Monday, April 24, 2006

Jobs fuels speculation at annual meeting, 17" MacBook Pro

Here's a brief little report that might titillate the imagination. Apparently in the recent annual shareholders meeting, Steve Jobs said that new Apple products in the pipeline are the best he's ever seen in his life. An incredibly bold claim considering some of the marvellous, revolutionary products that have come out of Apple. This could of course mean two things: a) Apple's current line of products is already the best he's ever seen, and there are sets of improvements, updates and/or add-ons in the works, or b) there are new products just waiting to be revealed. It certainly gets the imagination working: an iPod with a built-in iSight, anybody?

On top of that, Jobs said 'we hear you loud and clear' in response to calls for some kind of media centre product from Apple, and it does seem like Apple has been pushing strongly in that direction. Front Row, and its new ability to stream via a network, the Apple Remote, and updates to iTunes' media content and delivery methods all see Apple expanding from the study to the living room.

On a separate note, Apple of course released the 17-inch MacBook Pro last week, and there are a number of noticeable differences between it and the 15.4-inch model. Aside from obviously, having a bigger display than the 15.4-inch model, the new model comes with the faster 2.16Ghz Intel Core Duo processor (which you can upgrade the 15.4-inch model to include). Most notably, though, is the inclusion of a better, 8x Dual Layer Superdrive, a big improvement on the 4x Single Layer Superdrive of the other model. This inclusion is not surprising though; the 8x drive was omitted from the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro because it simply couldn't fit; by virtue of being a larger computer, it follows that the 8x drive could be fit into the 17-inch model. On top of that, there are two extra ports: a Firewire 800 port and an extra USB 2.0 port, making it three in total. The inclusion of the Firewire 800 port is a big plus; I'm a big fan of Firewire, and there was a lot of word a few months ago of it being phased out, with the omission of the 800 port from the MacBook Pro as an indication perhaps of Apple's willingness to lead the way in this phasing out (much like they were among the first to omit floppy drives from the old iMacs).

Interestingly enough, though, the 17-inch model is only $300 more than the 15.4-inch model, and this means that, strangely enough, one could potentially save a lot of money buying the larger model. If you upgrade the processor on the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro to match the 17-inch's 2.16GHz, that upgrade alone costs $300, rendering the prices equal! But on the 17-inch model, not only do you get the better processor for the same price, you get the larger screen, 8x Superdrive, extra ports and all! So...why would anybody buy a 2.16 GHz 15.4-inch MacBook Pro? Is this deliberate on Apple's part? Or are we going to see a price change in the MacBook Pro soon?

All in all, a sweet, sweet computer. Who wants one? I know I do!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Boot Camp thoughts

First of all, I know it's been a long time since I've made a post, and I must apologise for that, I've been incredibly busy lately. But anyways, this post's been a long time coming.

Apple's post-30th birthday release of Boot Camp, their software that allows a user install Windows XP on Intel Macs, has been the biggest news in the Mac community for the last couple of days. Here are my thoughts.

So what exactly is this software that's been causing such a stir and how does it work? Well, essentially, as I mentioned earlier, it's Apple's public beta release of piece of software that simplifies the process of installing Windows XP on an Intel Mac; something that was originally shown to be possible by the people at the On Mac project. After installation, it becomes possible to dual boot into either OS X or Windows XP, and for both to run natively on the new Intel Macs.

To use Boot Camp, you need to install Apple's firmware update, which is available on the Boot Camp website, and then simply download Boot Camp and run it. You do however, need to purchase your own copy of Windows XP separately and use its installation disc.

When you run Boot Camp, essentially what you get is a standard 'Assistant' interface, similar to the interface of the Migration Assistant or the Airport Setup Assistant, that guides you through the process, step by step. It looks something like this:

The interface provides a beautifully simple slider that lets you partition your hard drive and select how much space you want to assign to each OS. It also asks you to select which Windows file system you want to use; FAT32, or NTFS. Which file system you select will determine the extent to which you can read and write files between the two operating systems; Mac OS X can read an write to FAT32, but cannot write to NTFS. Whilst this may make the decision seem like a no-brainer, bear in mind that if you allow Windows XP to see your Macintosh partition, it might be easier for viruses to access the files on that partition to, but more on this later. Boot Camp also helps you burn a CD of drivers for XP that solve a number of hardware compatibility issues.

The Assistant basically takes you through the whole process in the usual, simple and user-friendly Mac manner. Almost anybody can do it now, and reports generally say that it takes less than an hour to get XP up and running. In contrast, the On Mac hack is highly complicated, and can take many hours, or even days to perform, and requires a high level of user experience. Apple once again makes a difficult task simple and elegant.

The only real danger in the entire process is to make sure that you select the C: Drive when you are installing Windows; selecting the wrong partition could erase your entire Macintosh HD. If you do feel the need to try Boot Camp out, I would highly recommend backing up your entire hard drive before doing so.

The last great thing about the Boot Camp installation process is that if, at any point you decide that you don't want Windows on your Mac any more, you can simply launch Boot Camp and tell it to restore your Mac to the way it was before, and it will completely destroy your Windows partition.

Should I try it?
Before jumping out of one's seat and downloading Boot Camp, I think it's important to bear in mind that this software is still a beta, and so it will likely have bugs and kinks that haven't been worked out yet. Also, it delves into rather uncharted and advanced territory, so I would say that it's probably not for the average consumer. Problems have been reported, ranging from mere inconveniences and little bugs with certain programs or pieces of hardware, to serious issues: some users have reportedly been unable to boot back into OS X after using Boot Camp, and who wants to be stuck in Windows XP on a Mac?

On the other hand, if you're curious about how this software works, or desperately want to run certain Windows apps or games on your Mac, then Boot Camp might be worth a shot. After all, you can always just get rid of Windows if it doesn't turn out the way you want it to, you can always just restore your Mac. So if you're brave and curious, by all means give it a go. But remember, you have to buy your own copy of XP, the updater or a burned CD won't work.

I personally wouldn't use Boot Camp, mainly because I use my Mac for too many important things to risk experimenting with such a huge beta as this. On top of that, I'd rather not fork out over 200 US dollars to feed Bill Gates. Oh yeah, and I don't have my own Intel Mac either =P. It's up to the consumer really, but I would say, use at your own risk.

How well does it work?
As mentioned, I haven't tried Boot Camp out myself, but the vast majority of the reports and benchmarks so far indicate that XP runs at least as well on a Mac as it does on PCs with similar specs, if not better. There have been reports citing (with a tinge of irony) the MacBook Pro as the best laptop available for running Windows XP.

One thing is for sure, Boot Camp beats the On Mac project for two main reasons. First of all, its simplicity leaves less room for error, and the fact that it's provided by Apple almost guarantees more comprehensive support and documentation (though some might disagree with me on that point). Secondly, and more crucially, the drivers provided by Apple make XP actually usable; the On Mac project was plagued by a lack of drivers: video, wireless, and many peripherals didn't work. Boot Camp addresses this, making the XP gaming experience (among other things) on a Mac actually enjoyable.

So whilst there may be bugs and viruses, if you must run Windows on your Intel Mac, Boot Camp is definitely the way to go; heck, if you must need to run Windows, period, maybe getting a Mac is the way to go! Again, more on this later.

This is the first question that comes to mind; why on Earth would Apple provide a way to run Windows on the Mac? After all, it has its own operating system, OS X, which is far superior, why settle for less?

Well, the answer seems quite obvious; Apple appears to be aggressively pursuing greater market share. The idea, I think, is that by allowing Windows to run on Macs, people who might be interested in switching and buying a Mac, but are reluctant to do so due to unfamiliarity or compatibility concerns, will be swayed and will be more willing to purchase a Mac. Ideally, as more and more people become exposed to OS X, more will be convinced that it is better than Windows, and as such, Mac sales will grow. Pretty simple, right?

There are other theories as to why Apple might be doing this, the most notable again being John Dvorak's article claiming that Apple will ditch OS X. But I've discussed this already in an earlier post.

Whilst Apple clearly wants to increase its market share, what the actual consequences of this release might be remain to be seen.

The consequences and implications of Boot Camp is where most of the discussion and controversy lies, and this can be roughly split into two main areas: the implications for consumers, and the effects it might have on Apple. However, these two are by no means the only parties that will be affected by Boot Camp's release, many others, such as developers, Microsoft, and the computer industry as a whole may feel the impact of Boot Camp.

There are a number of groups of consumers who I think will be salivating over the prospect of running XP on their Macs. The first group is gamers. The lack of quality games for the Mac is a well documented complaint, and one that I discussed here. Until Mac gaming expands, XP on a Mac might be the best available method of attaining an enjoyable gaming experience on the Mac. A number of Mac owners (myself included) own a PC for the sole purpose of gaming, with Boot Camp, all that would be necessary would be to buy a copy of XP; why purchase an entire PC system now?

A second group of consumers who will likely be affected by Boot Camp are those who use PCs running Windows at work, either because their company demands it, or because they require certain Windows-only apps to do their jobs, but who own and prefer Macs. XP on a Mac would allow them to do work at home without having to buy a PC, or even to use a Mac at work.

But what about normal consumers, like myself, who love OS X, but might install XP just for the heck of it? What would this bring to our Macs apart from a usable Windows system? Well, first of all, it would bring viruses, spyware, adware and the like.

Consumer systems - Malware
So let's talk about malware: viruses, spyware, adware, you name it. Common to the Windows operating system, such malware is almost non-existent on the Mac. Installing XP on your Mac will bring malware to your hard disk, no matter how safe you think you are. Believe you me, unless you don't use the internet at all, you'll get infected almost instantly when running Windows. The question is, will Windows viruses affect your Mac partition? Many claim that if you make your Mac partition hidden to Windows, or format your Windows partition accordingly, malware will not affect your Mac, and that in any case, Windows viruses can't do much to Mac files. However, a friend of mine argued that anybody who made such claims didn't think like a hacker, and that malware can be written to access other hard disk partitions, even if they are hidden. Indeed, he used this method to hack into our University's system (as part of a school-sanctioned security test, nothing illegal going on here), so it is almost a given that Boot Camp will dramatically reduce the security of your computer.

Apple will have thought long and hard about the consequences of such a big release. As mentioned above, the move is probably one to increase market share, with the release of Boot Camp possible aimed at potential switchers who need that last little bit of convincing. Ideally, there will be a knock-on effect, with these switchers realising that OS X is superior to Windows and, that by preferring the Mac platform, will convince more Windows users to switch.

Some have predicted a reverse effect; Andrew Kantor of USA Today predicted that Boot Camp will lead to a mass exodus away from OS X to Windows. Now, this is one of the STUPIDEST arguments I've ever seen, and Jason Snell of Macworld refutes it beautifully.

But there may be other consequences. One of the things that Boot Camp allows the market to do is to more fairly compare Apple hardware to third party manufacturers. Direct comparison might reveal the true quality of Apple's hardware, and if it is shown that Apple lags behind in certain areas, there might be even more incentive for innovation and improvement on Apple's part, which can only be good for us consumers. Apple might finally be able to prove a point without having to use explanations such as the 'megahertz myth'. Indeed, PC World is now entertaining the prospect of Apple being listed on their top desktop PC charts.

Plenty of other parties may be affected by Boot Camp too:

This is an interesting area. Will developers now turn their backs on the Mac, now that it can run Windows? Mac-only developers will probably stay, but there is an argument that developers who write for both Macs and PCs, especially game developers (who have to pay more to port games due to middleware costs), will simply stop developing for Macs, banking on the notion that if Mac users want their software, they will run Boot Camp. Will big companies like Adobe also turn their backs on OS X?

I would argue that this is not necessarily the case. First of all, if Apple's market share increases, that gives more incentive to produce Mac-compatible software. On top of that, if any company does turn their back on the Macintosh, it would provide huge incentive for other developers to provide alternatives. And finally, a lot of professional software, particularly in graphics and audio, prefer the Mac platform, so I wouldn't predict a developer exodus, with the possible exception of the gaming industry.

If Apple's computer market share increases due to Boot Camp, Microsoft will likely make money. Since they make their money off of their OS and don't produce their own systems, increased sales of Windows will rake in cash for Microsoft. Thus, there's no surprise that Microsoft is supportive of the move. However, if an increase in Mac sales takes market share away from companies like Dell or HP, Microsoft's actual income might not change as much.

If Boot Camp users and switchers decide that they prefer OS X though, a long term effect of an increase in Mac sales might be an exodus away from Windows, and to OS X. I don't see this happening any time soon, but exposing Windows users to OS X could very well spell the beginning of the end for Windows...or so we can hope.

The industry as a whole
As mentioned, increases in Mac sales could result in decreases in sales for other PC manufacturers. However, Apple, unlike the rest of the industry, remains very protective of its technology; so unlike Windows, you can only legally run OS X on a Mac, so Apple won't be making any money from extra OS X sales. Dell has expressed interest in offering OS X on its PCs if the option should become available, but Apple has said 'no'.

I personally do not want to see 3rd party PC manufacturers offering OS X, because it is the tight integration between the operating system and the hardware that makes the Mac experience what it is. Whilst it is possible to get OS X running on a PC if you're an enterprising hacker, it won't run as sweetly as it would on a Mac. So Apple not opening up its technology isn't necessarily a bad thing for the consumer, though some would argue that more choice is always better. I say keep the Mac OS on Macs so that the Mac experience as a whole is preserved. If Apple ends up dominating the industry...well...I'm not complaining.

Final Thoughts
Whilst Boot Camp is an interesting prospect, and will certainly be embraced by many parties, it's by no means the be all and end all of running Windows apps on the Mac. Full virtualisation (running Windows apps natively within OS X) is what I would like to see - who the heck wants to reboot into Windows each time they want to play a game?

Would I install it now? No. It's still a beta, and with the benefits of Windows come its drawbacks; and I'm perfectly happy with my computer being virus-free.

Windows apps on a Mac? I'm all for it.

Windows on a Mac? No thanks, I'll stick with OS X.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Boot Camp


More to follow...

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

AppZapper now free!

Uninstallation on a Mac has always been one of the more confusing and frustrating tasks that your average user might regularly perform. Yes, you can just drag apps to the trash, but that doesn't delete preference files, application support files, and other files associated with any application's installation. There are unistallers out there, and most aren't very good. The tool I have that does uninstallation, Spring Cleaning, is a piece of junk, as I detailed in this podcast episode. Well, it looks like we finally have a free, elegant solution, though possibly only for a limited time.

And what an awesome solution it is. Meet AppZapper 1.3, a fantastic uninstaller for Mac OS X, is now being offered for free! All you have to do is go to this site, and once you've entered your name and email, they'll email you your license information. Then, download the application, enter the serial number from the email that you receive, and boom, you get $12.95 worth of software for free, with updates for life. What could be sweeter? I would wholeheartedly recommend going and picking up your free license right now if you haven't done so already.

Thanks to digg for this.

Monday, April 03, 2006

iLife '06, Mac OS X Update 10.4.6

Well, Apple's 30th birthday has passed without any big announcements. Nevertheless, this week does signal a week of big updates for my Mac!

I just received my copy of iLife '06, and I just finished installing it. I've given each of the apps a little bit of a spin, but I haven't used them anywhere near enough to write full reviews quite yet. Nevertheless, here are my initial thoughts.

Overally, the first thing I noticed was a different look to the applications. Instead of the brushed-metal look that we get in other OS X apps and iLife '05, the iLife '06 suite has adopted the cleaner, solid grey look of iTunes. The other thing that struck me was just how fast iPhoto 6 is. It really does "scroll like butter" compared to iPhoto 5. I also can't wait to try out Garageband 3's podcast studio; it should make recording my podcasts so much easier.

I'll have more thoughts on iLife '06 once I've had a chance to really dig into the applications.

On top of that, Apple released Mac OS X 10.4.6, which you can download using your software update. It's just under 66MB, so it's quite a decent-sized update. I'm installing it as I type this, and am hoping that it'll give my system a nice boost.

All in all, it's been a day of updates and more updates!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Happy 30th Birthday, Apple!

It's April Fool's Day, 2006. 30 years ago to this day, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computer, Inc. Who could've guessed that it would become what it is today.

Everyone was expecting some kind of event to celebrate Apple's 30th. As of yet, we haven't seen one, but of course, Apple doesn't like to hold events and release things on a Saturday, so who knows. I've been keeping an eye on the Apple Store online to see if there are any subtle discounts on offer =P.

But for now, here's to a great company. Cheers!