Are We Really in the Post-PC Era? The Post-Post PC Era? Not So Fast!

This week IDC predicted that more Internet users will access the Internet through mobile devices than by the PC and by 2015.  Apple’s Lion is that company’s first steps toward integration of iOS and OS X, and Windows 8 has now been released to “unify” mobile and desktop computing.  This has lead some to speculate that the PC will be obsolete by 2015.  I’m here to say: “Not So Fast!”

First, you can do some content creation on today’s tablet devices, but their capability is still seriously limited.  For serious or high-output content creation, a PC or Mac is the only way to go.  That’s not only because of the very limited computing power of today’s tablets but also because of their limited ability to accept various forms of input devices.  Touchscreens are somewhat useful performing graphics creation, but mice and drawing tablets still have their place and often greater utility.  While touchscreens, swipes, and those other intuitive input forms have achieved wide utility in the public domain, the business domain is still adapting to their use and it will take them longer to do so than 2015.  My guess it will be more like 2020 before we see the actual convergence of today’s modern tablets and the desktop PC and perhaps as late as 2025.  I do believe it will come, but not as fast as some in the industry will predict.

Secondly, there is still an open question as to whether it is really best to merge the two mediums.  Apple’s Lion is a case in point.  While many iOS features may adapt themselves well to a desktop environment, some do not.  Launchpad is one of those.  While the Launchpad approach of filling your screens full of application icons makes a lot of sense on a tablet, it works horribly on a desktop with a large screen (say 27 inch) and a machine running tens of applications.    Using Lion’s Dock or opening the Applications Folder in one large grid makes more sense and saves time over wading through screen after screen of applications to find the one you want.  That problem could be addressed by allowing icon sizing that might allow you to collapse everything onto one screen, but what have you gained over the standard desktop way of doing things?  This is only one example of how the tablet environment does not always translate, and computer companies need to carefully examine the concepts involved when performing these types of transfers and not succumb to them simply for love of the technology.  In the end, people are looking for the easiest ways to achieve desired results.  If that is forgotten, the product will fail, no matter how “intuitive” it may first seem.

Frankly, I haven’t looked at Windows 8, and while I will look at it, I probably will not move to it. I don’t run any Windows tablets; what can it offer me?  Even as a Mac aficionado, I moved back to Snow Leopard, though some of the things that engendered the backwards move I have since learned of workarounds for.  That said, I have to ask myself: “If I have to use workarounds, why move at all?”  Until I have a compelling answer to that one, I’m going to stay where I am.  I need to be able to work and not spend any time reconfiguring machines.  After all, I own a computer to allow me to create things I otherwise could not.  If it doesn’t do that, tablet or PC or Mac, what good is it at all?

Resurrection of the Snow Leopard: Is Apple Moving Too Fast?

Well, I was one of those who downloaded Mac OS X Lion the day it was released.  I’ve been using it ever since on a Mac Pro with a 27 inch Apple Cinema Display and on a 2010 MacBook Air mainly hooked to a 24 inch Apple Cinema Display.  I am using Lion no more.  After weeks of mixed feelings, I wiped Lion off both machines and reloaded Snow Leopard, even though it cost me almost a full day of work.  I’m much happier now.  My world is at peace, and my computers are operating like computers instead of schitzo machines that can’t figure out what they are.

I realize this bodes poorly for me.  I am now probably committed to no more operating system upgrades until I’m forced into it by buying new hardware.  But I’ll make do.  At least all the software and hardware I currently own works and I don’t find applications opening up pages I’m through working on (Yes, I had turned that feature off in System Preferences and still found it happening).

Here’s why I went back to Snow Leopard and intend to stay there.

(1) Lion ruined Dashboard’s implementation. I’ve always really enjoyed having a few widgets that I could pop up and quickly reference without moving from the tasks I was working on.  With Lion, when you call Dashboard, your entire desktop vanishes and you are taken to a new screen, as if my 16GB Mac Pro can’t handle popping the widgets up anymore.  In the world of iOS, widgets really don’t exist and don’t need to; they are simply other apps.  In OS X, widgets provide handy little functions like a calculator that saves me from having to hunt it down in Applications or pulling out a real one to use on my desk. Lion’s driving me to a new screen was distracting.  I might have well have just called up a calculator from my apps using Launchpad, if I hadn’t also found it totally useless.

(2) Launchpad is useless on a machine with lots of applications. On an iPad, it makes sense and doesn’t prove annoying to have to swipe to another screen to pick up an app that is stored there.  On a computer with a 27 inch screen, it is worse than annoying not to be able to reference all my Applications on a single screen.  Launchpad’s inflexible implementation yields no way to manipulate the size of the application icons, so my applications were spread out over three screens!  I could have partially reconciled that by moving applications into Folders, but then what have I gained over using OS X’s Application Folder and Dock by doing that?  Nothing!  The only way Launchpad made any sense was if it provided single-click access to all my applications. Including an application that provides only large-icon-eye-candy and doesn’t increase my productivity makes me wonder what the hell Apple is thinking.  It appears they think that moving to iOS functionality on a desktop computer is a good thing and it just ain’t true in all cases.

(3) The Swipe functions are nice but just another way to turn the page. I appreciate the intuitiveness of the various finger gestures used in iOS.  I have Apple Trackpads co-located with mice on both my machines and used the swipes offered as routinely as I could.  Frankly, though, they didn’t really save me time over using a mouse, though I admit that may be partially due to the fact I’m just more used to a mouse. If my computer displays were touch screens, then I might feel like the use of finger gestures was a lot more important than I do.  For now, household and small business computing is not likely to incorporate touch screen computing as a routine function for at least a decade, and this is an area where Apple is ahead of the game but runs the risk of leaping too far and disconnecting itself from its users.

(4) Mission Control is nice but not necessary. Mission Control (as and ex-shuttle guy, I appreciate what appears to the space program “nod”) is really Expose reinvented.  I was fine with Expose as it was and still need to learn to use Spaces effectively, so I’m probably not the best guy to evaluate this feature.  Still, Apple used this as a major selling point of Lion.  To me, it just wasn’t that compelling.

(5) Running a dual boot with Snow Leopard didn’t prove to be as clean as I had hoped. I had some Rosetta powered applications I didn’t want to replace, so I initially set up a dual-boot Snow Leopard/Lion system.  To avoid having to manage two different user accounts and desktop environments, after I set up Lion on the Mac Pro’s SSD, I forced the SSD over to the User account on the Snow Leopard hard disk.  For the most part, I could freely boot back and forth and the applications on each OS would work but there were some that choked on this set-up.  My computing life simply was more manageable if I consolidated to one OS, so I decided that moving back to Snow Leopard was the thing to do.  Additionally, on my MacBook Air, Lion had killed a USB Gigabit Ethernet adapter I got back by going back to Snow Leopard.  That’s a small thing, but it simply made me feel better about not throwing away my investment in hardware due to an OS upgrade.  That also holds for not losing access to the applications that needed Rosetta.  In this economy, replacing hardware or software “just because” is not something I need to do.

The bottom line for me was that Lion simply didn’t yield enough gain to overcome the losses it was introducing.

Yes, at some point the tablet may become the main computer of the future.  But that’s not today.  Introducing tablet technology for its own sake holds out perilous risks for Apple if they wish to hold onto their computer-based audience. They may not.  They are going to go, after all, where the money is.  It may not be in the PC market.

Are Apple Macs Moving to ARM? Don’t Do It!!

I’ve been a relatively happy Apple convert since 2001.  That said, we’ve put up with a lot to stay with Apple computing, shifting through the change from the G4 to the G5 to Intel CPU’s, upgrading operating system and utility software, and lately putting up with the too limited selections of Apple displays and video card upgrades for the Mac Pro.  I was reading this morning a web report that said Apple was looking at moving its desktops and notebooks to ARM processors in 2013. If that’s true, I have three words for the company: “Don’t Do It!”

We will not follow the company through another CPU transition, especially one that looks like it’s a step into the past.

One of the great things about Apple’s current hardware designs is that though they are optimized for use in OS X but allow running Windows and Linux without modification. So, why would any of us want to give that up?  Would a move back into the world of ARM force us to relive the early days of OS X when if we needed to run Windows we had to run it under performance-sucking emulation; or, if that wasn’t good enough, force us to keep and maintain a separate Windows box?  And even if the ARM processors ran native Intel x86 code, why would I want to risk dealing with incompatibilities or possibly take a performance hit I wouldn’t have to suffer through with a native Intel CPU?  (Note: Yes, that argument can also be made for running AMD CPU’s, which I used almost exclusively in the days when I hand-built my PC’s.  The difference here is that AMD is been on the block for a while and ARM hasn’t, so the risks running each are not the same.)

Apple likes to run a “closed shop”, and so far, that has largely worked to their advantage.  But changing out CPU’s in their notebook or desktop lines is a move that doesn’t seem to make sense, especially considering Intel’s continuing march into higher performing CPU’s.  If I had wanted to stay in the Apple-past, I would not have followed the company into today’s Apple future.  It’s been hard enough as it is.

It Worked! (Come See How Well!)

I have finished reconfiguring my Mac Pro with the addition of a 120GB OCZ Vertex 2 Solid State Drive as my boot drive, and I’m pretty pleased with the result.  The system is faster overall and mostly noticeably so, though there are a few areas where I saw little performance improvement at all.  I’ll show you some data in a few minutes that will illustrate what I’m talking about, but for now let me detail how I set my system up, why, and what I’ve learned from that.

My Mac Pro is a late 2008 model, with twin 2.8Ghz four-core Intel Xeon CPU’s, 16 GB RAM, an ATI Radeon 5770 video card, and a 12X Superdrive.  Before the “upgrade” I was running a 1TB 3.5” Hitachi 7200 rpm hard drive as a boot drive, a 500GB 3.5” Maxtor 7200 RPM hard drive as a scratch drive, a 500GB 3.5” Maxtor 7200 RPM hard drive as a Boot Camp drive running Windows 7 Ultimate, and a 1.5TB 3.5” Seagate 7200 RPM hard drive as a Time Machine Disk.  I have now replaced the Time Machine disk with a 2.5” Vertex 2 solid state drive of 120GB marketed capacity.  (I say “marketed” because after formatting as an HFS+ drive, it showed about 115GB and during the Snow Leopard installation it showed only 106GB free.)  I moved the Time Machine disk out to an Acomdata Firewire400/USB 2 external case whose power is controlled through an APC backup unit that automatically powers up and down with the Mac Pro.  I set up the Vertex from scratch with a complete installation of every application I wanted to install, being sure to set up the User account so that the short and long names and password matched up exactly with the one on my old boot disk, the Hitachi 1TB.  I installed all applications with this set-up, i.e., pointing toward the User account on the SSD.  While I eventually intended to point the User account to the one on the Hitachi hard disk, having a separate one on the SSD would allow me to run all my applications and get e-mail if the Hitachi hard disk failed.

Once I had the SSD completely set up and had verified all my applications were working, I then went into System Preferences, Accounts, and unlocked it before right-clicking on my account name.  The “Advanced Options” window popped up that, when selected, brought up a larger window that showed where the associated User account was.  I clicked on a “Choose” button next to it and then selected the User account on the Hitachi hard disk I wanted to ultimately point to.  It asked me to choose a “Reboot” and I did, and the machine rebooted on the SSD but using my user account on my Hitachi, i.e., the old boot drive.

While most of my applications launched without any modifications, my Adobe CS 5 applications almost universally crashed on launch.  Suspecting that it had to do with permissions, I reselected the User account on the SSD, rebooted, and verified that all my CS 5 applications worked without complaint.   I then right-clicked on my (short name) User folder on the Hitachi drive, and down in the “Sharings and Permissions” window clicked on the “+” sign and added myself (short name) to the list (system/admin/everyone) and selected “Read and Write” privileges and “Apply to all enclosed items” and then hit the “Apply” button.  Once it completed, I went back up into Accounts in System Preferences and reset the User folder to the one on the Hitachi drive and rebooted; this time all my applications launched with no problems.  This is the type of configuration I suspect most people are going to run in, i.e., with their applications only on an SSD and the rest of their data on a conventional hard drive, at least until prices fall where all hard drives can be SSD. (The next best thing would be to make your data drive a Velociraptor if you can afford to limit yourself to its current limited size.)

That said, running in this kind of configuration raises the question of what kind of performance hits am I taking by doing so?  So, I’ll answer that question by sharing with you the data from some simple benchmark testing I did with my machine.  It will also show you what kind of performance you can expect from running in a straight SSD set up where data and applications are both on the SSD.

Boot time:

Mac Pro using Hitachi hard disk as boot and data drive:   39.7 secs

Mac Pro using the Vertex 2 SSD as boot and data drive:    28.9 secs

Mac Pro using the Vertex 2 as the boot drive and Hitachi as data:   28.6 secs

Since I was using a manual stopwatch, I consider the two SSD times to be equal.  This says there is no penalty for using a conventional hard drive for the User account.  There is a 28% improvement in boot times using the SSD.

Shutdown time:

Mac Pro using Hitachi hard disk as boot and data drive: 9.8 secs

Mac Pro using the Vertex 2 SSD as boot and data drive: 9.7 secs

Mac Pro using the Vertex 2 as a boot drive and Hitachi as data:   9.4 secs

This says there is no significant difference in shutdown time with either type of disk in my system.

Application Launch Times:

Final Cut Pro 7

Mac Pro using Hitachi hard disk as boot and data:   17.5 secs

Mac Pro using SSD as boot and data:                     5.6 secs

Mac Pro using Vertex 2 SSD as boot and Hitachi for data:     7.3 secs

This shows a 2X to 3X launch time improvement with this application.  This time is time from start to first window (looking for camera) and not full application load.

Color V 1.5.3

Mac Pro using Hitachi hard disk as boot and data:   5.6 secs

Mac Pro using SSD as boot and data:                      5.1 secs

Mac Pro using Vertex 2 SSD as boot and Hitachi for data:     4.7 secs

Amazingly, there was no performance gain using the SSD.  I think this kind of thing is what you will sometimes see, depending on the file sizes needed for a particular application launch.

Photoshop CS 5

Mac Pro using Hitachi hard disk as boot and data:   10.9 secs

Mac Pro using SSD as boot and data:                     2.7 secs

Mac Pro using Vertex 2 SSD as boot and Hitachi for data:     4.1 secs

Photoshop showed a significant improvement in launch time when using the SSD. It launched about 2.6X to 4X times faster.  Most people are not going to have their data files on the SSD, however, so the 2.6X time is probably more representative.

Microsoft Word (Office 2011)

Mac Pro using Hitachi hard disk as boot and data:   10.5 secs

Mac Pro using SSD as boot and data:                     1.6 secs

Mac Pro using Vertex 2 SSD as boot and Hitachi for data:    2.6 secs

Word showed a significant improvement in launch times when run from an SSD.  This time was from application start to the Gallery window, not full application load.

Overall, I’m happy with the performance I’m seeing out of the Vertex 2.  It didn’t hurt either that I got it on sale from Newegg for $199 ($169 after rebate).  I thought it was worth both the money and time spent in reconfiguring to run the drive, though admittedly it would be worth more if I were using the machine for business.   I’ll keep you abreast of how well things go from here.  We’ll both be interested to see if I still feel it was worth it a year from now.

Moving to an SSD: The OCZ Vertex 2

My wife and I recently traded our MacBook and MacBook Pro for MacBook Air’s , one 11.6 and one 13 inch model.  I moved most of the data on my MacBook Pro to my Mac Pro not only because it had plenty of storage space but also to get more utilization out of that machine.  The move instigated a side-effect I didn’t anticipate, and that was to get me pondering what would happen if I installed a Solid State Drive in the Mac Pro.  I hadn’t considered it before because of the cost and how I had the Mac Pro configured.  At the moment, a 1 TB hard disk holds all applications, system folders, and my user folders, eating something over 700GB altogether.  However, my Applications, Library, and Systems folders only take 105 GB of space, and so a hard disk in the 120GB range would barely work.  I also believe that if I do a clean reinstall I will recover some space (and I’m hoping for at least 10GB) due to garbage from uninstalled or upgraded applications still sucking space in my Library folder.

My interest in SSD’s peaked this week when MicroCenter put a Vertex 2 160GB SSD on sale for $259 after rebates.  I almost jumped on that one, but my out-of-pocket costs are what kept me from it.  Without the rebate, the price was a decent $279 but with tax and the cost of an Icy Dock adapter the price escalated to slightly above $300.  That was about $100 more than I wanted to spend.  I decided to save up and wait for the Intel Emcrest SSD’s (rumored to be released next month with much higher read and write speeds than anything currently on the market) until this morning when I stumbled on a “Super Shocker” deal at Newegg.  With a $30 rebate, they were selling a 120GB Vertex 2 SSD (2.5″ format) for only $169!!  That put my total cost even with an Icy Dock in the $220 range before the rebate and $190 range after.  SOLD!

I am expecting the Vertex 2 to arrive later this week.  I intend to install it where my Time Machine disk is in the Mac Pro and move the TM disk out to an external case.  I plan to load a firmware update to the SSD first using Windows 7 under Boot Camp and then erase the drive and reformat using HFS Extended.  I intend to load OS X up from scratch, and, once I have that working, start reinstalling all my Applications.    I’m going to use it and my current hard disk as alternating boot drives until I am satisfied that the SSD is working fine and will fit my needs.  At that point, I’ll wipe out the Applications, Library, and Systems folders from the hard drive so all that remains is my User profile, which I will have pointed toward long before.  That will isolate the User folder from my applications hard drive and put me in a position to clone the SSD to a replacement later.  And my intent is to replace the OCZ with an Intel Emcrest drive if they turn out to be the barn blazers they are rumored to be.  I’ll make the OCZ Vertex a scratch disk and give Photoshop, its other CS 5 apps, and Final Cut Pro and company all the performance they can handle.  Won’t it be sweet?

Switching to the MacBook Air

As I mentioned in my last blog, I had decided to trade in my 2009 MacBook Pro for a 2010 13 inch MacBook Air. I made a deal through PowerMax that brought my out-of-pocket expenses down (though still pretty high!) for the swap and ordered a 13 inch 2.13 GHz MacBook Air with 4GB RAM and 256GB of flash memory storage.  I spent about a day picking through the data on my current MacBook Pro and getting the data set moved and slimmed down so it would all fit on the Air.  I now have the Air up and running. I really like the new machine, though I found Apple had thrown me one curve I wasn’t expecting. More on that later when I talk about performance.

The first thing you notice is the higher resolution of the Air’s screen.  The Air’s thirteen-inch screen’s resolution is 1440 x 900 where the MacBook Pro’s screen, which is roughly the same size, is 1280 x 800.  That makes the icons on the Air finer and smaller, resulting in a tad more eye strain, though the display is bright and clear.  Fonts are very crisp.

The keyboard is the standard Apple full-sized keyboard with the same chicklet keys that live on the MacBook Pro.  The backlit feature is missing, but that’s not something I use a lot.  The key touch seems a bit lighter than the MacBook Pro, though I suspect most folks won’t notice a difference.  The Power Button is the upper most right-hand key on the keyboard instead of its own individual aluminum button, and I really like that.

With 4GB of RAM (random access memory) and 256GB of flash storage standing in for a hard drive, boot up and shutdown times are half what they were on my MacBook Pro.  Application launch times are also similarly cut.    That said, I gave up 4GB of RAM and .4GHz of CPU time to switch to the Air, so I was very unhappy to discover that Apple has artificially handicapped the Air by making it unable to boot into OS X’s 64 bit kernel. In fact, I was so mad about it I almost decided to send back the machine; I felt I had made enough performance and financial sacrifices as it was, and the fact that Apple did it arbitrarily was one straw too many.  Instead of doing that, I went to the Product Feedback section of the Apple.com website and told Apple I wanted it turned back on.  I realize that with only 4GB of RAM the performance gain would be pretty small, but I’ve seen some benchmarks that put the speed improvement using the 64 bit kernel at 9%; and that’s enough to be noticeable, so I want it!  If there is a trade-off in battery life to be had, I want to be able to make that trade and not have it taken from me by Apple.  The Air is a nice machine, but its performance is crippled enough!

The only bug I’ve encountered really isn’t one that belongs to the Air as much as Snow Leopard, and that is the despite being entered into the Airport set-up as a the prime “remembered” network, the machine always makes me re-enter our home network information every time I want it to connect wirelessly.  To overcome the irritation, I have a USB Ethernet adapter I hook the machine up to when I run it as a desktop with my Apple wired keyboard and 24 inch Apple Cinema Display.  For some reason, my wife’s setup with an 11.6 inch MacBook Air doesn’t seem to suffer from that malady, and it probably has to do with how she manages her system versus how I do it.  She uses sleep more than I do; when I’m done for the day or night, I shut mine down.

One quirk I’ve noticed in using the machine with the 24-inch display has to do with the display’s power chord routing.  The Cinema Displays are built to work with MacBook Pro’s that have all the ports on the left side of the machines (as you face them).  The MacBook Air has its mini-display port and one USB port on the right side of the machine, causing you to have to split off the power chord and run it to the left behind the Air.  The natural lay of the MagSafe adapter makes you have to twist it into place, and there is…for now…enough force in the magnetic grapple to keep the power adapter from popping out.  But this could be a problem later.  Worse case, it could force me to use the power adapter that came with the Air when plugged in at home, which would make using it there a bit more of a pain, but one I’d overcome by buying another adapter I could leave in place.  Still, that is something a user should not have to do.  Apple needs to design a fix to this problem.  A swiveling head would fix it, though I’m not sure of the impact on reliability.

Overall, I’m happy with my switch to the MacBook Air.  My only real complaint is I still feel the machine is a bit overpriced for what you get…about a $1500 price point would have felt a lot better.  But then this is Apple I’m dealing with, so what can I say?  Obviously, I was willing pay the premium to get where I got; only time will tell if it takes me where I hoped it would.

I know I must be Crazy, but I’m Buying a MacBook Air

I’ve been kind of impressed with Connie’s MacBook Air. When Steve Jobs said that the MacBook Air was the direction Apple’s notebooks were heading, I thought he was crazy. Now, I’m beginning to see what he was saying.

I’m not a fan of computing “in the cloud”. I still have vast reservations about putting all my personal data on someone else’s servers and having to have an Internet connection to avail myself of it or my apps. To me, that’s like setting myself up for computing suicide. Admittedly, my thoughts about it may be a bit antiquated. I mean, my Internet connection doesn’t go down much at all and most of the time I can get on the Net from wherever I’m at. That doesn’t mean that quality or speed is always there; there are still plenty of places within the US where the Internet is called “high speed” but is not and where a reliable connection to the Net is gotten when you can.

Secondly, I am running a Gigabit Ethernet system on the wired part of our home network and love it, and it is currently accessible to both my Mac Pro and my MacBook Pro. A MacBook Air can only tap the wireless part of our network; and though it is a wireless N network, it is still much slower than the Gigabit speeds I’m used to.

Thirdly, my MacBook Pro is now running 64 bit applications in terms of Adobe Premium Design Suite CS5 and 8GB of RAM via a 500GB hard disk. It doubles as my daily desktop and notebook with our really heavy lifting done by a 2.8 GHz Mac Pro with 16GB of RAM. On top of all that, I own an iPad which I can run standalone as a tablet or turn it into a net book using Clamcase. So, you’d think I’d be all stoked up and happy as a clam. And I am. Yet, I still keep looking for some way to consolidate and simplify how I’m operating. And I’ve been concerned that I’m carrying with my too much personal information on my MacBook Pro. While it’s sometimes convenient to have that with me during the workday, I also know it puts us at risk if the notebook is stolen. I keep it fairly secure, still…

At one time, too, I had thought the iPad would be of more use in the airplane than it is proving to be. I use a flight planning application called Foreflight I love that also runs on the iPhone. It’s a great pre-flight tool. But the current iPad’s bulk and limitations on display brightness as well as temperature restrictions and the inability to use the cell phone features in flight make it less than an ideal tool for in-flight use. I’m starting to lean away from using it in-flight at all. I’m also paying redundant data fees as I pay for a data plan on our current iPhones as well as for data usage. I’m not leveraging our data plan funds like I’d like.

My job with the shuttle program is obviously ending, and where I’m going from here is unknown. But the future seems to be pointing toward me working from home or hitting the road more, and both of those directions point toward off-loading more work onto my Mac Pro and making my mobile system as light and efficient as it can be. So, when I look at everything, consider my needs, ongoing data plan costs, and what I want to do, I am now starting to think that buying a 13 inch MacBook Air might be the way to go.

UPDATE: After thinking about it some more and discussing the situation with my wife, I have taken the plunge and ordered a 13 inch MacBook Air. I ordered the current “top of the line” version with a 2.13 GHz Intel Core Duo CPU, 4GB RAM, and a 256GB SSD for storage. I bought it through PowerMax which gave me a pretty good deal on a trade using my MacBook Pro. Still, the buy was an expensive one; but I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been convinced it was the way I needed to go.

My plan is for my wife and me to move to iPhone 4’s soon and for me to tether my MBA to the iPhone and shut down my iPad’s data plan except for those instances where it is REALLY needed. I still will have the iPad with us in the cockpit, though how much remains to be seen. Because of Foreflight’s ability to load up every sectional in the United States, more than likely, the iPad will be in the cockpit as a contingency tool, though whether it is sitting on a kneeboard on my leg or simply placed where we can get to it remains to be seen. But as long as I am an AOPA member, I’m going to continue to use the AOPA Flight Planner as my primary preflight planning tool and paper checklists and a standard (small) kneeboard in the cockpit. That’s not a direction that’s cast in concrete. If I change my idea about how I’m going to operate, I’ll blog about it here or, if it’s cockpit-related, in The FlightZone on this website.

Continuing with the Mac Pro Video Blues

I own a 2008 Mac Pro.  It runs a ATI Radeon 3870 video card I installed sometime after I purchased the machine.  I felt the video card was getting a bit long in the tooth, so when Apple released the Radeon 5770 and 5870 video cards, I thought salvation had arrived.  Much to my chagrin, as you know if you read my previous blog post, I found consumer hell instead.  The 5770 card sold to me by Apple appears to be defective, and because I dared use it in anything but a mid-2010 Mac Pro that was “required” (even though Apple sold me the card and continues to tacitly approval the sale of them to other Mac Pro owners), Apple is refusing to do anything about it.

That has, of course made me start looking at whether, for the first time in the almost ten years since I switched to the Mac, third-party video products….monitors, specifically….might be a better solution than anything offered by Apple.  My first foray into that arena happened this week when I ordered an Atlona DP-400 dual-link mini-display port adapter to see if it would allow me to hook up the Mac Pro to the 24 inch Apple Cinema Display I already own.  The Atlona unit is USB powered, and while that eliminates a power brick, it costs me a USB port.   I had not realized that was going to be the case, and if I did try to run that set-up permanently, I would have a problem to solve because all the rear USB ports on my Mac Pro are already occupied.  Nevertheless, I disconnected two of the three devices there so I could test out the Mac Pro, the Atlona DP-400, and the 24 inch Apple Cinema Display.  However, the display chords were really cut to a length that permits them to be used with a MacBook Pro sitting on a desk and not with a Mac Pro sitting under one.   To address that issue, I bought a Kanex min-display/USB six foot cable extension from OWC, up the Atlona unit using the Kanex cables, strung them to the 24 inch display, and powered up the Mac Pro.  The display powered up as you might expect, but the keyboard and mouse (which were on the same USB port into the display) did not work.  When I connected the keyboard and mouse chord directly to the Kanex extension (thereby bypassing the monitor), they did work but later they stopped working at all. I tried another USB extension chord in place of the Kanex and still had trouble getting the mouse to work and never did tie down what the problem was before I simply ran out of time.  However, the whole experience made me skeptical that running a 24 inch Apple Cinema Display (or the more expensive 27 inch display) would not be problematic on my Mac Pro.  More and more, moving its operations to a third party monitor if and when I had to do so was looking like the thing to do.  I say “when I had to do so” because I am currently running a 23 inch aluminum Apple Cinema Display on the Mac Pro and it’s working just fine.

Apple has always limited consumer choice to some degree, but my feeling is that Apple is taking it to an extreme and the effect will be felt in the company’s bottom line, even if it isn’t felt immediately.  I certainly am questioning staying with Apple more and more, but the scales haven’t tipped yet and I’m still a Mac guy willing to spend money to stay that way.  But how long it will be before I decide that it’s not worth it any more may come a lot sooner than I had hoped.  I had once though that day would come not at all.

Caveat: I played around again with the Kanex and Atlona units and did get them to work, though I could never get a good USB input through the Kanex cable.  I got a good USB input through an auxiliary cable; so, if I need to get this set-up to work, I would use the Kanex cable for the video input and a seperate USB cable for USB.

Why the Apple Technosystem Is Starting to Stink!

The thing I’ve always loved about the Apple way of doing things is the integration of its products and their sense of style.  For about nine years now, I’ve been happy to pay the “Apple premium” to buy and use their products.  But the Apple ecosystem is starting to stink.  The smell began a couple of years ago and is getting worse all the time.  Soon…

Apple has never been shy about changing its horses in the middle of the stream at the expense of its customers.  Up until now, we’ve put up with it.  We marched through the G3/G4/G5 architecture run to Intel, and we did it because we believed the results would be worth it.  They largely have been.  And part of the reason we’ve put up with the time and expense to hang in with those changes is because we always had a little wiggle room.  But it’s increasingly evident to all of us Apple customers how much it really is Jobs’ Way or the Highway, and that can only have one end result. Instead of being driven by technical reason and customer service, it appears that the Apple motto is that profits come first, even at the cost of destroying certain customer bases.  That’s what Apple is doing to me as a prosumer, and I’m not even running one Xserve…  (though I do own Final Cut Pro with the ever stagnant DVD Studio Pro that still has no Blue Ray support).

I own a 2008 2.8 GHz Eight Core Mac Pro.  Since I became an Apple convert, it is the fifth Apple Tower I have owned. (That is a little less than one-fourth the total number of Macs my wife and I have owned in that period.) It is the last.   Here’s why.

The Apple Mac Pro is sold as the Mac you need to get if you want power and expandability.  There is no doubt that it is expandable in comparison to other Macs and is generally more powerful, though the low end machines barely outrace the top iMac anymore.  But by the term “expandable”, Apple means that you can add more RAM and hard disks as you want.  CPU’s are not upgradeable.  In reality, neither are your video cards.  While GPU advances tend to run faster than a greyhound, Apple will only offer you one or maybe two additional video card choices during the entire lifetime of your Mac Pro, and they will provide technical support for employing them in only their newest models, even when there is no technical reason not to support others.  You can see this with Apple’s approach to sales of the Radeon 5770 and 5870 video cards that are only supported for the mid-2010 Mac Pro’s, despite the fact they work in models back to the very first Intel powered models sold.  Apple will gladly sell you the video card, by the way, but once you try to return it…even if it’s defective…they will tell you that you shoulda’ done it their way and they’re not gonna give you your money back.  When I’ve tried to post warnings about that in the question bank associated with Apple’s Online Store, they apparently have blocked that “answer”.

That, Apple, is really bad form, not to mention questionable from both a legal and ethical standpoint.

Let’s consider their video card sales and support policies in conjunction with how Apple has marketed their LCD backlit monitors over the past couple of years.  They have been happy to sell their MacBook Pro’s as a “matched pair”, first with their 24 inch backlit-LCD and now their 27 inch backlit-LCD.   When they first did it, I bought a MacBook, Macbook Pro, and a couple of those 24 inch monitors as replacements for iMacs my wife and I both had been running. (The iMacs went to other family members.)  We did that to consolidate our operations (drop from 5 Macs total to 3) and maximize our investments; and we’ve been happy with that set-up.  I have upgraded my MacBook Pro once since then.  A year after that, Apple dropped the 24 inch iMac out of the line and also the 24 inch monitor, leaving those of us who had bought MacBook Pro’s as integrated desktop systems no place to go.  Oh, excuse me, Apple did replace the 24 inch overpriced LCD monitor with an even more overpriced 27 inch backlit-monitor that costs a GRAND!  Yes, there are still 24-inch monitors, still over-priced, sometimes available in refurbished form; but now there is only one Apple choice!  And it’s a doosey!  A thousand dollars for a monitor (and the only one Apple offers with mini-display port integration) may not seem like a big deal if you bought a 30 inch Apple Cinema Display and are looking at a 27 incher as a replacement, but I assure it’s a big deal when you are being “forced up” from your old 24’s.  Especially, when you might need to buy two!

Let’s say, for a moment, that you decide you would like one of these highly-priced 27 incher displays for use with your Mac Pro.  Well, only the 2009 and 2010 Mac Pro’s have video cards that will accept the proprietary mini-display port connector Apple uses for that display, so earlier Mac Pro owners have to run the display with a third party adapter or buy a video card that contains the proper interface.  Where can you get those?  Only from Apple, of course!  And they’ll gladly sell you one for your older Mac Pro, especially when they know it means more sales of Apple monitors. But, if that card’s defective, stand by; Apple will do nothing to help you diagnose the problem or the card.  They will simply take your money and be gone.

And, that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what they did to me.  I bought a Radeon 5770 video card from Apple for by 2008 Mac Pro, and it started hanging up my system from the get-go. It took me a while to troubleshoot it; by the time I was convinced it was the card and not my system, the 14 day return window had passed.  When I called Apple for support, Technical support would only refer me to sales because my 2008 Mac Pro (protected via AppleCare) was “not supported”.  Sales would do nothing because I was outside the 14 day return period for the card.  At tech support, the tech commented that the problem perhaps laid with my power supply.  I ended that discussion by pointing out to him that my Mac Pro was covered under AppleCare; and if there was a power supply problem, they owed me a fix.   They didn’t suggest I take the machine down to have it checked, and I have no reason to suspect any other part of the machine than the new card itself.  The machine has run impeccably well except when the 5770 was in place.  The ridiculousness of the whole thing is that all I was trying to do was position myself to continue to participate in the Apple Reality Distortion Field.  For that, I got burned.  And that really pisses me off!

As I told the Apple sales people days ago, I intended to refute the charge for the video card with my credit card holder and I did.  We’ll see if and how Apple responds.  I’m also watching how Apple reacts to my attempts to make sure other Apple customers with older Mac Pros and buying either the 5770 or the 5870 video cards understand they are risking just throwing their money away.  It’d be one thing if we were talking fifty bucks, but we’re talking between two and four hundred dollars.  I’ve got better charities to give to than Apple, especially when times are so hard.

Moreover, there’s been a lot of online speculation about Apple’s ditching of the pro and enterprise crowds.  I believe Apple is doing just that; the consumer line is where the money is.  They’re just not being honest with us about it because they don’t want to lose that market until they’re ready. Their attitude toward the Mac Pro market, including this questionable attitude toward older Mac Pro support for newer video cards, is evidence of it.

Moreover, the recent update of the iPad/iPhone operating system forces on users several undesirable changes.  First, I have a lot more use for the original function of the “lock switch” as an orientation (portrait/landscape) lock button and ABSOLUTELY NO USE FOR IT AS A MUTE SWITCH!  Changing it up may be a great idea for a phone, but stinks for the iPad!  Additionally, Apple has forced us all to accept Game Center WITHOUT the ability to remove it!  So, now I have a TOTALLY USELESS application on my iPad, one I will never use.

Anyone else starting to pick up on the smell?

Why Apple’s 27 inch Cinema Display is a Bad Deal

I predicted some time ago that Apple would release a new 27-inch Cinema Display and retire their 30-inch model.  What I didn’t see coming was this would drive Apple’s turn to the Dark Side, and they would also discontinue support for the 24-inch model.  This is a really bad deal for us MacBook Pro owners who set up our notebooks as desktops using Apple’s Cinema mini-Display Port displays, and I urge all of you that are impacted by this to protest to Apple directly.

It’s not that I don’t understand what they’re doing.  They no longer need any 24-inch iMac panels and I’m sure maintaining a separate LCD supply just for external monitor users is not the best for the company line.  But they sold the 24-inch displays and the MacBook Pro’s as an “integrated system”, even though that was more by implication than by downright statement.  It certainly is why my wife and I got rid of our iMacs and dropped down to operating our notebooks as desktops.  Now, if either of our displays croak, our choice will be to see if we can get them fixed or spend $1000 a pop just to stay where we were, at least as far as our workflow is concerned.

In other words, Apple, having only one choice for desktop display pricing and resolution sucks.

Now, I’ve been wanting one of these new displays for my Mac Pro, and I probably will fork out the cash to get one, even though I could save several hundred dollars buying a third party design.  I like the higher resolution Apple brings to the 27- incher (opposed to the 1920 x 1080 resolution most PC monitors 23 inch and higher seem stuck at), the fact that it’s backlit, and I like the integrated iChat camera. I’m willing to plunk down the money to increase both screen size and resolution for the Mac Pro where I can really use it as opposed to being forced to do so on my MacBook pro where it’s nice to have.  With a job loss staring me in the face sometime next year, I have to look a lot more closely at what is really needed instead of being able to get what I want; and the economy in general is going to be like that for a while.  So, Apple is either saying they’re going to stop supplying monitors for their systems in the near future or they’ve made a marketing mistake that will bite them in their you-know-what.

Frankly, if the company can’t afford to continue with the 24-inch line (and their capitalization suggests they can afford it), then they can at least offer another Cinema Display using the 21.5-inch panels they get with the smaller iMacs at a significantly reduced price point than a grand.  I dare say for most MBP owners that size monitor would be sufficient, though not as nice as the 24-inchers they have now.  The only other solution that would make a single choice acceptable is a reduction in the price point, and that’s something Apple is unlikely to do considering what they used to ask for and get for the 30-inch display.  But failing to do either of those things mean it’s much more likely that, if one of our displays croaks, we’ll be buying from some company other than Apple and the need for Apple notebook “updates” will go away.

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