Wednesday, 31 January 2007

The view from here

The home edition of Microsoft Vista was released yesterday, backed by a US$500 million marketing campaign, amid much fanfare and razzmatazz. I've been using the business version of Vista for a couple of months now (alongside XP and Mac OS X machines) and decided I'd pen my thoughts.

I'm distinctly underwhelmed by this new operating system. It was running on a high-spec machine, and was still glitchy and sluggish. It offered nothing that I couldn't either get on XP or Mac OS X that would make me want to spend money on the product. Frankly I think it falls short of Mac OS X on several fronts.

Disclaimer: Yes, I'm a Mac fanboy (have you seen the new UK "Get a Mac" ads, by the way?). But I like to think I've retained some sense of objectivity! I hate the beachball of death. And, as with politics, I like the thought of strong competition. But alas it just wasn't to be.

Maggie Philbin, of Tomorrow's World fame, was on the BBC Breakfast news yesterday talking about the product. This is important, because this is how lots of people will find out about Vista. She listed the three main "benefits" that a Vista upgrade offered:

1. Improved Desktop Search facility
2. Improved Security
3. Improved Graphics

Ha!

1. Google has had a free, excellent, works-on-XP desktop search product available since August 2005. Apple released a similar product, Spotlight, even earlier, in April 2005 (with the release of Tiger).

2. I sprayed my cornflakes across the room when I heard this one. If anyone has an awful track record when it comes to releasing software with poor security, needing numerous patches, it's Microsoft. I give it one year before the first service pack.

3. Compared to Mac OS X, the graphics look pretty naff. I've been using OS X for over two years now, and the novelty factor has long since worn off, but still tricks like the Genie effect, Exposé, and Dashboard are used because they give me valuable feedback on what's going on, or help make me more productive. Vista includes a graphics engine called Aero, which allows for transparency of items on the screen, which hogs the processor without offering much benefit. In fact they often make the screen look cluttered. And the other piece of eye candy is Windows Flip 3D, which admitedly looks quite nice, if a little jerky. I still think Exposé is better.

By the way, the project we were working on (that necessitated the use of the Vista PC) was creating Gadgets for Orange customers to put in their Vista sidebar. Can't talk about it much yet, otherwise I'd have to kill you, but it was cool working with the new operating system first hand. At the end of the day, I love playing with new software and it doesn't get much bigger than a new Microsoft operating system. It's just a shame it's not better.

Monday, 29 January 2007

The Shatner

I've always been a massive fan of William Shatner, even though I can't usually be bothered to sit through an entire episode of the original series of Star Trek. There is something about the man that is just so enigmatic. If you haven't checked out his recent album, Has Been, I heartily recommend it. You might think this is a joke. It isn't. It's really very good. Really! His rendition of Common People is our Friday afternoon office anthem. You can hear it here.

Anyway, I was amused / puzzled to learn that his next project involves reading the Book of Exodus, backed by a full symphony orchestra and 350 singers!! I'm not sure what I'm looking forward to the most - listening to this piece, or reading his interviews around the time of the release date! Bring on both...

Sunday, 28 January 2007

And then there were four

Jack Whitehouse was born at 4.40am this morning, weighing 9lbs exactly! Emily was a star, it was a quick labour with no pain relief (not even gas and air). Mother and baby are doing well.

I prefer not to share details about my family on the web, so I won't be adding any more here. Suffice to say though that we're thrilled to bits!

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Return of the Mac

I'm delighted to report that my Mac is back, and better than before! The faulty logic board has been fixed, and everything is hunky dorey now. It was repaired for free under a Repair Extension Program, which is a good job as a new logic board costs £350, plus labour to install. Its such an important component (I knew it as a motherboard), and after hammering my Mac with loads of downloading files and video editing for two solid years, it's a bit of a bonus to have it replaced for free. Glass half full, that's me.

I did a clean build of Tiger, and oddly enough I have freed up about 40gb of space, even though I've put all my old data back on the machine. I guess Mac OS X doesn't clean up old files the way it should.

Anyway, if you're curious to see what happens when your logic board gets fried, then I took a few screen photos which can be seen here.

It's going to puke down with snow

It's remarkable the impact that popular culture from our youths can still have on us as we get older. When I pulled the curtains this morning, and saw that our neighbourhood was covered in a blanket of snow (pictures here), the Mary Whitehouse Experience sketch from about 1992 flashed into my mind. Rob Newman would complain about fickle newspapers using headlines like "It's Snow Joke" or "It's Brrrrrritain", and talking about weather reporters reveling in the unusual weather, before cutting to Hugh Dennis giving a weather report which ended with him shouting "IT'S GOING TO PUKE DOWN WITH SNOW!!!!!!". I can't look at snow without thinking of that sketch from, like, 15 years ago.

So I did a quick search for the Mary Whitehouse Experience and came up with these mp3s of the original radio braodcasts, before they got big and went into TV. Thought I'd share that with you.

Given that all my friends were into the show at the time, it's surprising to me that the episodes haven't been released on DVD or even video. A quick search on Amazon revealed that, if you're desperate, you can buy a second hand video of a live gig they did for £50!!!! I'm sure they would have a quick-witted, sarcastic comment to make about that....

Friday, 19 January 2007

Fight!

This clip is brilliant, especially if you listen to Booka Shade while it's playing.

I know I could embed YouTube videos straight into this blog, but I think that would look shoddy.

Saturday, 13 January 2007

Apple TV

Yet more dust has settled after the Macworld keynote, and I've been thinking about the Apple TV product. I've had enough of watching downloaded TV on the iMac, and want to set up a home media centre. The way I see it, the obvious choices are either (a) use an XBOX 360, which has the added benefit of being able to play Gears of War, or (b) go with a product like Apple TV. I want to be able to get content onto it easily, as well as codecs, and not have to use a keyboard to get it to work. PVR capability is a nice-to-have. And it must support HD content.

As with the iPhone, I have storage issues with Apple TV. The average downloaded (compressed) movie is 700mb (.avi format), season 2 of Battlestar Galactica (compressed) came in at 7gb, and an HD movie can be more than 15gb. So what's the point of releasing a home media centre that only has a 40gb hard drive? Alright, the XBOX 360 only has 20gb (although I gather an upgrade is imminent). But the way I see it, these devices need to hold 500gb of data to be fit for current purposes. And at least a terabyte will be needed in a year's time.

Plus everything you want to download and watch would first have to go through iTunes, apparently. So for most downloads it would need to be processed by iSquint before it'll work on iTunes, then you'll need to wait while it syncs with the Apple TV.

So both the iPhone and Apple TV get little more than a raised eyebrow from me. Sigh.

But apart from that, I'm very happy with Apple today -my iMac died, and when I checked their web site it turns out that my model is subject to a free repair extension program. It is outside it's warranty and I won't have to pay a penny to get it fixed. Hurrah! I suppose some might argue that it shouldn't have broken in the first place, but I'm an early adopter and expect these things to go wrong.

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UPDATE 14/1/07: I've done some research and have added a comment to this post with my findings.

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Thursday, 11 January 2007

Size matters

Now I've recovered from the initial excitement of the iPhone launch, I've found my thoughts turning to a couple of interesting side issues.

The first one concerns how the devil they kept the whole thing "secret". Obviously there was plenty of rumour and speculation, fueled by deliberate misdirection on Apple's part, but still they kept the real product details from rising above the flotsam and jetsam.

I imagined a fully locked down, windowless building, isolated networks, lathes in the corner, background checks on all employees, only long term employees involved, and cavity checks at the door. No phones and no cameras allowed. So I was pleased to see this article on the CNN website which looked into the story. Didn't answer all my questions, but interesting none the less.

Here's the tech community discussing it on Slashdot.

The other issue is that I'm surprised no one has baulked at the size of the hard drive. $499 for 4-gig, $599 for 8-gig??? That's rubbish!! I know there are plenty of people out there who have bought nanos and shuffles, and are happy with them, but c'mon! There's not much point me giving up my 60 gig iPod unless the new device can play the podcasts and TV shows I watch on it. I currently use 53 gig of hard drive on my iPod. At the moment it looks like, physically, the iPhone is about the same size as my iPod and phone (K800i) combined.

So there's a way for them to go before I'll buy the product. Which is a good job really, as it doesn't come out here until Q4 2007. Which is when my current mobile contract expires anyway. We'll see.

One of the phone usability experts at my company has posted his review on our company blog - it's very good. Click here to read it.

Sunday, 7 January 2007

Music makes me lose control

The different ways that people find new music has always intrigued me. I remember the days when I used to read the NME religiously, seeking out that great new band who happened to like what I liked - but then trying to listen to them was a different prospect. Radio was pretty rubbish (John Peel, bless his soul, being a little too far out there for my taste), TV the same (I used to watch ITV's The Chart Show each week hoping that the featured chart would be the Indie Chart - fat chance. Always with the Metal Chart - gah!), and mostly I had to wait until either CDs hit the bargain bins before I could buy them or get a crappy cassette recording from my friends.

Fast forward 15 years and it's all changed, thank God. I still read the NME from time to time (well, the website anyway), but now I put more faith in 'people who liked this also bought' style lists on Amazon and iTunes. I can now listen to a sample of a song instantly, or maybe the whole song streamed from a band's My Space page. Kids these days don't know how lucky they are.

But now I think I've found the best source ever, dear reader, and now I'd like to share the love. Pitchfork is the best music website on the planet. Great reviews and more free mp3 files than you can shake a pitchfork at. I've checked out this Top 50 albums of 2006 and there are some pearls in there, let me tell you. I am blissing out to Fujiya & Miyagi's "Transparent Things" and Booka Shade's "Movements" today. I can also recommend the albums by Brightback Morning Light and Califone.

And as part of my New Year's resolutions, I intend to pay for my music from time to time, and pass the financial love onto the artists themselves. And the best place for that seems to be emusic.com - all songs are DRM free, and you can get the first 50 for free if you visit this promotional page. Now you can't argue with that.

Or can you? Any tips?