Computers


Bullshit. Sophos, a free anti-virus program for Macs, just found three trojan exploits that cruised in from websites in my Java folders for Safari on my MacBook Air. And yeah, yeah — malware, virus, whatever. Mac catch crap just like PCs.

Expect to see more malware written for Macs as they gain market share. (It works just like real software — why write it unless there are machines to run it.)

 

I had a chance to play with the iPad 2 at the university bookstore the other day (no waiting in line there!) and was impressed by the speed of the thing. I only ran a few quick tests — did a bit of typing on Pages, ran a YouTube video, and opened a few web pages: the newer iteration runs noticeably faster. It is also thinner and lighter, but I didn’t really notice that so much as I did the more beveled edging, which was less book-like and very pleasant.

I haven’t bought the new device because 1) I’ve only had the old one for a freakin’ year and I’m not swapping my pad every time they kick a new one out the door, 2) the old one works well enough for what I do that I’m not feeling the need to upgrade. Point of fact: I do most of my media cosumption on the iPad now, and even quite a bit of my production. I’d say between it and the laptop (a MacBook Air) I spend 60-65% of my computing time on the iPad. If I were running my old, heavy Dell Inspiron 14oo…it would be closer to 75% of the time with the iPad over the laptop, because it’s much easier to transport. The Air is light and comfortable enough that I drag it with me if I know I’m going to be doing some heavy typing. And 3) there’s a lot of reports of manufacturing defects with the iPad 2 — primarily in the screen, which is prone to backlight spillage and some color artifacts. Also, there’s a lot of reports that video on the camera is glitching.

So for me, I’m waiting for the iPad 3, rumored to be hitting the shelves in late 2011. I suspect most of the differences between the devices will be evolutionary, not revolutionary. Here’s what I’mhoping they’ll include:

This is the big one: No iTunes synching! The major Achilles Heel of the iPad is the need to — at least the first time and for software updates — synchronize with the bloatware we call iTunes. It seriously hampers the usability of the iPad, especially if travelling internationally, where you have to either get raped by AT&T on an international data plan, or jump through hoops with iTunes firing up another SIM card. (I went through this in Britain…it’s not hard, it’s just a pain in the ass.)

A shift to the Retina-style high resolution screens. The screen quality on the iPad doesn’t suck, but it could be better.

Instead of trying to give us a thinner machine, how about a bit more flexibility in functionality? I would like to see an SD or MicroSD card reader — even if it’s just the ability to access it through the camera adapters — and the ability to use the said devices for storage. (I use a high-speed 64GB SD Card as an extra drive on my Air, effectively increasing my storage by 50%.)

A shift from 3G to 4G. would be a good idea.

On the software side: What they hell were they thinking not rolling out the pinch to home and 4-figer swipe to change active apps? It’s so much easier to use and spares the Home button a ton of wear and tear. I fired it up by downloading XCode and setting the iPad up as a developer device. The addition of these multitouch features is an absolute must!

Printing Printing Printing! Apple has screwed the pooch a few times this last year. They were flanked by Google with cloud printing (which is great!), allowing you to print from the iPad. You have a few hoops to jump through, like emailing a file to your gmail account, but overall, it’s better than nothing. They lost out to Amazon on cloud storage, and honestly, earlier than that to Dropbox — which I highly recommend for online storage and sharing.

I really couldn’t care less about cameras and the other doo-dads, but the suggestions above I think would keep the iPad well ahead of any challengers that the other computer manufacturers might finally get out the door this year.

 

One of the big disappointments of iOS 4.3 was that Apple didn’t give us the multitouch improvements promised. Among them is the ability to four finger swipe to change between active apps, instead of constantly hitting the home button; a four or five-finger pinch returns you to the home screen, four finger swipe up reveals the active dock, and down returns you to the main screen. It’s brilliant and would cut down sharply on the wear and tear of the home button.

After reading about a work around to get access to these features (they are on your iPad if you have iOS 4.3, they just aren’t active), I gave it a try. You need to hit the app store (if you’re on a Mac, that is) and download Xcode 4 (or find a freeware version, if you’ve got the time to dig around.) It’ll cost you $5. It’s a big file (4+GB), so don’t get too impatient, and Air users don’t be surprised if your fan goes nuts during the install. Once it’s loaded and fired up, plug the iPad in.

It’ll be recognized by Xcode. Hit the “Use as Developer” button. It’ll ask for information. Cancel. If you get an error code, just close the window. Unplug the iPad.

Enjoy the extra multitouch features. They’re great.

This would be a monumental mistake, if true. They’ve already done it with the Sony reader, and they are having constant fights with other iOS content providers because the Boys of Cupertino want to control the money flow of their customers.

I’ve had multiple readers on my iPad since day one for a reason: iBooks sucks.  Not a little, a lot. We’re talking Jupiter-sized amounts of suck. The availability of books is absolute crap and most of it is very limited in scope, compared to Amazon, and the only place it has a slight lead over Kindle is that it gives you page count, instead of section counts — more useful for using the material in an academic piece.

This sort of locked-down nonsense that makes non-Apple users rail (rightfully) against the Mac platform. I’ve no problem with them restricting certain apps that might be harmful to the stability of the iOS devices (although I’d like the choice, anyway, just warn me the software or content is dangerous), but limiting the functionality of my machine (I bought it; it’s not mine to do with as a please) is a no-go in my book.

UPDATE: Publishers in Europe had, at the launch of the device, pushed Apple to let them do in-app subscriptions, but the Wizards of Cupertino wouldn’t let them…so they redirected the buying of books, magazines, and other downloaded content to their websites. (Case in point: Amazon with their Kindle for iPad/iPhone/Mac app.) Now that the Apple moneymen have realized how much they have to gain, the company is threatening to ban apps that do not do in-app subscriptions that allow them to take a 30% cut.

Simply put, Apple is trying to think like a retailer for the content outside providers are giving the end users. While some agree (often reflexively) with Apple, the “betrayed” publishers in Europe seem to suggest that just having access to their content without Cupertino mafiosi changing a cut aids the sale of the devices, and aids Apple in the end. “By promoting these apps, they promoted the device. Publishers in fact helped to make the iPad successful on the market.” I tend to agree with them on this last point.

More problematic to me than the 30% “road tax” that Apple is trying to slap everyone with, is the issue that iBooks and iTunes often do not have the breadth of product that, for instance, Amazon does. Cupertino also adheres to an outmoded idea of what cost for electronic material should be; the lack of printing costs, shipping costs, and the general “info should be free” attitude of the internet generation means that success of the iOS devices will increasingly require lower prices on content. Amazon, Google and the Android tablet market get this; Apple would be wise to hop on board.

(There may be a way Amazon and others could get around the in-app issue by allowing users to choose to go to their website or to pay Apple’s tax… More here.)

I just picked up one of these cards to act as a media drive for the MacBook Air.  I have a lot of media — mostly pictures — that I did not want on the SSD, as it’s only 128GB. While I was in no risk of running out of space on the drive, I wanted to effectively add another 50% to the storage on the machine, and the SD Card only sticks out only a wee bit, so it’s no trouble to leave it in the machine while I bang about town.

It’s advertised as having a 15MB/sec transfer rate, but I’m not seeing that — depending on what it’s moving, it’s between 8-10MB/sec. Downloading from it is faster, however, than adding to it. For small files, it’s pretty much instantaneous. For moving a gig or two of files, more like a 10 minute process.

You’ll have to swap it out, if you are loading files from a camera’s SD card, unless you load the pics through a USB cable from the camera, but it seems to work well. I haven’t tried, yet, to see if iPhoto and iTunes will store to it, but since I keep most of the photos out of the former program, it’s not normally an issue.

It’s a good, cheap solution for adding memory to the MacBook Air without resorting to a big USB memory stick.

Thanks not to Apple, which dropped the ball badly on AirPrint, but Google.  The new Google Cloud Print feature lets you set up your printer from your desktop or laptop (has to be a Windows machine for now, but they’re promising OSX support soonish), then you can print emails and attachments direct to your home printer, even if you’re not on your own network.

For printing Pages and other material, I emailed myself at the GMail account and printed the attachment. No issues. I haven’t tried websites, etc. but even if it doesn’t do that, it still just made the iPad a useable “laptop” to my mind.

iFixIt CEO Kyle Wiens is suggesting that Apple is guilty of planned obsolescence in their machines. Gasp!  What!?! Well, no fooling; every manufacturer of goods plans for their stuff to break, be it cars, washing machines, refrigerators, televisions, or home electronics.  With the R&D cycle pushing new machines out the door every year or two for a cell phone, television, or disk player; 2-3 years for a major upgrade to a computer line, and 5 or so years for a car, it’s no surprise said manufacturers don’t want you hanging onto your old machines for much longer that that projected lifetime.

I’ve hung on to most of my vehicles past their warranty period (usually 3, 5, or 6 years) because they’re bloody expensive and increased safety regulations and other added costs make buying a new car more expensive every time you look at a new(ish) car.  For computers, I have a tendency to trade them out every three years of so to keep up with new interface technologies (USB 2 now 3, Blu-Ray or DVD instead of CD, etc.)  Usually, for that reason, I buy cheap on computers…which has led to problems with machines burning their motherboards after a year or two of heavy use (my Toshiba in 6 months, the HP tablet in 18 months.  Dells, however, I’ve had great luck with; I’ve never had a Dell die on me, I usually outgrew them.)

So it’s no surprise Apple wants you to buy a new MacBook every two or three years.  You iPad will be behind the times in three months when iPad 2 adds more processing power, memory, and cameras. There’s rumored to be an HDMI out and an SD Card reader (if the software to do it is there, I suspect you won’t be left behind there if you have the camera interface for SD cards.)  But really, until the battery life has collapsed at about 1000 charge cycles (say 2.5 to three years), there’s no reason to worry about it.  If you want to trade out the battery, it’ll be possible (they can sometimes do it for you right at the Apple Store is my understanding.

Wiens real problem is you can’t easily work on the Apple devices yourself — trade the SSD drive for a bigger one, since it’s part of the motherboard, can’t easily replace the battery or RAM.  If you need to tinker, and some do, don’t buy Apple.  And by the way, that screw they’re showing in the picture is not proprietary to Apple; it’s a f@#king TORX screw.  Not common, but still there are readily available screwdrivers for it. I’ve worked on my own computers, I’ve worked as a computer tech…most of the time it’s a good idea to leave the machine’s guts alone unless you have to change something out.

(The Tinkerer is a common subspecies of user of any technology that can’t leave things alone, often “improving” them to the point of being wholly unusable. [Ex. The front yard mechanic whose 1966 Mustang hasn’t moved under it’s own power ever and is rusting out under a tarp, or the home gunsmith that has to put that new spring and buffer into their 1911, then won’t switch back when the pistol jams like they’re trying to cycle rocks in it.]  Some people know what they’re doing…most don’t. You could say Apple’s saving curious users from themselves.)

Yeah, yeah, yeah…”Macs don’t get viruses…”  Nevertheless, as Apple gains market share in the computer world, then hackers have more interest — as with legitimate software writers — in making product for OSX.  Even if that doesn’t happen, you can still pass along virii and malware in emails you received from other users.

With that in mind, I downloaded the freeware ClamXav antivirus for my new Macbook Air.  The software is fairly light — just under 17mb on my hard drive — and loaded without issue.  I ran a full scan of the hard drive and found two phishing programs in the Thunderbird trash files (even though I had deleted Thunderbird — you have to go into the library folder of your user files and delete Thunderbird and Mozilla files by hand…or use AppZapper.)

The scan took about 30 minutes for roughly 70GB on the hard drive and during that time it hammered the processor — the fan was on the highest it’s been since I’ve had the machine, the back of the laptop got warm (not dangerously so, but warm enough) and it drained a third of the battery in that time.  It can be set to scan incoming emails, etc.

But it found those viruses Mac doesn’t get.

Engadget has revealed that Dell has finally made it’s slick Adamo 13 better and cheaper.  This was the main contender to the Macbook Air for me in the ultraportable field, when I was looking for a new laptop, but six months ago, the Adamo was a pretty but sluggish and overpriced rip-off:  $2000 bought you a slow processor, 2GB of RAM, and a tiny SSD.  Now they’ve bumped the processor to 2.1GHz Dual Core processor with 4GB and 128GB on the SSD.  It’s also got similar screen resolution, Wifi and Bluetooth capability, and only really takes a hit on the battery, where it’s averaging 5 hours for a charge, rather than the seven for the Air.  At least the Dell has one thing the Air doesn’t: a backlight keyboard — something the Macbook Air had in its last iteration.

So if you aren’t thrilled with the cult-like Mac fans, the strangely controlling attitude of Apple, and/or want to stick with the very-stable and (I think) easy to use Windows 7, this might be your Macbook killer.  If the Adamo 13 had been out in this configuration at this price a few months back, I’d be typing on another Dell.

Since I’ve swapped over to a Mac there’s been only one thing keeping me from truly enjoying the new computer — the lack of support for WordPerfect.  While the venerable old word processing program is completely overshadowed by Word — which with the 2007 version and later has finally caught up to the functionality of mid and late-1990s WordPerfect — it’s still a go-to program for a lot of writers I know (and strangely is a standard for legal briefs.)  WordPerfect allowed for fast and easy formatting of documents, especially once you could customize the button bars to do all of the most common tasks in your documents.  It handled graphics and table integration much better than Word until the latest iterations, and on par with Pages.

There are a few options for accessing your old .wpd format files on the OSX machines — there’s OpenOffice, an open source legacy program that is fine enough, save for not reading WordPerfect graphics in a file, and the whole re-formatting your layout it tends to do.  Oh…and on a Mac it’s bloatware — 425mb on my Air.  But it’s free…

You can jump through hoops trying to either run it packaged in WineBottle — essentially an emulator, of sorts; or you can set up virtual machines or get emulators to run an older version of the Mac OS on your machine.  I tried a bunch of these options and none worked well.

Then there’s AbiWord, another bit of freeware that takes up 38mb on the Macbook, runs .wpd files with the correct formatting but not — once again — the graphics.  Did I mention it was free?  And that it’s not a bloated pig of a program?  Well, it’s free and not a bloated pig of a program.  It also lets you set up button bars a la WordPerfect.

There’s over a decade of files I have languishing on an external hard drive waiting to be accessed, and now I can.  Merry Christmas to me!

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