Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Me and the core duo

So I've now upgraded to a Dell Latitude D820. It's got a Core Duo chip, 2 GB of RAM, a bigger (and higher-res) display, a thinner body and a somewhat more stylish look than the Latitude D610 it replaces. Here's a review from PC Magazine:,1759,1943236,00.asp

And here are a couple of pictures from C|net:

Note that I do not plan to use my new computer as a footstool.

The D610 was a nice machine. The display was bright, had a good resolution (1400x1050) and was very clear. But from the moment it arrived, I knew that the machine was too small for my personal tastes and needs. The D610 was physically smaller than the Inspiron it was replacing. I tried to regard this as an advantage, which for many users it would be. But since I use the machine as a desktop replacement and don't carry it around a great deal, the smaller size isn't especially meaningful to me except as it limits the size of the display and perhaps the roominess of the keyboarding area. I had thought about getting the D810 at the time and should have done so. Why doesn't Dell have a store where you can go in and actually eyeball these items before you buy? Anyway, the D820's display is perfect, best I've ever used. With a resolution of 1680x1050, I've got room to work in FileMaker Pro and put the debugger comfortably off to the side, obviating the need for two monitors. And while the Core Duo chip doesn't change my life, the machine does feel more responsive, and seems to work better when I have many apps open, as I usually do.

Transferring from one machine to another was surprisingly easy. I used the Windows File and Settings Transfer Wizard, located in the Start Menu. I ran it first on the old machine and copied everything to a folder on a 250 GB hard drive. Then I attached that drive to the new machine, ran the wizard again, and all the old documents and settings were copied over. Took about half an hour on each machine, but otherwise it was painless. The only problem was that it didn't catch my Thunderbird email, which is stored in the Application Data folder. I copied that stuff manually. Not sure that most users would know to do that. Perhaps they would.

On the new machine, the first thing I installed was Firefox 1.5. After that, I next installed Microsoft Office. Once again, I'm using two accounts: an admin account for installations only and a limited privileges account for routine use. As I reported earlier, on the Latitude D610, I was unable to get Office to work in the limited privileges account, in spite of many hours of assistance from Microsoft tech support. But it seems to work okay now that I've installed from scratch on the new machine. I read someone somewhere say that the biggest problems he had with software in Windows were apps that came from Microsoft. My experience, too. The Office installation fiasco is the only significant problem I've had in the last six months. Anyway, everything is working fine now.

I reinstalled nearly all of my apps from scratch: Dreamweaver, FileMaker Pro Advanced, As-U-Type, Picasa (have not yet installed Photoshop Elements 4 and am not sure I will), SnagIt 8, Thunderbird (just so I could read my older email). It's good to have clean installations of these apps.

The new machine was a bargain. Want to buy from Dell? Visit their Web site every day and watch for sales.

All in all, this is definitely the best computer I've ever owned.

(Originally published on Typepad 5/16/2006)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hardware vs Software

Tech writer Molly Wood on the C|net blog notes that it's one thing to be able to boot Windows on a MacBook or MacBook Pro, it's another thing to be able to use it.

She focuses on the Mac line's lack of a two-button mouse. This isn't quite right. Apple makes the Mighty Mouse, which I have written favorably about in the past and which I still use, even with my Dell laptops. And it's been easy to buy two-button mice that are compatible with the Mac OS for years. These mice are all designed to simulate a control-click gesture (OS X's way of bringing up a contextual menu) when you right-click the mouse. What I think Ms Wood should have said is that the MacBooks - like all of Apple's laptops - have just one button for clicking built in.

Notwithstanding my quibble over her phrasing, I think she is right to point out that this is a problem especially for anyone wanting to run Windows on an Apple laptop. You'd either have to buy a two-button mouse to use with your laptop (perfectly feasible, but certainly not a selling point) or get used to control-clicking all the time. Actually, I assume that control-clicking on a MacBook running Windows simulates the right-click of a mouse, but I am not sure. It did in VirtualPC, but that was done as a software setting for the VirtualPC app. I think it's possible that a real copy of Windows XP running on an Intel MacBook will have no idea what to do with a control-click.

The keyboard is another difference between Macs and PCs that will make it difficult for an experienced PC/Windows user to use Windows on a MacBook more than occasionally. When I tried to use my Apple and Apple-compatible keyboards with my Dell laptops, I found it extremely awkward. The Control, Windows and Alt keys on a PC are not straightforward counterparts of the Control, Command and Option keys on Macs. As you switch from Windows to the Mac OS, for example, you have to stop using Control-key shortcuts and switch to Command-key shortcuts. I just got back from a weekend in which I rented two different vehicles, neither of which shifted like my Isuzu Trooper. Both of the rental vehicles had automatic transmissions, but the Montana minivan had the shift stick on the steering column, while the Jeep Cherokee SUV had the shifter in a console down and to the right, under the radio and A/C controls. I found it rather awkward to move from the minivan to the Jeep and many times turned on my window wipers when I was trying to shift into park. Using the very same keyboard on two different operating systems is awkward in just the same way.

What's the bottom line? I've said already that I do not think many users will want to own dual-boot systems, because most ordinary users can just barely cope with one operating system and the last thing they want from a computer is the whole new dimension of headaches that using yet another operating system will bring. If the software for the Mac OS was really as superior as Mac users think it is - and as I myself thought it was until very recently - then the Mac would have grown its marketshare without dual-boot machines.

(Originally published on Typepad 5/16/2006)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Dan Brown's Apple

I read Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code when it came out. I was at that time coming to the end of my academic detoxification - or rather retoxification - program, the program in which I was reading all the crap that I'd failed to keep up with during the previous quarter of a century. A sales person at Barnes & Noble had suggested the book as a good read, and he was right. I read the book straight through in two days. I even spent a little time on the Web looking at Da Vinci's Last Supper and reading about Opus Dei, trying to figure out what the hell Brown was talking about. I couldn't, and eventually, after, oh, an hour of what in high school might pass for "research" I realized Brown had - on the most charitable theory - made most of it up. The author of Holy Blood, Holy Grail has a less charitable explanation. He claims that he made it all up first, and Brown stole it. Whatever. The point is, we're talking fiction here. It's entertaining, but it's fiction.

Which brings me to the new television ads from Apple.

In these new television ads, a hip young fellow plays the Mac and a less hip, geeky looking guy plays the PC. The Apple guy reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld. He's young and looks like he probably has a pretty girlfriend. The PC guy reminds me a bit of George Costanza, except that he looks like he's married and might even have a kid. And clearly the PC guy has a job, while the Apple guy, if he is not actually a stand-up comic, is on holiday, bicycling across the country with his iPod, his digital camera and the new MacBook Pro his dad gave him. The Apple guy graciously (and oddly) compliments the PC guy on what he can do with spreadsheets. Is the Apple guy unaware that Office for the Mac has a spreadsheet in it? Anyway, the Mac guy is mainly interested in photos and music and video. Computers are not tools, they're fun! The fact that the Mac is a sorry gaming platform is not mentioned. Perhaps that's coming in another ad.

Anyway, I love the ads. I laughed. As a formerly hip person myself, I get all the jokes. And of course I'm impressed that Walt Mossberg - the only computer journalist in the world not writing for Macworld who is willing to say that "the Mac is the world's best personal computer at any price" - happens to work for a very respected paper that I happen to subscribe to, etc. Very entertaining.

But true? Not so much.

OK, it's true that Mac OS X hasn't been the target of the kinds of viruses and other forms of malware that Windows XP has been the target of. It's also true that Macs don't catch viruses written for Windows, in the same way that I am not going to catch feline distemper from my cat. But it's not true to say or suggest that the Mac itself is immune. Back in the day so of the original Mac OS, viruses were a problem - enough of a problem that I still remember the name of John Norstad, author of Disinfectant and a hero to old Mac users. Macs aren't targeted by virus writers for much the same reason that the mayors of cities are seldom targets of assassins. If somebody were to write a virus that affected the Mac, it wouldn't get enough press. It's certainly not the case that Unix and/or the Mac OS are immune to malware and it's a bit cheeky for Apple to suggest that. There are other ways in which the Mac OS has the advantage over Windows, but they're too complicated to point out in an ad. For example, you could mention that Macs by default close lots of ports that are open on Windows by default. But it's not a grabber.

Still, the stuff about the Mac and viruses is the best stuff in these ads. But this stuff about the Mac being troublefree and easy is baloney. Maybe a late night repairing Unix permissions is Walt Mossberg's idea of a good time, but it's not mine.

As for hardware compatibility? In one of the ads, a Japanese beauty sidles up to the hip Apple dude and they start talking in Japanese. She apparently represents the latest cool camera from Japan, which (says the ad) the Mac supports, but Windows doesn't. The suggestion is that Macs are compatible with everything, right out of the box. Talk about chutzpah! Microsoft should run an ad listing all the devices - printers, scanners, wireless routers, keyboards - that don't work with Macs because they lack drivers for Mac OS, and while they're at it, they could list all the software that doesn't run on the Mac, either. I can't print to my Dell laser printer. I spent hours on the phone with Canon trying to get my scanner to work with the Mac; a driver existed but it was badly written. My old Olympus camera didn't work as well on the Mac as it did on the PC. This quotation from a review I read today is pretty typical. The reviewer is talking about the brand new Point & Shoot Video Camcorder. He first describes how easy it is to get your video from the camera to your PC and, say, email it to someone. He continues:

The process is clumsier on a Mac, because you have to install the software first—it doesn't run automatically from the camera. Also, saving the files on the Mac for use in other software required converting them to another format or running a special program. The company pledges to fix these Mac issues later in the year.

Who's the reviewer? Well, it's the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, the same guy who is quoted in one of the Apple ads as saying that the Mac is the best computer available at any price. If you take "at any price" in one sense - that is, if you don't care that you may spend $1000 more for a Mac than you will for a comparably configured PC - then perhaps Mossberg's right. I like the Mac OS. And I suppose Mossberg also meant, Best computer anywhere - as long as you don't want to buy the hot new Point & Shoot Video Camcorder.

What the ads prove once again, if such proof was needed, is not that Apple is simply and absolutely better than the PC, but that Apple's ad agency is better than Microsoft's.

P.S. The ads don't mention this, either.

(Originally published on Typepad 5/2/2006)

About Me

I am an event photographer living in Dallas, Texas.