Zune a Pod Killer?

20 11 2006

ZuneThe Microsoft Zune is a portable media player that is being touted as an iPod killer – but is it really that good?

Unfortunately Microsoft have not yet made any commitment to release the Zune and associated music store anywhere outside the US at the moment, though there does seem to be an indication that if they eventually do, it could be somewhere between late 2007 and early 2008. So that slight issue alone says to me that the Zune will not be doing any killing for a while yet, at least not until it can match the iPod in terms of availability.

From an excellent review of the Zune over at TidBits I can give you this summarisation:

Zune players can’t play PlaysForSure music that Windows owners already purchased. Music purchased for Zune won’t play on any other device, despite Microsoft’s long-stated criticism of that sort of policy. The Wi-Fi can’t be used for synchronization or Internet downloads. Battery life is slightly worse than an iPod’s. You cannot buy video content or audio books yet, and podcasts must be managed manually.

The user interface is very nice though, with some simple yet effective transitions that are fast enough not to annoy you, but there just long enough for you to appreciate them. A nice demo of the interface is available over at Engadget.

Anyone who is familiar with the Media Center edition of Windows XP will recognise some similarities with the way the interface looks and works, and I can say that it does looks very nice and although I can’t use one myself to try it out, it does look in many ways to be better than the iPod’s.

It seems like the Zune has a few changes to make first though. Although the larger screen and the overall asthetics do look quite nice, functionality is also crucial when buying any device, and the Zune just falls short of the other standards the iPod has set which have made it so popular.


IMAP and Mail.app

11 11 2006

IMAP: If you can you shouldMail.app

I’m here to talk about the Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) today. In the world of email there are basically two protocols: POP and IMAP.

POP is the original old faithful, but is very simple – you connect to your POP server, it sends you new messages, you download them and they are removed from the server.

The main problem with that is that the messages are now stored locally on your computer. Many people now use webmail of various types to connect in to their mailboxes, so if the messages have been downloaded, you won’t be able to see them anymore through the webmail.

Now most people probably will not find this a problem – and it isn’t if you only ever read your mail at home, on the same computer.

Enter IMAP. With IMAP, your emails are stored on the server and you connect to the server to download new messages, which are then cached on your computer for offline viewing. If you then connect in via a web interface, and delete some messages, when you next connect in from home, the mailbox is synchronised to reflect these changes.

This means you can organise your mail into different folders, and be able to see the exact same setup, regardless of your email client. Another really useful ability of IMAP is that it can request just the mail headers, allowing you to see the subject, sender, size and so on, without having to actually download the whole message.

Users of dial up who often receive large messages, will find this more useful than most, as it prevents them from wasting connected time (and money) waiting for large messages to download, as they can choose whether or not they want a particular email.

Thunderbird, Mozilla’s email client works with no further configuration, other than the account settings, but if you want to use the built in OS X Mail.app, then there are a few things to be aware of.

Mail.app and IMAP
Mail.app has issues with IMAP – it just doesn’t behave properly. Any folders you may have added to your IMAP account will either be missing or incomplete, and will disappear at seemingly random times!

After puzzling over this for some time I was worried that perhaps my email server host (1&1) didn’t fully support IMAP properly. So I installed Mozilla Thunderbird and tested it, only to see all my folders exactly as they should be.

So with 1&1 ruled out as the cause, I decided to move on to setup Mail.app to work with my Gmail account, while I puzzled over it. After setting Gmail up, suddenly, my original IMAP account started working perfectly!

So the solution to getting IMAP to work properly with Mail.app is to make sure you always have more than 1 account configured in it. After accidentally stumbling across this solution, I checked online for more advice, and apparently this is quite an old problem, stemming back to early versions of Mail.app, so who knows why it hasn’t been solved yet.

The only other thing you need to do when first setting up your IMAP, is tell Mail.app which of the server folders are to be used as the Inbox, Drafts and so on, or things will get a little confusing.

To do this, you just need to find each special server folder in the list, click on it, and choose ‘Use this mailbox for’ from the ‘Mailbox’ menu. Then select the appropriate option. Once this is done, you’ll have a fully working IMAP setup on Mail.app through OS X.

MSN 6 for Mac

10 11 2006

MSN LiveMicrosoft have finally released an update to their MSN Messenger software for Macintosh users. Although its a whole new version number, it hasn’t changed that much. The main changes boil down to a few interface changes, mainly with the inclusion of the ‘Windows Live’ logo. The application is now also a Universal Binary.

In addition to the interface changes, there is now at last the ability to set a display message seperately to your name, which you can set to automatically show your current iTunes track if you want. You can also create custom emoticons, and they have finally enabled ‘Check Spelling As You Type’ in the input box. The final thing I have spotted is that the emoticons now animate in a loop, as aposed to just once then stopping.

The most disappointing fact is that Mac users of MSN are still unable to use it for voice or video, though with more pressure coming from alternative instant messaging programs that do support voice and video on any platform, Microsoft should probably think about adding it sooner rather than later.

I will say this though – the Mac version of MSN is so much nicer to use than the Windows one! The interface is clean, streamlined and easy to use and it doesn’t get in your way. The Windows version may look nice enough, but is full of adverts and annoying things such as nudges and winks that slow it down and make it feel really cluttered.

Developer: Microsoft
System Requirements: At least Mac OS X 10.3.9 (Universal)
Download Link: http://download.microsoft.com/download/0/8/3/083da6e6-0db8-4d62-a8c7-7e2b0ac70f4a/Messenger601.dmg
(8.6MB disk image)