The Verdict: Leopard

30 10 2007

When you have such as good operating system, it is always difficult when you are preparing to introduce the successor. You have to make sure that there is something worthwhile for everyone to want to upgrade to it, but you don’t want to risk changing too many thing, for risk of alienating people.

Mac OS X has been through 4 major revisions since it’s inception and the latest version , dubbed “Leopard” is arguably the biggest version yet. It has attracted, like most new Apple products, intense scrutiny such that even the slightest change has sparked strong debate.

When I worked with Windows, I never used to upgrade to the latest version immediately, as there was always one problem or another that would need fixing before you could take the plunge. When I switched to Macs, I started on version 10.3 of OS X, “Panther”. I was with it for quite a while, and when the news started emerging regarding the new version, named “Tiger”, I of course started reading up, and was rapidly swept up in the excitement and speculation of what it would include. Regardless to say, I had my copy pre-ordered and shipped to where I worked ready to install on my iBook soon after release.

So of course, it was no different when it came to Leopard. I have been eagerly anticipating it’s release for some time now, and (thanks to an Apple Developer Connection membership at work) watching it develop and take shape over the course of this year has been very interesting to say the least. But, here is the main question – is Leopard worth the upgrade from Tiger?

My answer to that is a resounding YES. Even if you totally ignore the other features – the Unified interface, brand new Finder, much improved Spotlight, Stacks for the Dock, Core Animation, the new Dock, the list goes on – even if you totally ignored them all, the speed increase alone is worth the upgrade. Everything in Leopard just seems to fly. From the most mundane of tasks, to the most complex, the whole system is so much faster it is amazing.

MyLeopardDesktop

Normally with a new operating system you expect to suffer a slight performance hit, but with Leopard, the optimisation that has taken place penetrates to the core of the system, there is not a single thing that doesn’t perform noticeably faster. The new unified interface really makes working with everything feel more solid and integrated, as well as adding a bit more eye candy which just makes it more enjoyable to use.

What else is on the menu in Leopard? The new Finder is far superior; as well as being quicker and far less susceptible to becoming unresponsive with dodgy network volumes, it has a lot better interface, with the new sidebar and tighter controls over the appearance of your file system, working with your files has never been as good!

Spotlight is also much, much faster and doesn’t suffer from the same problems that the Tiger version did when dealing with huge numbers of files.

Then there is Spaces, the Leopard virtual desktop solution, with more polish and ease of use than any other virtual desktop application I’ve used, Time Machine which has to be the easiest backup application to set up and use ever, Quick Look for previewing the contents of almost any file without having to wait for the main application to load, and well, the list goes on. 300 new features according to Apple and I’m not about to dispute that!

I’m really impressed with Leopard so far, even more impressed than I was with Tiger over Panther, and that’s saying something. Even better is the fact that it costs a mere £85 inc. VAT for a single user, or just £129 for a 5-user family pack.

My verdict: Leopard = Awesome and well worth an upgrade.





VistaBook Pro

3 10 2007

Well it’s been a looooong time since I last posted, I sorta fell out of the habit, and didn’t really have much to say that a lot more people weren’t already saying, but today I thought I would share with you my latest experiences with Windows Vista…on my Mac.

Not a lot of people I know who use Windows, use Vista. Mostly they have stuck with XP because there was no real need for them to upgrade, and the strange lack of drivers, even now, would have forced them to buy a lot of new hardware that is supported.  A friend of mine from work has been waiting pretty much since Vista was released, for his sound card to have drivers made for it – and this is a relatively new sound card that is still being sold today!

The only real reason I need Windows at all any more is for the games. There just aren’t as many games out for the Mac right now, as there are for Window – and even when a game is released on the Mac, it is usually a long while after the Windows release, and invariably has compatibility problems if you try to play over a LAN or the Internet with Windows clients.  The additional price of a Mac release is also a little irritating.

For me, the only real solution to this is just install Windows itself and boot into it if I want to play a particular game.

So, having downloaded and installed Basecamp 1.4, burned a drivers CD  and inserted my Vista DVD, I was soon running through the Vista installation process. That itself was very quick, and in around 10/15 minutes I was actually booting into Vista for the first time.

Out with the Vista CD and in with the Mac drivers CD, I ran the setup file and let it install all the drivers, and then rebooted to see Vista in all it’s shiny glory:

VistaBook Pro

That was all I needed to do to get all the hardware on my MacBook Pro working with Windows. I have sound that works with the keyboard volume controls, I have a remote control, I have latest video card drivers, I have the works.

Even more impressive is that my Apple Bluetooth Keyboard works perfectly – all the characters are in the right place, and the software function keys work great as well.

Vista reports a Windows Experience Index of 4.1 on my MacBook Pro, and performs amazingly, in fact is probably the best I’ve seen it perform to date, the visual effects look truly gorgeous on the widescreen, and since they don’t lag or cause any slow down on the MacBook Pro, they don’t feel like they’re in the way all the time.

So with such an easy and quick trouble free experience installing on a Mac,  why are people having so many drivers issues with newer kit, and why is it taking so long for the PC industry to respond with new drivers for what must surely be considered the target OS?

The fact that the Mac platform can run Vista so well is yet another good selling point for potential switchers – having Windows work on your new Mac exactly how you would expect it to, with no strange Mac related behaviour, is a sort of safety net, meaning people can more confidently make the transition from PC to Mac.

The new version of Leopard of course has BootCamp built in, and apparently BootCamp for Tiger will expire when this new version is released – here’s hoping that the process runs just as smoothly when it is.





Apple and EMI Wave Bye Bye to DRM

3 04 2007

That’s right, almost 2 months after Steve Jobs’ original Thoughts On Music open letter to the music industry, the first major label EMI has agreed with Apple and allowed their entire library of music to be sold DRM-free and at double the bit-rate previously.

Not only that, but apparently the iTunes Store will provide a single-click solution for existing customers to easily upgrade their previously purchased EMI songs.

The price per single has risen from $.99 to $1.29, but for no DRM and double the encoding rate, $.30 isn’t really that much (its about 15p more for us English people).

Now that one major label has taken the plunge surely it won’t be too long before the other ones have to follow suit, which can only be a good thing!





MacBook Pro keyboard remapper

11 03 2007

Well it has been a very long time since my last post, I have kinda got out of blogging regularly, but I do still plan on posting at least every once in a while. Today I have a useful bit of software to share with you.

If like me, you are using your MacBook Pro to run Windows under BootCamp, you may have noticed a slight problem. Unless you have the full Apple BootCamp drivers installed, you won’t have full keyboard support, and even then you don’t get all the features you would probably like.

I found a very useful utility called Input Remapper, which provides support for the MacBook Pro keyboard when running under Windows, allowing you to control the volume, brightness and eject key as well as right-click while holding Ctrl.

Not only that, but it allows you to remap certain keys including swapping the ordering of the left 4 keys, for example, to swap the Fn and Ctrl keys round. I play first person shooters, and usually the duck/crouch key is Ctrl. On the MacBook Pro keyboard, where Ctrl usually is, there is the Fn key. So wouldn’t it be nice to make the Fn key behave as the Ctrl key? Well with this utility you can.

A few other nice extras include the ability to control your MacBookPro’s other settings, such as minimum/maximum display brightness, keyboard illumination settings, and fan speeds. Setting the fan speeds to max makes the computer a little bit loud, but makes it run icy cold, even when playing some pretty intensive games.

I’m guessing, but haven’t tried, that this will also work with the standard MacBook under BootCamp.

Input Remapper 1.0.02
Link: http://www.olofsson.info/index.html?inputremapper.html





BootCamp 1.1.2 Drivers

10 12 2006

Apple’s BootCamp is now into Beta version 1.1.2 so I thought I would try and install Windows again, which is something I hadn’t done since my MacBook Pro issues a while back…

Anyway the new BootCamp beta supports the Apple keyboard’s special keys and the trackpad right-click and so on, which is something the previous one didn’t do.

However upon installation of the Macintosh Drivers CD, at the Apple Keyboard part, Windows suffered from a blue-screen-of-death, and nuked the keyboard and mouse drivers. Upon reboot I found that mouse and keyboard support was completely gone, and not even an external USB mouse made the cursor come back.

To resolve the issue, I had to reinstall Windows XP  from scratch and try again. This time, when prompted that the driver hadn’t passed the Windows certification thing, I only said ‘Continue anyway’ if it didn’t read as anything to do with the keyboard or trackpad, since they worked good enough for me before hand.

So I don’t have an Eject key or support for right-click, but at least it works and I can play Steam/Command & Conquer/Homeworld 2 again 🙂

Hopefully an updated version of the appropriate drivers will be available soon, but until Leopard comes out, and BootCamp becomes integrated with OS X, I’m not to worried 🙂





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.