The Computer Blog

Monday, April 30, 2007

For Want of a Print Screen

Every now and then, a subtle difference between a real PC and a Mac running Windows appears, one that makes you wish the Mac had that feature. One of those is the missing Print Screen key. All PC’s have one. All Mac’s don’t.

This came to light as I found a new feature in Word 2007 I wanted to write about. I noticed that when I double-clicked on a word to select it, a small formatting bar would appear just above the word as I moved my mouse cursor up. Word 2003 doesn’t have this feature, and neither does Word 2004. I thought it was pretty cool, and I wanted to show it to you by linking to a picture of it.

That’s when I discovered I didn’t have a way of “taking” a picture of it at all.
When I get some time, I’ll prowl the web for some freeware or shareware application that will solve the problem. On a Mac, the application that does this is called “Grab” and you can usually find it in your Applications/Utilities folder. Grab lets you take a shot of a screen or a window. I’m sure there’s a small Windows app that will do the same.

In the meantime, for those of you interested in knowing about the “new” feature I was trying to “photograph” in Word 2007, go watch this video. Though it’ll cover the whole new GUI in Word, the “mini-toolbar” I’m talking about turns up at about 11:27 in the 13 minute (13:12) video. It’s worth taking the time to see.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Memory Swap and Optimizing my Mac Pro

Ever since I bought my Mac Pro, my intent has been to take it to 4 GB of RAM. The machine came with 1 GB composed of two 512MB sticks. I then bought 2GB of RAM in the form of two 1 GB sticks from Other World Computing. As I approach buying the newly released Adobe CS3 products, I’ve been looking at completing the memory buy and finally getting to my 4GB mark.

Since the memory from OWC has worked so well and their prices are competitive, I have decided to go back to OWC for the remaining 1 GB. Currently, they’re selling 1GB for $157.99.

They also have a rebate deal going on where you can actually get money back for memory removed from your machine. Returning 1 GB of Mac Pro RAM to them will earn me $75.

Since they’re also selling a 2GB upgrade (two 1 GB sticks) for $229.99, it occurred to me the better deal might not be to buy a single GIG of Ram but to buy 2GB of RAM and then trade one in. My total cost for such a deal would be $154.99, three dollars less than simply buying the one GIG alone. The even better value is I would be more efficiently using 2 of my 8 memory slots, therefore enabling a later expansion of the available RAM at much less cost.

The only downside I can see to this is the two 512MB sticks I’d have to trade in are the ones that came from Apple, and that would leave only OWC branded memory in the machine. In the past, Apple has tried to strong-arm owners into buying only their branded memory (which is manufactured by a third party and then outrageously charged for) by denying warranty service if third party RAM was installed. Frankly, I don’t think that’s legal if there’s no reason to suspect the third party RAM caused the warranty problem; and I’m not going to let that hang me up. I’m going to press ahead with upgrading my Mac Pro using the “trade-in” deal and possibly also upgrade the RAM in my wife’s Intel iMac the same way. It’s got a 512MB stick of RAM I want to kick up to 1 GB, I’ll be pulling a 256MB stick out and I have another sitting on my desk.

I’ll let you know how this works out.

While I’m discussing optimizing my Mac Pro, I want to go back to my moderate disenchantment with Apple’s delay of Leopard. Peter Cohen published an article at the Macworld website today I can partially agree with but that also misses a valid point about how Leonard’s delay impacts current Mac Pro owners.

Peter correctly observed that much of the bitchin’ about Leopard’s delay seems to be coming from Mac owners who were waiting until Leopard was released to upgrade. While I personally wouldn’t hold up on a computer purchase while waiting for a new OS, I can understand how some users will, because of the possible “step function” nature of the hardware upgrade they may be making. While Macs are more price competitive than they have ever been, they are still more expensive than PC’s to purchase. For many people, the extra $129 (or $199 if you need a family pack and Apple holds to past pricing) Leopard can be expected to cost can be a deal breaker. It is often the poorest users who can benefit the most from the Mac’s features (especially its current freedom from most viruses and spyware), so I don’t feel that minimizing that is an especially compelling argument to excuse Apple’s delay.

Getting back to my main point: No, I don’t feel a four month delay is the end of the world. But as a current Mac Pro owner, it’s four MORE months when I’m probably not going to reap the full potential of my three thousand dollar machine.

For months now, the talk in the Apple community has been how Leopard would leverage Apple’s Core Video and Core Graphics features, and the Mac Pro has been the model of Mac that had the most to gain. Additionally, the recent articles that have surfaced questioning Tiger’s ability to handle multiple core CPU’s and its constraints on memory bandwidth sure has to have anyone looking at the Octa-Core machine questioning their desire to spend. Barefeats.com's recent Photoshop tests of the 8 core Mac Pro show it barely edges out the 4-core machine. Didn’t Adobe say that the new CS3 versions of their products were designed to work with Leopard? Anyone want to bet they will not work better with Leopard than they do with Tiger? If Leopard really does open the Mac Pro’s memory bandwidth or show noticeable performance gains using the new Adobe line, then the four month delay (if it turns out to be that and not longer) does hit every Mac Pro owner in the pocketbook, whether they’re making money with the machine or not.

I certainly understand how the delay helps developers. Frankly, it helps my pocketbook out a bit, too, and I’m not going to complain about that. But whether this “delay” is a just a bump in the road for Apple’s computer users or a peek at what’s to come is the big question. Despite the reassurances from some in the computer press, I think it’s just too early to tell; and there is reason for the computer base to be concerned. I agree with those who say that balance for the company is the key; the unanswered question is whether it’s there.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Bettin' The Farm

Apple released a statement saying the release of Leopard, Apple’s highly-touted and anticipated next version of OS X, has been delayed until October. Why? Not because of any technical problems with the operating system, but because of Apple’s obsession with releasing the unproven and undercapitalized (in terms of telephone networks that can use it) iPhone. You have to wonder if the company’s focus on releasing what it believes to be another “world changing” device has caused it to lose all perspective. It’s bettin’ the farm on the iPhone, and that might not be a very wise thing to do.

There was a lot of speculation when Apple changed their name from Apple Computer to just Apple, Inc. whether that meant Apple’s computer line would become a second class act. Several computer magazines ran editorials praising the Apple move and providing rationale for why that would not happen. I think you have to call such conclusions into question.

First, Apple has just lost the opportunity to continue to take steam out of Vista sales and it also may have further hurt sales of its own hardware. I was just reading today that Mac sales had slowed in anticipation of Leopard’s release. We’ll have to see if that trend continues. More importantly, though, the release of Leopard now when Vista has failed to gather momentum in most of the computer world could potentially push Vista even more into the blur of the background. By pushing back Leopoard’s release six months, Apple has bought Microsoft time to devise more strategies and convince hardware vendors to do more to make Vista acceptable to the masses. Microsoft knows it’s on the ropes, and it will come out swinging.

Secondly, the pace of software development for the Mac community within Apple itself has slowed; and this is only going to reduce it further. Rumor has it that the new version of iLife is tied to the graphics changes in Leopard, and I seem to remember reading that the new CS3 versions of Adobe software will also perform better under Leopard than Tiger. So, the Mac computer community is being forced to take a lot of hits, all so Apple can get its new telephone out on the market. It’s truly putting the horse before the cart, even though my pocketbook won’t complain about the delay in outgoing funds.

Apple could have easily pushed the iPhone release back, and I suspect the reason it didn’t had more to do with ego and image than market cycles or profitability. Apple chose instead to bite the hands that feed it, its computer user base. Too much more of that, and Apple’s debacle with the Newton may look like small change compared to what happens next.

On CS3, Vista, and the new Mac Ads

On CS3…

Sometimes, I’m not sure I really want to spend the money to upgrade my Adobe software to CS3. Yes, I did buy a Mac Pro, and my reasons for that had to do with the improved speed and design on the Intel based Mac towers as well as an opportunity to hand down a perfectly good dual G5 PowerMac to one of my sons. That would seem to necessitate buying CS3 versions of all my Adobe software to take advantage of the speed gains the Mac Pro promises. Believe me, I want to! But it’s a lot of money to do that, especially for a “prosumer” like me who currently stands to gain not one dollar in income from the extra expense.

An online article making the rounds on the It Enquirer website has called Adobe’s CS3 Creative Suite “bloatware” because of the increased pricing levels and the dearth of new, compelling features. It might be; I can’t comment because I haven’t really used or evaluated the software yet, except for the Photoshop CS3 beta, which I did find disappointing. While it did give me greater speed on my Mac Pro, it was unusable because of a cursor bug that no beta version fixed. I have to believe they’ve fixed it in the final release; but instead of buying PS CS3 as soon as it’s available in the next few weeks, I’m thinking of waiting until I see the reviews and can download a trial version some six weeks or so after the release. My finances are arguing for just that approach; the only even somewhat compelling reason for me to step up now is to be able to write about it here. Except for the expected raves about CS3’s greater speeds on Intel powered Macs, I have to wonder if the reviews are going to come out lackluster, as those for Vista have mostly done.

On the face of it, the cost of individually upgrading all my Adobe packages is really not significantly higher than it has been before. The big jump in pricing occurs when one wants to move up to the CS3 Suites, and it would not surprise me if in the next upgrade cycle or two, that becomes the only way Adobe customers can upgrade their applications, in the same manner that Apple has bundled its professional level movie making products into one thirteen hundred dollar suite and killed off its individual product lines. There seems to be a trend here of moving to squeeze out the prosumer and financially differentiate professional level and consumer level software packages, reversing the bright promise that computing has brought to the masses in video and graphics over the last thirty years.

One of the individual problems I’m facing is which website management software to use; and so far, I’m leaning toward staying with Go Live. But Go Live is not incorporated into any Adobe CS3 package. Dreamweaver has taken its place. The implicit message there is that Go Live is on its last legs, which is why I wrote “The Apparent Death of Go Live” blog entry. A day or so after that, Adobe reiterated they will release an update (and the last one, I suspect) to Go Live called “Adobe Go Live 9”. That’s good; and if I make a move to upgrade my other 3 Adobe applications to CS3 versions, I will more than likely upgrade my Go Live application as well.

So, what kind of upgrade costs am I talking about? Well, by day, I work in operations and engineering realms and my wife is a medical professional. At night, I sometimes work as a video editor. All that together means I’m interested in the new Photoshop Extended. The upgrade version of that costs $349. Individual upgrades for Illustrator and In Design run $199 each, and I suspect the Go Live upgrade will cost the same. That totals up to $946. That’s a bit more than going to CS3 Design Standard (which would cost me $899) but $653 less than going to Design Premium (which I would only do if I was willing to move to Dreamweaver). Design Standard would also only give me the Standard version of Photoshop.

I realize I may be shooting my blog in the foot, but my intent after moving to the CS3 versions of software is to hold there for quite some time (and maybe not upgrade for a very long time…like a decade?!). I would not expect to upgrade those packages unless I also upgraded a machine, and that’s not going to happen for some time unless I win the lotto. It’s going to take a good bit of time to pay off the Mac Pro and Adobe upgrade expenses.

On Vista…

I’ve thought about upgrading one or more of my Mac’s to Vista, but I haven’t because of the high cost of the upgrade and the lack of compelling features being reported. I’m quite happy with XP. What I don’t understand are a lot of the complaints I’m seeing about the lack of Vista drivers. Are these people who have never ever performed an Operating System upgrade? “Lack of drivers” has always been and probably always will be a complaint of anyone who’s ventured into new OS territory. In many cases, it is true the OS will have the drivers for many older peripherals folded into it, but one always has to check on whether their individual devices are covered. I went through those growing pains when I moved from Windows 98 to Windows XP. My memory of that has been one of the reasons why I’ve been cautious about moving to Vista. Right now, everything on the Windows sides of my machines works, and I’d like to keep it that way.

Eventually, the peripheral makers will catch up. They always do, unless the product is so old they’ve already been thinking about suspending support anyway. In that case, you’ll have to make do; and your only solace will be to scour the web to see if another poor soul has found a solution you can use.

On the new Mac Ads…

My wife and I have always enjoyed the Mac Ads. I realize they have not always found favor with PC users, and I can understand why. There are two new ones, and my favorite is the “Flashback” ad with the two kids, not only because it captures a human struggle that lies within each one of us but because the two kids so closely resemble and expertly emulate their older counterparts.

I have mixed feelings about “The Computer Cart” ad because I feel Apple is overstating its case. My experience has undoubtedly been that I spend significantly less time chasing system errors on the Mac platform than on Windows, and that the error messages Macs issue aren’t usually as cryptic as those on Windows. But to say I’ve never had to go to the Apple Support site (or somewhere else) to look up what an error message is telling me would be a lie, and the Mac equivalent of a “fatal error” is known as a “kernel panic”. I’ve seen those too, though infrequently.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Macs are a LOT less painful to use than Windows and they generally DO “just work”; but computers are computers and they’re all going to have some problems.

It’s just not a perfect world, even in computerdom.

The problem with the ad is it sets the bar so high Apple’s going to lose those switchers who get a “kernel panic” (which generally are hardware related and therefore more likely to occur with a new system or one that’s been modified) out of the box. They will also get an immediate bad taste in their mouths, and Apple will only have a short time to rectify that. Word of mouth always goes a long way, whether what’s being said is good or bad. Apple needs to be careful to balance what it’s saying with reality, no matter how much that goes against the grain of normal advertising.

Friday, April 06, 2007

I Told You So!!

One of the local (Houston) computer columnists who has irritated me the most has been Dwight Silverman. It’s not the technical content of his articles I found maddening; it was his railing against the Mac and Mac users that seemed to take on an almost personal context. He seemed almost addicted to Windows. He openly relished in his daughter’s inability to master Mac OS X.

How the worm has turned!

A few months ago, he began using a MacBook. Since then, his rhetoric has calmed and taken a more objective and even favorable turn. His review of the Mac Pro when it was released was pretty positive, even though it was clear he was still a “dyed-in-the-wool” Windows fan. But now, take a look at this: "The Coming Macintosh Tide".

Dwight has been the perfect example of a PC user who raved against the Mac because he had never used one. I have to give him credit for being open minded even with his hackles up. Dwight’s turnabout is understandable because I’ve been there; I can remember arguing with a PowerPC user in the mid 90’s about how much better my PC was. The Mac simply didn’t impress me until the “sunflower” G4 LCD iMacs carrying OS X surfaced. That’s when I became hooked. I’ve been converting over to the Mac platform, sometimes at great expense, ever since. I wouldn’t go back to the Windows platform if you paid me, though I routinely use it for some tasks all the time.

I was a bit irritated when Apple switched to the Intel CPU, because we had spent a bit of money moving our Macs up through OS X versions and to the G5 CPU the year before. I also was concerned that the move to the Intel CPU would open the door to more OS X viruses and spywares, but that hasn’t happened. Now, I feel that Apple’s move to Intel processors was one of the smartest it has made. I was able to get rid of maintaining a separate PC. Now, upgrading a Mac enhances both my OS X and Windows capabilities. That’s what I call “getting the most bang for your buck”!

The IT folks at both my wife’s workplace and mine always rail against Macs whenever the subject is brought up. I figure it’s because they’re both ignorant and scared and don’t want you to see it. I’d be willing to bet you if they bought Macs for use at home, their opinions of Mac in the workplace would radically change. Most of the people who rail against a Mac are those who have never used one.

Keep that in mind the next time you run across a Macluddite. Just urge them on to your local Apple Store or Apple retailer or invite them over for a cup of tea and give them a little free keyboarding time on your Mac. Once you show them what it can do, they can’t help but be impressed.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Neo Office 2.1 Opens Office 2007 Files!

For those of you not familiar with Neo Office, it's a port of the Open Office, the free open source office suite available for download on the Net, that runs natively on Mac OS X. There are versions for both PowerPC and Intel powered Macs, and the latest version also claims to open Office 2007 files in Microsoft's proprietary XML format. Since I have copies of Office 2007 loaded on both my Macs, I tried it and it does work. It does take Neo Office a minute or two to perform the translation and display the final result. That said, the document I opened only contained some simple formatting, so I can't speak to how well it handles complex formats. Still, it's better than nothing, which is what Microsoft has supplied us Office 2004 owners so far. Yes, I know it's coming; but I want it now!

If you do, too, then downloading and installing Neo Office is the thing to do. And if you like it so much you decide to hang onto it and not buy any more copies of Office or anything else, don't blame me!

Office 2007 in Parallel’s Coherence Mode –Cool but Flawed!

I’m writing this blog using Office 2007 for Windows on my MacBook Pro’s Desktop under Tiger, Mac OS 10.4.9. This is possible because I’m using Parallel’s (Desktop for Mac) Coherence mode which lets the Windows Desktop all but disappear against my standard OS X background. Since I had bought Office 2007 for Windows, I was curious to see if I could avoid buying Office 2008 for Mac when it’s released, especially since I like the Office 2007 User Interface so much and don’t care for what I’ve seen so far in the Office 2008 previews.

The short answer to my question is: “Yes!”. This is a really cool thing to be able to do. I can tell that I’m taking a noticeable but not significant speed hit using Office 2007 this way; and to be honest, I haven’t tried opening a complex document, spreadsheet, or PowerPoint presentation. I have opened one 42 page PowerPoint presentation and it opened without a hitch, but the pitch was mainly just text and did not have any complex graphics or animations.

There are a couple of interesting things to note about using Word 2007 this way. First, the application is responding to my Apple keyboard commands, i.e., “Save” was not performed using the Windows-standard “Cntrl-S” but was the Apple- standard “Command-S”. Secondly, the application’s Explorer Windows still open on the Windows Desktop, not the Mac one; so, you’ll have to preposition any files you want to work on there or in some other Windows’ folder.

From a speed standpoint, there’s no significant difference I can see between using Word 2007 for Windows this way vice using the currently available (and installed on my machine) Office 2004 for the Mac. But there may be one compelling reason to buy Office 2007 for Windows and run it on your Mac under Coherence Mode vice buying office 2008, and that is the Visual Basic Support Microsoft is leaving out of Office 2008 for Mac. (That’s enough to make one wonder if Microsoft was not up to its old, monopolistic tricks again.) I’m sorry to advocate buying Office 2007 for Windows and running it this way vice buying the Mac-native Office 2008; but if you need the Visual Basic support, it is one thing you can do to keep your Mac and still not lose any functionality.

An unanticipated advantage to running Word 2007 under Parallels instead of running it natively under Windows XP, at least on my MacBook Pro, is that Mac OS X remains in control of the machine’s innards, specifically, its fans. Fan speed remained normal when running under OSX/Parallels but really cranked up when I booted straight into XP using Boot Camp. I ran on external power the whole time but those cranked up fans would really draw down your batteries if you were running unplugged.

For those of you wondering what kind of configuration I ran Parallels in, I let it keep its default values except when it came to memory. My MacBook Pro has 2 GB of RAM in it, so I set the maximum memory usage for the virtual machine at half that, letting Windows XP and OS X split the RAM equally.

I hate to say it, but subsequently booting into Windows XP using Boot Camp did uncover what is for me a fatal flaw Parallels will have to fix before I will buy it. After running everything under Parallels, once I hit Boot Camp, I was required to re-activate both XP and Word 2007. Afterwards, when I booted into Parallels again the Parallel Tools also reinitialized, making me wait almost five minutes before I could get into Windows, and I had to re-activate Word again! I’ll wait until that’s fixed to buy Parallels. It may be a hassle to reboot using Boot Camp, but it’s stable and fast.

That’s too bad. After all, it might otherwise be worth it just to see the contorted look on a coworker’s face as they per over my shoulder and see me working a Word document in Word 2007 with a Mac OS X desktop and Dock in the background. Hopefully, one day, that will happen.