Category Archives: Macs

How Microsoft is snatching Windows 7 defeat from the jaws of victory

I made the point with rather more swearing on Twitter yesterday, but Joe Wilcox says it without the bad language:

“After commandingly executing Windows 7 development, Microsoft had run off the track right before the finish line. Suddenly, Windows 7 is a disaster potentially like its predecessor. Could anything be worse than Vista?”

What’s the cause of our ire? The insane hoops that Microsoft is making customers jump through to upgrade to its latest and greatest operating system. In response to a query from Walt Mossberg about the upgrade process for different legacy versions of Windows, Microsoft a chart which consist of  6×11 matrix, 66 different options, and a few hundred words explaining the different options.

On one hand, I can understand Microsoft’s predicament. There are a lot of potential versions of Windows that you can upgrade from, and testing all of them with all the different widgets, bits and pieces is tricky to do and even trickier to explain. 

But it’s not the explanation that is at fault: it’s the fact that Windows XP users, the people who Microsoft most needs to get to upgrade to Windows 7, will have to perform a complete wipe-and-reinstall of Windows, plus every application they have, plus all their drivers, and restore all their files from a backup.

I’ve done this a few times. It’s not trivial. It’s not fun. And for the average consumer, it will be a terrible experience as they have to look through old boxes trying to find original install disks, root through their email for download and license details, and generally go through a day’s work.

Here’s the deal: Microsoft cannot consider Windows 7 finished until there is a single-click upgrade from Windows XP. If it ships the product without one, it will miss out on millions of potential upgrades, cause its users considerable pain, and leave Apple laughing all the way to the bank next time those users upgrade their computer.

Windows 7 is a good operating system – in some ways better than the current version of OS X. If Microsoft messes up its release it will not get another opportunity from a big chunk of its consumer customers, and will be handing Apple another couple of points of market share on a plate. 

This might not sound too bad when you consider the commanding lead that Microsoft has in operating system market share. In my next post, I’ll write about why it’s not only bad news – it could spell disaster for Microsoft, and turn John Gruber’s prediction into reality faster than even he imagines. 

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NetNewsWire is a long way from a legacy app

Louis Gray thinks standalone feed readers are dead, including NetNewsWire

“Yes, NetNewsWire is still around, and now points to Google Reader, but it’s pretty much a legacy app at this point. (In my opinion, of course)

I humbly disagree. In fact, I’ve just gone down the opposite route – from using Google Reader as a web app to using NetNewsWire synced with Google Reader. The web app is now my “lowest common denominator” application, for when I don’t have access to my Mac.

Why? Because NNW integrates with other great services which aren’t from Google. Google Reader shared items is a mess – NNW lets me post direct to Delicious (or even better, via Pukka). I’m one click away from adding any item to Instapaper, which I can then sync to my iPhone.

In other words, I don’t have to live and breathe the Google ecosystem – I can pick the best applications to suit me, not the ones which Google wants me to use.

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Got root on your Apple keyboard?

Now this one is fun. According to ZDNet, it’s possible to hack the firmware of some Apple keyboards in order to install malware on it. Yes, on the keyboard – not the Mac. In fact, even if you wipe the computer entirely, the malware can persist.

“Apple’s sleek $49 Mac keyboards can be hacked and infected with keystroke loggers and impossible-to-detect rootkits, according to a security researcher presenting at this year’s Black Hat/DEFCON conferences.

The researcher, known only as “K. Chen,” found a way to reverse engineer and tamper with the keyboard’s firmware upgrade. With the firmware under control, an attacker can subvert the keyboard by embedding malicious code that allows a rootkit to survive a  clean re-installation of the host operating system.”

Now this isn’t exactly a usable exploit – it’s a lot of fuss to get something that can installed on a machine much more easily using a bit of social engineering. But it highlights the potential issues we have as peripherals get smarter and smarter. I didn’t even know that the keyboard had firmware, let alone that it was hackable.

If you want to read the technical paper with all the details, it can be downloaded in PDF form here. Video demo below.

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Amazon begins offering Snow Leopard pre-orders in the UK (nearly)

Amazon begins offering Snow Leopard pre-orders | Mac OS X | MacUser | Macworld:

“If there’s one thing more fun than ordering software it must be pre-ordering software. We may not have a hard release date for Snow Leopard—during the WWDC keynote, Apple said it would be available some time in September—but that’s not about to stop the likes of Amazon, which this weekend began offering pre-orders of the forthcoming Mac OS X release.”

Not in the UK yet, it doesn’t, although you can already go to the product page and sign up to find out when it’s ready.

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Warhammer Online out for the Mac. But wait, there’s a catch!

Tom Insam takes a swipe at Warhammer Online for Mac:

“World of Warcraft runs on the Mac well because every Blizzard game since the dawn of time has run on both Windows and the Mac, off the same install disk. I’m convinced that a significant chunk of the WoW user base are there for the same reason I am – there are no decent alternative (mainstream) MMO for the platform. Until recently, there were just none. Now there is WoW and three shitty Transgaming ports. I assume they won’t get lots of Mac users, because their Mac clients all SUCK. Which is self-reinforcing. Why bother putting effort into such a niche platform?”

Tom’s totally right. Transgaming ports are lazy. WAR is one of the applications which makes me keep a 50GB Windows partition on my Mac, and I don’t think that the “Mac version” will perform well enough to let me delete it.

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Daring Fireball is wrong about Microsoft’s weakness

I am, you’ll have noted, an argumentative sod. This is a great source of irritation to my dear other half, who rolls her eyes as I shout at the television or Internet. But sometimes, you read something and… well… you just have to respond.

Such is the case with John Gruber’s post on “Microsoft’s long, slow decline“. Now I should make this clear: John’s a very smart fellow and a terrific writer. I have huge respect for him. But his post is also riddled with more than a few canards and non sequiturs which make it sound like something is happening which, honestly, isn’t. Continue reading

Windows 7, Mac OS X and Ubuntu: A Tale of Three Operating Systems

Joe Wilcox picks up on a comment that I made on his post about Windows 7 and its relationship to the Mac:

“As you know, Joe, I’m a Mac to Linux switcher (with over 20 years Mac use under my belt). But I’m also a tinkerer who’s curious about OS’s, so I’ve been running Windows 7 as my main system for a month or two. Count me amongst the impressed. Microsoft has actually applied some real serious effort to the user interface design, taken some of Apple’s ideas, and made them better. That it’s much, much faster than Vista is a bonus.

Mac fans should take a serious look at 7—not because it will persuade them to switch, but because it’s the first serious competition from Microsoft in quite some time.”

Joe’s timing is impeccable, as in a couple of weeks I’ll be switching my main computer back to Ubuntu from Windows 7. But the reason isn’t exasperation with Windows 7, and it’s not one that should give Mac fans hoping that the new Microsoft OS will be a failure any kind of comfort.

Continue reading

What Apple did right with the iPhone

Alan Patrick sums it up nicely:

“In fact its indicative of the industry’s malaise that Apple made such a big splash by making a phone that merely “did” the ‘Net easily, loaded applications quickly, and had a decent size screen. Hardly revolutionary technology, but they came as a shock to the mobile industry. Putting the user’s need first – how totally innovative!”

Just like the old saying “Only Nixon could go to China”, I often think “Only Apple could do the iPhone” – not because the technology is wildly novel, but because only someone as ballsy as Steve Jobs could force the telcos to not mess things up. Jobs’ real genius was forcing AT&T to accept unlimited Internet that really meant unlimited, not allowing any walled gardens in access, and refusing to carry network-specific applications.

In other words, remembering that “the customer” is the end user – not the networks.

There’s an interesting parallel here with Microsoft, too. Although Microsoft has always sold plenty of product direct to end-users, for years there’s been a very real sense that its actual customers were IT managers and directors – hence its focus on features in Windows for them, occasionally at the expense of the people who actually have to use the machines.

Microsoft is, I think, realising that this isn’t a wise approach anymore: That even though its bread and butter remains the enterprise market, that market is now, at least in part, driven by the desires of end-users. The iPhone has proved to be a stealth weapon for Apple in the corporate market, with IT people being hassled to support it as a way of accessing corporate mail and so on. This is a horrific idea for Microsoft – any appearance of the Apple logo in corporates rings big alarm bells in Redmond.

The interesting question – and one I’ll leave open – is if Microsoft has the ability to turn its focus around, and target consumers rather than IT managers. In my limited experience of Windows 7 so far, I think the answer might be “yes” – but until I’ve had a good long play, and run into the inevitable “gotchas”, I’ll reserve judgement.

How my computing needs affected switching to Linux

In response to my post about switching to Ubuntu Linux, Charles Arthur tweeted a question asking about my computing needs. It’s a good question, because – obviously – how you use your computer will often determine your platform of choice.
My needs are pretty diverse, but largely I’m a media monkey. Text is the most important medium I generat, which means that OpenOffice is probably my most-used application. But, like most journalists, bloggers and writers I also need to mess around with images, edit the occasional video and play with sound.
On the Mac, the applications I used for these tasks were:

  • Graphics: an ancient copy of Photoshop.
  • Video: iMovie, although I hated the “upgrade” to 08 with a passion.
  • Sound: Fission, and GarageBand for multitracking stuff.

With Ubuntu, these have been replaced with:

Could I switch to Linux if, say, I was a professional video or audio editor? Probably not. For both of those tasks, specialist applications like Final Cut Pro mean that Linux isn’t really an option (no doubt someone will pop up now to contradict me!) But for what I do, all the tools I need are there. Some of them (like Kino) are actually better than what i had before. And, importantly, they’re free – in all the sense of the word.