Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Keynoted

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So it was Stevenote day today. I haven’t watched the actual thing due to a lack of live stream while I was in the department and our current lack of internet access at home. But watching those notes is getting less and less exciting – for me anyway – so I don’t mind too much. I did go for a quick surf around the web at modem speeds, though, to see the new stuff that has come up. And whether you like them or not – you’ll have to admit that our favourite rumour mongers are doing a pretty good job. They predicted that Apple will announce quite a few amazing things, and Apple did. Of course in their own typical way – with quite a few buts attached to them. So let’s have a look at the merchandise and my first impressions of it.

Mac mini

Huh! What a modest name. Not an iPod mini-like iMac mini. Neither a more rhythmic Mini Mac, but just Mac mini. I think the name is good. And it’s tiny! Apple continue their trend of making computers tinier. As far as I recall, the original iMac was based on old Powerbook components and they’ve stuck to using tinier components for their iMacs to gain more freedom in design. And they’ve done it again for the Mac mini, which people should appreciate. Has a computer ever looked more modest? Could this make people get one who didn’t want one of those machines around before? Possibly.

Big scary computer vs. Mac miniIn the design and press material we see today, the mini Mac seems to be aimed at people who just want to try a Mac or who want a really small computer. Seeing its tiny hard drive options and the lack of sound-in, standard built-in DVD writing or telly components, suggests that Apple doesn’t enter the market for ‘media centre’ computers yet. Perhaps they don’t have the software to do that anyway. I would’ve liked that – an easy way to watch and record films, and even play music in the living room or so. Perhaps we’ll see that in the future?

The hardware itself seems far from being cutting edge – it’s a G4 system after all, which seems like a step back after the new G5 iMac. But I doubt that this will be relevant for many people. Things feel quite snappy on my dad’s new-ish Powerbook and this mini Mac should be faster than that. So who cares? Then there’s the graphics chip, 9200 or so. I don’t know anything about those, but I hope it’s good enough to run the nice new graphics features that will be in system X.4. Anything else would be bad design by Apple.

And then, like in the iMac, there’s the default amount of memory, just 256MB. And once more that’s a joke. A very bad one. It looks like the machine can only take a single memory component, so you’ll have to exchange that, at least for a 512MB one. Furthermore, the machine lacks Airport or Bluetooth, which both come at quite steep surcharges, particularly for Bluetooth. Shouldn’t these things be standard? And can a company charge trice the price of an external component for the same job? While these prices may not matter too much when compared to the price tag of a PowerMac or Powerbook, they do look significant when trying to enter a ‘cheap’ market.

Talking about prices, there’s another thing: The Mac mini sells for €489 in Germany. Finally a price that’s a smaller number than the $ price and is closer (though not quite matching) the price you’d get when using the currently low valued Dollar (and adding 16% German sales tax).

Finally, let me admit that I enjoyed Apple’s Keyboard, iPod mini, dock, hands, AirPort, Bluetooth and PC sold separately. disclaimers on the web pages. <7p>

iPod shuffle

Well, we heard this would come, didn’t we? The device looks reasonably nice and simple although it wouldn’t be for me. I can see that Apple wants to cash in in that low price MP3 player market as well. Perhaps that’ll work. The price looks reasonable. The design looks common enough. The only thing that looks a bit silly on Apple’s photos is that plugging it straight into a USB port seems to block the one next to it. Uh, well done.

iLife

I don’t know about GarageBand, I’ve only ever seen it once anyway. So I won’t comment. I don’t know about iDVD either as I don’t have a DVD burner. And no digital video camera. So I don’t know too much about iMovie to finish it off. The only application I want to comment on is iPhoto.

In fact, I just wanted to write about iPhoto anyway. Until now I’ve collected so many photos on my computer that my trusted old way of naming all the files and putting them in folders named 2005-01-02 Skiing and so on. Then the Finder and sorting by name gives me a simple and quick way to navigate through things. But this method becomes less and less nice as the number of photos increases. And thus I thought I’d give iPhoto a try.

But I didn’t like it. While it does the sorting by film, there’s no filtering by name, a feature that’s been in iTunes for years and that even the least advanced OS X application (i.e. the Finder) sort-of offers by now. But it wasn’t available in iPhoto. It seems like that’s fixed in iPhoto 5 at last. And it looks like they’ve got some fancier date sorting as well as folders as well – stuff that’d be nice to have in iTunes for a change. And those buttons at the bottom of the window look like they waste less space now. Not bad either.

The one thing that I’ve always wanted in iPhoto as well and that seems so obvious to me, isn’t to be seen, though: integration with the address book. Why can’t I just drag a person on a photo and have them associated? That way I could easily mail the photo to the person in it, or see all photos of a person right from the address book. Sounds like it shouldn’t be too complicated to do for a company that works on cross-integration of their database driven apps anyway.

My final issue with iPhoto is its way of moving my files. I am used to iTunes which does two things: To begin with it gives me the choice whether it manages the folders and names of my files. I happen to like its way of doing this, so I opted in. And why do I like it? I guess it’s because the way that iTunes manages files is logical, reflects the relevant changes to metadata, and is thus easy to navigate in the Finder.

Now compare that to iPhoto: It copies all of your files. It files them in folders by year, month, day. It sprinkles junk files all the way between them. And as far as I can tell, it doesn’t adjust the names of my files to the new names I give them in iPhoto. This means that while an iTunes managed music collection is still easy to use in case you want to use it in applications other than iTunes (say, on a Linux computer or to share it on a network), iPhoto will tie you to using it if you don’t want to lose all the effort you spent on organising your collection. I think this is relevant. I may still be around and interested in my photos in 30 years. But will Apple be there? Or iPhoto?

iWork

Remember when Keynote was released? And how people said Apple was going to make an Office suite of their own to be on the safe side in case Microsoft dumps theirs. Well, that didn’t happen. And nobody seemed to mind. Well, I did a little bit. I’ve been using ClarisWorks ever since I started on the Mac. And back in 1993 it was downright amazing. You could do all those fancy text things, you could add graphics right into the text, and even spreadsheets. Quickly. Of course MS Office caught up and somehow that could do all that ClarisWorks can do and more at some stage. OK, MS Office sometimes just won’t save your documents and even on a 2002 computer will be slower when adding a spreadsheet into a text document, than ClarisWorks was in 1993, but most people didn’t care.

Somewhat Crappy graphics And of course ClarisWorks somehow turned into AppleWorks, saw a few mostly irrelevant updates and made its way to OSX in what looked like a half-hearted fashion. So a neatly integrated modern OSX savvy *Works application would’ve been a treat. But perhaps that’s not going to happen. There is Keynote and now there’s a new kid on the block called Pages which looks like a word processor and even an OSX savvy one. Judging from Apple’s screenshots it even makes an effort to drive people to do proper word processing – i.e. using styles for headlines and so on rather than just going for bold and large fonts – but I guess I’ll have to use it to get an idea whether it’s actually usable. The Document palette that’s visible on Apple’s web page looks like it has too many icons to me.

I’ll be curious to try out that app, but that’ll be it. Most of my current word processing needs are handsomely covered by TeX and TextEdit (which I find quite powerful). The one thing that’s still missing to get a veritable Works or Office suite is a spreadsheet of course. And that’s a shame, as, unlike word processing apps, I don’t think there is a decent spreadsheet on the Mac. (I’d have to admit that the somewhat buggy Excel is the best I know in that area and that’s a shame because it’s not particularly good. Indeed, I’d be quite interested to just have a very flexible and programmable table of fields and numbers… the kind of thing that’s handy when you want to do non-trivial computations but don’t want the trouble of writing and actual program and rather want and instant graphical interface to the numbers… rambleramble.)

Graphics

Oh, and am I the only one who finds many of Apple’s new graphics all over their product pages a bit on the crappy side?

January 11, 2005, 23:57

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