Archive for the 'Cult of Mac' Category

Gates vs. Jobs – the game!

Friday, August 8th, 2008

I’ve been having fun with this Bill Gates vs. Steve Jobs game recently. Totally daft obviously, but quite well done, especially Steve Jobs’ maniacal, slightly Ren-esque voice. I found the controls a bit tough to start with – the trick is to swipe the mouse from left to right to make an attack – but it’s a pretty easy game.

Equally funny is the related SuperNews! Gates vs. Jobs episode (shown below). It’s been around a while, but it still makes me chuckle. “I AM THE MIGHTY FINDER.” 🙂

The Mac clones go on… and on… and on…

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Renegade Mac cloner Psystar is in the news again, with reports that Apple is finally suing their ass – and, what’s more, they want Psystar to recall all the “Open Computers” they sold, thereby reversing any pollution of the pristine Macosphere by their horrid clones. Apple argues that “as a direct and proximate result of Psystar’s infringing conduct, Apple has suffered and will continue to suffer lost sales and profits in an amount… to be proven at trial.” Good luck defending against that, boys.

But as Apple knocks Psystar down, up springs another cloner. An outfit called Open Tech – tagline: “It’s good to be open” – is flogging a range of PCs that can run any operating system under the sun, including, they claim, Mac OS X Leopard. Cunningly, they don’t preinstall Leopard – Psystar did, which no doubt was a red rag to Apple’s bull – but they certainly tell you how to.

Cloning of Apple computers is by no means a new thing. In fact, the Apple ][ was cloned way back in the 1980s. The most popular of these clones was the VTech Laser 128 (gotta love computer names in those days). Personally, though, I like the Agat best – a Russian-built clone with rugged, angular casing to endure those harsh Siberian winters. Just look at that baby!

Since that time, the Mac has frequently been cloned – legally or illegally – both through software emulation and through out-and-out hardware clones. Psystar and Open Tech are just the latest in the cloning saga.

Where’s the money?

Presumably there’s some sort of market for Mac clones, otherwise these cloners wouldn’t keep springing up. But my question is: Who buys them? Speaking as an iMac owner, I wouldn’t touch one of these with a 10-foot pole; one of the main reasons I switched from Linux to Mac was to get decent, reliable, compact, nice-looking hardware that doesn’t sound like a Hoover on heat when it’s switched on. But maybe that’s just me.

Assuming I’m a typical Mac user, that leaves Windows and Linux users (or folks who’ve never used a computer). I can sort of see how a clone would be desirable for these people – they’ve heard that Macs are nice and they’d like to try “switching”, but they don’t want to fork out for posh Apple hardware, no matter how sleek it looks. Of course, they buy one of these clones, it looks ugly, makes as much fan noise as their PC does, OS X crashes all the time, software updates don’t work, and the support is terrible. So they think this Mac thing’s overrated and rush back to Windows or Linux, never to return. What’s more, Apple loses a Mac sale in the process (and it makes most of its money from hardware).

No wonder Apple’s pissed off with these cloners. But considering how easy Macs are to clone these days, I can’t see the cloners giving up any time soon. I’d imagine Apple’s legal team is going to be very busy in the coming years. Is Apple starting to regret its move to Intel, I wonder?

Book review: Inside Steve’s Brain

Friday, July 11th, 2008

Inside Steve’s Brain is the third book about Apple written by Leander Kahney, the managing editor of Wired News and head honcho of one of my favourite blogs: the well-known Cult of Mac blog. His two other books are The Cult of Mac and The Cult of iPod.

I was intrigued by the title of this book, so I picked up a copy. (I haven’t read Kahney’s previous two books.)

While the book’s title is obviously an exaggeration – Kahney hasn’t been at Steve Jobs’s head with a scalpel, or stuck him on a psychiatrist’s couch – it does offer some insights into how Jobs might think about product design, marketing techniques and the user experience. It also offers a decent-enough potted history of Apple and Jobs’s involvement with it over the last 30 years (though there are other books out there that do a much more thorough job of this).

Fascinating facts

Some of the interesting things I learned from reading this book:

  • When Jobs returned to Apple, he cut the product line from around 40 products to just 4 core products – 2 laptops, 2 desktops – a move that undoubtedly saved Apple from going under.
  • He hates having multiple windows open. (This makes me laugh, since the zillions of windows you get with many Mac apps was one of the things that put me off Macs initially – yet now I love the multi-window approach.)
  • One Apple store can make as much as 6 other stores in the same mall combined; they’re “insanely profitable”. (Which reminds me, I really must get off my backside and check out the new Sydney store this week.)
  • Jobs understands what design’s really all about. “Some people think design means how it looks. But of course … it’s really how it works.
  • Apple is so secretive that no single department sees the whole product, and even the head of marketing can’t tell his family about the latest iPod until after it’s launched.
  • Jobs got his family involved in a constant 2-week debate over which washing machine to buy (actually I do this as well – I’m terrible).

One good thing about the book is that is looks at both sides of Jobs and his career. Yes, he’s done a lot of things right, but he’s also made some big mistakes like the G4 Cube, which sold poorly because he misread the market. And he seems to have an irksome habit of screaming at an employee for having a bad idea, then turning round the next day and saying it’s a great idea. (more…)

Malware: Coming soon to a Mac near you?

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

Nothing is guaranteed to bring the smug Mac user brigade out in force like a discussion on viruses and trojans. “Oh, we don’t get those – we use Macs!” they proudly announce. And they have a point; Mac malware is pretty thin on the ground right now. Indeed, the first virus to specifically attack Mac OS X didn’t come out until 2006 – five years after Mac OS X was launched.

Well the time for such smugness may be coming to an end. In the past few weeks we’ve had a published root escalation vulnerability, not to mention a Mac-targeted trojan in the wild that takes advantage of said vulnerability, and is evil enough to wipe the smile off even the smuggest Mac user’s face. Furthermore, Mac hackers have produced a tool to make future production of similar trojans almost trivially simple.

Maybe we’re seeing an increase in Mac malware now because Macs are getting more popular, with 80% of businesses allegedly now using them. More Macs make for a bigger, juicier target.

But Macs are secure – aren’t they?

Yes, Macs are built on UNIX, and yes, UNIX is generally pretty secure and battle-tested. But UNIX and Linux servers are compromised every day. Maybe not as much as Windows machines, but there are plenty of worms and rootkits out there for Linux. If malware authors start targeting the Mac in earnest, it’s unlikely that Mac users will get off that lightly. We can only hope that Apple starts tightening up security in Snow Leopard, as Dino Dai Zovi suggests.

The Apple iHome?

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

“Apple Inc. will become the hub of the digital home by 2013.”

So says Forrester Research, according to Darren Waters on the BBC News site. Forrester argues that Apple will build its home-entertainment empire on 8 key pillars:

  • The Mac platform
  • Apple TV
  • The bricks-and-mortar Apple Stores
  • iTunes
  • A home server
  • A universal music controller (whatever that is)
  • Network-aware devices such as music players, photo frames etc
  • Hardware installation services for home users

In fact Darren disagrees with this statement, arguing that many of the above 8 pillars are unlikely to ever make their way out of the Apple factory gates. I agree that some, such as Apple iPhotoFrames, sound a bit far-fetched. Also, why no mention of the iPod or iPhone? Does Forrester think these won’t be part of Apple’s digital media strategy?

There can be little doubt that home digital entertainment is the direction in which Apple is headed. The signs are all there:

  • Its renaming from “Apple Computer, Inc.” to “Apple, Inc.
  • Its stubborn refusal to get seriously into the corporate server market
  • The Apple TV, and Front Row on the Mac
  • iTunes, the iPod range, and AirTunes
  • The way the iTunes Store is going with movie rentals and so on

Sure, Apple will continue to make great inroads into home entertainment, but will it be the “hub of the digital home”? I’d say it’s quite likely for existing Apple users like myself, who already watch and listen to most of their content on the iMac or Apple TV in the living room. But I’d imagine that most families of the future will likely have a mixture of brands making up their digital life, much as they do now. (more…)

The reign of the mighty Steve

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Steve Jobs in Apple logoWired recently ran an interesting article discussing how Apple’s (i.e. Steve’s) corporate ethos is just plain wrong on paper – and yet, somehow, Apple manages to do everything right these days.

According to the article, Steve-o runs Apple like an old-school tyrant. He redefines “hands-on management”, inspecting every minute product detail, and frequently reduces employees to tears. And whereas many modern companies – inspired by Japanese kaizen principles, no doubt – have embraced the idea of innovation coming from employees, at Apple innovation very much follows the old top-down model. With Steve Jobs at the top.

Secret squirrel

In a world where other IT companies are baring their souls to the world, publishing product roadmaps, and open-sourcing their code left, right and centre, Apple still keeps all its new goodies close to its chest – mainly for competitive reasons no doubt, but partly, I guess, to help create that aura and mystique that die-hard Apple fans love so much.

While Linux and Windows let you mix and match your hardware and software stacks, with Apple you’re very much locked into their hardware/software combo. I quite like this vertical integration in a way, as it reminds me of the “good old days” of home computing: the world of the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Atari ST, and Amiga. And there’s no doubt that it’s a major cause of the Mac’s general stability and slickness. Nevertheless, it’s slightly unsettling, as a user, to know that I can’t switch to another brand of hardware and carry on using my current OS and apps.

Wrong = right

And yet, despite the archaic corporate regime, “Fort Knox” style product development, and hardware/software lock-in, Apple has a huge market cap, the iPod still dominates the music player market, and iTunes is now the second biggest music retailer in the US. Mac OS has doubled its market share in the last five years, and Apple recently increased shipments faster than all other PC manufacturers. What’s more, Apple employees love working at the company.

So all is rosy at Apple, despite – or likely because of – the company doing everything “wrong”. And many – including the Wired article – argue that this apparent contradiction is all down to one man: the mighty Jobs. Apple’s direction, its personality, its entire ethos is built around him. Which raises the obvious question: What will happen to Apple when His Steveness retires?

Someone – I forget who – once quipped that a viable business is one that can still be run without its creator; its strategy and direction are not dictated by one single person. It’s arguable whether Apple, in its current form, would be able to carry on sans Steve. He made Apple what it is today. He practically is Apple now.

But then again – would Microsoft be the success it is today without Bill?

[I just realised I posted this on Apple’s birthday. Complete coincidence, honest!]

iPhone: Wot no To Do list?

Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

No To Do!I realise that I’m probably in the minority here, but anyway…

The one thing that piqued my interest when I heard Apple was making a phone was the possibility of syncing my iCal calendar events and To Dos with a nice, sexy, Apple-designed PDA-phone. I currently use Missing Sync to sync with my Tungsten T2 – and while both Missing Sync and the Tungsten work, they’re not the most reliable of beasts. And I’d like to have my PDA and phone in one handy gadget. I’m a big GTD fan, so being able to sync events and To Dos is pretty much essential.

Frankly, you can keep your music playback and Google Maps – all I want is a nice way to manage my events and To Dos on the move.

So I was somewhat taken aback to discover that, not only does the iPhone not sync iCal To Dos, but it doesn’t actually have a To Do feature at all! What the…?!

It gets worse. Although it will sync iCal events, it apparently dumps all events into a single calendar. Much like the bad old days with my Tungsten, before I switched from iSync to Missing Sync. Extremely lame.

Come on, Apple – you made iCal, you made the iPhone. Can you not at least get them talking properly to each other?!

All this is probably moot anyway – I live in Australia, so probably won’t get my hands on an iPhone until 2015… 😉

iTunes Plus – I am distinctly non-plussed

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

Broken Side of the MoonI know I wrote about how wonderful the new DRM-free iTunes is a couple of weeks ago, but having actually bought something from it now, I am somewhat disappointed in the whole experience. I decided to cough up for an AAC version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, as my vinyl copy is gathering dust in the garage, due to not having a turntable any more. The purchase itself was remarkably smooth – you’d hardly know you’d handed over any dosh – but it went a bit downhill after that.

Buggered track

One of the tracks – The Great Gig in the Sky – has several glitches that sound like a CD skipping. (And there I was thinking Apple was getting its music straight from the digital masters or something – looks like they just rip the CDs in iTunes!) So naturally I fire off a support ticket (which, to be fair, is easy to do, all within iTunes).

First I get an email from Apple telling me they can’t do anything for three days because “The order containing this item is currently processing”. What the…? OK, so I can wait three days I guess (despite the fact that by now I would have returned a CD to the store and got a replacement). Three days later, I get another email, telling me they’re looking into the problem and they’ve issued me a “replacement song credit”. The email then says: “Please wait two weeks before purchasing this item again. This will give Apple time to investigate and resolve the issue, if possible, or remove the item from the store.”

TWO BLOODY WEEKS AND THREE DAYS?! And then I have to buy the track again? Apple, how about YOU tell ME when you’ve fixed the problem, and YOU SEND ME A FIXED TRACK! Ideally within 24 HOURS!

Not impressed.


iTunes: DRM-free at last

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

So we have our DRM-free iTunes in May (just). This is a really good move on the part of Apple and EMI. I’m now buying stuff on the iTunes store for the first time ever! Wonderful to be able to buy and download .m4a files from well-known and classic artists that I can play on practically anything. Fantastic stuff. 🙂 (Though I still love Bleep and Magnatune for more esoteric tuneage.)

The tracks are at 256k whereas the old DRM’d versions are 128k. The DRM-free tracks are 30% more expensive, but the albums are the same price (which suits me – I prefer buying albums, Luddite that I am). 256k is great – that’s indistinguishable from a CD as far as I’m concerned. And cheaper than a CD, too – at least here in Aus. The albums average around AUD $18 on iTunes.

In case you’re wondering, the DRM-free (and, lest we forget, higher bitrate) stuff is called “iTunes Plus”, and you access it from the iTunes Plus link at the top right of the store homepage (at least on the Australian store). The basic idea seems to be you can browse the DRM-free music from the iTunes Plus page. The iTunes Store also offered to set a preference in iTunes ensuring that I’m always shown the DRM-free versions of any songs I browse. I clicked Yes; however this preference appears to be non-existent in iTunes>Preferences>Store (anyone know where I can find it?!) (UPDATE 31 May: Found the bugger: Store>View My Account>(enter password)>click Manage iTunes Plus.)

The other oddity is that search appears to be completely borked – how can they not have any Coldplay on the site?!

No search results in iTunes

(Not that I’d buy any Coldplay, but still…)

Apart from these slight weirdnesses, it all looks pretty encouraging. Now we just need the indie labels, as well as the other majors, to follow suit!

Hands-on with screenshots over at Engadget.

iTunes on Windows: A glass of ice water in hell

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

Jobs can always be relied upon to entertain in one form or another, but in his interview with Walt Mossberg at the D5 conference today, he gave what has to be his best soundbite yet. Check it out at the end (around 10:08):

I’m looking forward to the Jobs/Gates double whammy later on – should be just as entertaining 🙂