the two 512MB sticks that come with the machine. A 2GB stick will cost you an amazing $1370 and another 1 GB stick will cost $190. Other World Computing has a much more price competitive 3GB set listed at $859. But, in either case, buying from Apple is cheaper. The only caveat I can see is the standard one concerning buying a CTO (Configure To Order) system from Apple. If there’s something wrong with the system, you can only get a repair. They will not refund your money or exchange it for another system unless it’s DOA (Dead on Arrival).

I really liked the new iMac, though I’m not sure that the additional 4 inches of screen real estate is worth $500 in additional cost (or $800 if compared against a refurb 20 inch Core Duo iMac). I’m more inclined to upgrade my PowerMac to a Mac Pro and put the extra $500 there. Really, though, I’m not in any kind of a hurry to upgrade the PowerMac, if I do it at all. My wife, on the other hand, could really use a new Intel iMac for the same reason I bought one, i.e., its ability to run Windows. She also wants an iMac with an internal iSight. So, we’re still trying to figure out what the best way is to do that. Unlike our move to the G5, it’s going to take us years to transition all our machines to Intel powered Macs. Until Adobe and Microsoft release Universal version of their applications, there’s no big impetus to complete that anyway. Believe me, there are days when I feel like moving all my stuff back onto my G5 PowerMac just because it is all compatible and the machine’s so nice.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Playing with CrossOver for Mac

Last night, I downloaded a beta copy of CrossOver and installed it on my Intel-powered iMac. If you're not familiar with CrossOver, its promise is that you can run Windows applications within OS X and without using Windows. Obviously, that would be very advantageous if it worked well enough. At some point, I will buy a MacBook; and if I didn't have to buy a copy of Windows XP to run the one or two Windows applications I sometimes need when on the road, the better I would be. (Even though I was running CrossOver on my Intel iMac for this test, I have no plans to ever run it there full-time. I need a pure Windows machine to run my flight simulators, my PaperPort based document management system, and to run my flight planning applications at their fullest speed.)

I had looked at CrossOver a few months ago and found that one of the applications tested was my Aircraft Owners and Pilot’s Association (AOPA) Flight Planning application. I needed to run that on a MacBook, so it became my primary reason for wanting to see if CrossOver would do the trick. Recently, AOPA updated the application; and though I knew the update might play hell with CrossOver, I decided to give running it a shot anyway.

Double-clicking on the CrossOver’s .dmg file launched its expansion and its start-up, which were then rapidly followed by a couple of installation windows. One of them told me I needed to insert my OS X Installation DVD in the iMac’s DVD drive so it could copy a file it needed out of Apple’s X11 package. I did that, the installer copied the file, and the rest of the installation proceeded smoothly. As one would expect, CrossOver located itself into my Applications folder.

The first time I launched CrossOver, it presented a window containing a list of applications that had been proven to work with it. Many of them were common and even complex Windows applications (like Adobe FrameMaker) but I only wanted to try my AOPA application. I selected it by using a button that said “Install Unsupported Software” and then told it to “Continue”. The application window told me to “wait” while it made a “bottle” (a virtual Windows environment). After several minutes, the installation of the AOPA application ran. When it was done, I could get to it via the CrossOver Applications folder. I double-clicked on it and the program launched.

However, the results were not all that great. The application’s initial loading window appeared, the app synchronized with the AOPA servers as usual, and then the sign-in dialog appeared with absolutely no text labels on it whatsoever. Because I knew what was supposed to go into the boxes, I signed in anyway and the main screen of the application appeared. The main screen is a graphical diagram of the United States controlled by menu items and mouse clicks. Scrolling and zooming in and out on the screen worked as expected (and those functions can be controlled straight from the mouse), though some of the movement lagged. Menu items did not initially appear until I dragged my mouse across the menu bar causing the screen to refresh, and many of the windows controlled from there still popped up without their text, making the application virtually unusable. I had no reason to try more, so I closed the application and CrossOver and uninstalled them from my machine.

In short, I was not impressed. I’ll probably try the application later with one of the “supported” applications to give it a fair shot at working, sometime when I’ve got the time to deal with loading a fairly large Windows program. At least with the AOPA application, it performed about as fast as it does under the PPC version of Mac OS X running Virtual PC and Windows XP Pro. Nothing to write home about. Unless CrossOver’s performance improves with later versions, I’ll opt for either setting up my MacBook as a dual-boot or running XP under Parallels, the latter being something I have yet to try.