Category: iBook

TidBITS: Explaining the Apple Ebook Price Fixing Suit

TidBITS: Explaining the Apple Ebook Price Fixing Suit.

I was looking for a totally impartial, warts-and-all, facts-based run-down of the Ebooks lawsuit – here it is, summed up thusly:

“…there is nothing inherently illegal with the agency model, price tiers, or an MFN clause. And there isn’t even anything wrong with combining them in negotiation with a single company. The problem comes when they’re combined in negotiation with six publishers that between them control nearly 50 percent of the book market, and over 90 percent of the New York Times bestsellers.”

To be honest, I was ready to side with Apple on this, but they are the guilty, albeit well-meaning party in this lawsuit.

I get the impression that Apple, blinded by the envy/hatred that Amazon had sewn up 90% of the eBook market, saw themselves as some sort of saviour for the publishing industry, and like so many people before, executed badly and made things worse.

Let’s hope they learn their lesson.

Android fragmentation…

Nexus One

Tyrell Corporation's 1st droid, the Nexus One

Andy Inakhto reviews the Nexus One here:

A good a comprehensive review from Andy Inakhto, covering the pros and cons of Tyrell Corps’ new phone.

One of the problems that Andy sees it the fragmentation of the Android OS. The platform is not set in stone, some things work on your Android phone, but may not work on your friends’. This is because Google has given too much control to the carrier, however Andy comments that this may be a moot point because of a similarity on the iPhone:

Alas, even the comparative utopia of Apple’s iPhone’s “One OS to rule them all” system can’t last forever; early reports are that iPhone OS 4.0 will bring enough new core features that only the iPhone 3G and 3GS will run it.

I would strongly argue that that the fragmentation of Android is worse than the ‘fragmentation’ of the iPhone, because it doesn’t matter how many times Apple fragments the iPhone – they control & manage every fragmentation. Google does not.

It’s that control that sets the iPhone above everything else, Apple can split and dice up the OS’s relationship with the hardware as many times as they like, as long as they manage the user’s experience.

Google’s user frustrations in this area will not come from the fact that they can’t run ‘X’ piece of software on their phone, it’s that nobody (Google or the carrier) will give then a straight answer, or even care that this is important to the user.

Google’s carriers hang like a weight around its neck, the user will constantly be frustrated with that and will demand better.

They way you get ‘better’ is to handle it all yourself – Apple’s route. Apple’s relationship with AT&T is rightly criticized, but at least Apple has AT&T under control.

Lastly, Andy’s title for this piece is, “Google’s Nexus One is no iPhone – and that’s OK”. Is that because Andy, you have been saying on The Twit Network that it’s much better than the iPhone, however after using you realise that that’s not the case?

Expect Leo Laporte to quietly stop using his Nexus One (which he has gone on record as saying that he has abandoned his iPhone for the Google phone) and move back to the iPhone within the next few days…

I didn’t know I wanted it, until I needed it…

timemachine

So a complete and total disaster has occurred, I mean a BIG one, to quote the late Douglas Adams (as I often do) – ‘bigger than the biggest thing ever’.

Due to a ridiculous turn of events, I dropped a rather sharp, heavy-ish object onto my iBook from a great height – by accident of course – slap bang on the area, to the left of the trackpad, just where the HD is.

This resulted in the iBook stopping dead in it’s tracks. It was happily playing iTunes to itself, and then – nothing. Black screen, dead.

Restarts resulted in the dreaded flashing OS 9-style folder – couldn’t find a startup disk.

That was in itself worrying, however when starting up from a CD, and running disk utility, it couldn’t even find the disk itself – it couldn’t be repaired, it was gone.

This wasn’t just worrying, it was terror inducing.

After a stiff drink and a think, I tried to calmly look at my options. I remembered that I had being backing up this computer, ever since I upgraded to Leopard using Time Machine.

Without me doing anything other than plugging the disk in occasionally, Leopard has quietly backed up everything on my now dead iBook, and I’m sure that somewhere in the back of my mind I had read an article on how to restore a whole disk using Time Machine.

A few clicks on my iPhone I had the article.

Grabbing a spare external HD, I plugged it and the Time Machine disk in, restarted from the Leopard CD, ran the ‘restore’ command, and it restored  my dead disk from its backup, also making it bootable on the way.

An hour later, I’m now typing this article from that system.

The poor little iBook needs a new HD, and it won’t cost the earth either. I should have it back in a couple of days, with a brand new and bigger HD to restore that backup to.

This to me sums up why I use a Mac. The one technology that Leopard introduced that I didn’t really care for was Time Machine. It has now saved my system.

It runs smoothly and unobtrusively in the background, quietly doing its thing. It has little or no features, you can’t configure it much, and it’s about the most simple backup out there.

But it works. It – just – works.

Safari 4 beta

button-download-icon-20090217

Apple surprised everyone recently by announcing Safari 4.0. It’s released as a beta, put don’t let that put you off, it’s every bit as stable as the previous version.

Opinion is divided on some of the new features, with some people hating the fact that the tabs have moved to the top (as Chrome), the ‘Top Sites’ feature not being particularly useful, and the intrusion of ‘Cover Flow’ into bookmark & history browsing.

Other people love these features, but I think it’s a mixed bag. The feature that wowed me first was the ‘Top Sites’ feature, however this enthusiasm has faded as I realised I cannot seem to find it useful. Time will tell.

The feature that I hated at first was the ‘Cover Flow’ intrusion. I don’t like Cover Flow, I don’t use it in the OS, or iTunes, however it seemed to make more sense in Safari, because it’s better than what it replaces, and I’m warming to it.

The traditional way, by earching your history by looking at hundreds of similar named bits of text, is not user-friendly at all, however quickly skimming through thumbnails of those pages is much more intuitive.

Thurrott is having a bad time in finding anything to like in Safari 4 beta. This isn’t surprising, but he seems to blow lukewarm to cold on Apple, depending on whether he needs to up his site visits. I’m purposefully not linking to his article.

Everyone seems not to mention the speed. The stats seem incredible, and although they seem to be true and not exaggerated, (they have been independently tested and confirmed), the average surfer won’t see much difference.

The question for me remains, is why are Apple introducing more (albeit useful) eye-candy into Safari? It’s a browser, and shouldn’t it be lean, fast & mean?

It comes down to pushing the hardware. I do most of my personal surfing on a little iBook G4 and it’s beginning to show the strain. Apple need to keep selling their hardware, so they keep pushing the specs, to make you upgrade.

I’ve held off, because, like most I can’t afford to upgrade my hardware every time Apple releases new Mac’s.

I put it off for as long as possible, and I’m planning to purchase a MacBook when Snow Leopard is released.

It seems that Apple are heading towards Snow Leopard as the pinnacle of what they can achieve, after they threw away OS9 all those years ago.

Snow Leopard seems to be everything that Steve Jobs has been aiming for – a lean, mean OS, with no legacy code. A good foundation to build upon.

I predict that after Snow Leopard has been released, together with the hardware that’s designed to take full advantage of it, Steve Jobs will announce his retirement, with the knowledge that his job is done.

However it will be sad when SJ retires. To most new Mac users he has significant, but not irreplaceable influence.

When he does go, I’m sure that Apple will carry on, and be better off in the long run, but the Apple that I have grown up with (since System 6) – my Apple – will never be the same again.

Safari is all part of this, and it’s apparent that Apple are slowly putting the pieces together to make the Mac best tech-experience, bar none.

MobileMe isn’t particularly mobile, at least for me…

mobileme

This is a difficult post to write.

More often than not, the content of this blog is pro-Apple. I make no apologies for this, and although I do critcise Apple from time to time, I also cut them some slack.

Recently I purchased MobileMe. Now, despite a hiccup in purchasing, which wasn’t Apple’s fault, but the resellers, things went smoothly.

At first, things went smoothly. I have an iBook running Leopard, an iPod Touch and a G5 Tower running Tiger, all syncing to the cloud.

This worked fine for a little while. I kept getting a lot of contact an calendar updates on the G5, which was a bit suspicious, but things worked OK.

That was until last week.

The G5 at work was syncing OK, no problems, the iBook & Touch worked flawlessly. Just to check a configuration, I clicked the .Mac Preference Pane on the G5 (it’s running Tiger remember).

It wouldn’t open. It beachballed and then gave me a ‘Could not open .Mac because of an error.”

I’m a seasoned troubleshooter, so I logged into another account – same result. OK, that points to a system-wide pref file that’s corrupted.

So I moved all the .plist files I could find and restarted.

Oh dear. This time the G5 stalled at the desktop. It couldn’t load the .Mac menubar item. So I did a bit of system-voodoo and removed that menubar item so it wouldn’t have to load.

Restarted.

The system now started ok (sans the menu bar item), but upon launching System Preferences, the .Mac Preference Pane wasn’t there.

Ouch. Never seen that before. At this point I thought about cache corruption. The preference pane was in the system (I checked) but it wasn’t loading.

So I cleaned the local caches and restarted. Now my Keyboard & Mouse Preference Pane is in Chinese. I kid you not.

Anyway, this G5 is a production machine, so I left it there, so I could do some more research.

This research has given me a few pointers, which I will try soon. There’s a couple of files I haven’t trashed yet, so we’ll try that.

If that doesn’t work, then I’ll clean all caches, including system.

If that doesn’t work, I’ll try reinstalling the combo updater.

If that doesn’t work, it’s a install of a new system.

How is it possible that enabling a product on your system can cause so many problems? I have over 20 years Mac experience and I’m grasping for solutions.

How is it possible that a product can simply stop working for no reason?

And, let’s not forget, this is an additional service I’VE PAID FOR.

Which is why this article is difficult to write. 

MOBILEME IS NOT READY – AT ALL.


It works for lots of people, but not all. I certainly could not run a business on this. Even the little web-design service I do in my spare time.

I don’t expect this from Apple, I really don’t. 

Are we seeing here the limits to what Apple can do reliably? Are we seeing the edges of their competence? Were all those Windows users right in saying that Apple just doesn’t do certain things as good as Microsoft?

Now that Steve’s away, I hope that Tim asks some serious question of MobileMe. It’s damaging the brand severely and they need the courage to fix it properly, or pull it off the market, trash it and partner with Google, rebrand their offerings and give us a service that we can all be proud of.

Will I be renewing in a years time? At this moment, I’d say no.

A tale of 2 internets – update…

Tale of 2 Cities Illustration

Well the Brother DCP155C arrived and is currently sitting next to my iBook, working fine.

As you may know, the journey to this point wasn’t easy.

My first choice of retailer to buy this product from (PC World), would not let me buy this product, because of incompatibilities with their website in conjunction with a Mac. I sent an email complaint, but guess what? I’ve had no reply. No doubt it was deleted immediately by the Windows-biased support staff.

After finding a retailer who did want to sell me the product (Amazon), I also found that the company used to ship the item’s website (Parcel Force UK), also did not work with Mac’s. I also have received no reply from their complaints department as to why. I’m not at all surprised.

But now that the all-in-one printer is here, I’m very pleased with it.

Upon opening, and finding that all the documentation was not in English, I had to resort to reading the installation instructions from the CD. Not too much of a problem, but a minor hiccup. Upon reading, I realised that the printer driver was a CUPS based driver, and the scanner was TWAIN based.

What does this mean? Well basically I won’t have to rely on third party software to print or scan, it’s all compatible with Printer Set-Up and Image Capture.

This is great news because when an Apple update occurs, most likely the all-in-one will still work without needing a separate update. It’s also compatible with Airport Express, so when I do buy that, I’ll be able to print wirelessly.

The cartridges are also pretty cheap – £8.00 each, and the photo-quality prints are really good.

The other capability of the printer is a built-in card reader. This allows you to print off pictures from a digital camera without plugging it into a computer. A great side effect to this is the 5-in-one card slot, also acts as a card reader, so when you put your card in, if your Mac is connected, it appears on the Mac desktop and automatically imports the pictures into iPhoto.

The scanner can also be used as a photocopier, again, not needing to be attached to the Mac to do this.

All-in-all I cannot praise this all-in-one enough, you get a printer, scanner, card reader & photocopier for £50.00 – a bargain.

It’s a pity that I couldn’t have got this from PC World, but hey, it’s their loss not mine. I can certainly see that I will be avoiding PC World in the future.

What music means to me, you and the labels…

itunes logo

Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. The first single I ever bought was ‘Food for Thought’ by UB40, it cost less than a pound, and I must have been about 11 years old. I still own it – although it’s a bit scratched now.

My main musical influences come from my family, naturally. Disco & dance from my sisters, motown & indie from my brothers. But most of all they come from one of my brothers. He’s 4 years older than me and throughout his life he has been a mod, punk, goth, new romantic, futurist and countless other genres too subtle to mention.

Although I did not follow the fashion as much as he, I did follow his music, specifically punk, goth & indie, and this music has stayed with me all my life.

My listening habits however, have changed radically as I’ve moved from year to year throughout my life.

Early on (from 12 to about 14), I bought nothing but singles & albums. I was heavily influenced by advertising, and spent most of my pocket money in this area. Music to me at this point was a commodity that you listened to, liked and then bought. It wasn’t until I suddenly realised that there was no reason to do this that I changed to…

…tapes. From about 14 to 19 I spent a considerable amount of time swapping tapes between friends. I hardly spent any money on music, just the very occasional album. Music to me at this point was more about quantity than quality (in terms of recording), and I amassed a huge collection of taped albums (200+).

This changed again when I left school and went into higher education. My music tastes became much more condensed and due to the arrogance you feel at this age, I exposed my self to a narrow range of music. However my appreciation of good quality music (in terms of recording), grew and I found myself purchasing more LP’s, EP’s, CD’s & singles that at any time in my life, indeed this is where most of my current record collection comes from.

But this didn’t last. On graduating, and finding a job (at around 24), money became very tight. Over the next decade or so, I married, had a family and purchasing music was at the bottom of my very long list. Any music purchases were usually compilations, with a little bit of taped radio.

But then came iTunes (in the UK).

At first my interest was piqued, but I still didn’t have much spare cash, so purchases were few and far between, i.e. zero.

It wasn’t until I bought my first iPod (a 4gb mini), that things started to change, and music started to take the centre stage again, (well a bit to the right of centre).
At first, I transferred all of my CD collection to the iPod, at least the tracks I liked, this maybe filled a third of the iPod. Then after a few months of realising what a difference carrying 300 of my favourite songs around with me meant, I wanted to transfer all the songs I ‘owned’.

I say ‘owned’, but I didn’t really own them as such, some songs were on LP’s and singles, so these were legal, however I had a huge collection of taped songs that I wished to transfer as well, these I certainly did not own.

But I transferred them anyway, filling my iPod almost to the brim, and our story is almost to the present day.

What I am presently doing is, slowly but surely, is buying (when I have the spare cash) all the taped songs I do not own from iTunes. Now, this isn’t because I feel guilty about have illegal songs on my iPod, no. It’s because the songs I transferred from tapes I REALLY like, and I want to own the best quality recording of them (at least better than tapes, I know that iTunes quality is debatable).

iTunes is the most convenient way of doing this, it’s simple, cheap and legal.
So this is my musical journey from child to man, and the record companies should take note of this. Is my journey typical? Yes, I’d like to think it is.

Note that at certain times during my life, I have been a rampant pirate. But this had nothing to do with me being a criminal, or making any money. It was do to with the fact that I love music, and I would do whatever it took to listen to music with the funds that I had available at the time.

Indeed, the music industry, allowing me to easily pirate songs, actually increased my exposure and love of music to such a degree, that I am now, as an adult, and avid music purchaser.

If the music industry, back in the 80’s, had started taking me and my friends to court because we shared tapes, our love of music would have been stifled by the fact that our exposure to music would have been greatly reduced. Therefore, at a later date when we had the funds to purchase music, we would purchase a great deal less, and maybe none at all, spending our money to fund a different interest altogether.

The music industry does not seem to grasp this. They seem to not understand their own industry, or the way which their customers have been exposed to, and bought music in the past, and seem to be resisting the changes that are now taking place, which will radically change the way we all buy music in the future.

They must change, because no matter how hard they try, we will not. This is marketing 101, you have to react to your customers buying habits, if you don’t then you are finished.
Maybe they are finished, they just don’t realise yet. All I know is, is that my children will do exactly as I have done, in terms of purchasing music, no matter what the music industry wants.

RIP Freehand…

Free hand

It’s a sad day today, the final last gasp of a once great application – FreeHand. Adobe have posted a document outlining what you need to know to transfer from Freehand to Illustrator. Freehand is basically dead.

After the takeover of Macromedia by Adobe last year, most people were concerned about the web development apps, such as Dreamweaver – would they survive?

Little attention was given to an application that I have fond memories of, it being one of the first applications I knew back-to-front & inside out – Freehand.

Freehand has had an odd history. It’s been passed around from pillar to post for years Macromedia to Aldus, over to Adobe and then back to Macromedia again. Some upgrades were fantastic (3.1, 7 & 10), but others were dogs, if you ever used Freehand 4, you’d know what I mean.

I used to use Freehand alongside Quark (remember that app?), many, many years ago, and they were a great team. This was before transparency, before PDF & Postscript 3 and the combination of these 2 apps made it possible to create some great designs.
I’ve always liked the way in which Freehand handles bezier curves, much more intuitive than Illustrator. It allowed you to get right down to the task in hand, be it re-drawing a logo, or creating a complex illustration. At this point, I worked for a design department of a newspaper, and we worked exclusively in Freehand creating adverts & editorial background designs.

But then things started to change. Freehand 4 came along and something went wrong. This upgrade was a dog, slow, unintuitive and buggy, and with Illustrator snapping at it’s heels, Freehand 5 solved most of the problems, but even back then the writing was on the wall.
I started to use both Illustrator & Freehand side by side, but I kept on going back to Freehand, and only using Quark for huge, multi-page documents. When Freehand added multi page documents, it became possible to leave Quark behind completely, in fact for a few jobs (8 page brochures, complex gatefold leaflets), entire jobs were done in Freehand, much to the anger of various repro houses who were part of an inflexible Quark-based workflow.

When Apple released OS X, Freehand was one of the first apps to be ported and it worked like a charm. I continued to use it for creating logos & small adverts, but then Adobe released InDesign.

InDesign was a huge change for me. I’ve always hated Quark, and when I got the excuse to move from it to InDesign (Quark had no OS X support) I leapt at the chance.

But, on leaping I started to use Illustrator more because EPS files created in Illustrator seemed to print more reliably than EPS files created in Freehand, and Freehand’s fate for me was sealed.

I never upgraded it again, and it stays on my hard drive to this day, unused.

But you have to move on, and having grudgingly learned Illustrator and marveled at its transparency effects which have totally changed my workflow and my viewpoint of the app, I feel that Freehand does deserve its fate.

Illustrator’s still a pain to use though. RIP Freehand.

Keep it in the family…

Family

It’s strange really, now that the Macintosh is part of my personal life as well as my professional, I’ve started to think of how computers affect my immediate family.
Previously, I was only professionally tied to the Macintosh from a work standpoint, and I didn’t take home the thoughts and computing bias that I clearly show at work.

I knew that some members of my family had computers, and I knew they were not Macintoshes, but it didn’t bother me. When these family members complained that their barely one year old PC was barely useable due to constant pop-ups & crashes, I just shrugged, smiled and kept my thoughts to myself by saying, “Sorry, but I use different computers at work, I haven’t a clue how to fix yours.”

But all that has now changed, and it’s changed for a specific reason.

Most of my family members bought PC’s because that’s what the staff at PC World told them to buy, they were not shown the Macintosh, they do not even know that the Mac even exists. As far as they are concerned computers mean Windows. I pity them, but I feel that it would be of little use to try and convert them to the Mac. Their view of computers is permanently tainted. As far as they are concerned, all computers act like this. When you do point out that there are other computing platforms out there, ones that are reliable, crash-free, virus, spyware & pop-up free they just look at you blankly, or if they know about the Mac, they scoff, giving all the usual FUD and misinformation.
You see, the Windows environment affects the user in 1 of 2 ways. The first lot simply accept the fact that this is the way computers act, and put up with it. They don’t wan’t to learn how to manage Windows because (quiet rightly) they’ve better things to do (such as actually using the computer). They expected their computer to be like their TV, simply switch it on and it should work. Add a printer from a different manufacturer should be as simple as adding a DVD player to a TV which is 10 years old. It’s a big disappointment to them when they realise this isn’t the case. The PC simply gets used less and less, until they replace it with a new one. They buy all the hype from Microsoft/Intel and part with their money yet again. They think (wrongly) maybe, just maybe ‘a computer’ will do all the things they say, and change their life for the better – this time. These users go back every couple of years, time and time again. The Wintel monopoly doesn’t care, because well, it’s a monopoly. A whole PC industry has built up around this simple process.

The second lot act differently. They actually try to fix their PC. For some reason it doesn’t occur to them that they were sold a faulty product. They learn about the intricasies of Windows, the registry, viruses, spyware, adware, trojan’s, patching their system etc.

Slowly they can coax their PC back to a semblence of useability. It’s during this period they learn of the Mac, usually from the PC press and their colleagues, and all the FUD gets laid down in their mind. This does tremendous good for their ego; they have triumphed over the complexity of Windows, they learn respect from their friends and they are brainwashed into believing that the Mac is a toy, and they DID make the right computer choice after all. Over time, this is what ‘using a computer’ means to them. They’ve forgot that they actually wanted to use it to create something. They become, for want of a better word, ‘a geek’.

In my family we have both of these types of users. The first type had a PC that was next to useless. It barely crawled along, it had constant pop-ups, porn sites would jump out at you every few minutes (for some reason). So what did they do with it? Instead of throwing it away, (or as they should do, take it back to PC World and demand that they replace the faulty goods with a real computer, i.e. a Mac), they sold it, YES SOLD IT, to my mother (78 years young), who has never used a one in her life and had heard about computers, email and the internet and wanted to simply ‘surf’ to find holiday information and to send emails to her grandchildren.

Of course she quickly realised that the computer was next to useless and quite unbelievably offensive as well. When receiving a phone bill for over £200, we realised that there was some dial-up malware on it that was calling premium rate lines. Of course, other members of my family (the 2nd lot, the computer experts), jumped up and offered to fix it, using spyware removers, and all sorts of tinkering under the hood, but after several attempts, the computer is now a £200 doorstop.

Does this make me angry? Does this, as a Mac user who knows full well that my mothers first contact with computers has been tainted by the second rate rubbish that Microsoft offers? You bet your life it does. All she wanted was a simple computer to send emails, write letters and surf the internet. She didn’t want to learn all about maintaining it, she expected it to work. We all know that a Mac would have been a perfect choice for her. But because she’s surrounded by macho PC users, who want to sell her a crap PC, and want her to call them up when it needs fixing so that they can show her how clever her boys are, she’ll never get near one.

The relationship between my mother and her relations, the so called computer experts, mirrors the relationship the PC vendor’s have with their customers. They sell you something they know is defective, but they know full well you’ll have to come back to them to fix it, or have to replace it in a couple of years. It’s a great business plan.

Which brings me neatly back to the change of heart I have had concerning recommending the Mac. I owe it to my mother (and people like her) to show her that computers can be fun, useful and can change your life. Had she had a Mac, she’d probably be creating her own DVD movies by now, because that’s what the Mac does for us all, it’s so easy to use, it empowers you to create, whilst at the same time get’s out of your way to allow you to create. You don’t have to worry about maintaining it – that’s not what you bought it for.

But because of the PC, my mother now thinks all computers act like Windows does, just like all the other 95% do.

I’ve started to bring her round to the Macintosh way. It’s early days and she still doesn’t quite understand the differences between the Mac & PC, but as soon as I see a second hand iMac advertised I’m buying her one for Christmas. She’ll then be able to use a computer for the reason she wanted one, to surf the internet, write letters & send emails to my kids, and she will never, NEVER have to ask anyone for help when her computer breaks down, because it won’t. This is the reason why PC users hate the Mac so much, it takes the so-called experts out of the equation completely. It destorys the reliance that the geeks want us to have on them, and it destroys the PC vendors business plan. And that can only be a good thing.

Norton No More…

Norton no more

Yesterday marked a sad day for my personal experiences in a Macintosh studio. The very last Mac (a G4 867mhz which I use as a print server), has had the very last copy of Norton Utilities/Antivirus removed from it. For the first time, Norton is no longer part of my studio set-up, for the first time I have NO antivirus or disk utility software in my studio, for the first time I am vulnerable.

Well technically, Norton Utilities hasn’t been on the network for a while, ever since 10.2. A series of crashes, slowdowns & general instability that I couldn’t pin down the cause of, finally persuaded me to not bother upgrading when I moved the studio to 10.3, and 10.4 finally finished it off. These Mac’s have been fine since. Coincidence? I think not.

But I still had to have anti-virus right? So i bought Norton Antivirus 9, and installed it onto the Mac’s in the studio, and for while everything was good. But again, after a series of instability episodes, plus some of the feedback that I have read on the web, I finally decided that I had had enough of Symantec’s products and upon upgrading the Mac’s to

Tiger, I am finally free, and vulnerable.

But how vulnerable am I exactly? In my experience, systems previous to Mac OS X, really did need Norton. A full install of Norton, and regular (weekly/monthly) rounds of running system checks & rebuilding desktops was required to keep each Mac running smoothly. And, let’s face it, systems previous to X crashed every few days or so.

But upon moving to X, it was like a breath of fresh air. I moved to X when 10.2 was released and initially I was concerned over it’s stability, and I felt I needed Norton as a cushion for this system, and as a cushion for my misguided views in comparing it to OS 9.

Over time though, the rock-solid reliability has astounded me. It wasn’t until I had to visit a print shop that was still using OS 9 in order to see through the repro of a print job, that

I saw what I used to have to put up with. Upon seeing Norton Systemworks popping up every once in a while, I remarked that this piece of software caused more problems than it solved. I was rebuked for this, with the printer saying, “but I need that software to keep things running smoothly!”

And he’s right, if you’re running OS 9 then I would agree (just) that you do need Norton, however once you move to X, leave it behind.

But, what about viruses? Well, as you know, (all together now), “THERE ARE NO VIRUSES FOR THE MACINTOSH PLATFORM”, but I am part of a Windows organisation, and I do receive the odd email with a Windows virus attached so I should run some sort of antivirus right?

Wrong. There are 2 potential threats here. The first is the passing on of a Windows viruses via email, and the second is the very slight chance that a Mac virus may appear at some point, taking advantage of some as yet unforeseen security vulnerability in Mac OS X.

The first is taken care of by education. I keep my Mac staff aware of the problem that they should not forward these types of email. They are very easy to spot anyway.

The second part of the problem would not be solved by Antivirus. A new virus would not be covered by Antivirus as it would not know about the new virus until it struck. Antivirus only makes sense when the OS you’re using is inundated by hundreds of viruses all of different types and you need constant protection to be safe, as per Windows.

This isn’t the case on the Mac. I think we’re much better off allowing Apple to plug the holes before they’re exploited, rather than running Antivirus that sucks at your systems processor cycles. When a virus does strike (and it’s bound to sooner or later), then we’re partially protected because it would need permission to run, and if it could run without permission, it would only affect things in your home directory, as I don’t have root enabled on any Mac, (and you shouldn’t either), and I have extremely good, daily backup (as you should have as well).

It is a sad day, but only for Symantec. I can understand why the shift in focus away from the Mac makes sense, they just look at the numbers. The grass is much greener on the Windows side, and always will be, even with Longhorn’s apparent improvements. But it’s a happy day for my studio, because the Mac no longer needs Norton.

Keeping IT under control…

Have a nice day…

About a decade ago I made a decision that changed my working life. No, I didn’t choose the Macintosh; that decision came almost a decade earlier, and has been a choice that has richly coloured my life ever since.

No, the decision that changed my life for a second time was to move away from the more traditional feeding grounds of the Mac, such a advertising agencies, printers & imagesetting bureaux, and towards areas where the Mac was making inroads into larger, Wintel-based companies.

After the slow-down that hit the UK advertising industry in the mid-nineties, I decided that I couldn’t base my career around such a unpredictable & volatile industry, where losing one client could mean the company cutting it’s wage bill in half.

I took a job working for an ‘in-house’ studio, as part of a larger PC-based organisation, and in the following years I have worked for several companies, but all of them have followed this ethos. By and large, this working environment is much more agreeable, and has allowed me to relax and plan a future for myself and my family.

I say agreeable, but there has been one aspect of this arrangement that has proved irksome – IT departments.

I have many a horror story to tell of my dealings with stubborn Windows Managers, too many to go into here, but I must make a clear distinction of who I am talking about. By Windows Managers I am talking about people in a business setting who have had no contact with the Macintosh or Mac-people whatsoever, and whose only reference to Macintosh are the odd sarcastic article in PC magazines. I in no way refer to the countless numbers of Macintosh IT Managers who in my experience do an excellent job of managing Macintosh & Windows based networks.

I always gave Windows Managers the benefit of the doubt, thinking that the Mac-hating attitude that they’d so often dish out was simply an isolated incident, and didn’t reflect the wider opinion of IT professionals and Network Managers. However, having looked back over 3 or 4 separate companies of which I have worked for, and the opinions and attitudes of the IT staff therein, I’m beginning to see a pattern.

When a particular company first decides that it makes business-sense to bring their design & repro in-house, they are at a loss as how to approach it. What tends to happen is they bypass the usual avenues for buying IT equipment, i.e. they don’t approach their IT department. They ask their current provider for advice, be it a design house, printer or consultant. They will recommend the industry-standard – the Apple Macintosh. Then recruitment begins, and it’s usually these recruits that set the whole studio up. As you know, the Mac’s so straightforward, this is just a matter of a couple of days.

Then the problems start. Usually you need some information from IT, in order for the Mac to integrate into the PC-network. IP addresses, SMB printer file-paths, email, internet, proxy settings, the list goes on and on, and it’s here where I usually hit a brick wall, (with a Windows logo on it).

What follows are endless arguments, one-sided discussions and vitriol on their opinion of the Macintosh, which I try my best to avoid getting involved in. This exact scenario has happened on more than one occasion, and it begs me to ask the question, ‘why?’, and I think I have an answer.

The reasons for this are quite simple, and in the UK at least (which has to be the anti-Mac world-capital) it seems to be hard-wired into these people. They have spent their entire working lives keeping Windows stable and operational. They know nothing else. Most don’t even know that the Macintosh exists, and of those that do, they would never contemplate recommending them, and thought that in their working lives at least, they’d never have to go near one.

IT underpins businesses of all kinds; the bigger the business, the more powerful they become. Company Directors become slaves to their IT departments, and they slowly begin to lose control of the company that they run. All business decisions at some point must be run through IT, if IT thinks it’s a bad idea then it won’t happen.

Slowly but surely, this power starts to go to their heads. When Windows decides that it’s not going to work, whole companies grind to a halt. Then a multitude of IT staff crawl out of the woodwork like ants, swarming over each computer, re-setting it all up, while the company is paralysed, losing money every second. On asking what has gone wrong, or how long will it take until things start working again, you at worst get a mumbled grunt, or at best get a cacophony of gibberish of what has happened. They feel powerful, wanted and they are in control. How many times has this occurred in your company?

Occasionally, amongst all of this chaos sits a lone Macintosh studio. A simple set-up, just four or five Mac’s, monitors (colour managed), fast colour laser printer, slower colour accurate proofer, scanners, tape-back up and maybe a small server, with a smattering of external hard drives & digital cameras. It works, all the time. No down-time, no glitches, no errors (at least none that cost money). When the Windows server goes down, the Mac-studio continues without a hiccup. You even get other people in the office coming to you to print their Word, Excel or Powerpoint files for them, because the Windows network isn’t working or their printer keeps eating their jobs. To make matters worse for IT, Mac staff (horror of horrors!) also know how to install applications, they know how to troubleshoot printing problems, manage their fonts and their systems, and what’s worse; they are allowed to!

IT staff feel impotent, unwanted and not in control in Mac-situations. They just don’t ‘get’ the Mac, and why should they? If they did they’d realise they’d be out of work. Had they
been involved at the out-set, Mac’s wouldn’t have been allowed in the company. A standard Wintel-box would be recommended, just like the accounts department. They might not understand reprographics, but they do know what’s best for the company that they control. They make the fatal mistake of assuming because they know computers in a business setting, this somehow gives them an insight into computing for specialised industries. They don’t like the idea that somebody in the company knows more about computers than they do, or has a more powerful computer than the Windows Manager – this gives them cold sweats in the middle of the night.

‘Colour-management’, they’d say ‘what do you need that for?’

‘Back-up?’ they’d retort, ‘you don’t have to worry about it.’ (Until you need a file that you’ve accidentally deleted, and you have to wait days to get it back because they’re too busy).

‘Colour-proofing? Use the companies colour-laser like the other 400 staff have to.’

‘Server? What do you need that for? use this soulless Wintel box like everyone else.’
I once even had a Windows Manager state that the studio shouldn’t be allowed to accept files from outside the company, in case they contained a virus! Having then pointed out that this was the way the department made money, by printing clients files, he quickly relented.

It all boils down to one word, ‘CONTROL’. They control the company, anything that jeopardises this cannot be allowed to happen. The Macintosh suddenly introduces a variable in the company they have no jurisdiction over.

All of this may sound extreme, and I expect a lot of you, even Mac users, & especially in the US, will say that this diatribe is a load of biased rubbish. But things are very different here in the UK. Getting an Apple Mac into a company that isn’t graphics oriented is near impossible. Anti-Mac bias is all around you, on the TV, (the BBC is the worst), newspapers, (IT specials regularly trash the Mac), in computer stores, (PC-World staff have to be seen to be believed), banks, (try online-banking and you’ll be amazed at how you’re treated as a paying customer), and even the government, (try to fill out on-line tax forms).

If Apple want to succeed in the UK, they need to approach things very differently here. My experience is to bypass IT completely, you haven’t a hope in selling to them. Concentrate on the real people who run the company, the Directors. In my experience they just want the best solution to the problem, and in the area of reprographics that will always be the Macintosh.

Now it’s personal…

Well, I’ve finally done it. After years of using the Macintosh (system 6 and all the way up to Mac OS X 10.4.2) at work, I was finally in a personal & financial position to give Apple some of my hard earned cash and purchase one of their excellent computing devices.
For years I’ve used the Apple Macintosh platform professionally, now I’m dedicated to them personally.

So, cash in hand, I visited not my local Apple Centre, PC World or independent computer specialist, but my nearest branch of John Lewis Department Store.

The reasons for this choice are quite simple. They, unusually for a department store, stock the full range of Mac’s, from G5 tower all the way down to the little eMac, all at the standard prices that Apple charge. However, the killer detail here is that they give a free 2 year warranty on ALL computers. So effectively your getting another years worth of return-to-base warranty for free. I hope I’ll never have to use it, but I’m glad it’s there.

In the end I purchased an Apple iBook 1ghz G4, (I’m writing this article right now on this Mac). This choice has been a difficult one, and I have thought long and hard about it for a considerable amount of time. In the end it basically came down to 4 factors.

1) I need portability, (sadly this Mac will come in handy at work).

2) I don’t have the room for a huge set-up, I have 2 children under 3 and the thought of leaving a brand new G5 tower, eMac or iMac in the house with them while I’m at work, doesn’t bear thinking about. I guarantee that within a week the poor Mac would look as bad as those in PC World – with scratches, broken screens and messed up system folders.

3) Money. It’s strange, although I am a great fan of Apple, Steve Jobs and the Mac legacy, I always knew that when I finally invested in an Apple product, I would want to get my money’s worth. £799 for an iBook is very reasonable, however that is the maximum I would want to spend because I will get £799 worth of use out of the computer. If I spent £1300 on a 15″ Powerbook, I wouldn’t feel that I would use it enough to get my money’s worth. I’m not sure if that makes any sense, and it may make me a skinflint, but hey, whatever.

My impressions of the iBook? My first impressions were excellent, my existing impressions the same, and I’m betting my future impressions are unlikely to change.

However, my real reasons for writing this article are more about what happened on the way home, after buying this iBook. As they say, it’s all about the journey, rather than the destination, or in this case it’s the journey home, if you see what I mean.

Picture the scene. I’ve just spent the best part of 3 hours driving all the way to this department store. Half an hour to reach a hot, boiling city, and 2 3/4 hours to find somewhere to park. I’m sweaty, thirsty and tired. On visiting the department store, I had planned to play around with an iBook first for a while, to get the feel of the keyboard, to see if the screens were okay, but at this point I just want to pay the man and leave. So I do.

I ask if I can have a bag to carry the iBook back to my car. This is because I feel a little nervous about walking across a busy city to the car park with a £800 computer under my arm. Anyway, I finally make it back to the car alive, and congratulate myself on at last, having purchased the computer I had promised myself ever since my first experience of Mac’s, some 15 years earlier, (a IIci I think).

So I put the car keys in the ignition, press both electric windows to open the windows fully, and select the album ‘Surfer Rosa’ by The Pixies on the CD player. ‘Break My Body’ begins playing very loudly, and I pull away to queue to get out of the multi storey car park I’m in the middle of.

A few minutes later I’m driving through the city and all of a sudden the driver in the car behind me starts flashing me. A first I think it’s the music but he’s motioning with his fingers a flashing movement and I realise that I’ve left my indicators on. The music is so loud I didn’t hear them and I didn’t take much notice of their visual notification on the dashboard, so cursing my stupidity I try to turn them off. Except they’re not on. The indicators are not in the ‘on’ position but there on the dashboard they are clicking and flashing, and obviously flashing to everyone around me as well, hence the driver behind me indicating to me my apparent error.

So I make it to the next set of traffic lights and while stationery, pull the steering wheel full lock left and right, hoping that this will knock the indicators off. It doesn’t. I switch the engine off, take the keys out and they are still flashing. At this point I am swearing, cursing my luck and almost ready to get out of the car and thrash it to within an inch of it’s life with a handy branch or twig, in a Fawlty Towers induced fit of rage.

But, trying to think clearly, I switch the engine back on and decide to park somewhere safe and call the AA.

Presently I find myself parked safely in a lay-by and calling the AA. I call there number, get an answer machine asking me to press 1, 2 or 3. I press 1. Then a short message ensues telling me that all conversation are recorded and straight after this I am put through to what I assume is a human being at last.

After briefly outlining my problem, he asks for my AA number, address details and my mobile phone number. Now, I have a world class bad memory. I can never remember my mobile phone number, not a chance in hell, so I ask him to hold on whilst I look it up on my mobile phone.

I look at my mobile, and I press the button I assume is the button to look up address. Well, it’s not the button I press, it’s the one next to it. The button I press ends the phone call and cuts the AA man off.

Cursing my total stupidity I finally find my mobile number and call the AA again. After pressing the right options I am put through to a human being again. I get the message about messages being recorded, but then there is silence. Nothing just a light hum. After saying hello a few times the conversation finally starts and the operator, (a woman this time) cuts into the conversation and says, “I very sorry about that, the computer’s always doing this, the button to put a call through is right next to the mute button so that’s why you couldn’t hear me.”

After my recent button mistake I totally sympathise so I quickly outline my problem again and she asks for all my details, this time asking me where I am. Now, I know this city, but not necessarily by street name so I ask her to call me back in a few minutes, and in the meantime I will drive a short distance to find the street I am on. I do this and she calls me back. I give her my details, switch my engines off and press the electric windows back up. Then the indicators, which have been quietly and annoyingly clicking away all this time, finally stop.

Puzzled, I explain this to the operator, and apologise for wasting her time; the problem seems to have sorted itself out. She understands, and the phone conversation abruptly ends.

I sit back in my car and glance around as to why this has happened. It then hits me.

Directly below the 2 buttons to my left on the dashboard for the electric windows is the hazard warning light button. I had inadvertently switched these on as I opened the windows. I felt stupid and angry, but then I realised something.

It wasn’t my fault.

I had pressed the wrong button on my mobile and it had cut me off.

I had inadvertently pressed the hazard warning lights. This switch used to be (in previous models of the car), in a hard to reach place, just above the steering wheel. You couldn’t press it by mistake, but now it was all too easy. Plus as well, when the hazard warning lights do come on, the light on the dashboard, near the speedometer is exactly the same as if you’ve just indicated to turn left or right.

The AA operator had mistakenly muted me, instead of answering the call because it was all too easy to press this button by mistake.

The problem here isn’t the user, (me and the AA operator), it’s the interface designer, or more probably the geek who wrote the system, not understanding and giving scant regard to how real people operate these interfaces.

And all this brings me back to the iBook. Many Windows users may state that £699 is a lot to pay for an entry level portable, but they do not appreciate the benefits of good interface design. The way the power gauge goes orange when charging and green when fully charged. The pulsing light when you close the lid to tell you the iBook is asleep. The way the OS is predictable, easy to use, straightforward.

I expect the interface of any device to be predictable, not just the Mac, but phones, cars, toasters, fridges, everything. Destructive actions should always be well away from non-destructive, and there should always be a confirmation before any destructive action.

These are simple GUI guidelines that were drawn up by Apple years ago, if all interface designers whether in hardware or software followed these to the letter, consider how our lives would be improved.

Imagine how many man and woman hours are lost every day due to bad interface design. Seeing as 95% of the world uses an interface every day that breaks just about every one, it must run into the millions.