Sun, 20 Feb 2005

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bluetooth ipods

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I knew it was only a matter of time. Bluetooth-enabled iPods. (It's only a rumor.)

21:24:09 20 Feb 2005 > /computers/macosx/ipod > permalink > 6 comments

Sun, 06 Feb 2005

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mac mini

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Now, mind you, I don't have one of these myself, although I am currently saving up for it. A review of the Mac Mini entitled "The Emperor's New Computer" has been penned by Jorge Lopez, a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, which rehashes a lot of strawmen arguments about Apple Computers in general that have been circulating since the early '90's by Windows/x86 die-hards. I couldn't help wonder if this wasn't a piece of satire, since the arguments are way off base.

Some of these arguments are truly ridiculous. Take the criticism that the Mini lacks PS/2 ports, parallel ports, and (I assume, DB-9) serial ports. Seriously, what modern peripheral does not plug into a USB port? Are you really going to want to attach your circa 1995 PS/2 mouse, keyboard and Centronics parallel printer to a computer built in 2005? A decent USB optical mouse and keyboard can be had for $20-$30 total. And who really still uses 3.5" 1.44 MB floppies? A 128 MB USB Flash drive can be had for the cost of 20 floppies these days.

The lack of expansibility is perhaps a more reasonable criticism, but then again, Apple is not marketing the Mini as a full-on computer. It is marketing it as an appliance, a media center. It has the same sort of satellite relationship a gaming console (such as, for example, the XBox) has to a full desktop and/or notebook computer. These machines are not meant to replace your personal computer. And if you really want to, although it is more expensive then merely popping in a 3.5" hard drive into an open drive bay, you can daisy chain 127 external drives via Firewire, or you can connect them by USB 2.0.

I can't believe he knocks the fact that it makes no noise while operating. Isn't this what everyone wants? What kind of moron doesn't know if they turned an appliance on? Early gaming consoles didn't have fans that made noise, and 8 year old children were competent enough to know that the damn thing was on. Come on!

His mischaracterization of MacOS X is really ridiculous, though. He is trying to argue that MacOS X is not as advanced as Windows, never bringing up the fact that MacOS X is in fact a UNIX variant (techinically, more so than Linux is, but we won't get into that right now.) Meaning that it is technology that has stood the test of time, the type of OS you can depend on in mission-critical scenarios. (OK, so you might not be screwing around with a GUI when you are in truly mission-critical scenarios, but, hey this is UNIX, you can boot into a command-line if you are truly hackerish.)

And since the early 1990s, just exactly what sort of application can you run on Windows that you can't run on MacOS? There are MacOS X versions of Microsoft Office, all industry standard desktop publishing and image processing programs are available for MacOS X, many advanced video editing and audio editing programs are only available for MacOS X, and if you really need to run Minesweeper or Solitaire in all it's crashable glory, you can run WinXP on top of Virtual PC (which, by the way, is now a Microsoft product.)

Yes, I know. The argument is games. But, really, this is a marketing and economic issue. There is no techinical reason you can't play games on a Mac. The typical performance bottleneck in a first-person shooter is the video card, but Macs use the same AGP video cards that x86-based systems use. Hell, one of the first person shooters ever created (Marathon, written by Bungee, the company responsible for the wildly popular Halo series) was written exclusively for the Mac, and this was in the early '90's Sure, it's a pain in the ass to port code written for DirectX APIs to anything else, but the limitation is economic, not technical. Just look at the popular games that have been ported to Mac OS and even to Linux: Civilizations, Warcraft III, even Halo. But honestly, if you're really a die-hard gamer, and you're into more than just first-person shooters like Half-Life, you really should be getting a game console and not screwing around with your computer that is likely to BSOD at a critical juncture in the game before you even saved.

The e-mail criticism is bizarre as well. Mail.app is a really excellent mailreader, especially when you consider it comes with the OS, unlike Outlook (the full version.) And if you really want to run Microsoft software, there's nothing stopping you from installing Microsoft Entourage, which I understand is actually superior to Microsoft Outlook.

What is really laughable is the criticism of the lack of antivirus software, defragmenter, and registry cleaner. While I recognize that Macs are not immune to viruses, UNIX systems are simply more robust. Consider that the Internet is run mostly by computers running a variant of UNIX. MacOS X makes the wise choice of not allowing the newbie user to run around as root, unlike Windows, which gives the first user account admin privileges, allowing one to trash one's computer willy-nilly. Without root access/admin privileges, it is pretty difficult to spread viruses and worms. Not to say that it's not impossible, just that it's less likely.

With a modern filesystem like HFS+, what in hell do you need a defragmenter for? Sure, fragmentation happens, but it is not the performance sucking problem that it is with FAT16 or FAT32. Note that NTFS (another modern filesystem) needs far less attention to defragmentation than it's DOS-based cousins.

The lack of a registry cleaner could be a problem, although, again, access to the Netinfo Registry is limited to the admin (i.e., you need to explicity type your password if you or a program wants to make changes.) You can't just blindly mangle your registry like you can on Windows, and there are very few reasons why a newbie would want to go mucking around in Netinfo.

I do not foresee the Mini getting unstable and slow in a couple of months. I've known users who have uptimes of a couple of months—i.e., not rebooting— with very little performance loss.

I do wonder what sort of software this guy is running. If a particular package doesn't exist, I am certain there is an equivalent, hell maybe even a Free or Open Source equivalent. And if you're really missing all those performance-killing gewgaws and doodads swirling around in your web browser, go ahead an install Mozilla Firefox and it's plugins. With regards to keeping track your passwords, it's built into the OS. Keychain.app will track your web passwords, e-mail passwords, and certificates if you want it to.

This is where the article descends into what may well be a gotcha. The author makes such absurd claims that perhaps this is a subtly written piece of satire, and the last few paragraphs is the "Ha-ha, fooled you into taking me seriously." For example, take how he tries to install MS Office for Windows onto a Mac. Or the fact that he mindlessly refers to the hard drive as C:\, which means nothing to a system that is not based on MS-DOS. Who the hell wants to run IE 5.2 anyway, which is ancient, not standards compliant, and which might actually open up your Mac to serious security risks? Run Safari, run Firefox. You've got choices. IE is a piece of trash that's not going to be updated until Microsoft releases Longhorn.

And then the fact that most of the software he runs is simply stuff that keeps his computer from otherwise crashing. Sad.

Anyway, I figure anyone who is going to buy a Mini knows exactly what they're going to use it for. For a file server/media center (mp3 player, photo storage, DVD player, etc.) that can be effortlessly added to a LAN (Rendevous/Zeroconf, baby!) $499 is not a bad price at all, and you don't need to assemble it yourself or try to hunt down obscure drivers for your cut-rate no-name Taiwanese peripherals. If you really hate Mac OS, you can probably easily get Linux to run on it. What more could a real hacker ask for? Sure, the stylishness might be a minus in that regard, but hey, nothings perfect.

12:08:13 6 Feb 2005 > /computers/macosx > permalink > 0 comments

Tue, 10 Aug 2004

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leverage and the ipod

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John Gruber's essay on Daring Fireball about the mythical Apple vs. Microsoft conflict illuminates the late history of the personal computer. Few probably remember that before the Macintosh and before MS-DOS—in the early history of the personal computer—there were several personal computer vendors such as Commodore, Tandy, Atari, as well as the IBM (with their PC) and Apple (with the Apple II) and they all pretty much had similar market shares. Homogenization was only apparent in the business world, and back in the day, personal computer was more synonymous with home use. From the business perspective, IBM (later supplanted by the combination of Intel and Microsoft) was really just breaking into a market previously dominated by UNIX and CP/M, which, in reality, is a wholly different paradigm compared to what personal computers had been up to that time.

Eventually, UNIX was proclaimed dead (and it may well have been, if not for the Free Software Foundation and the GNU suite of tools, which allowed the various open source BSDs to exist, and which eventually spawned Linux—but that's another tale to tell.) The personal computer (in the avatar of IBM PC-DOS and later Microsoft's MS-DOS) had defeated the mainframes and the minicomputers. The client-server model was obsolete, and the x86 platform reigned. (Oh, the irony, huh?)

In this context, you could interpret the popularity of Windows simply as Intel and Microsoft leveraging their dominance in the business world into dominance in the home.

In this saga, I think Apple's only real direct competitor was Commodore, who came out with the awesome machine known as the Amiga. Interestingly, the Macintosh and the Amiga ran on similar hardware (that is, on Motorola-based processors) Who knows how history would've changed if Commodore had managed to stay alive?


John Gruber makes the dichotomy that Apple is idealistic, whereas Microsoft is pragmatic, and uses the way they leverage (or don't leverage) their success to extend their dominance as examples of their philosophy. In betting terms, this is known as the parlay—of taking all your previous winnings and laying it all down on the next wager. Microsoft has succeeded so far with parlaying their OS monopoly on x86-based hardware through various evolutions (from MS-DOS to Windows XP) and using this OS domiance to corner the market on productivity suites—with the behemoth known as MS Office. If you think about it, Microsoft really doesn't do that much more than these two products—the OS and the office suite. Everything else has been icing on the cake, or more frequently, have been horrific blunders and miserable failures.

In contrast, Gruber notes that Apple has seemingly never relied on the parlay to create their products. The Macintosh in reality directly competed with their more popular Apple II series. The Newton was intended to be a desktop computer replacement rather than the adjunct that PDAs are. NeXT Step was a clean break from Mac OS.

Maybe the iPod isn't really that different, but thinking about it makes a different paradigm apparent.

Perhaps because Apple has not been chasing the holy grail known as market share, they have been able to muster a different kind of resource. I do not think it would be exaggeration to say that Apple's greatest resource is its reputation of creating innovative products, backed by actual creative talent to implement their ideas. It has become conventional wisdom that, while Apple products are not cheap or as popular, they are certainly pretty and generally awesome. Again, the Macintosh, the Newton, the Powerbook, and the iBook are cases in point. (As an aside, I would hazard to say that Sony had a similar reputation up until they became beholden to the bottomline and the corporate culture. Hence the failure of their Walkman mp3 player, but that's quite tangential.) I think these are the resources that Apple successfully parlays. And thus the iPod was born.

While the first two generations were completely beholden to Apple hardware, now at the height of its popularity, the iPod isn't really tied to the Macintosh either. But it should be noted that the iPod's marketshare among mp3 players was already significant before they rolled out their cross-platform products. Who knows what would've happened if they had continued to tie the iPod to the Mac?

For once, it appears the Apple is actually being pragmatic.

So the iPod spawned the iTunes Music Store. The convergence of Airport and iTunes (few will remember that Apple was one of the first to embrace the 802.11b and now the 802.11g standard) has led to the Airport Express (which, at $129, is reasonably priced for a USB print server, and is reasonably priced as a wireless access point/wireless network extender, and is reasonably priced as an mp3 streaming device, and the wonderfully awesome thing is that you get all three in a package that is barely larger than a power supply brick.)

Hopefully, the innovations will continue, though, and Apple will continue to be unafraid of breaking from the past. With this in mind, hopefully they will never be dependent upon the parlay.

21:55:57 10 Aug 2004 > /computers/macosx > permalink > 28 comments

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market share is bogus

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When you enter certain realsm, such as computers, normal measures of profability are completely unreliable. It makes sense to think of market share if you're selling, let's say, Coca-Cola, but as luxury car manufacturers will tell you, who otherwise really cares? After all, the measure of a successful business has never been market share. (Would you really have considered the U.S. Postal Service—prior to privatization—a successful business despite having a market share of nearly 100%?) Success is and always has been measured by profitability, and if your balance sheet has more black ink than red at the end of the year without having to resort to Enron-like tactics, then that's a pretty good success.

Yet, despite basic business and economic common sense, otherwise intelligent people continue to push the idea of market share as the ultimate measure of dominance.

Daring Fireball deconstructs the myth, using the example of the Macintosh, and how the idea of licensing what later became known as Mac OS doesn't make that much sense.

21:04:08 10 Aug 2004 > /computers/macosx > permalink > 48 comments

Fri, 09 Apr 2004

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virtual hosts and cgi

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I had this working before, mostly with the help of this script [citation on macosxhints.com][post on patrickgibson.com] Because of my iBook mishaps, all my tweaks were wiped, and I haven't had the time to reinstate the changes.

So this is what I did (essentially doing everything that the script does manually):

  1. Open /etc/httpd/httpd.conf
  2. Find the line #AddHandler cgi-script .cgi and remove the #
  3. Add the following lines to the end of /etc/httpd/httpd.conf: NameVirtualHost 127.0.0.1 Include /private/etc/httpd/virtualhosts
  4. In /private/etc/httpd/virtualhosts, create a file named _localhost
  5. The contents of this file should be: <VirtualHost 127.0.0.1> DocumentRoot "/Library/WebServer/Documents" ServerName localhost <Directory "/Library/WebServer/Documents"> Options All AllowOverride None <Directory </VirtualHost>
  6. Again, in /private/etc/httpd/virtualhosts, create a file with the same name as the virtual host name. For example, if you want a host that will be accessed with http://blog, create a file named blog
  7. The contents of this file should be as follows (Replace $USERNAME with your username and $VHOSTNAME with your desired hostname <VirtualHost 127.0.0.1> DocumentRoot "/Users/$USERNAME/Sites/$VHOSTNAME" ServerName localhost <Directory "/Users/$USERNAME/Sites/$VHOSTNAME" Options Indexes FollowSymLinks ExecCGI AllowOverride All </Directory> </VirtualHost>
  8. Open a root shell by typing sudo bash and entering your password
  9. Run the following commands (again, replace $VHOSTNAME with your desired hostname): niutil -create . /machines/$VHOSTNAME niutil -createprop . /machines/$VHOSTNAME ip_address 127.0.0.1 niutil -createprop . /machines/$VHOSTNAME name $VHOSTNAME niutil -createprop . /machines/$VHOSTNAME serves './local'
  10. Restart apache with apachectl restart.

15:10:46 9 Apr 2004 > /computers/macosx/unix > permalink > 4 comments