Category Archives: Macs

My thirty years of the Mac

The first Mac I used was a 512K machine, in the computer science lab at Hatfield Polytechnic in 1986. The halls where I lived were organised into floors of 12 rooms which shared a kitchen, and although the Poly tried its best to mix students of different disciplines, for some reason my floor had six computer science students on it. I was the sole, weird, humanities guy[1].

One day, one of my floor-mates took me to the computer science lab, and showed me around. There were terminals hooked into the polytechnic’s main computer (yes, the one computer, running UNIX[2]), PCs… “and this is the Mac. It’s pretty advanced – you should try using one. You might like it.”

I did. In fact, I was in love. Compared to the primitive home computers I’d used up till then, this was amazing. Like something from another planet, or at least California.

Three years and one first-class honours degree later, I ended up spending a year commuting from my home in St Albans, round the M25 to Apple UK’s headquarters in Stockley Park, near Heathrow. I spent a year interning with the Information Systems and Technology (IS&T) team, mostly fixing problems by the two most reliable methods available to a Mac tech at the time: reinstalling the system, or, if that failed, replacing the motherboard. I could probably still disassemble a Mac II if I had to, in record time (hint: don’t touch the power supply).

More importantly to me, working for Apple meant I could take advantage of the “Loan to Own” scheme, which let you borrow a Mac and, after a set period of time, buy it at a steep discount. In my case, a year later the Mac Plus (and 20Mb hard drive) I’d been using was mine, just in time for me to go back to Hatfield to work on a PhD. The Mac Plus, with 4Mb of RAM, spent its time with me for the next few years churning through words in MacWrite (and then Word), keeping notes in HyperCard (in a note-taking stack I’d written) and storing endless academic references in EndNote (which I’m happy to find is still going strong.

The experience of working at Apple and owning a Mac changed my life. A few years later, casting around for a job when it became clear I really didn’t want to be an academic (and academia didn’t really want me) I answered an ad in The Guardian media section (in print!) for a labs assistant on MacUser magazine. I’d never wanted to be a journalist, but – thanks to the Mac – I ended up one.

The Mac, in the form of one machine or an another, has been with me now for 25 years. I’ve written millions of words on it, played countless hours of games, got into arguments and met people hundreds of people. It’s taken me – literally – around the world and given me a livelihood. I wouldn’t be the person I am without Steve’s Amazing Machine.

  1. Which is another way of saying I had a girlfriend.  ↩

  2. The same group of computer science friends later thought it was hilarious to give me, the token humanities guy, root access to the mainframe. Thankfully I never used it for evil…  ↩

A Mac user’s view of the Chromebook Pixel

I’ve been a Mac user since 1986, and edited a Mac magazine for a couple of years. I’ve contributed to MacGasm, MacFormat, and pretty-much anything that has the word “Mac” in its title. I attended more Steve Jobs keynotes than is healthy, and suffered the epic 3 hour Gil Amelio keynote which reduced even the hardest-bitten hacks to weeping babies. If there is such a thing as Mac spurs, I’ve earned them.

But as a technology writer, I’ve also always kept an open mind about other options. I’ve used Windows in anger (back in the days when a tablet PC meant Tablet PC, not an iPad). I’ve had Android phones. I’ve used my own cash to buy Android tablets (and boy, did I regret that one).

And in the past couple of years, anyone that follows me will know that I’ve also long been interested in the Google’s Chromebook concept. The idea of a machine which reflects how I actually work (mostly online) is attractive. It’s secure, fast enough, and I never have to worry about where any of my data lives. Almost all the software that I use on a day-to-day basis is web-based, and my browser is the application I use most often. Sometimes two of them. Continue reading

For developers, Android users aren’t the same as iPhone users

John Gruber on the difference between Android users and iOS users:

The truth is, the average Android user is not the same as an average iPhone user. iPhone users surf the web more, they’re more willing to buy software, they’re more willing to install and use apps. Some of these stats aren’t even close. What I see as the fundamental flaw in the Church of Market Share doctrine is the assumption that users are users. That one platform with, say, 40 percent market share, must be in a stronger position than another platform with, say, 20 percent market share, simply and inherently on the basis that a larger number of users is better, period. What Apple has shown with the Mac, and now with the iPhone and iPad, is that all users are not equivalent.

John’s completely right. To give you a historical example that I’m very familiar with, consider the Mac market back when I first started as a journalist in 1995. Then, Apple was floating along with perhaps 3% of the overall computer market – and yet, in the UK alone, the eco-system surrounding the Mac was large enough to support three (and occasionally four) big, thick magazines with plenty of advertising.

Back then, Mac users were not the same as Windows users: they spent more, and bought more peripherals and software. Big companies spent a lot of money on ads chasing their money. Even Microsoft earned more per-user from its Mac customers than its Windows ones.

The problem back then was that Apple itself wasn’t in a healthy state, but the wider market was huge and profitable for the third parties that made software and hardware.

Scrivener for iOS – coming soon(ish)

Here’s an early Christmas present for me and for quite a few of my friends and colleagues: Scrivener, the marvellous long-form writing tool for Mac, is coming to iPad and iPhone:

It’s still early days, though – we are about to embark on the design process proper, and all we can say in terms of a release date is that our iPad and iPhone versions will be out some time in 2012

There’s a link to share your ideas about what should be in it too. I know from my perspective the thing I’d like to see are integration with iCloud on both the iOS and Mac side, so that I could seamlessly carry on working on a project no matter where I was.

How Apple could fix Final Cut Pro X, in 187 words

Write a letter.

“Dear Final Cut Pro customers,

As you know, we’ve just released Final Cut Pro X. We’re really proud of it. It represents the future of what’s become the most important piece of software for professional video. There are features in it — like the magnetic timeline — that we think you’ll love, and that will help you work faster open up new creative possibilities.

However, in rebuilding Final Cut Pro as a 64-bit application from the ground up, we’ve had some tough decisions to make. That means some of the features you’ve grown to love aren’t there yet.

Final Cut Pro X is the future of video editing, and we recommend you upgrade to it as soon as possible. But if the feature you need isn’t there, we’d like you to know that we’re working hard to add in the key tools our professional customers know and love, and meanwhile we’re going to continue selling and supporting Final Cut Pro 7 until at least the end of 2012.

Best wishes,


See? That’s really not so hard, is it?

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My final word on the whole “Macs don’t get viruses” thing

It’s something you hear all the time when you read forums and comments. Someone talks about malware and instead of saying malware, they say “virus”. And someone pops up to reply “Macs can’t get viruses. [Mac Defender][] isn’t a [virus][] – it’s a [trojan][]“.

And it’s true: There isn’t a self-replicating infectious programme for the Mac. They’re not impossible to build (just because you don’t have Admin privs doesn’t mean it can’t be done) but at present, they don’t exist.

But you know what? It. Doesn’t. Matter.

It doesn’t matter for two reasons: First, to someone who’s got Mac Defender stuck on their machine, whether it’s a virus or a trojan or a god-knows-what doesn’t matter – it’s messing up their Mac, the one they bought because little-jonny-know-it-all told them “Macs can’t get viruses” – and they didn’t know that little-jonny-know-it-all had small print at the bottom of his statement saying “Of course, they can get trojans”.

Second reason it doesn’t matter: By FAR the biggest number of malware threats to Windows aren’t viruses either. In fact, most Windows malware writers don’t bother with self-replication or even exploiting known security holes, because trojans which use social engineering are far, far more effective – they, unlike viruses, can’t be patched out of existence.

But does the average Mac user know this? No. The average Mac user still appears to think that viruses are the biggest threat on Windows, and that malware writers do it for bragging rights. That’s a picture that’s so far out of date it’s not funny.

[Mac Defender]:

The bit that John Gruber didn’t quote from Rich Mogull

The bit that John Gruber left out of [his post][daringfireball] quoting [Rich Mogull on the Mac Defender malware][macworld]:

>Windows 7 is actually more secure than OS X

I wonder how many of John’s readers will pick up on that.


New variant of Mac Defender needs no password

There’s a new variant of [Mac Defender]( “The Mac Security Blog » Intego Security Memo – MAC Defender Fake Antivirus Program Targets Mac Users”) doing the rounds – and unlike the initial versions this one doesn’t require an administrator password to install:

> Unlike the previous variants of this fake antivirus,no administrator’s password is required to install this program. Since any user with an administrator’s account – the default if there is just one user on a Mac – can install software in the Applications folder, a password is not needed. This package installs an application – the downloader – named avRunner, which then launches automatically. At the same time, the installation package deletes itself from the user’s Mac, so no traces of the original installer are left behind.

(via [The Mac Security Blog » INTEGO SECURITY MEMO – New Mac Defender Variant, MacGuard, Doesn’t Require Password for Installation](

It will he interesting to see how this develops. What’s clear is that variants of the malware are going to be coming quickly, and I’m curious about how Apple plans to make good on it’s promise to [deal with Mac Defender in an OS patch]( “Apple Mac OS X update to put Mac Defender malware issue to bed | ZDNet”). Short of requiring all apps to be [signed]( “Technical Note TN2206″), it’s going to find it very difficult to create a permanent solution at the OS level.

Why the spec sheet method of buying a computer is dead

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 09:  An Apple Store ge...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Poor Charles Arthur. Charles wrote a relatively simple post asking the question of why the Mac has proved to be so successful lately, out-performing the overall computer market and growing its market share. And in response, he got a 500+ long comment thread in which multiple geeks are arguing over how the specs of the Mac do/don’t compare to Windows machines.

I’m greatly enjoying the batting around of specs like people buy computers based on specs anymore. If there’s one thing that the huge demand for netbooks a few years ago proved, it’s that people buy because they can see how a computer can do something for them, not on megahertz.

In the case of netbooks, the “something” was being a machine they could carry everywhere, and do simple stuff on. In the case of Macs, it’s having access to easy to use, powerful software like iPhoto, iMovie, and so on – in a package that’s good looking, well designed, robust, and so on.

It’s about the whole experience: Compare buying a Mac in an Apple Store to buying a Windows machine in PC World and you’ll see what I mean. Compare the ability to take your machine back if there’s a problem with it to a Genius Bar and have someone help you sort it out in a way that’s friendly and not patronising.

This is the thing that advocates of the spec-sheet method of buying computers, or any product for that matter, don’t understand. What lifts a brand from being a making of generic boxes into a real identity isn’t simply the spec you get for the money, but the overall experience of buying and owning the product.

To give a non-Apple example, consider Dell. What set Dell apart from other PC manufacturers was the build-to-order approach which let you tailor the product to exactly meet your needs. You went to the Dell site, and you got exactly the machine you wanted. It was competitively priced, but it was rarely (if ever) the cheapest option. The experience was simple, straightforward, and gave you what you wanted. In short, a good brand experience.

Unfortunately for Dell, this was a part of the brand experience that was relatively simple for other companies to copy, and it’s lacklustre performance in the market coincides with other companies copying this approach. Now, I can get a totally customised machine from most PC makers – so what’s left for Dell to say is unique about its experience?

People buy Macs because the experience of buying, owning and maintaining a Mac is better than the experience with any other computer maker. It’s the experience that matters, not the specs.

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