Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Updates and commentary will be a bit sparse until around the 7th of August while I concentrate on moving a very large family to a new home.

Monday, July 29, 2002

(I'm typing while my eyes are quite dilated from an eye exam, so please forgive any really gross spellng mistakes.)

There has been quite a lot of general articles on switching from PCs to Macintosh systems lately. Two articles in PC World and The Spokesman-Review appeared just today (thanks to MacSurfer Headline News for these collections of links).

These articles talk generally of the reasons that a home user might consider making the switch, but I didn't note anything in these articles that pertain to a business reason to switch. Another Macintosh site, MacSpeedZone.com, offers a large collection of links to pages discussing the eternal Mac vs. PC debate as well. Still, not much here on many of these links on the considerations of switching for anything more than a small business.

Why isn't there much on the large businesses making the move to a Mac OS arrangement? That should be obvious given that Apple has never made any inroads in what IT folks now call (with great pride to the point of elitism) the enterprise market. It's not that Apple's product are not compatible with enterprise systems, but very few large businesses make them a consideration since most businesses rarely ponder alternatives when it comes to their computers. You have to be taught to know that there are different computers in the industry to grasp their significance. Most companies and IT folks aren't, and that is Apple's fault in terms of supporting their business.

Apple has succeeded often in creating "big things" in the computer industry. They pioneered the first two "big things": the graphical user interface, and desktop publishing. Later, Apple popularized USB, the PDA (the Newton was the first PDA, long before Palm), and now, home video publishing (this latter is more synthetic, but still indicates how Apple can create a need by convincing the public, and others in IT, that video editing is the way to go). All of these "big things," however, were aimed at the general public, not businesses.

Apple needs to create a Big Thing for the enterprise that sparks them to seriously consider Macintosh for specific tasks just as the public considers Macs today. With the introduction of the Xserve rack mounts, this could be cheap, affordable file sharing, for instance. A new business application or process, say integration of Sybase or Oracle for a dedicated, "canned" database solution, could be used. Apple needs to ask itself, "what do businesses need today that is expensive to implement or maintain?" Or, "what services in IT require better management?" Questions like this may yield greater business successes for Apple if they see the light and implement a good plan.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

A Web site tests out a dual-processor Power Mac G4 against a dual Athlon and single Pentium box. The results to the Mac faithful are shocking, if you believe Apple's dated marketing only. Benchmarks between computer hardware and software varieties tend to fall under three categories: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics. However, on reviewing this site's results, I find it a significant (albeit unsurprising) confirmation that Apple needs fresh professional iron, and soon.

The refresh may be sooner than later. Rumor mills are grinding that a Power Mac announcement may come as soon as Monday, August 5. The rumor sites appear to have found pictures of the new professional desktop, which appear to use the same form factor with carrying handles and very convenient side access to the logic board and internals. What appears new may be nice: in the past, Apple added a DVD or CD-ROM drive, and left a tiny bay for a Zip drive. You really couldn't use the 2nd bay for, say, another CD-ROM drive because Apple's mounting area was built with only a Zip in mind. Based on the pictures (assuming they are real, and my examination lent nothing to indicate otherwise), Apple has added two full size bays that can each hold a CD-ROM module. This is a helpful change for DV professionals that need a 2nd drive but don't want to have external drives littering their desk.

It's the internal design changes I am most interested in. For the new G4 systems to narrow the gap in performance over PCs, the system bus, processor speed, and memory must match the PC systems as much as possible. We're pretty assured of DDR RAM on these new systems. I'm hoping for much more, although I do not hold any optimism whatsover that the processor speeds will exceed 1.5GHz. Any offerings from 1.2 through 1.5GHz will be looked as favorable to the Mac community, especially with the needed logic board speed ups. It's always a problem for the general market, particularly Wall Street, to see the greater advances for a new Apple product.

And, given this independent report from a group interested in a field that Apple courts, Wall Street will need a lot of convincing.
Although I understand their reasons, Apple should really make their pricing and upgrade plans more consistent. The problems revolve primarily around the definitions of an operating system update as opposed to a software upgrade.

In the past, Apple tended to charge full price for users to move from a major release (upgrade) of the Mac OS, which tended to change its version number to a ".0" or ".5" (such as Mac OS 8.5 or 9.0). Any free updates changed their numbers in between these release numbers (Mac OS 8.5.1, Mac OS 8.6, Mac OS X 10.1, Mac OS 9.2.2, et al.) But Apple, I feel, is realizing that their use of the "Mac OS X" naming, in combination to the numbering method handled in the next popular UNIX-type operating system, Linux, is screwing with their old-style number system. If they named this next major release (whose code-name of "Jaguar" has been incorporated as part of the product name) as "Mac OS X 10.5", it wouldn't be long until Apple would have to figure out how to name the next Mac OS X version. Would it be "Mac OS XI" to keep with the Roman numeral convention? Or, keep it to "Mac OS X, version 11"? So, the old way of numbering the Mac OS updates and upgrades had to go to slow the number crawl.

So, as the Linux folks do (but with likely different reasons), Mac OS X major upgrades will probably follow the following convention. Major releases on even-numbers on the tenth decimal (Mac OS X 10.2, 10.4, 10.6, 10.8), and free updates anywhere within each release number (Mac OS X 10.1.5, Mac OS X 10.2.#, Mac OS X 10.4.#, etc.).

This still doesn't help the point that many people are ticked that Apple will charge for a Mac OS X update. They shouldn't. For one, Mac OS X 10.2 is indeed an upgrade, which means that there are new features that make a difference. Apple can't make money if they give away their larger creations for free. Contrast that with the many free iApps (iMovie, iTunes, iDVD, iPhoto, and a couple of more included with Jaguar) and its a fair deal--Apple could've charged for these items. Some may say that Mac OS 10.1.5 is not a complete OS and that Jaguar should be free. I've heard these same voices before when Mac OS 8.5 and 9.0 came out, and I disagree. Mac OS X has arrived and is mature enough for Apple to resume its pricing for the upgrades. Sure, I think Jaguar will have loads of features in it that I would like to have--but so does Apple, and they are a business, not a religion. They need money to continue making more stuff. Lately, they've given a lot of these new toys away, and the new toys have a lot of functionality. People who think that Apple should give Jaguar away are trying to get something for completely nothing, and it's not good business.

On the other hand, Apple needs to announce how to distinguish or anticipate future updates versus upgrades in Mac OS X, especially for new users. Also, Apple really needs to give a grace period for users who bought a new computer or copy of Mac OS X within, say, three months of a new upgrade. These users should receive a free copy of the update or upgrade by mail (shipping and handling to be paid by the user) by sending in one of the prepackaged general-use coupons that come with most Apple product purchases. This keeps the users who recently bought an Apple product from feeling stiffed just weeks after a new purchase, but still keeps Apple from losing some money on the deal.

Another very important reason for announcing the update/upgrade numbering convention: corporate licensing and internal IT support. Some companies have outsourced their IT support for handling by an IT service bureau. To do this, companies typically have extensive contracts that detail what the IT service bureau is responsible for in the way of supporting the companies assets. To cover their butts, the IT vendor may stipulate that the company must keep recent versions of the operating systems and software used by the company assets to ensure that the IT vendor does have to support a wide assortment of operating systems and software.

So, for instance, the contract may say that the company must not have their software fall more than 1 version behind. To plan for this eventual change, the company needs to understand how or what may come down the pike from a software company like Microsoft or Apple or Sun. And so, they need to budget for the cost of upgrades and updates (which, albeit free to obtain, still need manpower, and thus money, to install over dozens or hundreds of systems).

If Apple fails to follow an understandable and cost-effective upgrade/update plan, what few companies that use Macintosh hardware may find another alternative with less confusing and consistent upgrade/update plans. IT companies and their customers tend to follow the path of less resistance and comfort level. Apple can't afford to make any services and products they offer appear to be an opportunistic grab at each and every penny.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Despite the obvious bias from the source, Apple appears to have shown how powerful and versatile their new Xserve systems are. A press release from Apple yesterday suggests how potent an Xserve can be in streaming live video.

According to the release, Apple used 4 Xserves to stream MPEG-4 video to users of QuickTime 6 during the Macworld Expo keynote address last Wednesday in New York. The four servers used the QuickTime Streaming Server application and the QuickTime Broadcaster application (both applications are available free in one form or another with Mac OS X Server or downloadable for use in the open-source core operating system of Mac OS X, Darwin, as well as Linux) to send streaming MPEG-4 video to some 25,000 viewers.

I was one of these viewers last Wednesday. In past streaming video opportunities from Apple, the QuickTime stream was a bit choppy or there was lagging in its audio. I experienced only a single blip during the entire presentation, and the clarity and performance was much improved over previous stream attempts. It was also easier to obtain a connection; past keynotes were difficult to watch as the computers that handled these programs were quickly overloaded. This might have been a result of more viewers of the keynote in the past than any technical improvements on the part of Apple, however.

Does this make Apple a big-time leader in streaming media? Not in the real world, although a recent review by Network Computing magazine showed that the Darwin Streaming Server (that's the same as the QuickTime Streaming Server software used for the keynote, for all intents and purposes) was the strongest performer against RealNetworks and Microsoft's offerings. Apple does have a very strong product, and its price cannot be beat. However, there's always the mindshare factor as Apple continues to be a non-player in the minds of IT professionals until they experience or are trained otherwise.

Still, the word can get around.

Monday, July 22, 2002

Parts of Apple's acquisition strategies are starting to appear. The compositing and video effects software, Shake, is available for Mac OS X for the first time. Apple gained Shake as part of an acquisition of Nothing Real, the makers of Shake, a few months prior. Shake's been used in the creation of special effects for movies such as Titanic.

The kicker in this offering is how Apple is leveraging Shake's availability and cost to other platforms. The app is available for Mac OS X users for $4,950, and an annual maintenance contract (for updates) for $1,199. If you use Windows, IRIX or Linux, Shake 2.5 is available at twice the cost: $9,900 with a $1,485 annual maintenance contract. So, other platforms can get double the licenses for Mac OS systems by switching. Shrewd marketing move, Apple.

But this gets better. Apple offers the 2.5 update for existing Windows, IRIX, and Linux Shake 2.46 users only. A Windows or Linux user can't buy the full product anymore. That move keeps those users from being left out in the cold with this change, but also tells their IT departments that the writing is on the wall: Move to Mac OS X systems soon for Shake development, or find another app that supports your platform.

And this is a directive with more force than Microsoft could give: You can still run an older Windows app like, say, Office 97 today, but render apps and other CGI apps have to remain cutting-edge to improve production speed and generate the best product. Unless a company builds its own apps (many do, like the other gig run by Steve Jobs), you may not have a choice in using Shake in the near future than switching to Macintosh.

It's an almost Microsoft-like license attitude that Apple has developed. But, considering that the industrial video and effects market is run by so few companies, with no one software or hardware company owning it, moving into this small but lucrative market is an easy decision for Apple. The power that Mac OS X provides ensures that the Linux and IRIX people aren't totally hosed, and a few Windows renderfarms may be converted, too.

Friday, July 19, 2002

A Slashdot article talks about bringing Mac OS X to an Intel system. But, it won't happen in the way that you might think. The misconception is that Apple would make Mac OS X available to run on existing PC motherboards with Intel specifications running an Intel or compatible chip.

Apple would never do such a thing. It would commoditize their product, making it no better than any other mainstream PC manufacturer. In short, it would be a fatal decision. Here's my response that I posted about the use of Intel technology:

"Don't presume that moving to Intel hardware will create a Mac with the highly-modifiable box you take for granted on PCs.

Apple survives today because their boxes are designed to make a user's life easier. That means, despite a change to the processor, it is very likely that Apple would still have a custom motherboard available ONLY from Apple, still use Open Firmware rather than a PC BIOS, (this is done on Sun as well) and still not be subject to the resource-hungry design of the aging PC design.

Intel may assist Apple in a mobo design, but Apple will not release it for general consumption. If they want to continue to survive as a business, it would be suicide to do so. Apple is a hardware company. They have to keep some things closed to keep a competitive edge. The hardware would be generally closed-source, along with the upper layers of Mac OS X (Darwin, the core of OS X, is open source and works right now on x86 as well as PPC.).

A more serious matter would be the Pentium's lack of Altivec--the vector processing unit and the true power in the PowerPC chip that lets it keep up with Pentiums doing the same calculations in most instances, despite PPC chips having half the clock speed.

Not insurmountable things, however. I tire of the PowerPC production issues at Motorola. I would rather get IBM to make the chips--they should know how, since the PowerPC chip uses the same tech as in the POWER mainframe chips."

Of course, Mac OS X's core, Darwin, does indeed run on x86 hardware as it stands. But Apple would consider the use of only Intel's processors, leaving the very antiquated motherboards of the x86 community behind.

This isn't a bad thing. The PC community's hardware is stuck in a vicious symbiotic relationship. Intel, I'm sure, would love to ditch the x86 mobo design for something that resembles more of Apple's or Sun's mobo designs, since these do not suffer from a lack of resources or conflicts such as the x86 boards do. But the software of the PC world is based on these limitations, including the dominant operating system, Microsoft Windows.

Here's something to twist your brain. What if Microsoft ditched its old-school proprietary operating system model as Apple has when they ditched Mac OS 9 recently? What if Microsoft grabbed a Linux distro and branded it for themselves? From there, Microsoft felt it logical to make and sell Linux/UNIX-compatible versions of Microsoft Office. And, Intel could redesign the system boards so that resource issues are a thing of the past.

Sure, we'd all be feeding the Beast. But such a move would solve two gripes many people have with Linux as a Mac or Windows alternative: there would be software compatible with the rest of the business world, and there wouldn't be a level of configuration hell that can make a grown man cry since the hardware can break out of its 1980's design.

Maybe some of you might think that such a move would kill Apple. I don't think so. Apple's interface design logic is still better than any other companies. While Windows isn't very complex to use, it still has one problem: there are at least three ways to do any one thing. Apple's interfaces generally have no more than two ways to do a particular thing. Apple still has its interface magic, for now.

I've never had a real beef with Intel's processors, per se (except maybe that fact that Pentium III's burned 24 watts where a human brain needs only 22 watts), but the boards they sat on. Apple wouldn't have the processor production headaches by switching to an Intel chip, and, in many ways, it would simplify the lives of the developers who want to bring up product and give them our cash.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

The Keynote address at the Macworld Expo is finished, and while there are some sour things, there is a palpable change in how Apple does business. Apple hardware products are now being targeted at Windows users, for one thing.

Take the iPod, their very popular MP3 player. It's received much praise from various camps, but the non-Apple crowd all note its incompatibility with Windows PCs. So, Apple corrected this by working with MusicMatch to allow iPod users to work them with their PCs. Score one for Apple. From a sales perspective, this will dramatically boost Apple's iPod sales since FireWire is getting pretty commonplace and PCI cards are cheap. Apple added a 20GB model and made the clever scrolling wheel a touchpad-like solid state device on the 10 and 20 models.

And then, there was the ugly--not in the since that Apple hasn't provided useful or (dare I say it?) innovative tools for the home user, but people are inherently cheap. Mac home users have become extraordinarily cheap since Apple has been, until recently, giving tons of software away (iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie) and their online services known as iTools. The fact is that these services cost Apple to provide them, and having them as free isn't possible in this market. So, after some good updates in the iTools offerings (particularly a copy of Virex antivirus software for Mac OS X), Apple has rebranded iTools as .mac. The name rebrand, in my opinion, is a tail-pull on Microsoft's tendency to name their products and services in such a way to confuse the public (Take Windows XP's name branding shortly after Mac OS X was announced, among other business tactics). CEO Steve Jobs even joked that, "unlike Microsoft, we know what .mac is!" The ugly about this is that .mac is a subscription service at $99 annually. Dead, pin-dropping silence erupted from the Macworld audience. The business shoe had to fall sooner or later on what few things constituted as free dot.com frivolity services from Apple, and iTools was the victim. Still, with .mac now a pay service, it may pay for itself more than iTools did.

There were other impressive technologies, all of them integrated in the new Mac OS X 10.2 release (apparently the "Jaguar" codename stuck and will be added to the various product ads), and all pretty interesting when taken as a whole. Jobs apparently loves to integrate things as part of the Digital Hub initiative in the products, and it looks promising, particularly with Bluetooth and cell phone integration. With the notable exception of Mac OS X 10.2's features, not a lot of the software introduced will impact IT professionals, but some software developers may take some of the ideas that Apple has introduced and try to integrate them as a Windows product. Good luck. Some Windows folks can't even get their system to see a Zip disk drive. Bluetooth is yet one of these great technologies that sat mortibund like USB. Apple lead the USB popularity with the first iMac, and I hope that its Bluetooth work may help spark some creativity with the rest of the computer industry, which can use a boost.

Aside from the iMac screen update and iPod, no other new hardware announcements, particularly with professional desktops and laptops. Speculation is that these will be rolled out (with great fanfare) in August. Apple has kept patient in not rolling out product before it is really ready. In a competitive market like this, one bad thing like a misfired product or early announcements before Apple can meet demand (as happened with the iMac flat panel, in my opinion) could ruin that company's whole existence.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

I'm salivating over some new Macintosh toys from tomorrow's Macworld Expo keynote, as are many Mac IT professionals and fans. Yesterday I found a new toy to salivate about before the Expo rush--a Personal Video Recorder called EyeTV. It's Mac OS X compatible (my previous TV tuner isn't) and it adds the bonus of recording as many shows as I have disk space. It's not exceedingly fancy, but it is cheap and quite flexible, working on laptops as well as desktops with USB. If you need a cheap TV somewhere or need to make screenshots or get brief snippets of TV video, this is a workable solution.

Now I can create a basic collection of one of my favorite science-fiction shows--and not worry about certain members of my family circumventing the recording. This will be great to record a handful of shows, particularly TV movies, to take with you on the road without carrying lots of disks. It could be useful professionally too as an inexpensive analog to digital recorder with its RCA inputs. I keep looking at those ports for a substantially less professional purpose while on the road.
Apple's "Jaguar" update should be a big help for the few home Mac users on the fence in adopting the new operating system. As an IT professional, however, you shouldn't wait. Mac OS 9 was a nice operating system for what it was, but Windows and many other operating systems had it beat hands down in many performance and compatibility areas. Mac OS X returns the Macintosh to a very compatible and competitive alternative.

The forthcoming update to Mac OS X, code named Jaguar, further matures the new operating system's performance, ease-of-use, security, and networking. If your company has a handful or a building-full of Macintosh systems running Mac OS 9, start working on your migration plans. It's that important. Besides, Apple will no longer add any new features to Mac OS 9, and software makers are moving to Mac OS X in droves, which will leave OS 9 users with dwindling support.

Aside from the very impressive stability, Mac OS X will allow system administrators greater alternatives in managing these systems and integrating them in a Windows domain. One of my favorite features is SMB networking as part of the OS. Currently this feature is essentially a command line and isn't very robust, but I can connect to any Windows server share that I have access rights to and move things from one environment to another without a lot of thought. A feature I'm looking forward to test is Mac OS X Server's ability to mate, via LDAP directory services, to Windows Active Directory. Basically, your Macs can authenticate themselves with the same Windows domain user account information that PC users have. The Mac OS X Server can then auto-mount the file shares available from itself as well as mount the user's home directory.

Jaguar will improve these features as well, but I won't sell them here until the Macworld keynote presentation at this time tomorrow. Features may change, and CEO Steve Jobs will give a better presentation than I will, anyway.

The only way that Jaguar could be screwed up is if Apple requires people to pay for it (aside from shipping and handling charges as they did with 10.1). Apple has had a hard time convincing some of its software makers that the operating system's adoption rate is strong. Users aren't buying any computers at the rate that computer companies would like them to, and Apple needs to leverage the features of Jaguar to sell their bread-and-butter--their hardware. Until Mac OS X has a larger adoption rate, revenues from Mac OS X itself are a secondary matter.

Monday, July 15, 2002

Not everyone with limited Mac OS experience writes like they're on crack. Take this article from Felix Lung on transferring VHS movies to an iMac. The writer is an unabashed Windows user that understands both sides of the IT fence when it comes to using the better technology for a particular task. It's a good read for IT pros who wonder about the Macintosh's true video processing speed and abilities that aren't buying the claims that Apple makes on their site.

Keep in mind that the flat-panel iMac with a G4 processor that the writer used is intended as a consumer product and is not intended for a lot of video processing. The professional line of Macintosh systems (the Power Mac desktop and the PowerBook laptop) will have much greater power in desktop video.

Back to that ZDNet article on the Xserve that got my panties in a bunch a moment ago. It's not that Mr. O'Brien doesn't give good praise about the Xserve (he appears to). It's just that he disguises his praise in the same "Mac religion" claptrap that makes it hard to distinguish professional writing from non-professional writing. Or, to put it more succiently, his point was muddled by his attempts at lame humor.

Dealing with Mac zealots is one thing, but countering commentary from PC users like this piece from ZDNet News can make folks like me feel physically ill.

The writer, who sports a Big Ol' Programmer's Beard in the small photo in the article, adds very little insight about the new Xserve rack mount server. The writer uses remarkably ordinary language to express more of his personal opinion of Apple as a whole, rather than the features and abilities of the hardware.

Comparisons to Apple and drugs and religion have been done before, and are just as annoying and irrelevant then as now. The writer's article is filled with such vitrolic nonsense that make it very easy not to take his article seriously--if I were not a Mac IT professional.

But I am. This kind of poor writing (despite the fact that it is a commentary) published on a national computer news site not only is a disservice to those-who-write-with-substance-and-a-point, but also to those IT folks who search for good information on a technology. Apple doesn't have to be held to a lower standard as this article appears to imply. At the same time, Apple should be highly criticized when their excursions to the enterprise fall short.

I'm really more annoyed that ZDNet, which has generally good balance when writing on many topics, has published something like this. Commentary is one thing, such as David Coursey's recent articles on Apple technology that come from his experience with this products and an informed opinion based on research. But Mr. O'Brien's article is simply an uninformed bash with little fact other than what the writer might have experienced on some dusty unkept Mac back in 1992.

My worry is whether readers such as the audience I'm writing to here (IT people who use PCs mostly but are curious about Mac OS X) will actually take Mr. O'Brien's comments as fact.

Sunday, July 14, 2002

(Note: The nice thing about using Blogger for this blog site is that its tools are free and convenient. The bad news is that the site does not always work 100%. Thus, I had to change the site design to fix an issue.)

The folks at O'Reilly Network continue to lead UNIX-based developers into a new direction. I've discussed the increase in O'Reilly's acceptance in Mac OS X before, and the link above is yet one additional example.

If you are a UNIX person, Mac OS X really is a dream. For an experienced Mac OS person like myself, it's a joy to use. If I were a developer in Java or needed a strong reliable UNIX desktop or portable, Mac OS X would be a professional necessity.

The writer of the blog raises a philosophical point I've bemused once in a while. Windows and Linux users are accustomed to having to do things the hard way in some cases because the operating system , hardware, or both don't integrate as advertised. This has been a trademark of the Macintosh since the Mac Plus, but even that integration has been hobbled by the original Mac OS. No longer.

A PC box and a Macintosh use similar hardware. However, a Macintosh box has no "BIOS" in the sense that a PC has where many functions must be configured manually. You will never run out of hardware resources such as IRQs on a Macintosh because the hardware is not configured this way.

A good example of this issue involves my PC box--a nice 1GHz Athlon XP game rig with 256MB RAM (needs a much larger drive soon). The mobo is a PC100 ATX brand board--no frills, but it works very well. It has integrated Ethernet, USB, and sound--something I'm accustomed to find on every Macintosh system. Shortly after assembling this box, I ran into problems with built-in sound while playing a few select games--the sound would begin to stutter and would not be silenced until the computer was restarted. I was also aware that the built-in modem would suck up another needed resource, so I disabled that in the BIOS. Eventually, built-in sound had to go, so I had to disable that in the BIOS and add a basic SoundBlaster card.

Windows 2000 was acting funky on it while all of this was going on, and I initially reinstalled Windows 98 on the box to cure the sound problems. So now I'll need to reinstall W2K for better performance with USB devices that don't work well or at all in 98.

Problems like these make it hard for me as an IT professional to recommend PCs if very complex or resource-intensive tasks are required of it. A typical PC board just cannot keep up. If a user needs a PC for typical administrative work (Microsoft Office, maybe some basic graphic work like Acrobat), as well as basic Internet access, that's great. Gaming should be fine, too. But get any more complex, and troubles begin.

Saturday, July 13, 2002

The BSD staffing at Apple is beginning to pay off. About 5 days from this post, a software vunerability of Mac OS X's Software Update application was posted. It seemed a pretty serious exploit where someone could spoof Apple's HTTP site where software updates are passed on to the Software Update application. Problem was that Software Update did not require or use any kind of authentication, making it possible for someone to drop trojan horses or other malware on a system.

Today, 5 days after the exploit, Apple provides an update that adds some checksums that minimize, if not eliminate the exploit. For anyone who's waited for an update from Apple, this is blazingly fast for them.

So, what's the deal? I suspect that Apple's recent acquisitions from the FreeBSD camp are to credit for this. There are many talented individuals who were hired from the FreeBSD core development group who were probably used to making fixes on the fly after an exploit warning. Since Apple is trying to make inroads in markets where Linux and other UNIX operating systems exist, it becomes increasingly important for Apple to keep up. It also places egg on the face of other OS makers, particularly Microsoft, who has security issues of its own that aren't responded to very quickly.

The speed of their fix for a potentially nasty problem shows that Apple is deadly serious in supporting the UNIX community. It's not typical Apple behavior, but I hope it lasts.

Friday, July 12, 2002

Despite the advances that Windows has made, even the simple still defys even the most experienced technician. A few days ago, I was minding my own business while watching a coworker try to get a USB Zip drive working on his Compaq laptop. It wasn't a old laptop, and the drive had worked fine just before he reimaged the computer with a fresh Windows installation. No matter how much he tried, the Iomega software would install but not recognize the drive.

I take a step back and recount the various reasons on a PC why things would fail. Bad USB enumeration? Bad software install? USB deactivated in the BIOS? On Windows 98 and ME, I would delete the USB hub devices from the Device Manager and let Windows redetect its hardware and the items connected to it. "No soap. This is Windows 2000." In fact, the Device Manager kept disappearing as he and and another coworker tried to work the problem.

Meanwhile, I had just wiped my Mac OS X and Mac OS 9 partitions after running them for about 15 months for a fresh reinstallation. Seemed more logical than trying to dig up OS X compatible repair tools that I can't be at the moment. That took me about a couple of hours, and the system's all snappy. While watching the PC saga, I had just remembered that I hadn't installed the Iomega driver for Mac OS X. The nice thing is that Mac OS X doesn't really need it--the operating system recognizes most removable disks out of the box, so I was able to use my Zip disks immediately. The driver adds a few nice features but are actually a little buggy.

My coworker had just given up on his system after his compatriot removed the Zip and connected it to his near-identical laptop, where Windows detected the drive and automatically installed a default driver from its CAB archives (or whatever goes for CABs in 2000). I was showing them one of the funniest and well-executed Star Wars movie parodies called Troops (think the TV show "Cops" from a Stormtrooper's POV) running as a QuickTime movie from a Zip disk. One of my coworkers wanted a copy, but I had just one disk. I copied the movie from the disk to the Mac's hard drive, used the Disk Utility application to reformat the disk to MS-DOS format, then copied the movie back and handed the disk to my coworker.

His computer was running QuickTime 4 and had no sound, so an update to QuickTime 5 was needed to get it working.

Yesterday I compiled XFree86 4.2 to my Mac OS X laptop using Fink, a Debian-style installer, and installed the Windowmaker window manager for my X environment to bring my computer back to snuff. I wanted to reinstall Plucker so I could read Web pages from my Palm from Mac OS X (I used to have AvantGo for this, but it's conduits don't work with Palm Desktop 4.0 for Mac OS X). Plucker is free, and just needs some software called Python installed first as a prerequisite. It's a little more high maintenance, and locating Web sites with Palm-compatible pages is a little challenging but not impossible.

O'Reilly has just announced its Mac OS X Conference in Santa Clara on September 30. The text on their site says it all about the enthusiasm about the use of OS X in the programmer's circles, which bodes well for increasingly improved developer support for the new OS:

"One thing that's been overwhelmingly clear this year is that the alpha geeks are choosing Mac OS X. Why? Mac OS X is one of the most exciting things happening in the industry today. It's the confluence of three great traditions -- Unix/open source, Java, and the Mac -- and the best of all worlds. And lots of cool new stuff. Built-in 802.11 ("WiFi") and intriguing new apps like iMovie and iPhoto are drawing both hackers and new users. And both developers and users have a lot they need to learn!"

The recording industry is starting to scare more software makers. Slashdot is discussing how Roxio, the spinoff software company of Adaptec, has added some nasty CYA language about how their software may disable the ability for your Mac's software to work properly in burning media, among other things. This wasn't a wise change for Roxio's lawyers. Mac OS X already can burn CDs by itself from the desktop with a CD-RW drive installed--no additional software required. While burns from the Finder don't have as many options, it's easy enough that users may find alternatives to Toast, their premier burn software for the Macintosh, if it seems that their computer's burn abilities may get hosed. Already people are asking if open-source software can be used in its place. Mac OS X is not Mac OS 9, I always say. Professionals can find more alternatives with a UNIX OS and aren't restricted to one option as in the past with OS 9. Roxio needs to keep themselves covered, but writing their software to affect others is a very Microsoftian move.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

Rumors abound just before a Macworld Expo. "I saw Elvis with a new anodized PowerBook, yada, yada, yada." Nothing stirs the Macintosh world more than the possibility for new iron. It's a unique commodity in the computer world, especially where PCs have a hard time finding anyone to listen to the marketing for their new hardware. For Apple, they have at least two major opportunities each year at the IDG Expo-sponsored show.

What will we see? It's still a guess, but a few stronger possibilities come out of the various rumors. The one possibility most hoped for by professionals is a serious refresh of the Power Mac pro desktops--the towers. While the G4 has finally moved past the psychological 1 GHz barrier, these systems are finding themselves with a wider performance gap with Pentium processors. Most of this is not the chip but in the Power Mac's motherboard (Apple parlance: logic board). The system bus and memory speeds are very behind and show it. Although I don't expect the new machines to be available immediately, expect new Power Mac iron to be available (or announced--they may choose now to announce new boxes so that more development can be done) by September. The new Xserve rack mount server reflects what a new box will have at the very least--specifically, DDR RAM and a larger system bus.

An iPod upgrade (extra drive space) would be a logical matter, but Apple may surprise the Wall Street analysts by announcing software for Windows that can mate the iPod to a PC. A third party has already made a product, but that doesn't stop Apple from making their own. This would be a good move: the iPod has received glowing reviews all around, with the only caveat that it can't be used (easily) on Windows.

No iBook or PowerBook changes, except maybe a speed bump. While many rumor sites suspect that a 17" iMac flat panel may appear, I don't buy it. Flat panels have better appearance in terms of overall viewing space. A good 15" panel looks more like a 17" CRT. Adding the extra weight for a mere 2" of space to the iMac arm design doesn't seem logical. Also consider that Apple's dealing with excess inventory of the things right now, since the computer sales slowdown has finally hit them as hard as other PC users.

The Xserve looks to be a hit in the high-end performance fields such as the scientific community, so that leaves what Steve Jobs is known for: a surprise. When he says, "Oh, and one more thing..." you can be sure that he'll reveal something that you'll really find interesting or quite questionable. I don't think he'll reveal a new computer. However, I think that it may be a good surprise as in "the market is slumping, so let's do something different like the first iMac" new.

Apple is in a great position because now their hardware is no longer limited by the original Mac OS's abilities. Mac OS X, proverbally speaking, is a dessert topping and a floor wax! It has the geeky, powerful BSD elements but can still be used by pros and newbies alike. Places like Slashdot reflect this popularity since it now has an Apple subsection and many, many readers (of which quite a few are Linux and Windows converts) who will simultaneously applaud, defend, and vilify Apple and their decisions with the new operating system.

Apple is known for their creativity. Given the slump that the market is in, Apple really could use a new thing next week.

The Keynote Address will be shown around 9:00 AM Eastern Daylight Time over the Internet, but don't bother trying--these feeds are frequently overloaded. Tech TV had shown the past two Macworld Keynotes, the last in live-by-TiVo mode, so that may be most practical for the rest of us. If neither works for you, or if you're not that hard-up to watch things live, you can visit the Macintouch web site for a later synopsis.

Monday, July 08, 2002

Blogs and Macintosh web-based news and information sites aren't the press. Just my opinion amidst all the brewhaha in the Mac community over Apple's directive to IDG Expo, the organizers of July's Macworld Expo trade show in New York (a great show and one of the few trade shows still running that make a significance). A number of popular and not-so-popular Web-based news, information, and rumor sites have been denied press credentials to the show. The credentials allow use of a press room where people with these passes can receive free copies of software for "reviews," as well as information on products before they are released.

For Apple and IDG, this restriction probably works for them in several ways. First, IDG clears out the people who claim, incorrectly, to be the press. For now, despite the Internet, you have to actually be in a print or broadcast media to be considered the "press." Web stuff doesn't count. So, while MacAddict magazine may get their credentials, the most useful news site, Macintouch, probably won't. Unfair? A little. But Apple wants to make sure that the "Enquirer"-like rumor and speculation sites don't deseminate information that the larger print and broadcast media folks aren't likely to divulge--when asked. Also, press credentials probably cost less than all but the Exhibits Only pass for the show, but does allow the visitor to go everywhere, so this decision also helps restrict access.

These changes won't stop the most stalwart news sites like Macintouch, whose reputation is strong, doesn't deal in rumor, and offers informative, useful, and timely data. They certainly have friends in the print and broadcast media where they can obtain information as needed. But, personally speaking, I hope it makes sites like SpyMac less likely to generate its kind of "news." Many Mac users must remember that Apple survives on being better and first in a fiercely competitive market. If some yahoo on the Internet divulges Apple's new plans before they are ready, or worse, when the plans are ready, that makes Apple's competitive edge that much duller. Sure, I love a juicy tidbit every once in a while, but I don't want Apple's (or any other company's) industrial designs and technology plans totally compromised just because the Internet allows for immediate display of information.

Monday, July 01, 2002

My hometown is getting an Apple Store. I expected it, but I'm no less thrilled about it. It won't necessarily help in terms of business mindshare, but any exposure, especially given Apple's new "Switch" campaign, is better than none.

The Switch campaign is actually good since it's not particularly contrived. Professionally, I'd show these guys moving through a Macintosh interface as if they were born with the thing in the womb. But, its a commercial, and time does not allow.

Macworld Expo, the twice-annual computer trade show geared at Apple technology, is less than two weeks away. Macintosh users look forward to Julys and Januarys for new stuff. I'm hopeful for a new, faster Power Mac G4 desktop system for designers in the workplace. That, and the surprises that Jobs usually holds in check until the last minute. He's a showman, true. The preview of the Jaguar update for OS X should be very interesting as well.