Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Snow Leopard Rocks

I love Snow Leopard. Well, almost everything. It's very smooth most of the time and there are some very nice features to it. But there are a couple of niggling things that I've sent feedback to Apple about and you might want to as well. Here are some of the things that I hope they fix in an upcoming update:

Default Calenders in iCal
I use Mail, iCal, and Address Book to connect to our company's Exchange Server. However, when a third party application downloads a .ics file you cannot choose which calendar to add it to. When you open the ics file, it adds the event to the Home calendar and then you have to choose which calendar to add it to.

Why not add a dialog box asking you which calendar you want to assign it to if you have more than one or allow you to choose a default calendar when adding events outside of Mail.

No Address Book Respect
Because I use Mail for work, I get emails from new people that I want to add to my Exchange Contacts list. But when you add a contact for Mail, it goes to your All Contacts general category rather than to my Exchange Contacts category. As a result, I have to launch Address Book and manually add it to Exchange and then delete it from the general category.

If Mail is going to be used in the corporate environment, it should respect corporate assets.

VPN Support through Cisco
One of the things that got me excited about Snow Leopard is the ability to use built in VPN to access a Cisco Concentrator so I wouldn't have to use Cisco's client. When you use Cisco's client and you want to reboot your machine, the client will present a dialog box awaiting user input and will cancel any reboot.

Apple's VPN connection does not do that and it is very fast to connect. The problem with Apple's client is that in the first release of Snow Leopard, using the VPN client would allow for the resolution of internal server names at work. However, when 10.6.1 was released, I lost that functionality. Now I have to add our domain extension to server names just so that it would know which server to connect to. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn't.

The funny thing is, when I go back to Cisco's client, I can resolve server names again but it's giving me problems with accessing outside Internet locations.

I think that this would be a small fix on Apple's part that would help a lot of users in the corporate space.

Firmware problems
Quite a few Snow Leopard users have experienced the slowness issue where their Mac will suddenly freeze for 10-30 seconds and then become responsive again. QuickTime movies will often stutter or suddenly stop for a few seconds. It's frustrating for sure. A PRAM reset helped (search Apple's online support for what that means) but a number of users of newer Macs reported that performing an EFI Firmware downgrade helped.

Well I tried it and it worked. No more pauses. Apple then released a new version of the EFI firmware which I tried. Pauses came back. I downgraded again and the pauses have all but literally disappeared. If you have to know, my brand new 15.4" aluminum core MacBook Pro is running version 1.6 and all seems to be fine.

But overall, I still love Snow Leopard. The fan rarely comes on. It just seems so powerful that it brushes off whatever I throw at it. Even launching a virtual machine while watching a movie didn't even cause a hiccup. And this is while driving a second external monitor.

I'm sure that the coming patches will eliminate these few pesky problems and make the Mac experience so much better.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

New MacBook Pro

My employer was very generous in finally providing me a new MacBook Pro (2.53 MHz, SD slot) for my work computer which has been an amazing yet sometimes puzzling computer.

First of all, it's just beautiful and sleek. When you feel it, touch it, and use it, you feel like it's a high quality device. No wonder Apple make a big deal over the solid core aluminum construction. It looks almost like a piece of art. Rather than the "putting lipstick on a pig approach by many PC assemblers," Apple made it different down to the core (forgive the double entendre).

When you open the lid from sleep, you hear a sight "whoosh" as the fans briefly cycle - you feel like you should hold your breath for a moment because using this thing is a special privilege.

Second - this thing is QUIET!!!! Sorry to shout that. I've done all kinds of things with it and the fans have never come on that I've heard them running. You can't imagine how golden that silence is until you try it.

Third - it's fast. Really fast. Even with running FileVault the computer seems so smooth. Nothing seems to faze it. That should change once I get on our corporate encryption solution which doesn't store your home folder as a single file like Apple does.

Fourth - the screen is very bright. I was able to use it in a vehicle on a bright sunny day. I did pick up a little glare off the glossy monitor (which I love - so deep and lustrous) but it was much more usable than my trusty old laptop (which my son was thrilled to have use of now).

Fifth - the battery life is stunning. While typing out documents in Word on a flight, after 30 minutes the battery monitor still said I had 7:41 remaining. That is a coast to coast flight with room to spare.

Now the bad stuff - occasionally when I hook up a new external monitor or projector, the laptop takes some time to recognize the device. Once or twice, even when hooking up a familiar external monitor, it froze. My old MacBook Pro never did that. I think there is a little bit of Mac OS X sorting that needs to occur. Maybe that's the difference between ATi and NVidia. Good thing I had my Dr. Bott gHead II adapter that saved me in a customer presentation.

In fact, while on a flight back from Texas, I sat next to a guy that had the first 17" solid aluminum MacBook Pro and he had the same issue so he was glad to discover that there was such a thing.

The only other thing was that I wish Apple's Active Directory plug-in was better. In our network environment, even being binded to the network doesn't force me to change my overall password and I still have to enter in my password for certain services on our network. I'm going to try ADmit Mac which supposedly works a lot better. But that is not a hardware issue.

Someone once said that "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." My three year old MacBook Pro was a great joy to use and still kept up with even the new laptops that were being issued. It runs like it has years left in it and still looks great.

But this new one has raised the bar even further. It's like you're in a whole 'nother world or category of computing.

Microsoft Retail Stores

Microsoft has announced that they will be rolling out new retail stores, some in proximity to Apple stores, to create a physical presence in the consumer space. If Microsoft's aim is to copy Apple's, I think that they will be in for a very rough ride.

Apple's brand image is one of high quality which is the reason why they choose "highstreet" locations. The brick and mortar stores reflect their brand and the entire experience is designed to make you feel special. And Apple's stores generate a profit and are self-sustaining. In fact, they were the fastest chain to hit $1 billion in sales.
Microsoft, while running the current Laptop Hunters ad campaign, is creating a low cost, every day commodity brand, more like WalMart, less like Crate & Barrel. So opening stores in high street areas, if that is their intent, is incongruous with the image that they are brandishing. The other issue that Microsoft will have is how are they going to generate revenue at their stores? Their only mass market hardware are accessories. They aren't going to sell millions of Windows 7 at retail - there just isn't enough there to excite consumers. Not only that, but because people view Windows as a commodity, it's very difficult for them to sell a lot at retail like they did with Windows 95 that we perceived as something completely new and different. They spent $6 billion to develop Vista that was commonly panned and uninstalled and with the way Apple positioned Snow Leopard's pricing, it probably affected their ability to charge full tilt

They certainly won't sell hardware, at least not directly because of its OEM customer base. Maybe they will sell all kinds of retail software titles and games. But those dedicated stores pretty much died in the 90's. Apple offers something you can't get anywhere else. Microsoft has to do the same if they want to stand out.

I'm not privy to their strategy but I hope it is a good one. Even though I'm an Apple fan, it's great to see an American business investing in America. Millions of people depend on the Microsoft economy. My concerns for the company are that it may not generate self-sustaining revenue or will it be a drag on the balance sheet. Microsoft's appetite to buy businesses, competition, and invest in all kinds of products that don't pay for themselves will eventually hurt the company.

It is rumored that the only two divisions that generate positive revenue and carries the company are its Windows and Office products. Windows continues to see erosion, particularly in the consumer space hence the ad campaign and announcing stores. Office is also taking heat from Google, to IBM, to iWork, to open source alternatives, to people who stick with the old version because the new version does not offer enough value and the unfamiliar ribbon interface. Now Microsoft is going to offer a free, online, scaled down version of Office. You can bet that for the average home user, this will be more than enough for everyday purposes. I bet advertising is going to have to make up for lost revenue in box sales of Office.

So if more of Microsoft's offerings are moving to the cloud like Google, why are they investing in retail store fronts like Apple?

Maybe they have such a futuristic experience planned that people will want to go into to really be wowed. I just haven't seen that cohesive thinking out of Microsoft lately except when it comes to Bing - and you can't ring that up at the checkout counter.