Being less than a week away from Apple’s first Mac OS 10.7 “Lion” preview, I was first reluctant to make any guesses about the new features. I let my guests do the talking, and you heard some fascinating insights into what Apple ought to consider for future versions of their OS, assuming Lion doesn’t include features of that sort.
On Saturday night’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, cutting-edge columnist Daniel Eran Dilger, from Roughly Drafted Magazine, was asked to speculate on what Apple may deliver at its October 20th “Back to Mac” media event. He also discussed the failures of the newly-minted Windows Phone 7 OS to deliver meaningful changes, and why Microsoft may indeed be in deep trouble.
Edgar Matias, from Mitias Products, was on hand to discuss the third version of his famous Tactile Pro keyboard (essentially an Apple Extended Keyboard reinvented), and other intriguing accessories for Apple products. Indeed, I have been using the third edition of the Tactile Pro in place of Apple’s own aluminum keyboard in recent months. Although noisy as hell, my typing speed and accuracy are greatly improved. It’s a useful tradeoff, and it vindicates my belief that some of those older technologies are really better than the modern equivalents.
In the final section of the show, prolific author and commentator Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus talked about the things Apple needs to fix in Mac OS X, and then offered a brief overview of the forthcoming Microsoft Office 2011 for the Mac.
This week on our other show, The Paracast, we attempt to answer this question: Can voices from the beyond be recorded? What are they trying to tell us? This week co-host Christopher O’Brien presents Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) expert Michael Esposito, who takes us beyond the sonic threshold.
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 selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
I can’t say I was surprised over your reactions to some of my suggestions about improving Mac OS X. After encountering a personal experience with one of those typical file permissions irritants, I got several responses with helpful suggestions to fix things.
But that isn’t the point. I know that the right Terminal command or third party utility can repair (or at least change) the wrong permissions. What some of these people don’t seem to realize — or are unwilling to accept — is the fact that a world-class personal computer operating system shouldn’t require manual labor to clean up such silliness.
I realize that power users might resent the mere suggestion that playing around with the guts of Mac OS X might not be a good thing, or that a more automated system management scheme was sorely needed long ago. But nothing I’m saying should in any way restrict you from getting down and dirty if that’s your preference. But for the rest of us, we’d rather just get our work done and not bother with such nonsense.
While I don’t pretend to know just what the marching orders for building Mac OS 10.7 might be, I would hope that, at long last, Apple’s brilliant developers are devising ways to fix some of the long-standing problems that afflict all PC operating systems.
As much as the Mac was always meant as a computing appliance, the PC for the rest of us, I’ve always regarded it as only one large step, but, in the scheme of things, many more steps are required.
Although it seems the Mac OS has changed quite a bit since the first version in 1984, if you forget the Unix underpinnings, not to mention the relative freedom from crashing and enhanced multitasking, today’s Mac is really no easier to use than the first one.
Indeed, with so many new features added over the years, the novice will probably find the lay of the land far more difficult to comprehend. Even experienced Mac users often remain confused about figuring out the location of some of their stuff, and even understanding the concept of an “Open” dialog box to launch files from within an application.
With the iOS, Apple has moved totally in the opposite direction. This touch-based interface can usually be mastered by anyone without a user manual in a very short time. If you need power user tips, there are a few books at hand, but you’ll probably figure them out in short order with a reasonable degree of trial and error.
Indeed, the iOS, while based on the same core as Mac OS X, may be too simple in key respects, which means Apple will likely have to consider moving in a direction that takes it away from the no-frills category.
Printing, for example, will only appear in iOS 4.2 next month. There’s still no visible file system to let you manage your data outside of an application. Setting up a specific place for a project that contains documents from different apps isn’t possible natively, though third-party apps, such as Pocket Space, attempt to fill the gap in a fashion that so far seems functional but imperfect.
The ongoing experience with the iOS will, I hope, inspire ways to simplify Mac OS X. You can’t abandon a usable file system altogether, though Apple no doubt can, as I’ve stated, find ways to shield you from the excesses while still allowing you to stay abreast of your stuff. I’ve cited iPhoto and iTunes as examples, and I’ve also suggested a Finder update might take this concept to a new level.
Providing interactive guidance to Mac users would also be helpful, particularly when it comes to using Open and Save dialogs. But I’m not thinking in terms of such obnoxious interfaces as the Classic Mac OS’s infamous Balloon Help. Something of this sort should be unobtrusive except when it’s required, and then readily dismissed if you don’t want or need any advice.
One possibility might be revisiting the Simple Finder, a tiled interface from long, long ago. It seems Microsoft has cribbed that concept for Windows Phone 7, but that, along with Hubs, is largely an excuse for the lack of a decent library of apps on that platform. Or just to be different.
As you know, I’ve never claimed to be an interface designer, and I’ve therefore kept these ideas extremely general in scope. Some of you are programmers, though, and I welcome your comments as to how things might become better.
More to the point, once Apple offers the first Mac OS 10.7 preview, we can all decide whether they simply packed on new features to justify the full upgrade price, or they’ve finally rethought the technology to help you find a better way of doing things.
I’m still hoping for a little bit of the latter, although I’m not expecting much.
I have to admit that I wasn’t a fan of the original Apple TV. Not only did I not request a review sample from Apple, but I never actually saw one working at the home of a friend or business contact. Other than the fact that it persevered in Apple’s product lineup, it remained off my radar.
A hobby indeed!
Although there were software revisions every so often, the new Apple TV is the real Take Two product. Other than the tiny size, Apple divested the new version of decent storage; there’s 8GB Flash memory that’s served as a buffer for streaming content, but nothing more.
Indeed, you can’t actually buy anything on it. You’re limited to movie or TV show rentals from Apple, accessing the content from your Mac or PC, and a very few streaming services, such as YouTube and Netflix.
It is a work in progress, and I would hope Hulu and other streaming portals will soon join the pack, not to mention a sensible decision from CBS, NBC and CW to join ABC and Fox in offering 99 cent rentals.
That takes me to the events of this past week, where the family DVR’s hard drive failed, with four of our favorite shows recorded from previous evenings. Yes, the TV provider replaced the box quickly enough, but recovering the lost shows was never an option.
So when I got an Apple TV to review Friday, I put it to work, renting just the shows that I missed, which includes the re-imagined “Hawaii 5-0” (created by the lead writers of the recent “Star Trek” reboot movie), and several others.
Setting up an Apple TV is pretty straightforward. You connect an HDMI cable to the gadget, and the other end to your TV, if there’s a spare jack. Mine is in the front, which makes it rather unsightly, and if your HD television is an older model without an HDMI port, save your money. Apple TV doesn’t support any other connection scheme out of the box.
The only irritant is logging in to your Wi-Fi router, and your iTunes account. Apple provides a single screen with upper and lower case letters and numbers, and you use the device’s no-frills remote to scroll up, down, and sideways to enter your passwords. It’s not as clunky as it sounds, actually. Other setup screens of this sort foolishly place upper and lower case letters, and all the rest, on separate screens, so you have extra selections to click.
In any case, once the unit was running, I quickly sought out the TV episodes I missed and arranged for fast rentals. In a few minutes, the family’s entertainment lineup was ready to watch.
Now Apple has been criticized for limiting screen resolution to 720p, rather than the Blu-ray resolution of 1080p. If your TV set has a screen smaller than 60 inches, and you don’t sit right in front of the set to suffer the fine details, you won’t see a difference. The images were all clean, crisp, very close to Blu-ray, and demonstrably better than any HD fare from your cable or satellite service. They compress the images so much to pack in more channels, you’re sometimes lucky you have a watchable picture.
While I was pleased not to have to Fast Forward through the ads, not to mention the superior picture quality, I can see where even a rental price of 99 cents a pop can quickly max out your credit card or PayPal account.
It would be real nice to see some sort of subscription service to serve as an alternative to traditional cable and satellite services, but it’s also true that Apple TV is still a hobby. They are finding their way, and the Take Two product is most definitely an encouraging start.
Besides, at $99 each, I expect people seeking a bargain for holiday gift giving will keep them flying off the shelves. Maybe the Apple TV will even be popular enough to shed its hobby status.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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