Archive for the 'Apple' Category

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MacBook Impressions

While at the mall this afternoon, I stopped into the Apple Store briefly to have a look at the new MacBook. As an unabashed Mac fan, I’ve been pretty underwhelmed by the recent MacBook release so far. Charging $150 for black (the extra 20 gigs of HD space included on the black model only costs $50 if you build-to-order it in the white case) is frankly insulting. I hate glossy screens, and I was dubious about the no-latch magnetic closure. Not to mention the name- it was lousy when the MacBook Pro was anounced (and Powerbook was such a cool name), and it’s still lousy. At least it’s good for a chuckle… as Dave has been heard to say around the office “No man of woman born shall ever defeat MacBook!”

After seeing it in person, my opinion has changed little. The magnetic non-latch did seem much nicer and more secure than I expected, so I’ll withdraw that complaint. But the glossy screen picked up glare and reflections from everywhere. Despite what many claim, I’ve never found the color on glossy displays (Windows laptops or the MacBook) to be better than standard laptops. The BlacBook is still a ripoff. Did I mention that I hate the glossy display? Oh, I tried the funny looking keyboard a bit… types just as well as my 3 year old Powerbook, which keyboard I like quite well.

Prior to the release (and the news of the glossy display), I had been thinking about buy my wife a MacBook. Her Compaq XP laptop is a little older than my Powerbook, and the battery life is abyssmal. She still prefers XP- she just needs to spend some time on a Mac. I figured a dual-boot MacBook would be perfect. Given the power/price ratio on the white MacBook, I probably would have done it… but I just can’t get past the glossy screen. Instead, I’ve ordered a new battery for her old laptop.

“Fun New Products”

That was hook on the invitation to today’s event at Apple (Engadget’s Coverage). In total, three new products were introduced. Herewith a few thoughts on the products and the event.

First up was the anticipated Intel Mac Mini, now with Front Row and a remote. Available in Core Solo and Core Duo flavors, the Mini is now an even more attractive option for a spot in the family room, attached to the TV. Bill Bumgarner found the specs for the Mini’s video card, and notes that it’s heavily optimized for regular and HD video playback. In fact, it can simultaneously handle dual streams. Also, Front Row has been updated to allow access to shared media, just like the iApps.

Given all the reasons to make this a Media PC, I really wonder where the video capture for Tivo-like functionality is. Everyone asked this a year ago when the Mini debuted, and I think the question is even more apropos now. I also think that if a tuner were slated as an upcoming addon (via, say, the Firewire port), then the box should really have a bigger HD. My other complaint is the price- the lower-end option is now $599, not $499. Don’t get me wrong- it’s still a lot of functionality for $600. But there was a lot of magic in that $500 price point. It just has a different feel than $600, and I’m sure that $500 price point got alot of people looking at Macs who hadn’t before.

The next item was a leather iPod case for $99. This is iSock 2.0, now with extra price gouging. It sounds like Steve only spent a couple of minutes on this, and he seems to like these kinds of things. Whatever.

The final product really blew me away – and not in a good way. The iPod HiFi has got to be the worst product offering I’ve seen from Apple in the three years I’ve been a Mac owner. Essentially, it’s a $350 speaker system for the iPod. I’m not even sure where to begin with all the things I don’t like about this product, so I’ll just fire ’em off at random.

  • Why is it called the iPod HiFi? The name really sounds like a new iPod, not an accessory. It’s even listed on the iPod page at Apple along side the iPod Shuffle, iPod Nano, and iPod. But it’s not an iPod.

  • The Dock. Is On. The Top. Pictures of the HiFi sans iPod show a sharp looking product, with typical Apple sexiness. But once you stick an upright iPod on top, it’s just ugly and unbalanced. Steve claims you can get rid of your stereo now. If I slide the HiFi into the shelf where a stereo once stood, I probably won’t have room to dock an iPod.

  • With Bose already offering the SoundDock for $300, is there really a market for a $350 iPod speaker? And look at where the dock is on the SoundDock. Duh.

  • Some will argue that the SoundDock doesn’t really compete with the HiFi – the HiFi is portable, and can operate on batteries. Ok. And in fairness, I think the integrated handles are very stylish. However, with the IPod docked precariously on top, you won’t be carrying this around like a boom box.

  • There’s an audio input (analog and digital) on the back, and Apple.com points out that the digital audio out on the Airport Express is the perfect input, allowing you to stream music from your Mac the HiFi. This brings up my biggest gripe. Why not build in WiFi and give it an iPod interface, and let you browse music from all over your network, just like FrontRow? At that point, you could just lose the iPod dock, or suppy a retractable cable with a dock connector, for when you do need to use it outside Wifi range.

After reading all of the anouncements, John (with whom I share an office) wondered why this even warranted a Stevenote. Upon reflection, I think there are two reasons. First, I expect Steve will personally intro each new Intel Mac, and doesn’t want to wait any longer than needed to do so. It’s important for Apple to ensure that the switch to Intel doesn’t result in a sales slump, and having Steve wow us every couple of months with a new Intel Mac and good news about the transition has to be part of the plan. Also, I think Apple wants to move towards have more of these smaller Steve events more often, instead of two Stevenotes a year (Macworld and WWDC). This trend started last fall and had continued. This will help keep momentum going year-round for Apple. I just hope the next one is better.

HOWTO (Build and) Install Carbon XEmacs on OS X

Update: added instructions for installing elisp packages after building.

There are as many Emacsen as there are grains of sand in the desert. For various reason (largely habit) I prefer XEmacs to Emacs, when given a choice- even when in text mode (xemacs -nw for the uninitiated; I usually alias this to emacs). And while I love a good command prompt as much as the next geek, I do own a Mac, and sometimes I want a more Mac-like experience.

Carbon XEmacs is a derivative of XEmacs, developed by Andrew Choi. Carbon XEmacs does not require X11, but instead uses the OS X Carbon libraries for its GUI display. Of the various OS X-specific Emacsen I have tried, it is my current favorite. At the time of this writing, the current version of Carbon XEmacs is Beta 4, and is available as a series of patches against the XEmacs source. This HOWTO describes how to build Carbon XEmacs Beta 4 for Mac OS X 10.4.4, and attempts to describe more generally how to build the latest Carbon XEmacs for any OS X 10.3+. Since many Mac users (myself included) are spoiled by the many binary packages and package managers (such as Fink and Darwin Ports) available for OS X, this HOWTO goes into some detail about how to download, patch, and build the source. If you already know this stuff, feel free to skim.

(If you’ve never done so before, you’ll need to install the XCode developer tools from your OS X install CD/DVD. If you’ve lost these, it’s available from Apple’s Developer site. It’s basically a click-and-forget installer package.)

Let’s do this

To begin, you will need to download the XEmacs source for the same XEmacs version that your Carbon XEmacs patches apply to. At the time of the writing, the latest Carbon XEmacs is Beta 4, which is supplied as a diff (set of patches) to xemacs-21.5.23. Visit the XEmacs.org download page to locate a suitable mirror, and download the source package for the correct version. As of this writing, all 21.5.x releases are considered Beta releases of XEmacs, so I chose the beta download page, and a local mirror therein.

When you arrive at the mirror, it will be a directory on an FTP server, full of files. look for a tarball- a file ending with .tar.gz– matching the xemacs version you need. In this case, I’ll be downloading xemacs-21.5.23.tar.gz. You will also see files with similar names ending in .patch.gz, .asc, and .md5. You will not need these (unless you need them- in which case you already know you need them. The rest of us will soldier on).

After downloading the file, open Terminal and change to the directory where the .tar.gz file was downloaded. I downloaded mine to my ~/ext directory:

cd ~/ext

If you don’t know where your downloads go, they probably go to your desktop; try cd ~/Desktop (capitalization counts). Now we’ll extract the source code:

tar xzf xemacs-21.5.23.tar.gz

Download the diff file from the Carbon XEmacs page to the same directory where you downloaded the xemacs source. Uncompress the diff file:

bunzip2 xemacs-21.5.23-carbon-b4.diff.bz2

And patch the original sources:

patch -p0 < xemacs-21.5.23-carbon-b4.diff

An aside: this is some pretty cool stuff if you’re not familiar with diffing and patching; the diff file is just a list of the changes between the original and Andrew Choi’s version, patch applies these changes to our original files, resulting in files that match Choi’s modified source. For the curious, -p0 (essentially) tells patch that it doesn’t have to adjust the paths; that’s why we made sure we put the patch in the same directory as the original zipped sources.

Now, time to make the donuts, er, software:

cd xemacs-21.5.23/carbon
sh build-app.sh

And now, the waiting. The hardest part, if we are to believe Tom Petty. This will take a while. On my 1.8 GHz iMac G5 (1.5GB RAM), it took around 7 minutes or so; it would probably take twice as long on my old G4 Powerbook.

When it’s done, you’ll have a shiny new XEmacs.app in the current directory (carbon). Unfortunately, your shiny new XEmacs.app doesn’t do a whole lot- none of the lisp packages that provide a significant portion of XEmacs’ features are included in the source code package. Instead, you’ll need to download them separately. The easiest way is to download the “xemacs-sumo” package, which contains all of the official packages in a single download. For multibyte character set support, you’ll also want the “xemacs-mule-sumo” package (mule is the emacs/xemacs multibyte subsystem).

From the XEmacs.org download page, find the link to download Official Packages, and select a mirror. You’ll end up in an FTP directory, as before. Download the following packages into the same directory as your other downloads:

xemacs-sumo.tar.gz
xemacs-mule-sumo.tar.gz

The packages can live a couple of different location, but I prefer to keep the packages directly inside the XEmacs.app application bundle. To unpack the tarballs to the right place run the following (remember to change the path if your downloads aren’t in ~/ext):

cd ~/ext/xemacs-21.5.23/carbon/XEmacs.app/Contents/Resources/lib/xemacs
tar xzf ~/ext/xemacs-sumo.tar.gz 
tar xzf ~/ext/xemacs-mule-sumo.tar.gz

Your XEmacs.app is now fully loaded. To move this to your Application directory, you can drag-n-drop in Finder, or just:

cd ~/ext/xemacs-21.5.23/carbon
mv XEmacs.app/ /Applications/

Just double click the teddybear icon to launch. If you want to see it run in a terminal window, use this (assuming you moved it to your Applications folder):

/Applications/XEmacs.app/Contents/MacOS/XEmacs -nw

As additional (Carbon) patches against the same base version of xemacs are released, you can download and apply them in the same manner, so keep the directory around. Remember to re-build the app (and copy it to Applications) after each patching. If a new patch-bundle is release against a newer XEmacs version, just dump the old source code directory and start over from the top.

iPhoto ’06 Drive-by Review

Since I was at the mall anyway Staurday night getting new cell phones & service (from Cingular- but that’s another post), I stopped by the Apple Store to check the new Intel iMacs. Needing something to use to judge speed, I fired up iPhoto and proceeded to zoom and scroll about. Snappy. Snappy enough that I had to attribute at least part of the performance to iPhoto ’06. My iPhoto ’05 install, containing only around 3700 of the rated 25,000 picture capacity, had been so prone to beachballitis as to be nearly unusable. Although I was a bit leary that my year-old G5 wouldn’t perform as well as the cooler-than-thou CoreDuo chunk o’ geek-porn I tried at the store, I went ahead and dropped the 79.00 USD to pick up iLife ’06.

In a nutshell: worth every cent- and that’s just based on 10 minutes of playing with iPhoto ’06. So. Much. Faster. No really- it is. I can actually use iPhoto again without force-quitting it every 10 minutes. And the “Scroll Guide”, a see-through pop-up bezel that shows the Month/Year as you scroll, is a nice touch. Rotating photos in gallery mode is much faster as well- nearly instantaneous, even with a dozen pictures selected.

I’ll try to post a few words about the other iApps when I fire them up (except iWeb… don’t think I’ll need that).

Here I Come to Save the Day…

Mighty Mouse is on the way. The latest toy from Apple is (unbelievably) called the Mighty Mouse. It’s the first multi-button mouse offered by Apple, and as always, it’s innovative. It doesn’t look like a multi-button mouse, the left and right buttons are touch-sensitive regions on the top of the mouse. Instead of a scroll wheel, it has a finger-tip sized trackball that allows scrolling in two dimensions. Instead of clickable side buttons, it has “force sensitive” regions where side buttons should be.

When I first saw this, I was ready to hop in the car and head to the local Apple Store to pick one up. As I’ve noted before, the single button mouse heretofore offered by Apple just doesn’t cut it with me; I need at least 4 buttons including scroll wheel. On further inspection, however, my enthusiasm was dampened somewhat.

For one thing, the mouse is only available (for now, anyway) with a tail. I’ve been searching for a good Bluetooth mouse for use with my iMac since I bought it. I’m a bit surprised there’s no bluetooth option; perhaps battery life is an issue given the touch sensitive technology at play. Also, it appears that certain key features- namely, reprogramming the button actions- are only available when using Tiger. I have been putting off that upgrade while I wait for it to stabilize a bit. Plus, it doesn’t really offer anything I’m dying to get my hands on. I find this deficiency deplorable, since my Microsoft Intellimouse lets me reprogram my buttons just fine on OS X 10.3.

Next time I’m in the Apple store, I will definately try one out. The bluetooth issue is minor; I can alwas pick up a wired one now, and use it as a hand-me down for another machine (yes, it works with windows too) when/if a Bluetooth model appears. But to get that all-critical ability to make the side button map to my browsers back button will require Tiger, turning this $50 toy into a $179 investment. You can do better, Apple.