The Wow Factor

27 05 2006

Apple Store 5th AvenueIt is no wonder Apple have such a good reputation when it comes to design. It is clear they think very carefully when it comes to designing their products from the actual product itself, down to the packaging it arrives in.

It is also clear that they spend just as much time designing the user experience at their stores – just take a look at the brand new Apple Store which has opened at Fifth Avenue, Manhattan.

The entrance to the store is via a huge glass cube with the Apple logo suspended in the centre. On the floor of this glass cube is a spiral staircase which leads down to the 20,000 square foot store beneath.

Fifth Avenue is one of the worlds most popular shopping locations, and as such this new Apple Store will be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for customers to peruse the large collection of try-before-you-buy models of Mac and iPod, as well as get support from the in-store Genius Bar.

I would love to see it in person, but unfortunately living in the UK makes it a little difficult to get to, so for now I’ll have to be content with my slightly smaller local Apple Store! 😛

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Quick Tip #3: ⌘ + windows

27 05 2006

If you want to move a window, or activate any of the window controls, without bringing it to the front of the pile, you can hold down ⌘ whilst clicking.

For example, holding ⌘ and then dragging another window will keep it behind whichever window has the focus. This also works for minimising windows.





Why not Mac? – #1

26 05 2006

In computer circles, the subject of Mac versus Windows is a hotly debated one. I thought I would take a brief look at what concerns people may have about switching to a Mac.

Although a Mac isn’t going to be perfect for everyone, I would argue that the majority of novice computer users in particular would find a Mac much more suitable as it is a safer environment and does most of what they need a computer for out of the box already.

So let’s take a look at some of the concerns I have heard people mention:

Mac’s cost more than other computers.
As with most things, you get what you pay for – I for one certainly don’t mind paying more for a higher quality system. Its not just the hardware which is superior in design and build quality, its the software which runs on it as well. And because Apple make both, they have a lot more control over the quality of their end-products.

Software isn’t as widely available for Mac.
Unfortunately this is true – the Mac market is just too small for every single software company to spend time developing Mac versions of their products.

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t enough software available for you. Sure, there may be certain people who cannot make the transition as Mac versions of software they depend upon are just not available (such as Microsoft .Net developer tools), but I’d say the vast majority of Windows users are consumers, not professionals and don’t need such things anyway.

I count myself as a professional, having used Windows since version 3.1, and DOS before that, but I have found that the Mac satisfies my requirements for almost everything.

I have an MSN client, Microsoft Office, graphics packages, PHP/Apache support out of the box and of course the whole set of applications in the iLife suite that aren’t available in Windows at all. There is nothing I depend upon my Windows box for now, apart from Games (see next item).

My old software and especially Games won’t work.
Again this is true, your old software will require replacing with Mac versions or alternatives. Games are more of a problem, as many developers have little interest in porting their games over to the Mac platform. There are a lot of Mac versions of popular games available for the Mac, such as Civilization IV, Sim City 4 and so on.

Fortunately, with the Beta of Boot Camp you can now install Windows natively on your Mac for those occasions where you just have to use it. This feature will be included with the next release of the Mac OS once the creases have been ironed out.

What about all my files?
Well since networking is a technology that crosses platform boundaries, you can easily connect your Mac up to a PC to transfer your files. Music, Pictures, Movies, things like that are generally stored in common formats which any computer should be able to read. Of course if you are using proprietary formats, such as Windows Media Audio, you will need to convert them before you can play them, but such utilities are widely available, and the conversion only needs to be done once.

All modern Macs come with built in networking, including wired, WiFi and Bluetooth so there isn’t a shortage of methods of connecting to them. This also means you will be able to easily connect peripherals such as mobile phones and other Bluetooth enabled devices to transfer your files.

Will my Mac turn into an overpriced paper-weight as technology advances?
Again, this is always going to be a factor with any technology, however from personal experience I can say that it effects Macs much less. I had a relatively low spec iBook G4 which I had for about 14 months. Even after all that time, it was just as nippy as it had been when I got it. That’s the longest time I’ve ever gone without having to upgrade, which i used to do far more frequently with my PC. Mac’s tend to stay running smoothly over time instead of clogging up and slowing down.

So, Yes – there is always the problem with technology advancing, but I’d say the impact is felt less on a Mac. Checking Google, I find there are many people who are just as happy with older G3/G4 Macs and are using them online to do today’s tasks without a problem.

The Interface is too different.
Again, this is true, the interface is different to Windows, but it doesn’t take too much to get used to it. The Mac has a menubar which is always at the top of the screen, this means you always know which application you are currently working in. The edges of the screen can be described as “infinitely deep” – this is because you don’t have to aim for them, just throw your mouse towards the top of the screen, for example, and it won’t go any further. This is the same as with the Windows taskbar.

Mac’s also have the Expose windowing tool which allows you to find windows quickly using thumbnails of all open windows. There is also the familiar Windows ‘Alt+Tab’.

The interface is far more intuitive, for example if you want to delete something, just drag it to the Trash. If you want to remove a toolbar item just drag it off the window and it disappears in a puff of smoke. You’ll find these sorts of ease of use features all over the system.

The Mouse only has one-button.
The default Apple mouse has only one button. To perform a right-click you have to hold down the Control key before clicking. The thing is though, any standard USB mouse can be plugged into your Mac so you can quite easily use a multi-button mouse with scroll-wheel if you wish – I myself use a Microsoft IntelliMouse on my Mac.

And finally
That’s all for now, but I’m sure these aren’t the only areas of concerns people may be interested in, so I invite people to put forward their own concerns and will probably write another one of these in the near future.





Software Review: Delicious Library

23 05 2006

Delicious Library IconI’d like to share with you one of the most innovative pieces of software I’ve seen for ages – its called Delicious Library.

In a nutshell, it allows you to catalogue, browse and share all your books, DVDs and music. You can type in the information manually or look up information, for example by using the ISBN number for a book.

BUT the most amazing part of this software is that it allows you to actually scan the barcode using your integrated iSight camera or external camera, instantly obtaining a wealth of information from various international sources online – it even plays a satisfying supermarket checkout bleep at the same time 😛

Upon selecting to add a new entry to your library you can bring up this Video Preview, with red barcode-scanner lines to show you where to line up your item of choice, in this case it was a PHP 5 book written by Paul Hudson, that I had recently purchased. Notice how this book for some reason has two barcodes on it, but this didn’t confuse the software:

Delicious Library Example 1

I simply waved the book in front of the camera and after a short checkout bleep, the book was now sitting comfortably on a very nice looking virtual bookshelf. The system also spoke the name of the item to confirm the successful import. Clicking the book displayed a wealth of information, including the genre of the book, the format, pages, original price and current value.

There is also a section for you to enter your own information and rating, and finally a very useful section on similar items, clicking on which will take you to the item on Amazon:

Delicious Library 2

I also tried it out with a soundtrack CD I received as a gift, same procedure, only this time a CD case identical to the real thing was now sitting on my virtual shelf:

Delicious Library Example 3

I am very impressed with this application, it looks great, is very fun to use and should be very useful. Since I use iTunes for my music catalogue, I won’t need to import my CDs, but for books and DVDs I didn’t have anything, until now!

Some of the other useful abilities of this software include:

  • Spotlight search integration
  • iPod synchronisation
  • Loan system for tracking which friends are borrowing which items
  • Dashboard widget

The software isn’t free, but at only $40 (approximately £21) it is very cheap for such a powerful tool. Also, if you are upgrading from a competing product, the company offers a $10 discount. The version available for download has a limit of 25 items before it needs purchasing, so feel free to download it and give it a try.

Developer: Delicious Monster
System Requirements: Mac OS X 10.3 or higher (10.4 required for Spotlight and Dashboard features).
Download Link: http://www.delicious-monster.com/
(11.0MB disk image)





So you’re a switcher?

22 05 2006

You’ve taken the plunge and switched to the Mac platform, so what now? I plan to write my own little list of tips for the most common things Windows users will find strange, different or even maybe annoying, but for now, I came across an article about the ten things all switchers should know, over at PlasticBugs.com.

There are some good points in there, for example, the author talks about the way the mouse tracking feels ‘different’ on the Mac, which is due to the way OS X handles the tracking speed and acceleration. Many long time Windows users (myself included) notice the mouse feels ‘different’. My own experience was that it felt like it was moving through a denser material than the Windows equivalent.

I solved this myself by just upping the tracking speed until the difference was les noticeable, but the article points out some other solutions.

It also mentions how when applications crash or freeze, very rarely does the system become effected by this, and you can force quit an application to get rid of it instantly – no waiting for the End Processes command to actually do as you ask! The only thing I would disagree with is the claim that applications crash just as frequently as Windows applications, as my own Mac experience has been crash-free, but it just goes to show you there are variations in people’s experience.

The article can be found here:

Link: http://plasticbugs.com/?p=312





New successor to the iBook

17 05 2006

The faithful iBook product line, after not being updated in terms of design for quite a while now, with just minor upgrades to the components, has been revamped and renamed to fall in line with the new naming scheme for Apple notebooks – the MacBook.

The new MacBooks are only available in 13″ widescreen glossy displays, for a larger 15″ or 17″ display you will need to go for a MacBook Pro.

Despite their smaller size, the new MacBook comes with a 1.83GHz or 2.0GHz Intel Core Duo processor and can have up to 2GB of memory, though the default is 512MB.

The standard MacBook also comes with a built in iSight camera, Front Row with the Apple remote, a SuperDrive on the 2GHz model (Combo drive on the 1.83GHz) a 60GB, 100GB or 120GB hard disk drive and 64MB Intel video card. They also have the USB 2.0, Firewire 400, Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth, Airport and audio connections standard on all new Mac’s.

The screen resolution is 1280×800 which is impressive for such a compact notebook measuring only 2.75cm thin.

These new models of course come with all the usual free software, including Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger”, the new iLife ’06 suite of applications and many more.

Apple have also made this new model available in both the classic Apple White and a new Black along the lines of the new black iPods, perhaps as a sign of something to come in terms of their desktop machines as well. The Black version of the MacBook is only an option with the 2GHz model.

The starting price is also very good for such a powerful notebook at £749. I haven’t seen many other machines which can match the amount of features and the performance for such a price.

Link: http://www.apple.com/uk/macbook/macbook.html





Front Row Update 1.2.2

17 05 2006

Apple have released an update for Front Row which is available from Software Updates and updates it to version 1.2.2.

It is recommended for bug fixes, in particular the error many people have been seeing when trying to connect to the Movie Trailer server, which claimed it was unavailable.

It has also added some features, the one I spotted and think is very useful is the ability to Shuffle songs inside Front Row – you can pick a Playlist and get it to shuffle it before playing or shuffle your entire library and so on. A little thing technically, but a big thing in terms of usability – I find it extremely useful since I use my Mac as my media centre anyway.

To download it, visit the Apple website, or use Software Update from the Apple menu.

Link: http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/apple/frontrow122.html