THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
In the early 1990s, I decided to try my hand at freelance writing for the second time. Don't get me started about the first career, but I had already been putting together manuals for Carver, an audio manufacturer, and had begun to manage the Mac forums over at AOL. One day, I got an inquiry from an editor from Macworld asking if I wanted to write for them.
So I knew I'd have to revise my accounting methods beyond the level of the simple checkbook, and I decided to do it on my Mac, which is how I ended up as a Quicken customer. The design was ungainly but usable, and I continued to use that app for a number of years.
Now Intuit CEO Bill Campbell joined the Apple's board when his Palo Alto neighbor, Steve Jobs, recruited him shortly after taking control of the company, so I felt encouraged that the app would continue to receive regular updates.
But that move didn't mean a thing when it came to Intuit's lackadaisical support of the Mac platform. At one time, with the platform seemingly on the ropes, Intuit put a halt to Quicken for Mac for a time. Even when Apple and the Mac came back with a vengeance, Intuit delivered half-hearted support. You would pay essentially the same price for the Mac version as the Windows version but receive fewer features.
And don't forget the infamous Quicken 2007, which lacked support for Intel-based Macs a full year after Apple abandoned the PowerPC. When OS X Lion arrived without the Rosetta translation software, which allowed PowerPC apps to run on an Intel Mac, you can imagine the howling. Intuit's other Mac financial app was a stripped down version, Quicken Essentials, and it took several months to simply update Quicken 2007 — with the same name — and make it work on Intel Macs. But Intuit still had the temerity to exact an upgrade fee even though there were no new features of note.
In any case, on this week's episode of the The Tech Night Owl LIVE, prolific author and commentator Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus was in full rant mode as he presented his outspoken views about net neutrality and how Intuit has failed Mac users over the years with its Quicken financial app. His current replacement is iBank 5 from IGG Software. He also reviewed Apple's 27-inch iMac 5K, and the iPad Air 2.
Since Apple recently sent me a silver iPad Air 2 for review, I'll report my initial hands-on experience in the next article.
You also heard from columnist Kirk McElhearn, Macworld's "iTunes Guy," who discussed the myths and the reality behind so-called high-resolution music. He also covered the ongoing problems with iTunes 12 and detailed some of the features users may not fully understand, such as the fact that the sidebar still exists, only it's called a Playlist. And what about claims that Apple's quality control has slipped, especially for iCloud, OS X and iOS 8?
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present William J. Hall, author of 'The World's Most Haunted House: The True Story of the Bridgeport Poltergeist on Lindley Street." According to the publisher of Hall's book, ""What may be the most notorious and most terrifying poltergeist haunting of recent decades, the Bridgeport poltergeist was seen and heard by thousands of people on one unforgettable day in 1974. One of the local youngsters, William J. Hall, remembers every detail. Hall grew up to become a magician and a well-known investigator of the paranormal and the unexplained, writing a syndicated column on those subjects for many years in Connecticut newspapers. Now Hall returns to his past to share never-before reported interviews of the first responders and other witnesses, and previously unrevealed documents and reports…" This episode will also feature an actual recording of an eyewitness interview.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We're taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: "Separating Signal From Noise." We've also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
TAKING A THIRD LOOK AT THE iPAD
Those of you who have followed these columns in recent years know that I have never really warmed up to the iPad. Perhaps it's just me, or my age showing, but I'm perfectly comfortable doing all of my major production work, such as audio editing, on my Mac. Trying to do the same on an iPad becomes a chore.
Now it may be the result of the fact that the apps on which I depend have no iOS equivalents. For basic audio editing, I use Amadeus Pro and Sound Studio. I call upon ID3 Editor to insert tags in the podcast versions of my radio shows, Transmit to send the files to my server, and Feeder to post updates to iTunes, Facebook, Twitter and other services. I have since added Join Together to help prepare high resolution ad-free versions of the shows for the new premium or "plus" services.
There are no doubt better apps to be found, but these work for me. I am productive and quite fast at what I do. So why do I need to force a change? Besides, integrating this workflow in basically a single app environment on an iPad would sharply reduce productivity. Since the work goes slower, so why should I force the issue? True, I might be more encouraged if Apple would release side-by-side multitasking for iOS.
When it comes to writing, that's another story. I can imagine myself pairing a Bluetooth keyboard with an iPad and getting by so long as I don't have to engage in heavy-duty document formatting. So a basic manuscript would proceed with decent flexibility, but a recent desktop publishing assignment, for a nearly 600 page book, would have been impossible.
You see that book was prepared in QuarkXPress. Unfortunately, Quark Inc. hasn't yet seen fit to develop a mobile version of their flagship app. Yes, I suppose there are other methods, but most are the province of traditional desktop apps.
Beyond writing, I manage to handle much of my email on an iPhone. I developed that habit back in 2008, after weeks of experience with an iPhone convinced me that it was a worthy companion. There are still things that are best done on a Mac, particularly when it comes to sending one or more file attachments, beyond photos and shared site links, in a single message.
Now compared to a lowly smartphone, it's quite true an iPad is the closest thing to a notebook. Some of you, in fact, leave your Mac or PC notebooks at home and prefer the iPad, and I can see where you're coming from. I'd like to avoid having to take my MacBook Pro on a trip. Perhaps with an iPad and a keyboard, I could do it, and I would consider the possibility next time I have to leave the home office for an extended period.
(I am not ignoring the utility of an Android tablet, but Apple offers a far richer choice of productive apps, so why even bother?)
That takes us to Apple's latest and greatest, the iPad Air 2. When it was first announced at the October media event, I was surprised Apple made any changes other than to the internals. Maybe they needed to boost the lineup because of flagging sales, but there it was. A similar form factor, but thinner than a pencil, and lighter too. It was high time I gave it a try, and see how it fared compared to my wife's iPad 3.
So when Apple wrote to me that they did have a unit available for hands-on evaluation, I was happy to take them up on the offer. They sent me a maxed out silver version with 128GB storage and a cellular radio with the Apple SIMM. That meant I could buy a data plan with any carrier.
I had previously had an iPad 2 in here for review, so this made it my third encounter with one of these tablets.
The shipment included a blue Smart Cover and a black leather Smart Case. I installed the iPad Air 2 in the latter perhaps out of paranoia. Putting it into a full-on case seemed the more secure way to go. I am not so enamored of the magnetic attachment scheme of a Smart Cover, even though several years of service have shown them to be durable.
Compared to an iPad 3, the performance improvement was tremendous. I had to use the Reduce Motion function under Accessibility settings to convey a better impression of snappiness on the older unit. But the new iPad let me run full bore.
While I haven't yet committed it to gaming, a few benchmarks that depict animations show great potential for the iPad Air 2. I have also read reviews asserting the new iPad performs better than a 2011 MacBook Air. That may not be much of a benchmark in the scheme of things, but it also indicates that Apple's A-class chip technology is becoming more competitive with a traditional desktop computer.
The surface impressions are impressive. Thin, light, and almost possible to hold in one hand for an extended period. But not yet. Apple has managed to improve display quality, with fewer reflections, and reduced washout in sunlight. So this is a device that is more suited than ever to beachfront use; that is, assuming I am into going to beaches, which I'm not.
Over the first few days, I began to have a glimmer of the potential of an iPad for at least some productive work. I await the arrival of a few keyboards to give the possibilities a thorough workout. Meantime, Mrs. Steinberg, upon comparing the iPad Air 2 to her third generation model, decided to put the latter in the drawer and use its thinner, lighter descendant. Well, at least until Apple requests its return.
But, yes, she will let me use it from time to time for testing purposes.
A SIMPLE VINTAGE iMAC PERFORMANCE BOOST
Over the years, I seldom waited more than two years for a new Mac. But the fragile state of the economy convinced me to hold onto still-functioning gear for as long as possible. So I do most of my production work on a late 2009 27-inch iMac. It came with a 2.8GHz Intel Quad-Core i7 processor and the fastest ATI Radeon HD graphics card.
Consider, in passing, that today's fastest iMac, the newly released 5K edition, can be outfitted with a 4GHz Quad-Core i7 processor. Absent architectural improvements, just the speed rating itself implies a fairly substantial performance improvement. But for most chores, it's not so significant in the real world.
Now I had two possible upgrade options to consider. By far the most significant improvement would have been to replace the 1TB hard drive with an SSD. But that's not so practical on an iMac, which is a chore to take apart, and not a task for which I looked forward. Also, SSDs are still mighty expensive, particularly if I wanted to match the size of the stock drive.
Even if I wanted to tear it apart, an SSD with that capacity isn't exactly cheap. Other World Computing, the large supplier of Mac upgrades and peripherals, charges you $649 for a 960GB Electra SG SSD. True, the price is quite competitive in the marketplace, but spending that much to overhaul a five-year-old computer didn't seem the most cost-effective way to go, although the performance boost would be undeniable.
I was tempted, but opted for something that would be more affordable for most of you. So instead, I considered upgrading from 8GB to 16GB RAM. Here, OWC has several affordable memory kits; they cost just shy of $200. With the cooperation of the company's CEO, Larry O'Connor, I had an upgrade kit shipped to me. It arrived last Thursday afternoon, and I proceeded to install it and put it through its paces.
Now even though recent iMacs have been hostile territory for new drive installations, changing RAM on the 27-inch model is a snap. The latest 21.5-inch iMacs, however, come with RAM soldered onto the logic board, yet another example of Apple's curious decision to make such upgrades impossible on more and more Macs.
On the late 2009 iMac, replacing RAM involves opening a cover at the bottom of the unit, using a tiny Philips screwdriver. The RAM is released by pulling on the two plastic tabs, one for each pair. After placing the unit face down on a carpeted floor, opening the cover took just a moment. Prying out the RAM modules was simple. In less than five minutes, the upgrade was complete, and I was ready to verify the memory was in tight before replacing the cover and closing it with the screwdriver.
Whenever I install RAM on a computer and reconnect the cables and power cord, I mentally cross my fingers as I await the first startup tone. But all was well and, in a few seconds, the iMac had begun its startup process and the Yosemite desktop — I use the default design — soon appeared.
It seemed to me that my iMac managed to complete the startup process a little quicker, but that didn't seem to make sense. Installing extra RAM ought to have its primary benefit if you have lots of apps running at once, particularly software that uses prodigious memory.
This sense of improved performance extended to just about every chore I tossed at the iMac. I was especially surprised at how much faster the Windows 10 preview from Microsoft ran in the latest Parallels Desktop. Even when I allocated a mere 1GB to the virtual machine, in the past it seemed as if Parallels had taken control of my entire computing environment for the worse. It appeared as if I was slogging through quicksand until I quit the app and went back to my working Mac environment.
And, no, that was not a recent phenomenon. It has been part and parcel of my user experience from the very first day I owned this iMac. But with 16GB of RAM on hand, it almost seemed as if Windows 10 ran about as fast as OS X Yosemite.
Even better, most of the apps on which I depended for my daily workflow seemed to launch and run in a noticeably snappier fashion. Could it be that my iMac had originally shipped with defective RAM? Could it be that one or more of the four chips installed by Apple didn't work properly?
That prospect seemed hardly likely. The usual symptom of bad RAM is a higher number of random crashes or total freezes, but I encountered none of the latter and very few of the former over the years.
Normally a RAM upgrade of this level would merely boost performance when enough apps were running to exceed the available memory. Otherwise, there should not have been much of a difference.
But there was.
Now I do not presume that OWC is doing anything special. Their branded RAM is certainly of high quality, and it carries the same lifetime warranty as other vendors, but it's no magic bullet. It is true that, over the years, I've ordered product from OWC and had first-rate service, prompt delivery, and the goods always arrived in perfect condition.
So I'm happy with the upgrade, which has given the iMac a new lease on life, and my thanks to Larry O'Connor for giving me the opportunity to take the chance.
But that 5K iMac is still mighty tempting. So, yes, I plan to ring up Apple and see what they can arrange.
THE FINAL WORD
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