5 of the Now


Day Job OS

My employer is a Microsoft, and thus Windows, house through and through. I'm not a Windows hater, but I do find features in OS X that I'd love to use at work. I often wonder if I could talk my manger into letting me have an iMac with Parallels as my main computer. It's the best of both worlds and I do think I would be more productive. It will never happen though. Letting employees pick the computer they want to use is a slippery slope.

So if I could, what would I use?

  • Notes in mail - I send myself email all the time to get data in a spot that is remotely accessible without much effort. Leopard's notes in mail is the effect, but a much slicker method.

  • Spotlight - I waste so much time searching for files. I use Google Desktop search, but it won't let me specify searches as specifically as I need to. I get too many results for a search. Microsoft's Desktop search was terrible. I uninstalled it and went back to the original search functions built into XP. I'd really like to let Spotlight give it a go at work.

  • Create a search in Finder - Spotlight technology in quickly accessible and frequently used searches. This would be fantastic. I don't think I'll need these much at home. I can see myself using these daily at work.

  • Time machine - Our backup procedures are less than ideal. This would save thousands of dollars around the company. Buy everyone a TB drive and just let it run.

  • iChat Theater - Netmeeting works, but it feels old and rusty. I think I could really get behind video chats at work. You get so much more out of the conversation when you can read body language, see gestures, and the rest of the non-verbal cues that occur in conversation.

  • Watch for my name in iChat - If you haven't been following Leopard closely, you probably missed this one. If you are in a group chat, you can have iChat notify you if your name appears. This would let you ignore some conversations that aren't relevant to you until you were needed.

  • Data detectors in mail - Hey, we're having a picnic on Friday - put it in your calendar! How about you just send it as a calendar entry? No, fine, I'll let my software be smart enough to detect that event data and let me click it to add it to my calendar.

  • Resizable text fields - We have one particular web app that wants you to enter paragraphs of information in a text edit that is 15 characters wide, and it isn't a Firefox problem. It happens in IE too. I'd love to just drag these bigger.

  • Spaces - I said I wouldn't use them at home, but I think I would at work. Communication (email, IM) in one space. Browsing in another space. Source code in another space.

What features from an alternate OS would you like to have at work?


Evangelizing OS X

I tend to evangelize things that I enjoy. ReplayTV and adidas are good examples of that. Obviously Apple products are things that I enjoy, and I evangelize them as well.

I've been working on my parents to switch for awhile. Thus far it has been casual pressure. It pains me to watch my father toss good money after bad software as he is on his 3rd round of Norton Systemworks. It pains me more when I have to sysadmin their computer. Even with all of that protection, they've still managed to pick up some nasty viruses. One afternoon troubleshooting a computer these days is too much. I've spent more than one working on that Sony beast.

Beast is a good word to describe it. It was a nice machine at the time, and my father got a good Black Friday deal at Best Buy, but it is old, slow, and worst of all, loud. Their office is attached to their bedroom and there's no way I could sleep in the same room as that pile of whine.

In my opinion, an iMac is perfect for them. Very few wires, no extra tower, quiet, and more than powerful enough for them. The sticking point has been OS X. I don't blame them. Switching your OS is not an easy thing. Lucky for them, you can now drift from Windows to OS X. Between Parallels and Boot Camp, you have a great Windows crutch.

My latest tactic has been to sell them Leopard, not so much because they'd like Leopard better than Tiger, but because Apple is selling Leopard with their great guided tours. I decided to burn the Leopard and iLife '08 tours to DVD for them to watch. They don't have broadband, so it would be a tough sell to have them download the tours themselves. I fired up iDVD (for the first time) and was delighted to see how easy it was to get the videos in the DVD. I was even able to pull the iMac commercial from apple.com and drop it in the animated drop zone. It turned out slick and I hope they actually take the time to watch it. In any case, it was fun to make.


Looking Forward to Leopard

At first I was underwhelmed by Mac OS X Leopard. Then, just like some of my favorite albums, it began to grow on me. The more I looked, the more I thought yes, I will use that!. I preordered a family pack this morning and am eager for it to arrive. Here's the features I'm most looking forward to.

  • Stacks - These look brilliant. I like to keep things on the desktop, but I like things clean too. This is the answer. I also love that stacks make use of so many of the principles from The Laws of Simplicity. Hide and Reduce for starters.

  • Coverflow in Finder - An interface for previews that looks like it will actually work.

  • Updated sidebar in Finder - Hide and show categories. iTunes like - nice

  • Easier file sharing on the network - This isn't as easy in Tiger as it should be. I have lots of problems getting my machines to talk to each other. Half the time I use .mac as a shared drive or I send the files over Bluetooth.

  • Spotlight across shared computers - Nice, this will help find that document that I thought I made on the MacBook, but it was really on the iMac.

  • Create your own search to put in the sidebar - I'd kill for this at work

  • Path bar - I try to not care about directories, but I still do

  • Back to my mac - There are all sorts of remote access tools available today. I hope this works better than all of them and requires no additional mucking on my part.

  • Time machine - Specifically Spotlight in Time machine. Backup that I don't have to think about. The only problem is that my clean desktop will get another external drive. The funny part is that Time machine has an icon in the dock. Dear me I hope I don't need quick access to this feature.

  • iChat theater

  • New Automator actions

  • Front row looks like Apple TV

  • Tabbed terminal - Tabs are nice, but I want them to blow the tabs out in Expose so it is easier to find the terminal I want.

There are some things I'm not looking forward to...

  • Transparency in menu bar - I throw up a little bit everytime I see a Vista screenshot with those annoying titlebars.

  • Spaces - In my dumb terminal days, I'd use screen all the time. At home I just really don't work that way anymore. Expose meets my needs. If it didn't, I'd love spaces.

  • iChat backgrounds - I doubt I'll ever use these. Kids and teens might love them.

* The fun Leopard image is from Elmer's Friends by David McKee


Wasted Taskbar Space

A UI discussion broke out at work and I couldn't resist documenting these complaints.

In XP, I put my taskbar on the side because that's the only way I can read any of the descriptive text for running tasks. Without a decent task switcher in XP, I rely on what little text I can see. The problem is that the Start button doesn't change size, even though it has plenty of room to expand with the width I give to the Taskbar. I have a blank area, nearly as big as the Start button, that is worthless, wasted space. Seems to me that Microsoft should just extrude the Start button to fill the space. This saves me time as I don't have to go as deep into the corner to hit the button. It's also easier to hit because it is bigger which allows quick, sloppy mousing.

A similar issue exists in the notification area. I like having the date available on a quick look, but I don't need the day of the week, and I don't need huge empty areas around the information because the column is wider than the info. Compress that down and give me space for one more task entry to show before it switches to a two column display (which again makes the descriptive text worthless).


Mac nano Thoughts

First, I didn't originate the name of Mac nano. I think it started here, way back in March. Rumors of a Mac nano have started back up. Let's see if I can wrap together some rumors with some circumstantial evidence and come up with some halfway believable speculation. Ready, go.

  • Apple TV is rumored to get an update

  • Apple TV is rumored to get an optical drive

  • Mac mini has been rumored to die off for months, but it hasn't happened yet.

  • Mac mini has been rumored to be selling poorly, but it is still an important product in Apple's lineup as it is the switcher Mac. I'm one of those switchers that started with a first gen Mac mini.

  • The "mini" brand has died with the iPod. The "nano" brand is strong and Apple might want to apply that to their Macs.

  • Apple TV runs a stripped down OS X

  • Front Row in Leopard has been reworked to look like the Apple TV UI. You'll also notice a DVD menu option, so the Apple TV code appears to be DVD ready.

  • The Mac mini is similar, but not the same 7.7" form factor found on the latest Airport Extreme and Apple TV.

Could it be that Apple plans to make the Apple TV a software product that can run on any Leopard Mac? For those wanting Apple TV hardware, there would be a minimally spec'd Mac nano. This would allow Apple to improve margins as they consolidate on hardware. Apple could standardize on the 7.7" form factor and hopefully get the power supply from the Mac mini internal. The Apple TV power supply is already internal. The only hitch here is that folks would want to run that minimally spec'd Mac nano as a computer as well. Could Apple put out a $299 computer? Would they want to? That's a price point $300 lower than the current low end Mac mini. I think they'd want to maintain their current pricepoint spread. That low end Mac nano could be a hacker's paradise though.

Could the Mac nano be the first flash based Mac? A 16GB fanless computer would be plenty good for lots of folks, especially as secondary or kids computers. Ditching the fan would help chop the height a bit too. I 'shopped up what a Mac nano might look like over on the left. I'm sure you can piece it together, but I started with an Apple TV, cleaned the top and put on the black apple from the new iMacs. I then raised the top a bit and added in the optical drive and IR sensor from a Mac mini.

I personally don't think the $299 price point would be possible for what I'm suggesting here. $399, maybe. $499 definitely.
In any case, it seems the Apple TV and Mac mini are too close to not merge in some form.


Ahh, That's Better

I couldn't stand that old theme. It was the best one at the time I picked one, but I never liked the images, and I never liked the column spacing.

If you happened to hit here in the past hour or so, you saw the old theme hacked up as I tried to expand the columns (for probably the 3rd time). It looked ok, but not great. I like the new theme a ton better. I swapped in my own color ideas, and I'm colorblind, so that's my excuse. Actually my blog looks alot like the walls in my office now. I reduced the title font. My goodness they wanted that big. I also chopped margins and padding here and there to tighten things up a bit, again, mostly in the title. You come here for the content, not for 20% of your screen saying "Thoughts Abound".

I also made use of Jason's trick to hide the blogger nav bar. I liked the "search this blog" function and found this new search box to replace it.


10 Things About Amazon MP3

1. You get a free track when you install the downloader app. Did they pick an artist with Apple in it on purpose?

2. There's no Wish List in the MP3 section. WTF guys? iTunes doesn't have this either. Why do I have to keep a Google Notebook entry with the stuff I want to buy? Why do you make it hard to give you money?

3. Things aren't priced the same as iTunes. Ok, you already knew that you could get some stuff for 89 cents, but did you know that some stuff that is album only on iTunes can be had for $1.94 on Amazon? Lots of iTunes album only tracks are over 10 minutes, but not all of them. Check out this EP with some remixes demanding double cost.

4. The selection pales to iTunes, except when it doesn't. I've found stuff on Amazon that I would have expected on iTunes, but it isn't there. Definitive Jux Presents III is one example. iTunes has II, but not III. Yes, I bought it. That's a great price and great music.

5. The interface sucks. The iTunes walled garden is pretty. Amazon's alley shop is ugly. Scroll down and see what I mean. Customer reviews about unrelated crap. Scroll, scroll. Flip video camera? Scroll, scroll. Instant rebate on Laffy Taffy. Tremendous. Scroll, scroll. Budget rent-a-car ad. Scroll, scroll. Feedback, where's my stuff, recent purchases. Why is this on every page? Scroll, scroll. Bunch of links I'll never use to sites that don't apply to me.

At least the track listings respect browser width. Too bad you have to hunt for the playing track. Will it work? Of course it will, but it still bugs me.

6. Album art and album details come nicely loaded in the purchased music. Music (all?) is encoded with VBR.

7. An amazon download ID also comes loaded in the purchased music. This doesn't bother me. I can actually use this to build a smart playlist of Amazon purchased music. This will be necessary for backup purposes because this music won't just drop in my automatically backed up Purchased Music.

8. The Amazon downloader will stick stuff in iTunes, but it doesn't give you a link to play the stuff you just bought! You'll make good use of that Recently Added smart playlist. They'll let me reveal in finder, but not play the silly thing? I don't need to know where it lives, I just want to hear it. If you'd take me to iTunes, it will show me where it lives too.

9. Amazon's old free MP3s links now redirect to the pay site. You didn't know that Amazon used to have hundreds of free MP3 downloads? Ahh, you missed out.

10. You can browse by genre, but the links are hidden down in the product details of a release. You can't browse by label, but you can't on iTunes either. Beatport knows what's up.

Sync or Stream

The Apple TV has a problem. You can hardly blame the little guy. I'm sure the decision was made in his best interest. He had to be introduced to the world and given a chance to grow.

The problem is that the Apple TV thinks its an iPod...at least as far as the iTunes management goes. Apple TVs sync like iPods. You pick what things you want to sync and iTunes will make that happen. This is a problem because the Apple TV is a far more capable product than the iPod. It spits out HD content, and lets you stream from a number of sources. But HD burns disk, and streaming presents a different use model than iPods. It wouldn't be so bad if the Apple TV support sync and stay. In other words, you could drop content on it and remove it from your local drive so you wouldn't be burning 2x the space. Unfortunately, you can't. You can go through some sync'ing gymnastics to let stuff live a little while, but that's mucking, and mucking is not allowed.

The 40GB drive in my Apple TV is hardly big enough once you start tackling movies and TV shows. If you just want to sync music, that's alot of songs, but I don't want to just sync songs. This is not an iPod. This is a remote enabled interface to my entire iTunes library. The 160GB drive option really wouldn't be much help. I'd still have more content than would fit on it, so I might as well have no hard drive and just stream everything.

The streaming functionality is technically great. I rarely see skips or glitches. Content is quick to play, and browsing remote libraries is just as fast as the sync'd library, once you get connected to it :) What sucks is that the computer that I have designated to by my sync source is also considered to be a remote library. If I want to look at a podcast that isn't synced or I want to watch a feature length movie that was too big to fit on the Apple TV, I have to menu back out to the top and pick a whole new source to browse. That's unacceptable and needs to change. Apple should build a way to view the synced content and at least the other content of my sync source within a single set of content. If the sync source is unavailable (asleep, off, network down), they can gray those selections in the content and it won't be a problem. They could provide an option to disable this feature for those that use the Apple TV in a mostly offline mode.

I have to believe the Apple TV engineers have thought of this and want to do it. I think they haven't because they wanted to reuse the iPod sync model as a first step to get the product out the door. Here's hoping for this in the next release.

So, if they made it easier to access multiple stream sources, how about we ditch the hard drive altogether? Could they knock another $50 off the price if they had no disk in there? If that 40GB drive and hard drive controller cost them $25 in parts (which might be high), then it isn't unreasonable for that to translate to a retail price of $50 less. They could skip a price drop and switch to flash. Maybe just a few gigs of flash to hold the OS. It would be nice if the device ran a bit cooler.

One last stream wish. Let me stream DVD playback from my Macs to the Apple TV. I don't want a DVD drive in there. I have a perfectly fine one already available on my network in a Mac. This would allow me to watch Netflix on TVs that have nothing hooked to them but an Apple TV. You're probably thinking "damn, how many TVs does this guy have?". You'll be surprised at the answer. I have 1 TV, and it is only a 26" :) I do like to keep my options open though.