California: Catch Up in the Silicon State

Six months have passed since I visited San Francisco for the 2001 Macworld conference. Back in Fog City for the month of July, I have been carrying a dozen “relative truths” (as opposed to absolute truths) gleaned in 2001. Here they are, with supplementary commentary and counterpoint by my thoughtful, experienced friend Jeffrey McPheeters.

1. The Cube has been discontinued by Apple. Too bad, because it’s a mighty fine computer. If you were considering the purchase of a Cube, make your move soon before they disappear from the retail landscape. Once you purchase a Cube, you will need …

2. A flat panel Apple Studio Display. The 15″ and 17″ sizes are now very affordable. They are sharp, clear, bright, free of glare, and easy on your overworked eyeballs. If possible, purchase two of these flat monitors for extra screen real estate. Imagine the possibilities! I did when I visited the …

3. Apple Store at Glendale Galleria, near Los Angeles. With its tasteful presentation of Macintosh and related products, I immediately was transported from a boring shopping mall into MacHeaven. The sales staff were well-informed, patient, and good-natured. Ronnie at the Genius Bar really knew his stuff, and answered my detailed questions regarding …

4. Using my iMac DV as an AirPort software base station to provide Barbara’s prehistoric PowerBook 1400cs with wireless access to my Sprint Broadband connection via an Apple AirPort card in the iMac and a Lucent Orinoco card in the PowerBook. I’ll have more to report on this topic in September, but if you can offer tips or tricks from personal experience, please let me know. Until then I’m using a …

5. Borrowed iMac 333 MHz with a dial-up modem connection during my San Francisco month. Last summer this same computer was full to bursting with unnecessary software and files, and the local PacBell phone lines were dirty and slow. Since then my cousin Jim (a professional Mac consultant) removed most of the garbage from the iMac’s hard drive. It’s now a lean and mean machine. I’m getting used to its junior size keyboard and round mouse. The phone company replaced all the crummy wiring in the neighborhood, so I’m cruising at 48000 bps, which is not bad. This iMac is a bit louder than my fanless model, but I continue to be impressed by iMacs, especially for beginner and intermediate-level consumers. Everything works great on this bondi blue iMac, except for …

6. Occasional error messages upon startup, telling me the Finder has quit and I should save my data and restart. This has only happened a few times on previous Macs, so I’m not used to it. Confused at first, I ran Disk FirstAid and Norton DiskDoctor, which helped but didn’t completely stop the problem. A call to cousin Jim reminded me to rebuild the Desktop (hold down the OPTION and COMMAND/Apple keys upon startup), which appears to do the trick.

JEFFREY ADDS: I use three utilities on a weekly basis to perform general preventative maintenance. Other than my PowerBook G3 which is used for some serious beta testing and debugging, my iBook, G3 400, two iMac 350s, and an iMac DV+ rarely crash or need to be rebooted. Each Sunday I run Apple’s own Disk First Aid, then Disk Warrior 2.1, and then trash the desktop files using the freeware Trash┬ąDesktop 1.3.1, by Opus Software . Then I shut down and restart. By the way, I keep daily backups and monthly archives of all the drives using an Excrix VXA-1 tape backup drive. Apple is now carrying the FireWire version in their online store.

7. Passing through Los Angeles on the drive from Tucson to San Fran, we stopped last weekend with friends Kurt and Sheila. Sheila has used a PowerBook for many, many years, but hasn’t taken an active interest in disk maintenance. I helped her organize files and folders, trashing a lot of excess baggage along the way. Advice: please GET RID OF data and applications you won’t be using, because they clutter your computer and can hinder its operation in insidious ways. Kurt bought Sheila an …

8. Iomega CD burner to help her archive important and historical information. Having read several reviews of this product, I wasn’t expecting anything special, but my initial response was positive, particularly with its modest price. I’m planning to obtain one or more CD/RW units to review later in the year, and I welcome your comments on Iomega or competing burners.

JEFFREY SAYS: I’m a big fan of CDRW burners. I’ve been using them for about 5 years now, and have archived files and media on over 100 disks. I use the excellent shareware Disk Tracker to find what I’ve archived. Recently I bought a Que! Fire 12x10x32 for around $225. The newer 16x10x40 is now iTunes compatible and can be found for around $275. I like these drives because they come with excellent drivers, work with iTunes and Toast, include Toast software, as well as a very nice carrying bag when you want to take the drive with you. In addition the drive is very quiet and really does write consistently to a multitude of disks. It uses the latest features to prevent buffer over-runs. I haven’t made a coaster yet with this drive.

I’ve burned several audio-cd’s for my wife (she loves me to take her favorite soundtrack cd’s and put just her favorite songs onto a cd to play in her car) created rewriteable cd’s of current iMovie and Final Cut Pro projects as backups, and archived a few thousand scans of historical family documents to a bunch of cd’s. I’ve been satisfied with the Office Depot 16x speed MB cd’s in the 100 disk spindle. It’s a good buy and they are the thicker variety similar to the gold Maxells I’ve used for years. Some of the thinner CD’s don’t spin up in all cdrom drives, although those thinner ones always seem to work as audio cd’s in standard stereo cd players.

9. I was helping my uncle fix some Microsoft Word formatting on an important document the other day, and we couldn’t manage to do a routine paragraph reformat before each of us ran out of time. He eventually took care of it by calling somebody who uses Word all day every day, but I was irked at my inability to resolve a minor predicament. Why am I so vexed by Word, and so comfy with AppleWorks?

FROM JEFFREY’S BOOKSHELF: If you only use AppleWorks sparingly, I recommend the Peachpit Press Visual QuickStart Guide to AppleWorks for Macintosh, ISBN 0201702827. If you plan on doing lots of writing, basic database/spreadsheet work, and some presentations, you should get the excellent tome from Pogue Press / O’Reilly: AppleWorks 6: The Missing Manual, ISBN 156592858X.

Nemo adds: If you need Word for your job, learn it from the inside out, but if you simply want to write and edit with maximum functionality, stick with AppleWorks. It works, as does …

10. Iomega’s new Zip 250 drive. The one I own gets its juice from an electrical outlet. Newer units are USB bus powered, meaning they require only one cable connection to a USB connection on your Macintosh. Before leaving Arizona I copied 200 MB of important personal items onto a 250 MB Zip disk. I brought my Zip drive and the disk here to San Francisco, and all my data is available both from the original transfer Zip disk and the iMac’s hard drive.

JEFFREY USES: … Or for the FireWire aficionado I recently ordered a great little gadget to go with my PowerBook G3. It’s a crystal clear case for 2-1/2″ drives that I’ll add my old 20GB IBM Travelstar drive to. This Pro Mini-Drive’s aesthetics remind one of the G4 Cube. It’s a rounded, crystal clear drive with the latest 911 chip which gets 50%-100% better performance than the older FireWire enclosures. They just began shipping, and you can see them here.

11. Was I in a minority at Macworld SF 2001, being more excited about iTunes’ Internet radio capability than its use as an MP3 player? I use iTunes on a daily basis to listen to a variety of favorite netradio stations with help from my fast Sprint Broadband connection. If you haven’t tried iTunes for radio, give it a whirl, and let me know what you think. How does it work on a 56k dialup line?

JEFFREY PREDICTS: Hey, the radio stations are mostly 56kbps or less streams and they work just great on the 128K ISDN connection here. But if I dial up via modem I only get about 24kbps in our rural setting and it’s not very good for the radio aspect. I’ve got either iTunes or Soundjam or N2MP3 going all the time! Why the others? There are still a few things they do that iTunes doesn’t, but I expect iTunes will have most of the ‘missing’ features eventually. N2MP3 is the best encoder I’ve ever come across, allowing me to tweak every little thing to get it right! But I use iTunes more and more and I expect by the time Apple gets it to version 2.0, it’ll be like Final Cut Pro, THE killer app in it’s genre.’

12. Saving the best for last, it’s OS X. The more time I spend using and reading books and thinking about X the more I am convinced it is not ready for prime time for the average Macintosher. If you’re currently using it for the majority of your mission-critical work, then tell me I’m out to lunch. I expect, though, that people who use a Mac for writing or photography or artwork or Internet or younameit are still humming along with some version of OS 8.x or 9.x. If I was responsible for releasing a revolutionary product upgrade into the real world, I would have all my ducks lined up far in advance. At the risk of being flamed, my gut reaction to the early-2001 “mega-beta” official distribution of OS X is seems more like Micros**t than Apple. Nuff said. Am I all wet?’

JEFFREY’S COUNTERPOINT: The original roll-out for Mac OS X, a.k.a. Rhapsody, was mapped out something like this: a pre-release (mostly for developers) version to be followed 6 months later by a limited release (purchasable by early adopters, developers) version followed by the official installed version 3-6 months after that. Now the original time table is probably two years past, but the project was a lot bigger than originally envisioned, as is typical in these major OS transitions. Although late in coming, it’s still arriving basically along the earlier timetable: a beta which ended up being a public beta, followed by an early-adopter version with numerous and frequent updates/optimizations, and eventually, sometime in the next few months, we’ll see the version that will actually ship as the primary booting OS on new Macs. This will happen when Apple is fairly certain that a new user will be able to conveniently add input and output devices to a new Mac running Mac OS X, will be able to find a reasonable number of Carbon and Cocoa apps for which to do their work, and will have access to a reasonable level of knowledgeable 3rd party support via the Internet and printed texts.

There are basically three types of computer users: newbies, intermediate/advanced power users, and what I term professional technology experts. The latter group is a small group of users of any particular OS. Indeed, that group is probably expert with more than one platform, and while they have their personal preferences, they seem to take a very long view of things and mainly want to be using tools that will be good for a long time to come. For them, OS X is the right move and the current inconveniences with the transition seem minor to them. They quickly adapt and find out that the features of the older version are not to be compared with the benefits of the newer OS.

The most difficult group of users to satisfy is the intermediate/power user. I’m in that group. We have legacy hardware, legacy software, and retain legacy ‘ideas/preferences’ as to how things should be done or handled. We’re less flexible because we’ve developed ‘habits’ and a certain level of expectation as to how the OS should serve us. We resist change and generally take a shorter view of things; not long term. We ‘think’ we have a long term view, but really, we don’t because we’re most concerned with how the changes affect us ‘right now, this moment.’ Can I print or use my tape back up drive, or my 3 year old scanner? As power users we like to always have the latest version of the OS and yet, we find that this transition requires many more adjustments than we normally would be inclined to make. As power users, we’ve no doubt used other operating systems and finding the transition to OS X similar in scope and sequence to transitioning to any other ‘foreign’ OS, we are often found to be critical and somewhat unyielding to this yank into the ‘future.’ This middle group is not only the largest sector of the client base, but is also the most vocal. However, we are not the most influential and that makes us uneasy. The most influential user group for any platform is the ‘newbies’.

Yes, it’s true. Why? Because computers are still relatively new to the world, and the number of users who will be using computers 20 years from now will dwarf the number of users that today have been using computers for 10 years or longer. Are you following me?

In the last 3 years, Apple has added a huge number of users to its overall user base that never used Mac OS 6 or Mac OS 7. They have no idea if the features in Mac OS 8/9 they’ve come to depend on were always present before or were added just as they jumped on the platform. The intermediate/power user is busy trying to figure out just which necessities will run in Classic or will work with Mac OS X. But not the new 2001/2002 users. They won’t have added any 3rd party extensions or control panels that don’t already work in Classic. It won’t even be an issue for them. They won’t have any legacy hardware to upgrade or replace.

They’ll walk into a Mac Store, buy an iBook, Epson printer, Agfa Scanner, Canon DV Camcorder, Sony digital camera, etc. and they will all work just fine with Mac OS X. If they are really new they will probably just shy away from any software that isn’t advertised as Mac OS X compatible (either Cocoa or Carbonized, in other words) but when they become Intermediate Power users, they will probably have read about Classic and what it all means and they may figure out they can actually install older, legacy software that will run on their new Mac. They’ll actually think that’s kind of cool! From the perspective of a new or fairly new Mac user, such as my 5, 11, and 13 year olds, who got their own iMacs less than a year ago, they think Mac OS X is a no-brainer.

And having turned my iBook into a Mac OS X laptop starting with the public beta last fall, I can say it’s certainly a more productive box from the standpoint of stability and dependability than anything else I’ve used. It’s running some beta software that I’m sworn to secrecy on (non-disclosure agreement) as well as some classic server apps, along with daily work in AppleWorks, 4 browsers, and several networking tools to manage a remote LINUX server 8000 miles away and it has not crashed. Let me repeat, it has not kernel panicked, it has not frozen, it has not crashed ONCE… ever… in 9 months… are you getting this? Disclaimer: yes I have gotten most of the reported problems to appear on my PowerBook G3 with Mac OS X, but then I do push things to the limit on it, as it’s my main testing platform. But my 13 year old, using Mac OS X regularly on his iMac since March, has only gotten one kernel panic in all that time, caused by a USB quirk, and otherwise it’s rock solid and he loves it.

Okay, that’s a really long counterpoint. Basically, I’ve gotten bored reading the news about OS X not being ready. I know before I read the reports that the person with the complaints is an intermediate power user like me. From that perspective it’s only natural and so they should not be surprised at all, nor should anyone else. They just don’t stop to think that their perspective isn’t the only perspective. It may be a very common perspective, indeed the majority perspective; but in this fast changing industry, if it’s today’s perspective, it’s already pass┼Ż. The perspective that counts is the next 10 years’ worth of users, some of whom will be intermediate/power users (such as me) who will be dragged kicking and screaming into the future only to find we like it better than we thought and will console one another with stories of ‘yeah, but remember when….’

Wow, Jeffrey. Thanks!

More to come from Nemo in San Francisco in a week or two. Keep cool friends.

John Nemerovski

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