Archive for the ‘Apple’ Category

Frankenstein’s Netbook

May 9, 2010

or, what I learned from triple-booting an MSI Wind U100…

My wife’s birthday was the other day and she had been wanting a MacBook to go with her iMac.  Proprietary software is not my thing, but it makes her happy.  Problem: nowhere near enough $ to buy one.  Not enough $ to buy an iPad either (if they were even for sale here, that is).  So we talked a bit and really she just wanted something portable for her games… and what I ended up doing was buying a cheap netbook (the older model MSI Wind U100) and started learning everything I could about making a ‘hackintosh’ out of it.

Now, when talking about what could (theoretically) be done, try not to sound too confident since you may just get asked to that in practice ;)  Basically, yes, it would be nice if she could run her XP games too and Ubuntu would be icing on the cake… so I started learning about how to make a triple-boot system.

Two days of on-and-off tinkering later, I emerged from my room with a kludged together system that actually can boot successfully :)  I used the SnowyWind OS X distro and Grub2 and Chameleon… it’s not perfect, but it boots OSX/WinXP/Ubuntu 10.04 consistently.

What I noticed:

XP is ancient; a real clunker.  Had to use an external USB CD-ROM (USB flash drives can be used in theory, but this was just easier).  Sloooooow install.  25-character key in tiny print to read off the sticker on the bottom.  WGA.  A mountain of security patches.  3rd party drivers to make the hardware work.  Would love to toss it in an internet-free VirtualBox cage and throw away the key if I could.

Hackintosh distros are still rather… brittle.  Reminds me of the reported difficulties of Linux pre-Ubuntu, mixed with the groping around in the dark feel of doing things with proprietary software that the original authors didn’t want you doing.  Feels like a ‘square peg in a round hole’.

Adding more OSs always makes things more complicated :) No “average user” will ever want to mess with bootloaders and when something goes wrong, you might as well reinstall.

Ubuntu loves you unconditionally and wants to make your life easier ^_^

Unless you have a real reason to want XP (games… sigh), or OS X on non-Apple hardware (games… heh), you really are just setting yourself up for a headache down the road.  Ubuntu installs fast, is very straightforward, small and netbook-friendly.  Oh and there are even proprietary games for it these days too.

I look forward to the day when $199 ARM-based netbooks with Ubuntu flood the market ;)


Linux on the cusp of 2010

December 31, 2009

We’re almost at 2010 and so I thought I’d revisit my 2010: The year of the Linux Desktop post. But rather than start with Linux, I want to start with Apple…

I noticed a story “2010: The year of the Mac?” which derisively began “It’s almost a pathetic assertion: This year, the Mac will break out of its ghetto and become a mainstream computer for individuals and businesses alike.” The author doesn’t understand what Apple wants to be (that is to say, what Steve Jobs wants Apple to be ;) I wrote back in late 2007 that “Apple will tend to restrict itself to the mid-to-high-end market”.  And you know what?  Apple won it; they now get 90+% of sales of $1K+ systems; this is where the largest profits are made and Microsoft has effectively been banished from this segment. Apple also has done well with its iPhone and of course its iPods; these are tech products with significant market share that do not run a Microsoft OS and do not necessarily need one to interface either; as Microsoft absolutely requires monopoly conditions to maintain its business, anything that reduces dependence on Microsoft will cause its empire to shrink.  There are now persistent rumors that Apple is going to release some sort of Tablet Machine that will likely sell below $1K; this will further pressure OEMs that currently preload Windows to compete on price…

Which still doesn’t bring me to Linux yet ;) In the refs to the 2010 article I included a letter that I wrote to ESR regarding his predictions about RAM in computers: by 2008, he wrote, we should see 4GB of RAM in “low end” desktop machines and 16 GB in “high end” ones. However, this did not foresee the transition from majority desktop to majority notebook form factor, the current emergence of netbooks, which have begun to displace some notebook sales (see also here) and which tend to have Windows XP preloaded… at least for now; it uses MUCH less RAM than Vista did! ;) Notebooks tend to use less RAM than desktop machines and netbooks less than notebooks; it is still possible to buy a notebook (albeit refurbished) from FutureShop here in Canada with 512 MB of RAM!  Even the average netbook only has 1GB of RAM and low end notebooks typically come with 2, 3 or 4 GB of RAM.  All this has helped drop the price of off-the-shelf notebooks considerably.  Netbooks still tend to be in the $300 range (the same as last year, but with a larger screen and other ‘improvements’; Microsoft has been pushing for this to keep prices artificially high: “What’s the industry’s advantage in saying lets drive this thing to rock bottom…What we are enabling with Windows 7 [is the ability] to try to maintain higher average selling prices…This doesn’t have to be about who can get to $199 first.”)

And this brings us, finally, to Linux. Currently about a third of netbooks are being shipped with Linux globally and this should rise to a majority by 2013. This is the beginning of Linux taking over the low-end of ‘desktop’ (that is, ‘not server’) computing. What I think will happen this coming year is going to be a convergence of technologies that are going to result in that sub-$200 machine, and it won’t have Windows XP or 7 on it.  But unlike the current generation of netbooks that are Intel Atom-based, these will run on ARM processors. Predictions include that 20% of 2010’s netbooks will have ARM processors and the amount will be over half by 2012. And while Google’s Android will be on some of them, Ubuntu stands to grab a large amount of the market with its 10.04 LTS release.

So, will 2010 be the year of ‘desktop’ Linux? I think yes, but in a way that I didn’t quite imagine in 2007. The “major commerical apps designed to run on Linux” aren’t “designed to run on Linux” per se; they’re designed to run in standards-compliant web browsers (e.g. Firefox) and are ‘free’ (gratis) ala Google (mail, maps, news, etc.)  The low-end of computing will be amazingly inexpensive, almost disposable in the new and uncharted sub-$200 range (the “race to the bottom“).  We probably will see lots of Asian OEMs that most in the west have never heard of before cranking these out (perhaps even toy manufacturers; look at this one that uses rechargable AA batteries! :-), while the bigger ones attempt to maintain their Windows-based notebook sales.

An example of what I hope to see for specs on a 2010 Linux netbook:

Ubuntu 10.04 LTS
Pixel Qi Monitor (10″) [read more]
ARM Processor (2 GHz Dual Core)
1 GB RAM (DDR2 or 3)
Fast SSD (8 or 16 GB)
Cost <$200

a backlit keyboard, lots of USB ports and wireless n would be nice too, but those would probably cost extra ;)

Update Jan. 7, 2010: An article mentioning ‘smartbooks’, an intermediate between smartphones and netbooks, and predicting ARM/Linux ones to do well in 2010. But THIS ARTICLE has the real deal; a gorgeous and incredibly thin 12″ ARM “smartbook” which “runs full Ubuntu plenty well”. Look at the pics and watch the video…

When an 800-pound gorilla loses weight

August 16, 2009

Most of us have heard the one about the 800-pound gorilla:

Q: “Where does an 800 lb. gorilla sit?”
A: “Anywhere it wants to.”

This translates well to Microsoft; consider their market capitalization as their ‘weight’; at its peak about a decade ago, Microsoft briefly spiked to over $600 Billion. At the time, IBM sat in the 100-150 range and Apple was stuck ~25.

But I’ve been thinking about the long-term trends and they’re not good for Microsoft; they’re currently sitting in the 200+ range, but IBM, Apple and Google are each ~150 right now. Consider this graph (that I made based on the instructions here) which lists the market cap for the first of each month (for less data points ;) starting in 1999, through to Aug. 2009:

Market Capitalization for MSFT, IBM, AAPL, GOOG Jan. 1999 - Aug. 2009

At this rate, Microsoft could be worth less than any of those three in the not too distant future…

Is Office for Mac worth the cost to you?

January 28, 2008

A letter I sent to the editors of The StarPhoenix here in Saskatoon:

Regarding Murray Hill’s “Office for Mac worth every penny” I think that there are a few things that readers should note:

First, even if we put aside all other arguments about Microsoft Office for Mac, the pricing is simply unfair to Canadians; if you search for ‘office mac 2008’ on and and compare the “list price” for the five editions, the equivalent exchange rate ranges from about 1.25 to 1.35. The Canadian dollar has not been that weak since 2004. Consider that the standard edition that lists (rounded to the nearest dollar) for $540 CN here is $400 US in the US. Is the Canadian version really worth $140 more than the almost identical US version? It looks as if Microsoft is intentionally pricing the 2008 edition the same as the 2004 edition; do they think that Canadians won’t notice that they’re being gouged? Further, it is curious that Amazon discounts the Canadian versions so little (it sells the standard edition for the full $540 CN here, but discounts it to $353 US in the states; an equivalent exchange of about 1.53!)

Second, how many people (businesses included) really even need Office for Mac? Would a given person’s usage needs be met by Apple’s iWork software? (with a parity price of $79 in CN or US) Would a given person’s needs be met by which is FREE? It may be somewhat philosophical to mention this, but what software is “worth” and what is “costs” are two very different things.

Third, the article glosses over the serious vendor lock-in issue that Office 2008 presents, regardless of platform. The new “docx/xlsx/pptx” formats are really only properly read in Microsoft’s software. If everyone is forced to buy into their Office format monopoly then yes, there will be file format compatibility until Microsoft changes the file again in a few years and you (again) have to spend a large chunk of money to upgrade to the latest version. is attempting to help break this cycle by supporting the Open Document Format (ODF) in addition to the old DOC/XLS/PPT ones. ODF is free for anyone to implement, even Microsoft, and is an ISO standard. But Microsoft doesn’t support it in Office as they consider it a threat to their file format lock-in. If you must use Office 2008, avoid saving in the new format.

For Mr. Hill, the price is worth it. Others should consider the alternatives first.

How to buy from Apple without getting screwed (too badly)

January 16, 2008

This is something of a follow-up to my last post.  It would seem that for those interested in buying from Apple, there are some basic rules to follow when trying to avoid hit-and-run drivers on “the technology road”.

Don’t buy completely new releases EVER (aka don’t be an early adopter).  Consider some of the shenanigans surrounding the iPhone, iPod Touch, Mac OS 10.5.0, etc. This is generally good advice regardless of the vendor, but you’re much more likely to get burned by Apple it seems.  Wait at least for the second version.  So from the latest Keynote, if you’re interested in the second generation Apple TV, that should be OK, but seriously avoid the MacBook Air.  Version 2 will be better ;)

Don’t buy old releases EVER (aka don’t be a late adopter). Consider those who bought iMacs with 10.4.10 shortly before the switch to the newer, better systems (which cost the same), but too late to get free upgrades to 10.5 (e.g. my wife).  Or the last person to buy an Apple TV v.1…  Again, this is generally good advice regardless of the vendor, but you’re much more likely to get burned by Apple it seems.  I would say that if you’re going to buy something from Apple, do it within a month or so after the latest version is released.

The $20 iPod Touch Fee: Why I won’t be buying Apple products as Christmas presents ever again.

January 15, 2008

I’m mad. But I find that blogging about it can be cathartic. So here’s the deal: Jobs just gave his Macworld 2008 keynote and while I have to say the MacBook Air was very neat and would prefer to be blogging about that right now (and its expensive SSD option), I noticed this little tidbit:

9:35am – “All the same stuff we just heard about on the iPhone — on the iPod touch. Starting today we’re going to build it into every new iPod touch, for existing iPod touch users it’s going to be just a $20 upgrade.” EXCUSE me?! You have to PAY for this? This is SO weak.

Apple is now allowing iPod touch users to install these five applications for the low, low price of $20. The keynote crowd’s reaction to this announcement was unmistakably negative; a unified gasp was let up as well as a rowdy round of jeering.

Funny that the negative audio wasn’t in Apple’s online version of the Keynote…

Anyway, I sent a note to Apple’s iPod Touch Feedback:

My wife is a recent Mac user and wanted an iPod Touch in the worst way for Christmas; I saved and bought her one and now I find that the software that iPhone users are getting for *free* will cost $20 for the Touch?!?

This teaches me a couple lessons; first, that Apple products shouldn’t be considered for Christmas presents. I got it for her LESS THAN A MONTH AGO and now I’m expected to pay a 6% fee [based on Canadian price of the Touch] just to keep it up to date with a minor software update, otherwise get a ‘crippleware‘ update? Even Microsoft isn’t usually that money-grubbing. Second, that Apple products are a phenomenal money pit: they are the gift that keeps on taking.

The $20 fee is absolutely short-sighted; for the meager amount of money that will likely be raised, Apple has now alienated me a a customer and likely lost thousands of dollars in future sales.

Apple can justify it any way it wants, but it really boils down to trying to squeeze money out of those trapped in their vendor lock-in. Microsoft won’t be getting any more of my money and now neither will Apple.

Update: I think this sums it up fairly nicely:

I find it interesting that Apple chose to charge $20 for the new iPod Touch software. I think it should be free, especially when you consider that new iPod Touch models will come with the software pre-installed. I have never been a fan of penalizing the folks who have been using the device since day 1 and I think this does that. When I think of folks who got a new iPod Touch for Christmas who have to shell out $20 to keep up with the joneses, I think it’s a little unfair. While I don’t think we’ll have a $100 iPhone credit rebate firestorm on our hands, I think there will be some questioning by the iPod Touch faithful.

Four months closer to 2010…

December 14, 2007

Four months ago I blogged “2010 will be the year of the Linux Desktop if things continue on the course they seem to be on now” and they certainly have been. Low-cost Linux computers, like the gPC and Eee PC are hits. Apple sales are doing very well. Meanwhile, Microsoft will miss another Christmas deadline; last year they didn’t release Vista for consumers for Christmas (it wasn’t until the end of January) and this year they won’t release Service Pack 1 in time for Christmas (it won’t be until “the first quarter of 2008”). Not that it would really help that much; SP1 won’t make Vista faster and “Applications that have compatibility issues with Windows Vista today will most likely continue to have the same issues with Windows Vista with SP1″. So maybe Vista will be ready for Christmas 2008. Meanwhile, XP had a temporary stay of execution; it can still be sold preloaded until June 30, 2008. Which to me seems very odd since that will be right around when its SP3 is expected to be released (“in the first half of 2008″) which WILL apparently make XP faster. Had Microsoft pushed XP SP3 for this year they could have still somewhat salvaged this Christmas for Windows PC sales and then worked on Vista SP1 for next Christmas. But whatever; far be it from me to stop them from digging their own grave! O:-)

And oh how history repeats itself!

Just as all but the unlucky or foolish skipped Windows ME which fell between two better Windows releases (2000 and XP), it seems that Vista really is Windows ME 2007. I read today that:

For the vast majority of enterprise IT shops, Vista is NOT – and likely NEVER will be – the right choice for their immediate desktop computing needs.

So what a lot of people who cling to Windows are now hoping for is that the next version of Windows, “7” will be a good one. But its not due out until around 2010.

[Update May 29, 2008: “Microsoft squashed hopes that the next version of Windows will come with a completely new kernel – a new kernel that had been discussed and presented as “micro kernel”. The foundation new operating system, apparently due for launch in early 2010, will be an evolutionary step over the Windows Server 2008 kernel, which is based on the Windows Vista kernel, an executive said in an interview.“]

For Windows XP SP2 users, they have lots of options over the next year which is a good thing for consumers.

* wait for SP3: You may rely on it
* ‘upgrade’ to Vista SP0: Very doubtful
* buy a new PC with Vista SP0: Don’t count on it
* ‘upgrade’ to Vista SP1: Outlook not so good
* buy a new PC with Vista SP1: Reply hazy, try again
* wait for ‘Windows 7’: Better not tell you now
* buy a Mac with OS X: Signs point to yes
* dual-boot with to Linux: Most likely
* switch to Linux: Outlook good
* buy a PC with Linux: Concentrate and ask again

[Update April 13: As per this article, a “relevancy shift from desktop PCs to the Web” is occurring; “Silver and MacDonald mark 2011 as the tipping point where the percentage of OS-agnostic applications meet and exceed OS-specific applications.”  By 2010 the writing should be on the wall…]

[Update April 17: an excerpt from this article: “Something’s happening here and it is very clear. Windows is losing its grip on the desktop. It won’t happen overnight. There is, after all, an enormous installed base of Windows PCs out there. Next year, though, if things continue in the way they have been, I’ll be ready to say Windows is collapsing. I think Microsoft has one more shot to get it right with Windows 7. If by April 2009, Windows 7 isn’t in beta, though, I’ll be ready to start writing Windows’ obituary.”]

Of Birthdays and Bus-factors

November 19, 2007

The other day I was looking at the entries for Bill Gates and Steve Jobs on Wikipedia and I realized that they’re born in the same year, 1955…  and Steve Ballmer was born just a few months into 1956.  The men who have been charting the course of the Desktop OS market are in their 50’s.

About 16:15 into the video “How Open Source Projects Survive Poisonous People” they begin to discuss “bus-factor”: “the number of developers that have to get hit by a bus to leave you in a world of crap.”

Stretching the definition a little bit, I’m going to guess that the Apple bus-factor is 1: Steve Jobs (try not to be holding Apple stock if he ever gets really sick! ;) and the Microsoft bus-factor is 2: Gates and Ballmer.  Of course, I don’t think that any of them will get hit with a bus per se; but they are going to have to retire sooner or later.  Gates is making it sooner; mid-2008.

And that brings up an interesting point: who will fill the vacuum they leave behind? I don’t get the impression that Apple has an heir-apparent and after Ballmer eventually steps down, Microsoft may well splinter into warring fiefdoms, only marginally held in check at the moment.  Meanwhile you have people like Mark Shuttleworth, a generation younger, who have some good ideas of how to get things done which are very different from how they’ve been done in the past (and with Linux, it would be infinitely easier to startup a new distribution if something happened to Shuttleworth than founding a new Windows or Mac OS).

I really do think that the future belongs to Linux.  The passage there is what I’m concerned about though…

Walter Mossberg’s Secret Windows Vista Review! ;)

September 14, 2007

I read Walter Mossberg’s review of Ubuntu, “Linux’s Free System Is Now Easier to Use, But Not for Everyone” and was getting a little annoyed by the fact that he wasn’t explaining why some of the things in Ubuntu are the way they are (in the case of MP3s which don’t play out-of-the-box because of stupid software patents and video DVDs likely due to DMCA concerns; lack of default support is likely to remain that way too) and thus to his target audience of “mainstream, nontechie users of digital technology”, Desktop Linux might seem like a jalopy not worth riding when in fact its pretty damn good and just needs a few add-ons to make it work with proprietary stuff.

But then I had a bit of an epiphany… He wasn’t just doing a quick check-in on the state of Ubuntu; the basic gist I got out of it is that the only real OS worth buying (remember, Ubuntu is cost-free) is Mac OS X, which to be fair is a much better OS than Vista O:)

So with just a little bit of tweaking, we have Walter Mossberg’s secret Windows Vista Review! ;)

Microsoft’s System Is Now Easier to Use, But Not for Everyone

September 13, 2007
by not Walter S. Mossberg ;)

This column is written for mainstream, nontechie users of digital technology. These folks aren’t necessarily novices, and they aren’t afraid of computers. They also aren’t stupid. They simply want their digital products to operate as promised, with as little maintenance and hassle as possible.

So, I have steered away from recommending Windows Vista, the computer operating system that is the darling of many techies and IT managers, and a challenger to Apple’s Macintosh operating system, OS X.

My interest increased when Dell began to sell a few computer models preloaded with Vista instead of XP.

I’ve been testing one of those Dell Vista computers, a laptop called the Inspiron 1420. I evaluated it strictly from the point of view of an average user, someone who wouldn’t want to enter text commands, hunt the Web for drivers and enabling software, or learn a whole new user interface. I focused on Vista and the software programs that come bundled with it, not on the hardware, which is a pretty typical Dell laptop.

My verdict: Even in the relatively slick Ultimate variation, Windows is still too rough around the edges for the vast majority of computer users. While Vista looks a lot like Mac OS X, it is full of little complications and hassles that will quickly frustrate most people who just want to use their computers, not maintain or tweak them.

Before every passionate Windows fan attacks that conclusion, let me note that even the Dell folks agree with it. They aren’t going to roll-out Vista on their internal systems until (at least) SP1 is released.

So, what do I mean when I say Vista is too rough around the edges for average users? Here are some examples.

When I tried to play common audio and video files, such as MOV videos, I was told I had to first download special files called codecs that are built into Mac computers.

To get the computer to recognize my iPod, I had to reboot it several times. When it did find the iPod, it wasn’t able to synchronize with it. Playing videos was a bad experience, with lots of flickering and freezing.

Unlike the Mac, Windows computers are soon crawling with viruses and spyware and don’t use the excellent Safari Web browser by default.

Plenty of people reading this have had lots of frustrations with Windows, whose latest iteration, Vista, is disappointing in many ways.

Dell and Microsoft tell me there are complex workarounds for some of the problems I encountered, and that built-in improvements are planned for others. But for now, I still advise mainstream, nontechnical users to avoid Windows.


Update 9/26: I had an xvid-encoded AVI file that my wife wanted a copy of; I put it on her shiny Mac and… oops; it needs a codec! ;)  Also, it seems that Windows XP as well as Vista Home Basic, Business and Enterprise lack out-of-the-box DVD support.  Double oops Mr. Mossberg!

2010: The year of the Linux Desktop

August 13, 2007

I started writing a reply to this article based on this simple premise:

In order to determine when ‘the year of the Linux desktop’ arrives, we should look back in history and determine when ‘the year of the Windows desktop’ arrived and under what circumstances.

I started out with a small timeline of Windows releases; the short answer to my question was that it was almost certainly 1995 (When Windows 95 was released), but the more I researched, the more intriguing the situation really is; there was a three-way battle between the Mac OS (classic), Microsoft Windows (DOS-based) and OS/2. The last was exterminated and the first became an endangered species.

After Microsoft won the desktop wars, there was a period of calm, with Microsoft dominating, but a new generation of desktop OSs replacing the older ones: Mac OS X, MS Windows (NT-based) and Linux.

I am now convinced that we are in a second Desktop War (much like the second Browser War we are also in) which started in 2004 when Windows “Longhorn” miscarried and Microsoft had to start from scratch to build the OS that became Vista. 2004 also marked the first Ubuntu release.

By comparison to ‘the year of the Windows desktop’, 2007 is not ‘the year of the Linux desktop’ and I suspect 2008 won’t be either, BUT here’s what to watch for as tell-tale signs:

– rapidly incresing Linux grassroots and corporate popularity (like Firefox; expect Europe to lead here… in fact, I would probably check this one off already)

– Linux establishing itself in the public consciousness as a good desktop OS; expect traditional and viral marketing (2008)

– OEM preloads of Linux, especially Ubuntu, rapidly increasing (all major OEMs currently offering Windows 2008-9)

– major commerical apps designed to run on Linux (e.g. Adobe Photoshop or even Microsoft Word; one might laugh at the thought now, but when Gates and Ballmer both are gone, this is just a matter of time; 2010?)

The Linux year-of-the-desktop version equivalent to Microsoft’s Windows 95 will probably be Ubuntu 10.04 (a LTS release). I predict (and yes, I’m going out on a limb :) that it will surpass the next version of Windows (currently just called “Windows 7”) in terms of adoption (and OEM preloads) and so 2010 will be the year of the Linux Desktop if things continue on the course they seem to be on now. After that, Microsoft will be in serious financial trouble and may well implode or at least engage in serious blood-letting to fix things. Apple will be in very good shape and Linux’ major competitor, though Apple will tend to restrict itself to the mid-to-high-end market while Linux dominates the low-end market and does very well in the mid-range market.

Research notes follow below the fold…