Tag Archives: Mac

Dear Steve

Dear Steve,

Yesterday we headed down to the opening day of your new store in Festival Place, Basingstoke. First off I have to say that after many years having to either head into London or drive a long way to find an Apple Store it is great having two within a short drive, with you having opened a store in the Oracle, Reading just last month. We did avoid the craziness in the morning but we had a great time none the less.

I went along with my two year old daughter, who has been using Apple products for pretty well all of her life. It didn’t take long for her to get the hang of the touchscreen interface on my iPhone, iPod and iPad, indeed now she expects most devices to have such a screen and gets frustrated when they don’t. This brings me to a first suggestion, your children’s area. Whilst it is nice having a low level table, and child sized seating, the devices there are all Mac’s. Although children do quite easily pick up the concept of a mouse and pointer, my daughter is much happier with the direct interaction of a touch screen – as you have said on a number of occasions recently, we’re living in a post PC world now.

Look where we ended up... As a result we went to look at the iPad’s which do have children’s software installed, but are all on tables at a very child unfriendly height. In the end my daughter asked for a chair, and one of your excellent staff kindly obliged with a stool from the Genius Bar.

As you can see from the picture that put her on just the right height to play some games on the iPad.

Games weren’t the only thing we tried. My daughter wanted to talk to Mummy, so we thought we’d try out another of the features of the iPad – Facetime.

We have used your video calling application quite frequently at home – calling between Apple products it seems to pretty consistently produce a better quality video connection than the most obvious competitor Skype, indeed in one situation recently Facetime made a connection easily when Skype couldn’t get through at all. However as I’m sure you’re aware Facetime only works over wi-fi.

No problem of course as your stores have free wi-fi. Looking at the strength display it had a full strength signal, however it fairly obviously was not a good internet connection, the demonstration iPad struggled to produce a reasonable picture with a decidedly low quality result. It would certainly be worthwhile investing in some faster wi-fi connections for the store to enable a good demonstration of this feature.

Anyway, one last idea which comes from my daughter – she would like you to provide beds at the Apple Store so she doesn’t have to go home. The store kept her occupied and entertained for all of a wet afternoon, and she didn’t want to leave! I did eventually manage to get her out and heading home, but I am sure we will be back.

Yours,

An Apple Owning Parent

Buyer Beware – Garmin UK Online Store

Over the past year or so Garmin have finally started to provide software for the Mac. One of those new pieces of software, currently in beta is BaseCamp, a tool that works with various of the Garmin topographic mapping products giving a three-dimensional view of the mapping data, similar to the view that their latest series of handheld GPS units can produce.

Amongst the mapping products I have are both Topo UK and Topo Canada, however only Topo UK was recognised by BaseCamp.

The reason turned out to be fairly straightforward, BaseCamp needs topographic data that includes Digital Elevation Model or DEM data, and whilst Topo UK includes that data, the early release of Topo Canada that I have, version 2, doesn’t include that data. Not a problem, as in the five years since I bought my copy, Garmin have updated Topo Canada to version 4, that includes the required data.

Since I’ve recently bought and registered another Garmin product, I had a discount code that offers me ten percent off products in their online store, so I took a look at their UK store, and found that they had the up to date version 4 of Topo Canada listed so I put in my order for the upgraded version.

The parcel turned up today, and opening the package, the box looked rather much like the Topo Canada packaging I already had, the computer requirements didn’t match those listed on the website – no mention of the Mac for a start – and the copyright on the box was 2004. Taking a look inside, rather than one DVD it was a four CD set, and the version number on the back of the box was version 2. Despite listing the latest software on their website, Garmin UK had sent out the same software I already had.

Not surprisingly I was not best pleased, so I gave Garmin UK a call – well three calls actually as their phone handling system cut me off mid-call twice before I got to talk to a real person. Explaining the problem , he went away and took a look and said that the only Topo Canada they had in their stock was the version 2 they had sent me.

They did try to persuade me to stick with what they had sent, but once I’d said that I already had a copy of that, and that I specifically wanted the version with the DEM data to use with BaseCamp, they said they would talk to their head office, and I’m currently waiting for a call back with their answer.

The problem of course is that although Garmin UK are currently being quite helpful, they are quite blatantly in contravention of the Sale of Goods Act in that the product their website describes – a Mac compatible version of Topo Canada – is not what they’re sending out. If they replace my copy with what I ordered or give me a refund I’ll probably leave it at that, but certainly if you’re buying map software from Garmin UK, especially if it is something pretty specialist, be aware that they are still selling off their old stock, even if it is five years old.

Apple Store Personal Shopper

I just thought I’d post a few words about the Apple Store Personal Shopper service, which Apple have been plugging in their UK stores – and probably across the rest of the world too. The basic idea is simple, it’s a free service where you book an appointment slot, and for that period you get a dedicated member of staff to take you through all the products you are interested in.

On Saturday, we went with Mum off to her local Apple Store, which is in the Brent Cross shopping centre just off the end of the M1, to look about upgrading her Mac. We had a basic shopping list of what she needed in terms of software, but there were a couple of key questions – specifically over the size of iMac she wanted – 20“ or 24â€?, and she also wanted to replace her current separate printer and scanner with an all-in-one, so wanted to look at those. As with pretty well every other Apple Store it is absolutely heaving on a Saturday afternoon, but having booked an appointment with the personal shopper they had a couple of demonstration iMac’s available, and an assistant available to answer questions.

It certainly was beneficial, as Mum was able to try both the 20“ and the 24â€? models and decided fairly swiftly that the 24“ was a bit too big, from there we were also able to look at the selection of all-in-one’s they had, and opt for a Canon unit on which the store was offering a £60 cashback offer, and also pick up copies of iWork and Filemaker Bento too to cover a couple of other requirements she had for the machine.

The Personal Shopper service does seem to be very much set up for people who are new to Apple, so certainly the assistant we had was improvising slightly rather than working through what would be her usual routine as we already knew about a lot of the stuff she was going to show. Having said that there was a big advantage in that when we were talking software and printers she was pretty much immediately able to look up stock and in one case go and get a package from the store room, and then to round it all off they helped us take all the packages to the car as well.

Wading into the Calendar/Contact Sync Swamp Again

Ever a glutton for punishment, I’m again wading into the calendar/contact synchronisation swamp in an effort to get my address book and calendar details from the Exchange server at work onto the Mac at home. If you’ve followed my previous expeditions into the swamp you’ll remember that the basic problem is that I need to be able to keep track of both a large number of Church appointments, alongside all the work commitments. I’ve been doing that for the past couple of years using a Dell Axim X50v PDA, hooking up with ActiveSync to the Exchange Server.

There are a couple of things that have pre-empted this current attempt to get it all sorted. Firstly, the only thing I now do on the Dell is now my calendar – web browsing, multimedia, everything else is better handled by my iPod Touch which could handle the calendar too if I wanted to reconfigure it to hook up to a PC. Alongside this, the other big driver is that I’m changing jobs, and start at a new company in about a month – as a result I need to get all my contact and calendar details off the corporate Exchange Server.

The tool of choice for the current attempt to scramble my calendar and address book achieve synchronisation nirvana is Plaxo. Now it has to be said that in it’s earlier form, Plaxo achieved a good deal of notoriety by the number of times it spammed people with sign up requests when someone created a profile and added your e-mail address as a contact. However in response to this, they do seem to have one of the most stringent privacy policies I’ve seen – certainly it is an interesting exercise to compare it and the level of control with that offered by Facebook… By way of an example, in both services you’ll quite likely end up with a mix of family, friends and business contacts, with Plaxo you can present a different subset of your profile to each group – key for example if you don’t want your business contacts getting hold of your home phone number. Since Plaxo are also including Facebook like picture and tagging facilities, and FriendFeed like life streaming features, it also allows you to keep business contacts clear of all the embarrassing pictures friends may upload – features sadly lacking from Facebook.

Anyway, my primary interest is in the synchronisation facilities. The list of supported platforms is pretty extensive, in terms of the ones I need it includes support for Outlook, and also an equivalent MacOS X plug-in for the synchronisation on that end. If you’ve currently been using systems such as Hotmail/Windows Live or Google Mail/Google Calendar it can link in to those services too – although at time of writing the Google Mail/Google Calendar connection is not bi-directional. In terms of other devices, Plaxo does have some support for these, but I’m sticking with synchronising those through Outlook and iSync respectively.

I did the basic set up yesterday, and I’m now going through the inevitable process of ironing out the bumps with duplicated data where I had different copies of the same contact in both Outlook and Address Book. The most common problem is having phone numbers in different slots so the synchronisation produces multiple phone number fields all holding the same information – this is usually made worse by there being variations in how a particular phone number is formatted including international formatting, brackets around area codes, and all sorts of stuff like that. Alongside this, there is a bit of time getting used to how e-mail addresses map between platforms. On the Address Book end, addresses are marked as either ‘Work’, ‘Home’ or ‘Other’, and you can have several of these – Plaxo also identifies addresses in a similar way. Outlook on the other hand just has three numbered slots for e-mail addresses. Plaxo has to map these fields to suitable slots in the Address Book structure, and tends to go for ‘Work’ if there is only one. I’m slowly working through getting those sorted using the address book in Plaxo – hopefully once that is all cleared up, the synchronised systems should fall into place.

Calendars I haven’t done that much with so far, which is basically because it is a big job and I wanted to get the contacts sorted first. The fundamental problem is the significant differences between the operational model used by Outlook, and the model used by iCal and Google Calendar amongst others. The intention with Outlook is that the user will operate on a single calendar, and use categories to distinguish different sorts of appointments. iCal on the other hand positively encourages you to work with multiple calendars, so for example I have a work calendar, a home calendar, a Church service calendar, a choir calendar and so on. What this does is allow people to share calendars, so for example the choir schedule could be kept on a single shared calendar and distributed to all members. The different calendars roughly correspond with my Outlook categories, and this is what most synchronisation solutions tend to map. However, it is incorrect to say that Outlook doesn’t support multiple calendars – it does, however the support has always been obstructive. For example until the 2007 release you couldn’t overlay the different calendars – only side by side views were available. When it comes to synchronisation with a PDA, only a single calendar is synchronised, so effectively you can’t operate with multiple calendars using Outlook if you’re synchronising on from there. The idea of multiple calendar support seems to very much be to allow you to look at other peoples calendars, but then the implication is that you’re going to put relevant events into your own calendar.

The issue is that Plaxo doesn’t synchronise categories with calendars. The Plaxo model supports multiple calendars, so your multiple iCal calendars map to multiple Plaxo calendars, and thereby onto multiple Outlook calendars. Whilst this works fine if you’re synchronising something like an iPod Touch or an iPhone using iSync as they all understand and can deal with multiple calendars – even if the devices appear to work on a single calendar model. Doing the same from Outlook, and especially with a Windows Mobile device, you’re back into single calendar world, and you’ll have chunks of your schedule missing. Since Outlook can cope with multiple calendars, albeit badly, I could probably move to syncing the mobile devices with iSync and use Outlook 2007 at the PC end – but I’ll have to stop trying to keep the Dell Axim in sync. I’ll also have to go through a process of splitting my calendar out, as it’s currently all rolled up into a single categorised calendar, rather than the multiple calendars that iCal would support.

So, it’s so far, so good – Plaxo seems to be working okay, and I haven’t come across any of the annoying time and date shifting problems that beset any attempt to use Entourage hooked up to an Exchange Server. The real challenge though is still to come – when I try to pick apart my calendars…

Running Leopard

So I’ve just about got everything going in Leopard having done the upgrade. The only significant application that isn’t working is iMovie – but then that didn’t work under Tiger either. (Having had a trawl around the net it seems I’m not alone in having problems with it on a G5 either… The main tip seems to be to run it on an Intel based Mac, but it’s still not perfect…)

As with the upgrade to Tiger the OS upgraded without too many problems. I opted for the archive and install method this time around, which shifts the existing system directory out of the way, installs the new operating system and then pulls in all the settings and configuration, leaving everything else intact. This is regarded as a somewhat more reliable way to upgrade than using the straight upgrade as there is less chance of problems caused by leftovers from the old system as it is a completely new install. The third option is the erase and install that I used with Tiger which does a totally new install, and then pulls all your settings across from a backup as if it were a new machine.

As with any upgrade, it was then a process of working through all my core applications to work out whether I could get everything done.

There were a couple of minor casualties – one being Menu Meters, a little tool I had running to keep track of what the machine was doing. However I found a worthy replacement in iStat Menus that does much the same, but adds details of fan speeds and the current temperature inside the machine to the mix.

Amongst the applications that gave me grief during the update, my process for keeping the e-mail I receive in an average day (see this posting for details of what I do) came to a crashing halt. I started the new Apple Mail, and was greeted with a message stating that both MailActOn and MailTags had been disabled. Both applications have beta versions that are Leopard compatible, however that was only half the story. Along with the two applications I use Smart Folders extensively to group e-mails by subject and type, and to be frank they were being less than smart immediately after the update. Fixing that though was just a question of patience – sit back and wait for a few hours whilst the machine rebuilt the spotlight indexes.

Perhaps the application (aside from iMovie) that gave me most hassle was ClamXAV, my virus checker – as it would just keep crashing. Eventually I tracked the problem down not to an issue with Leopard, but with one of the new features of the latest version that made use of spotlight – disabling that and effectively reverting to the same configuration I had before solved the problem. Aside from that, the only annoyance is that Leopard insists on loading X11 whenever ClamXAV starts up.

The last application so far that has been a problem has been Google Earth which locked up every time I tried to start it. This I nailed down to a problem with my MyPlaces.kml file – once I removed that everything worked fine, and I built up what I needed from the copy of the file on my PC version of the application.

Sorting out Google Earth also turned up another change – the way networking is set up in Leopard which has changed a bit from Tiger. This also brings me on to my biggest recommendation, grab yourself a copy of the excellent Mac OS X Leopard The Missing Manual by David Pogue. It was an excellent reference during the upgrade process, and was indispensable in quickly getting the PC/Mac networking working again. Granted I could probably have worked it around after a while fiddling, but the book has a step by step walkthrough, including pointing out the obscure settings that you might otherwise miss.

Mac OS X Leopard The Missing Manual also has a great appendix going through the upgrade process (including how to use an iPod to do it if you’ve broken your DVD drive), and as always is punctuated by David Pogue’s great writing style and sense of humour.

For example he describes the Leopard first boot title sequence as:

“… one of the most visually stunning post-installation OS startup movies in historyâ€?

I’d perhaps not go that far, the encoding on YouTube gives you the general idea – but lacks the impact of the full screen HD version you get on the Mac – gives you the general idea though.

So was it worth the effort? I’ll have to give it a few days of usage, however so far there hasn’t been any absolute show stopping problems that mean I’ve had to resort to the backup as there were when I upgraded to Tiger. True there are some applications that aren’t quite there yet, but equally there are now starting to be some Leopard only applications, so now seemed like the time to move. There are some slightly annoying look and feel changes that I guess I’ll get used to – but some real nice new eye candy too – if you’ve got Leopard and a load of pictures in iPhoto, check out the fantastic mosaic mode on the screen saver. Next thing to look at I think will be getting Time Machine going…

Macworld Keynote 2008

It has to be said, I’ve not been massively excited by the past couple of Macworld Keynotes – either they’ve been things I’ve not really been interested in buying, or things that weren’t available outside the USA, or both.

It’s a bit different this year. The keynote included for key announcements, all of which were interesting to some extent or another.

First off there was Time Capsule, which is effectively the Apple take on Network Attached Storage, and is closely tied in to the Time Machine backup utility that shipped as part of Leopard.

Now it has to be said, that I couldn’t see a pressing reason to upgrade to Leopard, despite all the glowing reviews that were quoted (even from a PC magazine). Although Time Machine was a nice idea, I wasn’t looking to supplant my current backup solution which uses SuperDuper! to produce a fully bootable clone of my main drives. What I wanted to do was use a network attached storage, but although my current solution, a Buffalo Terastation worked fine for a PC, the claimed Apple support was absolutely lousy – and no amount of hacking around has seemed to improve it.

In typical Apple fashion, the Time Capsule is a plug-in and go solution, just turn it on, tell Time Machine, and off it goes, automatically backing up the drives over the network.

I suspect of all the new kit that was on show today, this will probably be the top of the list – the Terastation will remain for the PC backups, but an upgrade to Leopard and a Time Capsule will almost certainly be on the shopping list pretty soon.

Next up is the iPhone updates. Now however fantastic the user experience is with the iPhone, from my point of view it still needs to be 3G. Having said that, keeping a regular phone and having an iPod Touch as a PDA seemed to be a possibility – more so now, as alongside the new toys on the iPhone, Apple have released some of the extra applications onto the iPod Touch. Chief amongst those is the mail client – which will make a big difference, but they’ve also included the new iPhone version of Google Maps. The main feature that doesn’t work is the my location – but that is pretty ropey even on my regular mobile, but in terms of usability with the multi-touch gestures that the iPod Touch supports it is streets ahead of the client on any other mobile device. Suffice to say that when iTunes offered me the upgrade to my iPod Touch tonight, it wasn’t really much of a choice to install it, and I have to say as well, having played with the other applications, a 3G iPhone is looking a really attractive proposition compared to the current competition.

After that we had Apple taking a second stab at the Apple TV. Now it’s fair to say that this is one product that hasn’t been a massive success up to now. Certainly when I first saw it I wasn’t enthused. For take two, Apple are taking on the movie rental market. The requirement to have a computer is gone, effectively all you need is a TV, the Apple TV, and a broadband connection, and then you can rent movies, get TV shows, music, pictures from Flickr and videos from YouTube. If you’ve got a computer, the box will also sync up media with that as before. The real boon though is that they are renting high definition copies of the movies, and again, it’s all just point and click – compared to current solutions where it seems to score is the ease of use. Of course in UK terms, it will really come down to the quality of the available content, so it’s a definite wait and see on this one.

The last big announcement was not the much predicted touch-screen MacBook, however it was a new laptop, and one designed to slot in between the consumer MacBook line and the professional MacBook Pro, filling the gap left by the missing ultra portable pro laptop that was the 12“ Powerbook. What was shown was the Macbook Air, the worlds thinnest laptop. On a purely technological level it is impressive how thin the laptop actually is – amazing compared to most of the laptops people lug around. However screen wise it’s a reasonable size – 13â€?, the same as the MacBook, it also has a decent sized keyboard, and comes with an 80gb hard drive and 2gb RAM. What is amazing is quite how thin it is – a wedge shape 4mm at the front, and 19.4mm at the back, and it weighs in at just over 1Kg. With the same graphics as the MacBook it’s not going to be great games wise, but as an easy to carry laptop it’s great. Price wise it’s not too bad, at just under £1200 for the basic model – although that shoots up to over £2000 if you want the solid state disk option. Alongside this, the laptop introduces a lot of the gestures that appeared on the iPhone and iPod Touch – so it definitely would be a tempting package if I were in the market for a laptop – especially as just like all the other Apple machines you can dual boot into Windows too.

So in terms of the coolest thing announced, it’s certainly the new laptop, but from a personal practical point of view it’s the iPod Touch update and the Time Capsule that are probably what I’m going to end up using… Having said that, it certainly was a great keynote. The whole show is now up on the Apple site so you can ooh and aah along with the Apple faithful, and also proof that in even the best prepared presentations things don’t always quite go according to plan.

Alternatively, if you haven’t got ninety minutes to spend – this is the whole thing compressed into sixty seconds:

Apple Time Capsule originally uploaded by rustybrick

MacBook AIR-04 originally uploaded by Bogdan….