Alternative Vistas

The airwaves and Internet are saturated these days by the Microsoft media blitz for their first new operating system in five years, Vista. If you listen to the mantra, you must upgrade now or the world might pass you by. I find this ironic given that the computing world has largely passed by Microsoft in the last five years. They are no longer the leader in innovation that they once were. Other operating systems are now more advanced than the long in tooth Windows XP. Vista is an attempt by a former heavy weight to get back in the ring and duke it out with newer and younger competitors.

If you are one of the unfortunate masses still slugging it out with XP, you may be wondering whether you should make the investment to upgrade to Vista or simply let it be and continue on as you have been for the past half decade. You have many options available to you, which one you choose is defined by who you are and what you need.

If you simply must have the latest and greatest from Microsoft, and don’t mind relearning things in the spirit of “innovation” then Vista is for you. But unless you just, and I mean within the past year, bought a new, high end PC, don’t bother upgrading. Vista is a resource hog and needs a high end graphics card, at least a Gig of RAM and a very fast CPU. If your PC is older than a year, you will end up laying out several hundred more dollars than the actual cost of buying the operating system upgrade. At today’s prices, it actually makes more sense to buy a new PC, that way you get the hardware Vista craves and you don’t have to muck about upgrading hardware and software.

You say you like the features of Vista, and don’t have the money for all the hardware upgrades? You can still get Vista and just live with a stripped down user experience – kind of like Windows XP offers today. In that case, what you are really getting is a bogged down PC that will look new on the surface, but will be slower than if you just reinstalled XP and did the patches to make it safe. If it sounds like what you should do is just let it be and continue using XP, then by all means, save some money now, and put it towards a new PC a year or two down the line. If you wish you had some cool eye candy like Vista and you don’t want to pay for it, you could bite the bullet and make the switch to an alternative operating system.

Linux has come a long way in the last five years and it’s now easy to install and easy to use. No, you heard me right, easy to use. If you go with a popular version like Ubuntu, you can have a modern, stable operating system for free. Linux is not a resource hog and will run fine on any computer that now handles Windows XP. You can even test run Ubuntu and many other flavors of Linux on you current PC by booting into a CDROM and loading the operating system entirely into RAM. Give it a test drive, kick the tires, see what it feels like and then take out the CDROM and reboot back into your good old Windows. If your impression of Linux is that it’s only for IT geeks who program, you are sadly mistaken. Some of the most innovative software and user interfaces are being built on Linux.

If you are ready to buy a new PC and are willing to try something other than Vista, you can always buy a Mac. The Apple operating system has had many of the same features that Vista is touting, in fact, has had them for years. As long as you are buying a new machine anyway, go with an Intel based Mac and enjoy the best of both worlds. On the latest Macs you can choose to duel boot into any version of Windows that you may currently own. If there are some programs you simply can’t do without on Windows, you can still use them on the new Mac hardware. As with Linux, the OSX operating system has Unix under the hood and a very easy to use interface. You can say goodbye to viruses and attacks that Windows users face every day from the bad old Internet.

As you can see there are many different choices available for the average computer user today. You can stick with what you have now and press on or you can dip into the fascinating and innovative waters outside of the limited Microsoft world view. There has never been a better time to explore new vistas in computing. Bon-voyage!



Silicon Pirates

I recently watched the movie  Pirates of Silicon Valley and enjoyed it about as much as one can enjoy a made for TV movie.  I would be more interested in reading a non-fiction book about the events than a trumped up TV movie’s version.  Still, it’s hard to deny how wierd Jobs is and how talentless Gates and company are.  I would like to see how the story ends.  I can imaginge that Microsoft becomes the new IBM and that Apple remains the maverick company until Jobs leaves.

Making iMovies

The new digital camera we have lets us take short digital video movies.  I finally used it to try out iMovie on my MacBook this weekend.  It took me a while to get used to how to edit, but once you figure it out, it’s quite easy.  I finished the clip by making it a .mov and then uploaded it to YouTube.  Good times.

Perhaps someday I will get back into making movies.  I used to be pretty good at it, back in the day.  I’m a little concerned it will take over my free time and my wallet.

Vista on my MacBook

I installed the latest Beta release of Vista on my MacBook last night using Parallels. It seems to work just fine. This will allow me to access Windows specific content and let me evaluate the newest OS from Redmond. I do not have a regular PC powerful enough to run Vista, so the MacBook was my only option.

Am I the only one to notice that Microsoft are openly playing on their Evil Empire reputation by making the default theme for Vista black and gray? They went from a boring but perfect for business gray of Windows 95 to the pre-school blue and green of XP and now are trying to be hip with glossy black – like an iPod or something.

Only Apple’s GUI is professional looking now. Or if you prefer free software – Gnome is your best bet for simplicity. More about Vista in the days to come, as I set it up for .Net 2.0 and 3.0 programming.

MacBook At One Month

Well, it’s been about a month since I bought my 1.83Mhz MacBook and I thought I’d share my thoughts on it.

This is my first laptop in about 12 years. My last lappy was a Packard Bell 486 notebook with Windows 3.1. Needless to say, notebooks have come a long way in a decade. Just getting used to using a portable computer has been the biggest adjustment for me. I can now take my computer anywhere I want, well, except to work. That has been particularly nice for me this very hot summer, because my garage is where my real comuters live and I have completely shut them down until cooler weather comes along.

I had never used a Mac before, so learning the new OS was kind of a nice change of pace in itself. I did not find the transition from Linux/Windows very difficult at all. I like the Aqua GUI and I really like the *nix shell. I even went so far as to actually buy some applications, first time for me in many years. Like any OS that is not Linux, I had to install a bunch of FOSS tools that I can not live without. From FireFox to ViM, everything just worked. Very little teaking in the shell.

I purchased a copy of Parallels and installed Ubuntu. Works great, but I really wish I had another gig of RAM. I also bought the Pages and Keynote suite – iWorks primarily just for Keynote, although Open Office works quite nicely for me. I also purchased a nice writing program called CopyWrite that is like a IDE for writers. I am now completely adicted to that application. It lets you write and not worry about formating like word processors are centered on. In full screen mode, my computer becomes a writing only machine and I can concintrate on writing with no distractions.

If there is one application that I cannot live without on the Mac it would have to be iChat. I almost never use it for IMing. There is the much more flexible Adium for that. I use it for video chatting with my mother and my brother – both on Macs now. Full screen video chatting is absolutely fantastic on iChat. Nothing on Linux or Windows even comes close. Priceless for grandma talking to her grandkids.

I have not purchased TextMate yet, I’m using Smultron, a Open Source code editor and it works fine. I also have ViM installed, so I can really cook. I have not done much programming on the Mac yet, but I’m getting into RoR and will have that going soon. I have done some Ruby on the Ubuntu side.

The hardware has been a complete joy for me. The white MacBook looks sharp and I have had none of the discoloring some folks have had with it. The screen is bright and rich in color and the keyboard is wierd but not bad. It’s actually easier on the fingers than a standard MS keyboard. There is a sharp edge where the hinge for the screen meets the body. I may have to take a file to it so as not to worry about cutting myself. The only big issue I have with the hardware is the heat it generates. But I solved that by getting a external laptop fan to sit it on. Combine that with a knee table and you can sit on the couch all night and never have a worry.

All in all I have been real happy with the MacBook and can reccommend it to anyone. If you are a Linux geek like me, you will like OSX and will be happy to run Linux as well as OSX. If you want to get away from Windows, OSX is not that hard to learn and use and you will not regrete switching.

Categories: OSX

Virtual Desktops

Unless you come from a *nix background, you may not be familiar with virtual desktops. Basically, it’s more real estate for your desktop. Typically, you have four or more extra desktops that you can place open applications on and then switch back and forth between them with a mouse click or a keystroke. Before duel monitor set-ups were common, virtual desktops were a boon to productivity.

If you were a Windows or Mac user though, this kind of thing was apparently considered too confusing for you as neither OS allows you to have virtual desktops as a part of their system. However, there are some valid options on both Windows and Mac to give you a decent implementation of virtual desktops.

On Windows you can go straight to Microsoft and get their MSVDM (Microsoft, Virtual, Desktop, Manager), as a part of their Power Toys package. I use this program on my work PC and it is well thought out and implemented. Unfortunately, it only allows for a total of four desktops.

On Mac, you have a number of options but I will only mention the one that I use on my MacBook – VirtueDekstops. This solution is free and easy to master. I only wish it had a pager like my beloved Gnome. But the top menu bar in OSX is terribly crowded and I don’t see where there would be any room, at least on my 13″ lappy.

Let me know what virtual desktop program you use and why you like it better than what I’m using.

Categories: OSX

MacBook Toys

I found a couple of fun apps for my MacBook that I  thought I’d share.  The first up is MacSaber a largely useless app, with plenty of Geekiness.  It uses the motion sensors in a MacBook to drive the sound effects of a light saber.  When actived, if you move the MacBook around, it sounds like a shimmering light saber.  Again, fun, but not real practical.

The second app is called iAlertU and it lets you set a “car alarm” on you MacBook using the remote, so that thieves will not run off with it. This one is kinda useful and it’s free.  It’s one of the few useful things to do with a remote control on a laptop.  Up until now, my remote has stayed in the bag.

Categories: OSX

Talking to my MacBook

Last night I started talking to my MacBook and it heard me.  I have not played with it too much but if I take the time to learn the commands it knows, it will do as I say.  I was reminded of Scotty in the Star Trek “Save the Wales” movie,  “Computer?”.  Anyway, it actually does work in Tiger and I geeked out with it for a while until I started to annoy my wife.  :)

It has a silly knock, knock joke feature that I will have to modify to tell “real” jokes.  If you set it so that you don’t have to give a pre-command word, like “Computer, what time is it?”, it will just rattle off the time whenever it hears you say “What time is it?”.  Again, I wish it had a Majel Barrett voice, from the Enterprise.  That would be slicker than snot.  I think Paramont should license her voice for talking software.  I can’t be the only Geek who would be amused by that.

Eventually, I want to record it speaking my novel and then have a cool audio version.  With all the “voices” available on Mac, it could be mildly amusing to listen to a story using different voices for each character.  Dub in a little sound effects and music and it would sound like a night at the robot opera.