May 08, 2007

G5 display problems solved

I've been having some trouble with my G5 over the last couple of months. Intermittently, it wouldn't boot up, though the power LED would light, and the drives seemed to spin up to speed.

At first, I thought it was an immediate kernel panic, possibly resulting from my keyboard or mouse drivers, partly because it didn't appear that holding down "shift" for safe boot or "C" to boot from the optical drive had any effect. At first, it seemed like it would boot every 2nd time I tried, but as weeks went by, it seemed to be less likely. Fortunately, the machine is very reliable, and didn't need to be rebooted, except for System Updates. Unfortunately, there have been a lot of system updates lately.

I discovered that if I opened up the case, reset the Power Manager, and put everything back together, the machine would boot cleanly. I did a little more web research, and discovered this link from the Mac Owners Support Group, which led eventually to this Apple support database entry. It turns out that there's a known issue with certain ATI video cards, which show up in System Profiler as Card Model "ATY, RV350." Mine is an RV360, but other sufferers reported a fix just from removing and reseating their video card.

That fixed it for me, as well, and pointed up the worst part of the otherwise brilliant G5 case design: The screws that hold cards in place are hard to get a screwdriver on, because they're (a couple of inches) behind a lip. If you've got an offset screwdriver, this is the place for it.

UPDATE 5/24/07: This didn't actually fix things. Somehow, I got two consecutive reboots without a failure, but not three. When the new Security Update came out today, I installed it, then shut down the machine, reset the PMU, unplugged the power cord and all the cables, and rebooted. The machine came up, worked on installing the updates for a while, then rebooted again. D'oh! Since then, I've been unable to get the machine to come up at all, and somehow, I've made things worse -- now the machine only flashes the LED for a half-second when I try to reboot. More as it happens.

May 8, 2007 in Apple - Desktops, General computing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 22, 2007

The more I use Windows...

So, my work laptop, which is only 3 months old, has been a little wonky lately, and got much worse when I installed MS Visual Studio today so I could, you know, do some work with it.

After the installation, it wouldn't launch applications from within Windows. I could double-click an app, or choose it from the “Start” menu, and the hourglass would appear for a couple of seconds, then turn back into a cursor.

So I decided to reinstall the OS. This was about a 3 hour process, interrupted once when I realized the “Dynamic Installation” step was hosed, but couldn't (despite the onscreen instructions) escape out of it. Finally got a clean install process, then Windows rebooted, and on reboot, “Windows Out-of-box Experience” threw a memory error (‘The instruction at 0x-hexaddress- referenced memory at 0x00000000. The memory could not be “written.” ’) Then it prompted me to log in, noticed that my copy of Windows hadn't been verified by the mothership yet, and launched the Windows Out-of-box Experience (msoobe.exe to its friends). Repeat as many times as you can stand it.

Frustrating thing 1: I already entered the 20-character key from the bottom of the laptop. Frustrating thing 2: It won't let me do anything until I'm “verified” by the boys in Redmond. Frustrating thing 3: There's very little installed on this machine that didn't come from Microsoft itself or from Dell. I find myself force-quitting two programs in particular every time I want to reboot: ipoint.exe (Microsoft's mouse driver for my MS mouse) and itype.exe (Microsoft's keyboard driver for their ergo keyboard).

March 22, 2007 in General computing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 25, 2007

Is there a miniBook in the pipeline?

Apple Recon | Mac Book Mini

Apple Recon is reporting on rumors that Apple has a subnotebook in process, with specs and pricing in between the MacBook and MacBook Pro. The rumors suggest a 3.5 pound package, with a 12" 1280 x 800 monitor, hard drive and optical drive (and possibly a new caching flash drive as well), and 6 hour battery life.

If this comes to pass, I will be sorely tempted. My two favorite laptops of all time are the PowerBook 2400c and the 12" PowerBook.

I know such a machine is possible -- I'm currently using one, even if it has a Dell logo. It's not 3.5 pounds, and I'm sure Apple will bring other innovations to theirs (Apple Recon speculates on an LED backlight and the flash drive), but my Dell XPS M1210 matches this rumor, to be announced in June, today.

The base system is 4.3 pounds, and about the same size as a PowerBook 12", but it's got a lot of features I would be surprised to see in the final Apple release, as well: S-Video out, 2 gigs of memory with support for 4 gigs, and an ExpressCard 54 slot. Mine's got an extended battery, and it's good for 4-5 hours of wireless use, enough that I haven't really noticed the battery life. The 256-meg nVidia 7400 video card drives my 20" widescreen display alongside the internal LCD, and nVidia supplies a software wizard to gracefully set up multiple displays. There's plenty I don't like, of course: Something about the keyboard feels like it's coming off on my fingers, and there are media keys along the front of the case that I keep bumping by mistake. The topcase is a black plastic that picks up oil from my hands every time I pick it up. It's got the glossy screen, which is very bright, but I've found myself in two situations where I had to move the laptop to eliminate glare. If I were using it in the field, that number would be higher.

I love the rumored specs for an Apple subnotebook, although I wish it could fit an ExpressCard, since its target market (knowledge workers and execs on the go) are likely to take advantage of high-speed cellular wireless connections. Also, I hope the rumor is wrong about a 2-gHz ceiling on clock speed. If Apple addresses this giant, yet tiny, hole in its portable line, the machine should have at least a nominal speed increase over the MacBook.

January 25, 2007 in Apple, Apple - General, Apple - PowerBooks, General computing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 21, 2006

Who'll buy a Zune?

Gizmodo | Exclusive Microsoft Zune Details

So details are beginning to leak about Microsoft's next iPod competitor, the Zune.

To recap for those who aren't following closely, Microsoft has decided to ditch its many hardware partners who have been part of the PlaysForSure initiative, and to recreate much of what has worked for the iPod. Instead of competing hardware providers offering a confusing mix of players, the Zune will be Microsoft-branded, allowing Redmond to keep control of the whole user experience, in the same way Apple does with the iPod.

PlaysForSure (which is, at best, on life support now) also allowed a plethora of online music stores, as Microsoft hoped to leverage brands familiar and credible to a variety of consumers, including MTV's URGE, Napster, and Wal-Mart. The Zune will apparently debut a monolithic Microsoft music store, much like the iTunes Music Store.

The single thing that I get the least is that the Zune is supposed to be Microsoft's "iPod killer for Christmas 2006", but it's apparently slated for release in mid-November.

Contrast that with the original iPod, which was released in October 2001, and was still widely considered a mistake long after the 2001 Christmas season had come and gone. Only wide-eyed Apple fanboys (like me) and people who had suffered through the hackish, inferior flash-based systems that came before (like me) were buying iPods for Christmas 2001 (and yes, I remember there were other hard drive players before the iPod).

So enter the Zune. There aren't really a ton of Microsoft fanboys out there, since Microsoft's hardware offerings are currently limited to Xbox, keyboards and mice. The Zune that's emerging from leaked stories around the net doesn't appear to offer any generational leap features when stacked up against a video iPod or nano. It's got a beefier processor than the current iPod video, but the next-gen iPod is expected Any Time Now.

There are hints of a Zune that interfaces with your Xbox, but those are out somewhere in the gray murky future. As a PSP fighter, leveraging Xbox titles, letting me transfer saved game state and highlight films to other Xboxes or the internet, you've got something new and interesting, but for now it's roughly on par with the iPod for features. WiFi may or may not ship with the first-gen box; there's a menu item for it in the prototypes.

For now, it appears the killer app at launch will be FM transmission and reception, so that you could listen to my Zune's music from your Zune, encouraging social sharing (but not sharing like file sharing, since you couldn't then take my music with you). They'll also include content at purchase, including EMI music videos.

From a marketing perspective, Microsoft faces a difficult task: They've got to simultaneously launch a brand, a device, and an online service, and they've got to do it between mid-November and Christmas, or concede another holiday season in which the iPod will get even more entrenched with consumers. From a decade-long perspective, it could happen, but it's not a threat to iPod hegemony for Christmas 2006.

My prediction: This thing won't sell well until it can move beyond the iPod.

Some Zune blogs:

Zuneluv | Microsoft Zune and Podcasting

Notes that there's been no discussion of support for podcasting in the Zune details released so far, and that Microsoft is likely to include content at purchase.

Zune Insider Blog

August 21, 2006 in Apple - iPod, General computing, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 14, 2006

iTunes 6.02: Now with video sharing

With all the attention on the new ministore presentation, no one seems to have noticed that iTunes 6.02 enables video-sharing to your local network. Whether it's intended for an upcoming home media appliance or not I don't know, but it brings videos up to par with music.

Neither Apple's main iTunes page nor its “Share & Stream” page mention this, and the Share & Stream page refers multiple times to “music sharing,” but it's definitely enabled, as the screenshot below demonstrates.


Once you've installed iTunes 6.02, that machine will publish a “Videos” playlist, visible to but not accessible by iTunes 6.01.

There's still some weirdness going on. I've upgraded to 6.02 on my wife's iMac, and I can't see two videos she bought with an earlier version of iTunes. From my daughter's partition on my G5, I can stream a music video she bought Thursday (probably with 6.02), but can't see two movies I converted to .m4v format after capturing them on my EyeTV, even though they show up as Videos in iTunes.

I'm experimenting now to see if I can figure out a way to make the older videos show up for sharing, and how to export EyeTV movies that can be shared. If you have any insight, please e-mail me.

Update: Blue Coconut, the application for downloading music from a networked playlist, works exactly the same with video files.

Update 1/19: Welcome readers. I'm still looking for info on how iTunes decides which videos to display (I encoded a TV episode the other night, and get full audio, but only a still frame when I try to stream it). If you have any insights, please comment.

January 14, 2006 in Apple, Apple - Software, General computing, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (12)

March 08, 2005

Windows tech support

So my inlaws called last week with computer problems. I knew that meant either some sort of misconfiguration or corrupted file had hit their Windows box, or a malware, spyware, or virus infection.

The box in question is a Compaq iPaq 733 with a piddling 128 megs of RAM, running Windows 2000, and connecting to the internet through AOL. I suggested they bring it over, so I could download hunter programs and other utilities, and they did.

It was last rebuilt a year or so ago, by a tech support professional that works with Christy's brother. I don't think they were running Windows Update regularly since then (yet another reason broadband trumps dialup; it needs to be dirt simple and quick to download patches).

Fired it up, and it was pretty apparent what's going on. They've got one or more dialer programs, which take over your modem and dial numbers you don't want (including 900 numbers). I downloaded Spybot Search & Destroy, and it quickly found about 60 different strains of malware. Naturally, I chose to delete 'em all, rebooted, and lets see what we've got....

Bring up Explorer, and I'm faced with a nonstandard toolbar, bogus home page and search fields, and more. A legion of InstallShield warnings pops up, asking if I want to install any of a very shady bunch of programs. I choose 'no' on all of them, but I have a feeling some bad things are going on. When I reboot, sure enough, I've got several of the same symptoms I had before upgrading.

I can't even run Windows Update on that version of Windows 2000 Pro, so I decide to upgrade to XP. As soon as I have, I download Microsoft's own Spyware Tool (in beta), and it looks like I'm starting to get the upper hand. It claims to clean registry hacks, programs loaded in memory, and files on the hard drive. So I start updating XP to the latest patches, and while I'm doing so, I start to get redirect pages popping up around the installation. Clearly, it's not clean.

I went so far as to start rooting through the registry with RegEdit, but there are too many roaches, and too few hours. I've found a few people who claim they've cleaned a Windows infection, but they must be smarter than me: I finally copied as much data as I could over to a Mac, and wiped the drive. While I was cleaning their box off, my mother called with similar symptoms.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing is the feeling that the crapware writers have the upper hand: Even with $30 billion in the bank, the year dedicated to improving Windows security, and how high a priority it must be, Microsoft can't produce a tool that can reliably remove all the crapware from their flagship OS.

One useful discovery: Grisoft's AVG, which is available free for individual home users.

On the one hand, what a gigantic pain in the butt. On the other, what better reinforcement for Mac user's smugness?

March 8, 2005 in General computing | Permalink | Comments (1)

November 29, 2004

Hello, iServe?

Apple to rule family room with entertainment server? | MacMinute News

The market for a small appliance server that could handle multimedia feels a lot like the MP3 player market pre-iPod these days.

Merrill Lynch analysts have finally caught on to what some of us have been saying for literally years: "A 200GB Apple server at a reasonable price and possibly with PVR technology could be Apple's next category killer," the firm said.

There are more and more other players getting into the space: the latest is Axentra, who offer a HomeSeries NetBox starting at exactly the $499 price point I've suggested.

Their server is clean and white, gleaming like an iBook, although the back is still PC-ugly. Reviews have been mixed, noting especially a quite noisy fan: one reviewer notes "This is not a trivial problem. You likely would not want to place the Net-Box in a room where you were going to work all the time, and certainly not near sleeping areas."

As in 2001, there are enough competitors out there (Windows Media Center PCs, Axentra, the Linksys NSLU2), at all different price points, to validate the market. If somebody just combined an elegant, near-silent piece of hardware with an optimized server OS and streaming software, they would be poised for an iPod-like market dominator.

One of the reviewers quoted above says "there's probably not a lot of home and SOHO users, the target market, buying into Axentra's idea of server-based computing, even though there is something to be said for it. The concept is just a little too sophisticated." Talk about not getting it.

These computer things are supposed to do sophisticated things. How many people do you know that own domains? How many with family or small business e-mail addresses? How many with hobby, charity, or business-card web pages? How 'bout digital cameras, or DV camcorders? How many people own Tivos? How many have home networks and broadband? All these people are doing the sort of "sophisticated" things the Axentra, or an iServe, should make simple.

On the other hand, the Windows Media Center PCs are still, first and foremost, PCs. They don't make much of an effort to become an appliance, or to integrate with all the other PCs or Macs you probably have in your house already. Being PCs, they have to provide all the features people expect in PCs: floppy drives, optical drives, card slots and hard drive bays. All of these drive up prices and complexity.

The Linksys has the advantage of being pretty inexpensive, but it seems a little underpowered for media streaming, and all of the interesting stuff is being done outside of Linksys.

The Axentra is very much what I have in mind. If Apple doesn't launch a similar product by the time my clunky old K6-450 Linux box gives up the ghost, this looks like a great alternative.

November 29, 2004 in Apple, General computing, iServe and home servers | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 14, 2004

'Tis the season for Palm(One)istry

Every self-respecting geek knows that the best way to solve a problem is to get another gadget.

The problem: I'm now on the hook to update my company's signs whenever the Indians have a game. It's worked out fairly well so far, but I foresee having to carry my laptop a lot. The browser on my cell-phone a) doesn't support SSH port-forwarding (it might support a VPN; I need to check), and b) is linked up to a keyboard that would take 3 weeks to enter a 500 to 700-character update.

I haven't used a Palm for a while, but this sounds like a Palm-shaped hole to me (or Pocket PC, but I just never have warmed to them, and they're likely to have significantly worse support for my Macs). I suspect there are new Palms due to arrive any day, since they've been offering rebates and discounts since the beginning of the year, but I'm ready to pull the trigger, so I'm limiting myself to current models. Also, the death of the PDA is being widely predicted, so I've got another chance to be marginalized here.

My first thought was the Tungsten C. When introduced a year ago, reviews were almost uniformly positive, and it introduced the new-generation Palm OS 5 and 400-mhz Xscale processor. It has 64 megs of memory, a generously sized thumb board, and built-in 802.11b (Wi-Fi). It's missing Bluetooth, stereo sound, and a microphone. Prices on the Tungsten C are nose-diving now: Originally $499, PalmOne launched a rebate in January, turned it into a price drop a week or so ago, and now they're widely available for $350 or less.

Next up was the Treo 600, current lust object of alphageeks everywhere. It's about $600, and could use my T-Mobile SIM and (slowish) GPRS networking. It has a thumb board, but I found the buttons too close together to use comfortably. It lacks Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, but is a great size and could replace my phone, to boot.

I seriously considered Sony's Clie UX-50. It's the only Palm OS PDA I saw with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, which means it could use the best available wireless network as I roam. It's got a slick twist-and-fold clamshell display, like many Tablet PCs, a very high-resolution display, a camera, and a thumb board. I found it hard to hold position on the thumb board, since the keys are flush, and you can't tell where your thumbs are by touch. Sony has also made some "improvements" to the look of the Palm OS, and they don't work for me. Cliés require an additional program to sync with the Mac. Pricing is around $600. Despite its small size, this one is the most laptop-like of the PDAs I looked at.

While browsing, I considered the Tungsten W. It's in the same chassis as the Tungsten C (cool kids abbreviate them as the T|C and T|W), but with GPRS wireless instead of 802.11. It also has a much slower processor and one-fourth the memory, but for about the same money (such a deal). I have an account with T-Mobile, so I could swap my SIM card from cell-phone to Tungsten 10 times a day, and take advantage of the $20/month unlimited data add-on plan I have. The existence of the Treo, and PalmOne's recent acquisition of Handspring, suggest that the Tungsten W is not long for our plane of existence.

Then I met the Tungsten T3. Being sold alongside the Tungsten T and the Tungsten T2, the T3 has the processor and memory from the T|C with an even bigger (320 x 480) display, and with Bluetooth instead of Wi-Fi. It drops the thumb board. I see the T3 as the conceptual offspring of the Palm V I used to carry. It's sleek and functional, and the ability to switch from portrait to landscape is a very nice feature. I tried the T3 with my cell phone, and the pairing process was absurdly easy, easier than pairing on the Mac. The T3 even knew about the two levels of GPRS service that T-Mobile provides, and let me choose between them.

Ideally, I want to really use this thing a lot. I would love to be able to take it instead of a laptop on day trips. It would be cool if I could use it for light surfing and weblogging around the house, instead of carrying the laptop around.

There's Wi-Fi available at home, at work, and at a number of local restaurants and stores, but I'm probably going to have to use GPRS service occasionally, so there needs to be a way to hook the PDA up to my Nokia 3650 for data. I initially thought that would require Bluetooth, especially once I learned that the 3650 doesn't support a cable connection. Then I realized that infrared still works, so I could use IrDA to get the data in and out of my phone.

If I was using it as a PDA, I would go with the T3. It's reasonably priced, powerful, and has a great, large display. Instead, I'm seeing this as the world's smallest laptop, and a laptop's got to have a keyboard. The Treo's thumb board doesn't work for me. The UX-50 just feels like trouble waiting to happen, between the iffy Mac support, the elaborate hinge mechanism, and the Clié-flavored Palm OS enhancements. I like the keyboard, and nothing else, about the Tungsten W, which brings us to our winner, the Tungsten C. It has a display as bright but not as big as the T3, a comfy thumb board, and built-in WiFi. I've seen a few complaints about the C being delicate, but it feels fairly solid, and Palms have been pretty good to me.

Pricing at Amazon was great -- I paid $338. I may not feel quite so smug when the C2 comes out, but I haven't even seen any concrete rumors on the next generation. I picked up an expansion card with a dozen games, including SimCity and Shanghai for less than $30.

And, bearing the ruggedness rumors in mind, I picked up a case from UniQase at the PalmOne store. The case is also available (with optional personalization) direct from the manufacturer.

The Palm world is a lot different than it was 3 years ago when I was a regular user of a Palm VIIx. That one was monochrome, 160 x 160 resolution, with 8 megs of RAM, and the fastest networking BellSouth (doing business as could provide.

I'll be posting through and about the Tungsten over the next few weeks.

April 14, 2004 in General computing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 06, 2004

Update and some detail on “Running a Business...”

I'm overwhelmed by the response to my posting on how we're running my new company. It's been linked on a lot of sites that I read all the time, and a few that I'm just discovering, and I appreciate those links.

First, a few clarifications: Nobody would consider us an ‘enterprise’ — we've got seven employees or in-house contractors at the moment. On the other hand, that means we work with a lot more outside partners, on construction, manufacturing, and transit operations, so we rely on the Mac’s ability to read documents from the Windows world and work on them.

Second, some more specifics on what we‘re using:

  • AEC's FastTrack Schedule. Early in MTNI's life cycle, I bought MS Project for the Mac, then (and still) frozen in Version 4.0, which shipped on (8?) floppy disks. It stopped working with OS 9, if I remember correctly, but by then, I had discovered FastTrack, which handles resource management, dependencies, and a whole lot of project management stuff I don't begin to understand.
  • OmniGraffle is a terrific diagramming tool we’ve used for network diagrams, station sketches, and other drawing tasks.
  • As I mentioned previously, we still use Office for the Mac for office apps.
  • I use Entourage X for e-mail, mostly so I can use Softhing's Entourage E-mail Archive X, which I use to archive my e-mail out to FileMaker Pro. Everyone else is using Apple’s Mail.
  • Microsoft's Remote Desktop Connection, to (rarely) drive the single XP box from one of our Macs

I’m not going to go into much depth on our server software, but we use Python, PostGreSQL, and Apache, and build from there.

We’ve experimented with MovableType for a group weblog, but it hasn't taken off yet. I’m also intrigued by the capabilities of VoodooPad, and am considering building one or more project wikis with it.

February 6, 2004 in Apple, Apple - General, General computing, Work | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 04, 2004

Running a business on OS X and Linux

In my previous job, I was CTO of a company, MTNI, that sought to put advertising-supported LED signs in transit stations. We had pilot projects with the Cleveland RTA and with Atlanta’s MARTA. We converted both those pilot projects to long-term contracts, but the CEO couldn’t generate sufficient investment to build out the systems, and the company closed down in January 2003, nine months after the CEO came to me and said he wasn’t paying me for the month I had just finished working, let alone the months to come.

Fortunately, the lead investor in the old company had a secured investment, and therefore inherited the company’s assets in February 2003. We sat down, and decided there was a supportable business model, a couple of contracts that were ready to go, and possibilities for future growth.

I learned a lot from the last go-round, and from my time at At CNN, I worked in tech support, which gave me a valuable perspective on a rapidly growing company whose needs were being met by a few “cowboy coders,” who threw together solutions in rapid-deployment systems like FileMaker, Perl, and AppleScript. Then, the “professionals” came in, and started building massive, complicated, Windows-only applications using Visual C++, MFC, and CORBA (success story from 1997; I'm not sure any of the applications mentioned are still in use). The cowboys were sent packing, but the software from the corporatists broke a lot more and was harder to support and troubleshoot. And rapid response? We’ll get that right on the development calendar.

Meanwhile, I built and then managed the development of a fairly complex web-interfaced system to handle support requests and tracking, in FileMaker and Lasso, as a full-time project initially, but later as one small part of my job. The development effort was more cowboy than corporate, so there was one 37-hour day when the product first launched, but it was simple to use, simple to maintain, and simple to debug. It ran on Windows and Mac (later, through the web, on Solaris and Linux), managed daily work for 12 to 30 users, and sent critical updates directly to their pagers. It went down unexpectedly once in four years, when we let its primary drive run out of space (d'oh!).

When I left CNN to the new company, there was a software project already underway, that was to be Java and browser based, but which the largish development shop migrated into a standalone Java app, with Windows support immediately and Mac support eventually. Backending the app were IIS and SQL Server. When they showed us a user interface prototype, and we had changes to suggest, they were almost uniformly “out of scope” (silly me, I thought the client could best define the project’s scope). It wasn't a great surprise when the company filed for bankruptcy before they completed the project.

I'm a Mac bigot from way back. My experience at CNN reinforced my experience supporting the Mac users at Coca-Cola, and in mixed lab environments at the University of Georgia that Macs are (and, even before OS X, were) easier and less expensive to keep running (and most of those studies don’t factor in the most important cost, the cost of lost output for users while some tech is banging on their PC).

MTNI was a mixed environment; we had Linux and Windows servers, Macs and PCs on desktops, and signs running embedded DOS. The Linux servers ran custom Python code that gathered and distributed news, sports, and weather, transit updates, and provided a web interface to the signs. To adequately support the Windows servers, I hired a Windows system administrator I had worked with at CNN, who knew all about Windows, but used it anyway.

The new company is significantly more Unix-y, with a PC laptop for the CFO and the CEO, but Macs for everybody else, and Linux servers running Python and PostgreSQL all around. I gave my developers a choice when I brought them aboard, and they both wanted Macs. They're both new-generation Mac users, with zero or little experience before OS X, and their primary editor and development interface is vi, despite my offers of BBEdit or whatever else. I've bought copies of MS Office for everyone — it's still more work not to have it than to have it.

I hired the same, now former, Windows system administrator, but got him a 15" PowerBook, with Virtual PC, in case he backslides. I don't know if he's even fired VPC up yet, but he keeps dropping things he can't believe are so much simpler on his Mac.

Since they're vi users, I couldn't even see the point in buying the developers G5s, so we saved quite a bit of money by going with 17" G4 iMacs. I spent an hour or two on each of the machines, and I have literally never logged into them since, and none of our Macs has (knock on wood) been down or required any support attention in a combined 3.5 man-years of use.

Since there's literally no work involved to support it, we use Rendezvous to share iTunes, and chat and transfer files over iChat. I wish Address Book had Rendezvous sharing, so we could publish a subset of our contacts. Update 2/4/04: Now you can.Update to Update 2/4/04: Address-o-sync is a neat proof of concept, but we had some issues almost immediately, and I think I prefer the “iTunes” sharing model (pull from whatever computers are visible) to the “iSync” sharing model for contact data.

We've had to spend a good deal of time, and a fair amount of money, building our own interface to manage some signs that also offer a limited Windows interface through a proprietary DLL, but the capabilities we've added by developing it ourself and the deeper knowledge we've gained of our key products more than outweigh those costs.

Python gives us development flexibility, the ability to easily add in other libraries, and fairly simple integration with databases. Since developers tend to write about the same number of lines in whatever language they're using, my programmers have been very productive, and better able to deal with quirks introduced by flaky bosses. For more on the advantages of scripting languages in comparison to traditional system languages, check out John Ousterhout's Scripting: Higher Level Programming for the 21st Century, from the March 1998 edition of IEEE Computer.

I really can't think of anything we've really needed, and been unable to find for the Mac. I've had to convert CAD drawings into other formats to view, but the average business doesn't have PCs with CAD software installed, so I think that's a wash.

Where our 6 Macs have required essentially zero support (again, knocking on wood), the two PCs have not. The CFO had a Toshiba Satellite, and now an IBM ThinkPad, that between them have chewed up several days of support, over setup for her MP3 player, upgrades to her accounting package, and problems upgrading Norton Antivirus. And that's ignoring what a pain it is to switch it onto our wireless network when she visits, between IBM's wireless card interface and XP's wireless control panel, and the need to convert the alphanumeric WEP key we all have memorized into a hex key to log her in. My Mac switches between three different access points, and two wired connections, and I never have to type a password.

I'm not saying that Macs and Linux boxes are no work, but the work, it seems to me, is focused on the solution at hand, rather than the problem of the moment. It looks like I'm continuing to marginalize the Windows boxes — our CEO wants an iMac when we move into our new space next week.

Update: I've posted some more details of how we work.

February 4, 2004 in General computing, Work | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack