Sunday, January 29, 2006

The media spin ...

Everybody knows that we now live in an era where the people that own the media can choose how to "spin" history to their advantage ... and you can always find an incompetent reporter that will do any dirty work is needed even in some famous places that are slowly being destroyed from the inside ...

Most recent case - The New York Times - the guy manages to write a piece in which at the same time things are perfectly black and perfectly white depending on what he wants to prove - for instance first he will tell you that it was only a myth that x86-based PCs were faster but just a few paragraphs later he discovers that since Apple decided to switch to Intel there was a sudden huge speed increase (which we can probably trace exclusively on that move from Apple) and as a result now indeed everything is much faster in the x86 world and in that world nothing beats the marvels coming from SteveJ :)

The guy is either not aware or simply chooses to hide that the top AMD systems are still a lot faster than the highly overpriced Apple stuff or that in the free x86 market you can easily find many products with a much better performance/cost ratio, with a real keyboard and with both hardware AND software where you are not "locked in" just in order to be "milked" of your money ...

The media has obviously evolved and if you can no longer recognize it don't be scared - in a few years the Internet will send it right where it belongs - to the garbage bin :)

Friday, January 27, 2006

Other things to do on an Apple notebook

This is the third part of the "first time OSX survival kit" - you can also refresh your memories with the first one and the second post - and also with the funny story of how I got into the Apple mess ...

In the two posts before I was mostly describing system-related settings and configurations (together with some small utilities to manage those better, a better web browser and the very important and almost "part of the system" Commander-like file managers paradigm) - in this one I will first focus on more general applications and only at the very end I will also reveal a small system-extender gem that has made all the conversion pain almost acceptable ... so please read on :)

One of the first things that you need on a computer is an office-like application - if you have a high-end PowerBook you only have an evaluation copy of the Mac version of MS Office - buying that will be an extra 500 US$ but that might be just fine - if you had the money to pay for the highly overpriced Apple system (that will probably never stop taxing you) why not paying a little tax to Micro$oft too :))

If you have an iBook you are a little better - you probably have a version of AppleWorks - with a word processor, a spreadsheet, a database, a drawing program, a painting program and a presentation program it might seem like a nice bonus and probably it is ... but mostly for your grandmother or somebody that has never used a serious program/computer before ... since once you get past that initial stage you might want something more advanced/powerful ... are you doomed to pay more than the price of a new full Wintel notebook for that MS Office ???

There might still be another way - OpenOffice might again come to rescue - but there is a small trick ... OpenOffice itself is either a M$ Windows or a XWindows application - so that's another important thing to add to OSX - fortunately X11 is free (and is a standard part of the OSX DVD since 10.4, but it does not come installed by default so you will have to actually dig after that DVD).

If you have X11 installed on your OSX you can get the latest OpenOffice 2.x from this page - but the X11 integration in OSX is rather pathetic so on the same page you will also find something even more convenient called NeoOffice - which is basically the same OpenOffice core much better integrated to OSX!!! There is however a drawback - the version for NeoOffice is a little behind the main OpenOffice one but even like that it will be a huge step forward from AppleWorks - and is FREE and OpenSource !!! You might also need to use the X11 OpenOffice version if you have one of the new Intel-based Apple machines but what can I say ... life is not fair :)

One place where I still need that X11 is "picture handling" - while from the "famous Apple programs" iTunes is usable (but will probably spy on you and try to lock you into a closed format), iPhoto is awful and since my favorite free small image-related program - IrfanView - is not available on OSX I have tried about 10-20 other programs and for the moment I am using a port of a second-best free Windows alternative - XnView - which has a version for OSX - but unfortunately X11-based :( Anyway it is usable and nice, so that part was solved OK for the moment.

Since there is always so much fuss about how great OSX is for multimedia I was expecting that area to be covered automatically - I could not be more wrong - I do not like iTunes and the Apple QuickTime Player only makes M$ MediaPlayer look like a major winner ! The alternatives are MPlayerOSX (the OSX port of the popular open-source MPlayer - also handy on Windows) and VLC for OSX (from VideoLAN, also free and also handy even on Windows, but there BSPlayer is the first alternative). MPlayerOSX is easier to use initially while VLC might need a HUGE configuration effort - but in the end both will work very, very well and if you are ready to spend some time with it VLC can also automatically pick subtitles and use exotic fonts and codepages so now I have changed the default association for AVI files to VLC and never looked back :) VLC can also be used for small "on the fly" music playlists, so that was covered too (but XMMS might also be of some interest).

Another part of the modern internet life is instant messaging - but the OSX version of Yahoo Messenger is pathetic and also crashes all the time, GAIM is a much better open-source project but the default version is also using X11 so in the end the best alternative so far was Adium - another open-source project somehow derived from GAIM but very specific for OSX - and so far it seems to work just fine !!! (but I sometimes miss some of the "gimmicks" from the latest Windows version of YM).

Another tool that might sometimes be useful is VNC - a form of open-source remote desktop - for the client-end popular choices on OSX are VNCViewer and Chicken of the VNC , while on the server-end one alternative is OSXvnc !

But the program that I have used most during this first days on OSX is Witch - it simply covers some of the many usability holes in OSX (like how to get by keybord to a minimized window in less than 20 keys) and while the program is not perfect it is currently (in my opinion) one the most important things to be installed on any computer running OSX. After installation you need to "Enable access for assistive devices" under System Preferences / Universal Access and also enable Witch itself and then you can go to some of the settings - I have initially defined the hotkey for cycling windows forward as COMMAND+OPTION+TAB and COMMAND+OPTION+` for backward, but since I also needed a cancel key and I was pressing COMMAND+OPTION+ESC all the time (which is the OSX "Force Quit" hotkey) I have now moved the main triggers to CTRL+OPTION+TAB and CTRL+OPTION+` (and CTRL+OPTION+ESC will cancel things).

There are still many new things and some of them might "make it" to a future post so until then just take care and avoid paying more "stupidity taxes" to companies like Apple or Microsoft :)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

One quick word about the so-called "support sites for Mac" - AVOID !

Some content spam on a previous post of mine was suggesting a site - which was:
a) down;
b) not running too much on Macs - the expression in the developers world is "not eating their own sh*t" :)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

More on cool rescue tools and utilities

As you already know I am a big fan of rescue tools and other "small and cool utilities", ideally combined with small hardware "gizmos" ...

On my 512 MB shuffle I already have GRUB booting Damn Small Linux and MoviX which only leaves around 400 MB of music - enough for a very cool gizmo that can play relaxing music AND also rescue/repair/check/boot/play movies/play DVDs on a large number of computers so that one was pretty much full and the only major step forward for me on that type of flash USB sticks + MP3 players might come when/if Samsung will have its 2 GB shuffle killer ...

However today I was too bored so I decided to re-organize my HDD-based MP3 player - 20 GB on HDD is a LOT more than 0.5 GB on flash-RAM so the target was to still keep at least 90% of the space for music but to see what amazing things I can place into the remaining 1-2 GB of space. Some of the stuff below was already discussed in my posts but towards the end there will be a few newer and very interesting things, so please bare with me ...

GRUB is so small and powerful so it was again the obvious choice for a boot manager and then I have added:

1) Linux bootable stuff

- KNOPPIX (v4.02 currently, CD version, around 700MB); this one is the large ultimate tool-and-utilities LIVE Linux image and while it is quite big it has a very large number of programs - from text and graphic editors and games to network security tools, so if a computer has enough RAM and can boot this it might solve most problems!

- DSL (v2.1b, around 50 MB) - this one is so small that I have added it "just in case" (also might work on some older systems with less RAM); I have also added Samba as a MyDSL package "just in case";

- MoviX (v0.8.3, around 30 MB) - if I only want to see some AVI/MPG or play some DVD this one is faster and much easier than going to the full KNOPPIX boot, and given the small size it was definitely a keeper;

2) Windows bootable stuff

- the Windows recovery console (around 10 MB) - the XP version is newer but the Windows 2000 version has a small "bug" that can sometimes become a feature - it will let you get to the recovery console on an XP system even if you do not know the Administrator password!!! The recovery console is a limited text-mode-only tool but it can fix a few things (MBR, boot) for a Windows installation or can disable a driver/service that creates fatal problems, so at 10 MB why not keep it ? However in order to keep it AND the next item a small trick was needed - the boot sector was saved as a separate 512 bytes file (BOOTCONS.BIN) and NTLDR was renamed as NTLDR_ and then the same change was made inside the 512 bytes BOOTCONS.BIN file so that when GRUB chainloads this one it will load that NTLDR_ corresponding to the recovery console!

- a BartPE full bootable Windows live image - probably under 200 MB but it depends on what you would like to place inside. You can find some info in the LangaList or some step-by-step details in the InformationWeek article but there are many other places with information on that matter! When building your custom BartPE image you will probably want to add as many (safe) net and storage drivers as possible and also most of your favorite tools - I am a big fan of Total Commander but the most important tool on a bootable live Windows image is probably ERD Commander that will let you do some nice tricks (even an older version might be very handy).

3) PORTABLE Windows applications

- there are many portable applications but most often I only need a few from here so I have a PORTABLE folder with:

- Portable (around 170 MB) - that solves text editing, spreadsheets, presentations and some other things; and unlike Microsoft Office this will never de-activate itself when you upgrade the HDD on your system :))

- Portable Firefox (under 20 MB) - safe browsing (and you can still have plugins and extensions);

- Portable Gaim (under 10 MB) - convenient instant messaging with no installation!

(there are also other portable applications available, so just keep looking for those that you feel you might need - and when using them on other computers never forget about safety !!!)

Now a number of final observations:

- things that are a form of "image" are safer than individual files - for instance it might be almost impossible for a virus to get inside BARTPE.ISO even on a USB drive;

- obviously write-once CDs are perfectly safe from this point of view (but not all PORTABLE applications might work like that);

- but USB is handy since you can update things easy, you can save your documents there and so on;

- a CD might have one extra important advantage for a "live Windows image" - when booting from USB a RAMdrive is used - so it is very likely that you will only be able to boot BartPE from USB on systems with more than 256 MB RAM; however with a CD you can boot BartPE even in 96-128 MB RAM; and I somehow remember that an older ERD Commander mini-CD could even start in 32 MB of RAM so that might be the ultimate rescue for older systems;

- also DSL and MoviX might have the same advantage over live windows when RAM is low;

- I do not believe that you can start anything with a GUI in 16 MB without swap :)

- there are still many older systems that do not boot from USB (and even the new ones can sometimes be VERY slow), so a "backup rescue tool" might be a 210 MB mini-CD - certainly not as cool and small as a USB stick but still usable; I believe that PuppyLinux might even be able to write back stuff on the boot CD as multiple sessions - so a 210 MB mini-RW might actually be the best alternative when USB is not supported but the computer has a CD burner!!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Next things to do on an Apple notebook

OK, if you have not already gave up on OSX until now you are probably either desperate to be "different" or (more like me) working on a bet or something ... so here is the second part of the "first week OSX survival kit" :)

If you would like to control some of the extra settings that Apple had "enforced" for the less "brainy" of its users you probably need the (freeware) Onyx - a nice article about it can be found here and generally it is a very needed tool for any power user!!!

Another "power user tool" is RCDefaultApp - that one is not a separate program as Onyx but instead a "preference pane" and can also be handy... (I personally consider totally not obvious (and stupid) the way you need to go to the "Get Info" extra window in order to have some very limited control on what program will be called for a given extension - I am still amazed every day how many stupid and illogical choices have been made in the so-called "friendly software" from Apple).

The final part of this post will be about sleeping and hibernating and all other "goodies" that I managed to find so far will be left for a third post ...

Probably by now you have noted that the term "Sleep" is present in the system menu (pretty much the same as "Stand by" in Windows) but nothing like "Hibernate" - for a long time OSX had a serious shortcoming on that which only very recently was partially fixed ... but definitely requires some "extra work" ... Also please note that Apple has so far only officially added that new feature to PowerBooks but that is pure bull*hit since all recent iBooks (and some of the older ones) are probably working just fine !!!

There is a decent article on the matter here, but the author either has no clue about Windows or is trying to spread FUD since he is saying things like "similar to Sleep, Windows 'Hibernates' while Linux 'Software Suspends' ... they are not as fast as Sleep mode ..." - so first let's make things CLEAR - both Windows and Linux have something at least as good as Sleep, they ALSO have something else which is different and certainly better in other conditions!

The article also fails to describe things very clearly so before following the link for the implementation details here are some extra words - probably again in order to not "overwhelm" the normal MacMorons, Apple has added that missing feature under the same name/command but the user has NO simple way to know which is what and to activate one or another !!!

The new feature is called "Safe Sleep" in the Apple very limited documentation and it is somehow interesting since it actually generates 3 distinct "sleep directions" - which however are not available all 3 as direct user options in any simple way :(

Basically the default Apple approach is that you still invoke the existing single Sleep command - HOWEVER depending on a system setting called "hibernatemode" then the notebook can go 3-way (the "hibernatemode" - is stored under /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/ (and that can be set with pmset but also certain things depend on a separate NVRAM setting)):

a) the system can go to the usual Sleep (to RAM, with the blinking sleep LED), if you remove the power AND the battery everything is lost; (please note that a good notebook - like a Dell Latitude - actually has a special second battery for that and you have around 30-60 seconds in which to change the battery and the system will come back JUST FINE - but obviously the highly overpriced Apple cr*p could not add those extra few cents - so more profit for SteveJ and the loss is all for the morons with more money than brains);

b) the system can go into hibernate mode - just like any other much cheaper notebook in Windows; everything is stored on the HDD and no power is required from the battery or similar; generally from my experience hibernating in Windows is faster but that probably depends on a lot of factors;

c) the third and somehow more interesting way is the "Deep Sleep" - the system will apparently go to the "Sleep to RAM" mode (with the blinking LED) but without any feedback to the user (which is a STUPID thing anyway) the full hibernation info goes to the HDD so that ...

c1) if you come back without totally loosing battery the system will act as it was in normal Sleep and will wake up quick and normal;

c2) if somehow the power goes totally off then the system will use the hibernation info and will still wake up - but slower!

Probably the most tempting setting for "hibernatemode" is the third one (also 3 as the numerical value that needs to be used with pmset) - it simply is a "safer sleep" - but sometimes you might also want to immediately force the full hibernate mode (since sleep to RAM will still use battery power) and that can be done with some separate utility like SuspendNow !!!

The final words in this post will again not be easy on Apple - not only they have "stolen" the backup battery but they were also incredibly (and stupidly) cheap on other things - for instance there is no POWER LED !!! (of course that the already brainwashed morons will jump saying that the omission is part of the "elegance" of the Mac, but anybody that has pressed the power button on a iBook and then just sit there for a few long seconds without ANY feedback at all knows that all that is pure and typical Apple bull*hit :(

Saturday, January 21, 2006

First things to do on an Apple notebook

This is the first post on some of the small things (configurations, settings, programs) that might make life not great but at least acceptable on any of the Apple notebooks (especially if you are used with the non-brainwashed keyboard and trackpad from the "rest of the world").

My very first thing was to go in System Preferences under "Keyboard and Mouse" and choose better settings for the trackpad (I like tapping, tap-and-drag and so on). Ideally I might have been very happy (in theory) with a program called SideTrack (I mostly liked defining the bottom-right corner as a right-click) but on the latest G4 iBook it seems to work quite unusual (the precision was very strange) and for the moment I had to remove it.

Also very important on the Keyboard tab - check "use F1-F12..." - the name of the option is very bad but the explanation below is slightly better - with that checkbox the F1-F12 keys will work almost normal and in order to get to the non-standard (and rarely used) volume, screen and CD controls you will have to use FN+Fx key, which is quite logical and easy to remember!

I also found very important for me to "free" the remaining taken "standard Fkeys" (which I define as F1-F10) - in System Preferences under "Dashboard and Expose" I have moved "All windows" from F9 to Command+F12 (which is easy to reach since F12 is the top-right key) and the more rarely used "Application windows" from F10 to Command+F11.

Even if you do not like so much "normal" function keys you should definitely use some of the "screen corners shortcuts" - for me by far the most importants were "All windows" (bottom left) and "Desktop" (bottom right).

For a notebook (especially a lighter one like the 12'' versions) screen estate is very precious so you should also go to System Preferences under Dock and activate the "Autohiding".

Other things that you should not forget in System Preferences - under "Security" activate the "master password" eventually "require password ... for secure system", and if you must auto-login then under Accounts create a non-admin account and make that the default to "auto-login" - that way some of the risks with a portable or shared computer are kept at a more acceptable level.

The very next step should be installing Firefox - Safari is not bad at all (and quite small and fast for light use) but if you are serious about web pages you need Firefox and probably some of the most important extensions - Adblock, Flashblock and eventually a filterser updater !!!

I am also a MAJOR fan of Commander-like file managers - apparently the more precise term is Orthodox File Managers and if you follow the second link you might better understand why I consider so important that the standard Function keys must be "application-specific" and NOT something systemwide.

On that second link you could also see that in the Wintel world there are a lot of great such programs, but under OSX there are much fewer alternatives - a freeware muCommander and some shareware alternatives, but none was even close to what I wanted so in the end the best (and GPL) alternative was Midnight Commander - but on OSX things are not so simple as expected ...

One way would be to install fink and use apt-get, another pre-compiled version is here, but probably the best low-level one was to use DarwinPorts (binary dmg available on the downloads page) and then the specific mc version from there !!!

At the end of this first part things are already getting a little better ... obviously inside the limits enforced by Apple, so the most important advice from this post remains to never be "locked" on technology from a highly monopolistic company with highly overpriced products in the first place :))

Sony, Apple, ZoneAlarm = spyware without frontiers ?

Sony did the rootkit ...

Apple did the iTunes mini-fiasco ...

Now it looks like ZoneAlarm will also spy on you ... more and more companies seem to be doing just that :(

Friday, January 20, 2006

WMF backdoor ... or not :))

After the initial storm on the major WMF vulnerability (and the not so great way in which it was addressed by Microsoft) there was a second wave when Steve Gibson (a rather very knowledgeable old-time computer guru) at some point raised the possibility that the entire WMF vulnerability was in fact an intentional backdoor !

That would have been really interesting things so the media picked it very fast - and I have to admit that I have myself taken a quick look in the part of the Windows source code that was leaked a few years ago on the net - somehow intriguing the part of the code where the WMF bug was located was NOT part of the leaked code so things remained a little in limbo ...

But now an even more impressive guy and one of my favorites even LONG before he revealed the Sony rootkit - Mark Russinovich - has posted a more detailed description of his findings that seem to suggest that a poor initial design choice followed by the lack of review at the moment of 32 bit porting is far more likely than an intentional backdoor in the WMF case ... which is not to say that a backdoor might not be somewhere inside there anyway :))

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Do you believe that ONLY Sony will spy on you ??? :)

Well, you are wrong - Apple is doing just the same :))

The fact that some sites report that Apple is trying to do some PR damage control does not change the problem - most companies (with Apple and Sony on top of the list, Microsoft not far away) CAN NOT (and should not) be "blindly trusted" - if possible you should never be LOCKED on a product from any of those !!!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Cool MoviX stuff

Here is another cool project that can bring new functions into an old USB stick, iPod shuffle or even old unused mini-CD - MoviX is a very tiny Linux media-center distribution with 3 subprojects - MoviX = simple and very effective text-mode UI at around 30 MB, MoviX2 = GUI at around 50 MB and a special eMoviX that around 9 MB (but no advanced interface) is intended to be "embedded" on a CD together with a movie and act as a "self-contained movie experience" - with a movie from a MoviX CD if you do not know how to view that movie simply boot from the CD and most often it will start playing automatically !!!

Since the space on my 512k shuffle is already very short (
as you might remember I already have DSL there) and since the text UI on the MoviX version is very clear and effective that one is my favorite and now coexists with DSL and GRUB is used to select which one to boot ... as long as a PC can boot from USB :)

Most computers from the last 2-3 years can boot from USB without major problems (but sometimes the boot speed might be very low), but if you get in the region of the P2 or some K6 with less than 64 MB RAM things tend to get tricky - a CD might be the better option in that case but anyway RAM is very important in such configurations (generally most of MoviX will be kept in RAM to free the CD so that you will be able to place inside your own CD/DVD with the movie).

The smallest eMoviX is also worth mentioning - at 9 MB in 99% of the cases you can add it to a typical AVI file on a normal CD with a little "CD overburning" and who knows when it my prove useful and help somebody watch that CD ! The only drawback is the installation - for MoviX and MoviX2 there are decent Windows setup programs but for eMoviX things are more complex outside the Linux world ...

MoviX will also play OK most DVD media, and if you have added libdvdcss-1.2.6-1.i386.rpm (which can not be distributed in some countries, so you have to add it manually) it might probably even work with media from ANY region !!!

And since DSL was mentioned - the latest version is now 2.1b which seems to have improved things on booting from USB !

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

More reasons to NOT buy Apple computers ...

I was planning on avoiding another Apple-related post but I can not resist - reviews of the new Apple desktops are starting to emerge and I could not miss two short comments ...

1. Still overpriced / underpowered - for that amount of money you can build a great 64 bit (also dual-core) Opteron 165 system with 2 GB RAM, 250 GB HDD, nVidia 7800 - and that system will be in the non-overclocked state up to twice faster, probably close to 3x with a little tweaking !!!

2. Apparently you will NOT be able to run Windows XP on the Apple (and chances for Vista are not very clear either) - so in the end you might be far better with the Opteron system above and multi-boot at your own choice XP 32/64, Vista 32/64, Linux 32/64 (and eventually the leaked OSX86 - sorry, 32 bit only).

The Apple keyboard mess

I am slowly discovering another reason why OSX and Apple will NEVER have more than the pathetic 0.1-0.2% of market penetration in the computers business segment - apart from the constant overpricing of rather "technically average" products another major hurdle for anybody switching will be the transition from a well organized and well optimized keyboard interface on Windows to a total "Apple keyboard mess" !!!

The problem is not a lame "oh god, another keyboard layout, we are doomed" (which might still be a scare for the typical low-level Mac user) but instead the sum of a number of problems, unfortunately some (most?) of them intentional from Apple - the root of the problem is again a series of pathetic compromises made by Apple for a "better first impression" and the rather stupid stubbornness in sticking with the wrong initial choices just to avoid admitting they were wrong :(

As with the stupid one button mouse (and the even worse one button trackpad - you can easily buy a cheaper and better mouse but practically you can not change the trackpad in a notebook), Apple is compromising long-time efficiency just for a less intimidating first-time look - the problem starts with the number of keys - the usual notebook keyboard from Apple has 78 keys while even the subnotebook-size Dell X300 starts with 84 keys - it seems like a very small difference but it actually is a HUGE difference in CONTROL and CONVENIENCE - the second mouse button is a 100% increase over a single button while the extra 6 keys are also close to a 100% increase over the 4-8 control keys present in the Apple notebooks !!!

The problem is made worse by the fact that somehow the missing functions were mostly left for each program to decide - with the normal result of a total chaos ...

Also sad is that somehow this CLEAR RESULT of some very bad decisions was interpreted by the Apple "spin masters" as a sort of existing rule that validates their pathetic choices - with the obviously result of self-perpetuating this deplorable situation :(

Another part where the Windows keyboard user interface appears clearly and vastly superior is the keyboard navigation on the menus - on Windows you generally learn very easy that the ALT key will take you to the window main menu (on release by itself) and that ALT + a specific letter (usually underlined on a correct productivity-oriented configuration) will directly take you to a given submenu (like for instance ALT+F will take you to the File menu), and after that you will see underlined the keys that could be the next shortcut in your selection - with the overall result that you can very effective navigate in a way that does not require any huge memory effort (just 2 shortcut keys to a final command that you do not know in advance) - and THAT is the real memorable experience for any power user and not the Apple keyboard mess !!!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Apple vs. Dell

A lot of time ago Michael Dell, in a moment of unusual candor, suggested that the best thing for holders of Apple stock would have been to "cash-in" and simply forget about the company ... and recently, almost 10 years later, the market capitalization for Apple has somehow managed to (minimally and probably temporary) surpass the market capitalization for Dell !!!

That will teach us a few things:

- predictions are harder than it might seem and any "slip of the tongue" might later come back to haunt you :) (I still remember the famous quote "nobody will ever need more than 640k of RAM in their computers" from BillG, and a few decades earlier the even funnier "the entire global market for computers is certainly under 100 units", that one coming from IBM);

- do not underestimate "parallel thinking" - actually MichaelD is (surprisingly) quite correct - the COMPUTER part of the Apple business is only a very minor part from the current trend, while the iPod-related business (which was certainly NOT even an idea in SteveJ's head in 1997, and would have NEVER become the market leader without the total incompetence of the managers from companies like Sony) is probably responsible for well over 90% of the real growth;

- but while SteveJ might (temporarily) feel a sense of "revenge" over MichaelD, the final word on that story might still hold another very surprising turn of events - there was another company that at his top moment was bigger than either Apple or Dell (if we account for the devaluation of the US$) - I am speaking about ENRON and I can bet that those shareholders might see things in a very, very different way now - the entire "growth" for Apple is derived from basically a single product family which is HIGHLY OVERPRICED and is probably near its peak sales - it is quite unlikely that the iPod will ever be able to be a major hit anywhere outside of the very rich world and exactly in the same way as the HIGHLY OVERPRICED Apple computers were reduced to a real global market penetration of probably under 1-2% (since there are estimates that for each legal Windows license there are at least 2-5 illegal ones) it might be possible for the iPod to go to precisely the same direction - and probably that day MichaelD might have the final word :))

And just to end this on a technical note that might some day came back to haunt me - after recently spending more time in the Apple world (on the iBook but also on a test machine with the leaked OSX86) I can guarantee you that anybody who values his time and his money would rather dual-boot Windows and OSX on a Dell machine than on an Apple machine!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

First post from the iBook :)

As described in the previous post I am now the owner of a brand new 12'' iBook - probably "different" but in no way "stylish" (and no, the PowerBooks are not very "stylish" either", maybe a little better looking, but in the case of the 12'' version the iBook is a MUCH, MUCH better value for money).

First impression - the iBook is no speed daemon - it might be very hard to even think about that if you consider that it is 6-8 times slower than a top of the line Wintel machine - composed from the 5x SteveJ declared and around 1.2x to 1.6x from the 12'' iBook to the 15'' PowerBook. However speed is very relative - and in some (few) ways the 12'' iBook is faster than a supercomputer from the 70s :) The very first hardware thing was to go to 1 GB RAM, so that was covered too ...

I will start with the (very few) good things - the build quality was not that bad (including the keyboard - it is certainly better than the G3 iBooks) - but FAR, FAR away from serious machines like the Dell X300 (or X200, which was the best built subnotebook that I have ever used). The display is also good. And the battery life with the default battery is (so far) very, very good. And we are done with the good part :))

It is TWICE heavier and TWICE thicker than the X300, actually it might even be heavier than the X300 + D/Bay + the huge extended battery - so the battery life is no longer that impressive ...

The keyboard DESIGN is AWFUL - which probably makes impossible for many people to escape forever paying "the Apple tax" - but (fortunately) that also makes
almost impossible the transition to Apple for anybody that wasn't somehow brainwashed before :)

It is also incredible how inconsistent many things are - starting again with the keyboard (some function keys require to press the FN special key, while others do not) and I miss the much better keyboard from the X300 with the separate Home, End, PageUp and PageDown keys and where you have both Backspace and Delete (also Insert), and also where the Ctrl key is the leftmost one and not the special-for-notebook FN key ... and now that I think twice, the slightly smaller size of the X300 keys is actually better for everybody without huge hands ...

The inconsistent part also creeps into the user interface - when you close some windows that might sometimes close the program itself - and sometimes not; the "zoom" button is BY FAR inferior to the "maximize/restore" one from Windows and generally the entire user interface "screams" of inefficiency and inferior design targeting people that value more the "look" than the substance !!!

But BY FAR the most annoying thing is the one-button trackpad - while the "official party line" is that it forces a simpler approach, the overall result is a HUGE MESS - you now have Ctrl+CLICK, Shift+CLICK, Alt+CLICK, Command+CLICK, Alt+Command+CLICK and many, many other combinations which are both less elegant and less efficient than a second trackpad button (which eventually could have been initially defined by default to have the same action as the left button so that people too dumb to have two buttons would still survive - apparently that was not the case even in the new MacBook Pro so yet again Apple does not give a shit for its customers).

And finally one major engineering problem - the power connector is THE WORST that I have EVER seen in a notebook - it is so pathetic that I believe even the famous 100 US$ notebook designed at MIT has a better one !!! (but apparently the class action suit on this one was getting too close, so it was changed in the MacBook Pro - that one looks interesting but it remains to be seen if it also works).

And don't get me wrong - there are interesting things about the iBook, and in 1-2 weeks I will probably become faster, more productive and more efficient than 99.99% of the normal "Mac population" - but that will NOT be in any way the merit of the Apple design but more likely a result of my "keyboard grassroots" and ability to control computers of any kind ...

The last days were quite full so now I will end this post with another Apple-overpricing-related link - but maybe tomorrow we'll finally find some really cool stuff ...

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Friday 13 challenge :)

OK, I am tired of the constant denial state from macfans so I decided to teach a lesson to a (rich) friend of mine that was stuck with a brand new iBook 12'' present for his kid (which hated it, and with good reasons) - I will PROVE that:

a) you can easily screw the dumb apple fans by selling them something "different";

b) if you are really good and you create a great program then in less than one year SteveJ and Apple will screw you and steal your idea (and eventually brag about how innovative they are);

c) Apple notebooks are inferior and only the state of denial from Apple fans is hiding that.

In order to prove the third point I will get his new iBook and blog here some of the real-life surprises that are never found in the "marketing materials" from Apple.

For the first two points I will also start two sites - which obviously will be kept totally separate/secret from this blog and one from another - in one of them I will create and sell one or more advanced programs while in the other there will be only dumb programs which will help people feel "different" ...

The bet will be analyzed at 12 months from the creation date of the last software site (but no longer than 18 months from this post) and I will win this bet/challenge (and some extra rewards) if either:

a) the dumb software will generate more income than the smart one;

b) the ideas from any of my software will be "stolen" by Apple (initially I only placed here the smart part, but obviously Apple would be interested in any idea to get more money from their captive audience).

So now the bet is on - and from the next days you will also see here "hands-on" posts on iBooks :) (but I'll also have the cool stuff so don't be too disappointed!)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Apple fans tricked again ...

This week Apple did what they are doing best - they screwed their customers AGAIN yet somehow managed to present that as major step forward :)

Somehow the army of macidiots missed the most embarrassing FACT from the entire presentation from SteveJ - that the 1-3 months old PowerBook costing over 2000 US$ is - pay attention - 5 TIMES SLOWER than the equivalent Wintel notebook !!! To be 100% precise it is 5 times slower than the CURRENT level of Wintel machines - but since very detailed reviews placed those at most 20-30% faster (on average) than the previous generation we can actually rephrase that - the 1-3 months-old PowerBook is 4 TIMES SLOWER than the corresponding Wintel machine and very likely it was 1.5-2 times more expensive - so that is 6-8 TIMES WORSE on performance/price !!!

That also answers the stupid question from "journalists" (read = Mac zealots that somehow got a job in the media) - about why the Apple presence in the business sector is almost ZERO - serious businesses will make their choices based on FACTS and PERFORMANCE - not on HYPE and the desire to "be different" :) But of course that the FACTS are sooo easy to ignore - after all the Apple hardware myths were busted just pretend that "technology does not matter, the experience is what is important" :) :) :)

So in the end IT WAS a major step forward for Apple - they managed to get the money from the pockets of sooo many morons yet most of them were actually very happy to be screwed!

A friend could not believe that SteveJ could be so dumb as to actually say that the PowerBooks were 5x slower and that I was inventing things - so I have added a small link to clarify that!

(I think that I have also seen an even better picture with more details but I can't find it right now).

Also please note that the 5x performance is compared to the 1.83 GHz MacBook Pro CPU, but Dell & the rest of the Wintel world already announced days before dual-core notebooks up to 2.16 GHz so make that 6x the advantage of the Wintel camp - where you will also find the low-voltage models (unlike the less expensive CPU models used by Apple).

And no, probably not SteveJ is the dumb one here, the fact that PowerBook owners are not rioting on the streets but instead have "wise" comments praising Apple is showing that he knows too well his captive audience :) (which is so self-delusional that for instance is claiming that one month ago Intel was not that fast - even if the facts are showing something else)

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Which is cool and which is not ?

A famous site that claims to be "news for nerds, stuff that matters" is running on the main page a "story" on the things you might want to do with your iPod ... but the third coolest thing is about some "iPod socks" :(

If your love for socks is not that big then here is something a lot more useful to a real geek - make your MP3 player the new home for a great office application suite that will now be "at your fingertips" on any Windows computer that can see the files from that device !!!

I already had a post on booting stuff from your MP3 player but this one is also perfect for people that are not that so thrilled about leaving their warm Windows world and suddenly booting into Linux :)

You need:

- any MP3 player that can be seen as standard storage device (ideally formatted FAT32); if you are not crazy about the MP3 part it can also be any USB stick or portable USB disk (anything over 256 MB is usable; USB2 is also recommended);

- get Portable - it is an archive (ZIP) of under 75 MB;

- extract it to the root folder from your storage device - the result should be a folder called PortableOpenOffice of under 160 MB - AND THAT IS YOUR INSTALLATION !!!

- only on the very first run (and only from the first computer) you will be asked some things to personalize the programs - but all settings will be saved inside that specific folder; everything is relative to that folder so it should work equally well from any (Windows) computer where you can plug your storage device; nothing is placed into the registry, no associations are changed, everything is pretty much self-contained !!!

- with the programs from that folder you can now open / edit / save / convert or export as PDF a large variety of files, including Word documents, Excel spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations - even on computers that do not have those programs installed! there are also programs for handling drawings and pictures and databases!!

- for certain more advanced features and wizards Java might be required so if you have plenty of storage on the device and if you can install things on the computers where those files will be used you might also want to place on that device a Java Runtime Environment installation kit (around 16MB);

- you can also add your files/documents on that portable device in some folder - so you will be able to continue writing on your novel even if your own computer is far away :)

- you will probably be able to run the programs on a large number of computers but generally a P3 over 1 GHz with at least 256 MB RAM will provide a decent experience;

- it is however a good idea to remember some things about safety when sharing computers, applications and files ...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Webcams and MP3 players

Just a very quick post - have you noted how lame webcams still are? Even now there are a huge number of USB 1 models with under 0.1 megapixels, and the best thing that you can buy under 50$ has a 640x480 sensor (that means 0.3 megapixels) ! And going around 150 US$ will NOT get you better resolution, just eventually autofocus ... and in that price range I believe there are some 1-2 megapixel real cameras !!!

And a quick note on the new MP3 players announced this year - the only two that seem interesting so far are the SanDisk nano killer (I like the large screen and the 6 GB vesion, also the hard-to-scratch liquid metal reference, even if it is more a hit on the too-easy-to-scratch nano) and the Samsung shuffle killer :) (I love the small 2 GB version with screen, OGG support and an USB stick!) Also in the "strong nano competitor" group is the Cowon iAudio 6 which will probably be on the market earlier than the two killers above :)

Friday, January 06, 2006

More ramblings about Vista and OSX86

Some advice if you plan on installing one of those Vista beta versions:
- Vista has a new bootloader which is quite annoying (it will also overwrite any other boot loader, which might make your Linux or OSX86 boot loader unavailable) - so if possible install Vista on a separate disk or keep some cool recovery gizmo around
(you can probably also use a bootable CD for that recovery);
- the new bootloader does seem to still use the BOOT.INI configuration file, but it will also add some other stuff;
- there seems to also be some very promising things inside - like for instance the new "desktop composition model" which will dramatically improve things like scaling , previewing , large DPI viewing and even remoting !!! (of course that advanced graphics cards will be needed to take full advantage but it is quite amazing how backwards compatibility in some display-context stuff was going back to Windows 3.0 - so it was the right time to put performance and efficiency at the same level as backward compatibility)!

- anyway remember - it is still a beta FAR from being ready !!!

Actually a lot more impressive from the "readiness" point of view is OSX86 - it is a good thing that it will be launched before Vista since it will push Microsoft into getting things done in a much better way! And another important advice for Microsoft - fire one of the "eye-candy" managers responsible for Vista and spend his salary on getting a few breathtaking wallpapers and screensavers - and place at least 3-4 from them on the "standard CD", much more on the "standard DVD" and only the rest can be left as "extra packs" - a lot of people consider that OSX is "cool" just since it has better wallpapers and screensavers "by default" !

Now back to OSX86 - the most amazing part about it is not the effort from the Apple engineers (which is not bad at all, but I am afraid that A LOT of it is going into the wrong direction - like protections) but instead the work from a few enthusiasts (known only by their internet handles, and given the known Apple paranoia things should for the moment stay like that) who managed to patch things so that it is now possible to run OSX86 on "cheap beige boxes" with results not so far away from the latest 3000+ US$ G5 machine ...

But don't set your hopes too high - the second most annoying thing about Apple (after the myth of technical superiority which is now clearly busted) is their pathological desire for a monopoly that would let them "milk" more and more money from their customers - if you think that Microsoft is a bad monopolist then you simply don't realize how bad Apple could be !!!

On this I will have to quote somebody with a much longer experience in this field:

"Bottom line: Apple's move to Intel is NOT for the end-user's benefit. It's solely for Apple's benefit. If your interests align with Apple's, then you'll do great with their hardware and software. But if things like "bang for the buck" or wide applicability and broad compatibility are important to you, Apple has *never* been a good choice. And I'll be very, very surprised if that changes any time soon."

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

First thoughts on Vista and OSX86

There are a number of versions of Vista and OSX86 "floating around" on the net and a lot of people are probably eager to find how well those are coming out ... the marketing machine from both Microsoft and Apple will promise you amazing things but the reality might not be so impressive ...

Let's start first with Vista - the best words to describe it at this point are "highly unfinished" - it is far, far away from being a final product, it looks like a HUGE (and UGLY) resource hog and I feel like a lot of questionable decisions have been made in a stupid attempt to be even more friendly - already XP was stretching that limit and Vista seems to be going a few steps too much ... (even if in the end it will probably be possible for power and business users to get a more efficient look and feel out of it).

Now about OSX86 - the good news are that it is now possible to boot from a DVD and install a working x86 version of OSX even on non-Apple systems - I was able to do that even on an AMD64 machine and the speed is quite good. (and no, the installation does no longer require incredibly high skills - as long as you have the right DVD image - that is a seriously patched one :) )

The somehow bad news about OSX86 are that now everybody can see that it never was something "special" - it is basically an operating system designed for people that can hardly move their mouse pointer on the screen - that was the original reason why there is only one system-wide menu located on top of the screen - that region can easier be accessed by somebody that is learning how to use a mouse! The entire operating system is full of compromises where efficiency or productivity were sacrificed just for a somehow easier time on first use, and the worse part is that there are also frequent inconsistencies, bad or illogical choices and so on...

Don't get me wrong - I first wanted to use words like "morons" instead of "people" but when I thought twice that intentional design choice was not such an awful thing - after all it might let some old mother or grandmother use a computer - what really IS annoying is how the marketing machine somehow managed to convince a lot of (rich) people that OSX is somehow a major feat of technology when actually it only is a substitute for people that can not handle the real thing ... so the next time when you see somebody who believes that his expensive Powerbook makes him look smart just think of it like the technology for your grandmother or the first steps in technology for a 5 year old - probably easier but definitely something that you would like to quickly outgrow if possible :)

The more technical details will be left for the next post so for the moment I will end this rant with a sad observation - OSX is simply making too many compromises for the less technical users, Linux is probably falling to the other extreme - so, at least for the near future, Windows will continue to conquer the middle position and limit even more our choices and freedoms :(

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Predictions for 2006

Here are my top five technical predictions for 2006:

- MS Vista will be late and both Vista and OSX 86 will fail to meet expectations;

- Apple will seriously lose market share in the MP3 segment and will probably have a few other flops; but it will survive - too many people want to feel "different" :)

- both HD-DVD and Blu-ray will be late and will be "almost flops" in 2006;

- blogging and podcasting will stagnate and most people will realize that there is a HUGE amount of noise (and more and more spam);

- P2P might see a new rise - and that might also bring a big change for Google.

And my top five non-technical predictions for 2006:

- there will be at least one MAJOR terrorist attack;

- economy will stagnate in US and certain surprises might come on the currency market;

- new, even bigger scandals and flops will be revealed around the Bush family and the republican party;

- oil will rise to new record levels;

- civil liberties will continue to be eroded :(