The Northern Spy
As expected, the iBook is no more
and has now been replaced by the MacBook. Offered only in dual core Intel, 2MB of L2 cache, a 667MHz frontside bus, and fast RAM, the new 13-inch machines have similar performance characteristics to the previously-announced MacBookPro line, excepting only screen size and coating, a new keyboard, built-in iSight camera, and somewhat compromised video memory. Although external monitor graphics resolution is improved, the necessary cable adapters are no longer included, and neither is a modem. However, AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth are present, so the hand that takes away also gives.
The screens are now wide-format, glossy, more reflective, and brighter. This may make them more readable under indoor lighting, but less so in high ambient light conditions. Video uses shared main memory instead of having dedicated RAM, which may cause a slight performance hit. The Spy recommends trying before you buy, as the new keyboard feel is not for everyone. He's heard raves and rants both.
In a possible foretelling, there is only one FireWire 400 port and no 800 port. The new magnetic power adapter seems like an interesting innovation, The only surprising thing is that no one has thought of it before. How many times have you tripped over your portable's power cord and either pulled it out or damaged the connector? Oh, and if you don't mind spending far too many extra bucks for "cool" (with a few upgrades), the new machines also come in black. Based on the specs alone, the Spy has one criticism: 512M of memory is far too low for today's memory-hogging apps. Get at least 1G, more if possible. Performance will be much enhanced.
The Leap to Leopard
The Spy hasn't had time to look at a developer release of Leopard, and prefers to speculate than to fall under its non-disclosure provisions by taking an actual boo. Most obvious candidate for improvements is Spotlight, whose convenience is great, but whose features are woefully lacking (contextual results, advanced search needs to be more accessible, etc.) It seems clear that scalable graphics (resolution independence) is a feature in Apple's sights, and the company has said that Boot Camp is a temporary fix. Look for a way to run W*nd*ws and L*n*x (or better yet, just their applications) in OSX windows rather than having to boot either one.
Speed enhancements ought to be a priority, particularly at boot time. Text handling is still far too slow, making Classic applications look like screamers, especially on faster processors. It's not directly Apple's fault but some Classic apps still have far more features than their corresponding native applications. Perhaps that's attributable to the steep learning curve for programmers.
No doubt there will be a feature surprise or two, but the Spy has to wonder how much OSX can be profitably changed at this point, apart from performance enhancements. But one must suppose that there's always "one more thing".
The pitter patter of little feats
Apple took a beating in court this week when the California Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that rumour sites had to reveal their sources of leaked company information, siding with bloggers and others on the constitutional protection for journalists. Apple doesn't play the big bad wolf role well. It ought to stick to cats, and leave us newshounds alone.
In similar news, the US Patent Office turned down Forgent Networks attempt to assert a patent against the JPEG image standard.
Both incidents show why it would be futile to legislate against stupidity (see the Spy's first law). There's just too much of it around.
The Spy as Professor
did a recent round of upgrades, this one designed to return to desktop mode using a G5 2.5GHz double dual core (the quad). He's been carting a 1G TiBook laptop back and forth between work and home, only using the desktops for experimental purposes such as running student programs in a sandbox and testing code. In desktop mode he instead backs up the files partition to a portable drive that fits in his pocket and only carries that, relegating the laptop to road use. ('Course, he has other backups on external drives and CD/DVDs, etc.).
The quad is a nice machine, and the extra performance very noticeable. It's less stable than the G4 was, running into occasional problems that result in a complete shutdown while supposedly sleeping, and having some difficulties with recognizing the USB devices hanging off the Dr. Bott KVM. Oh, and a hint: If you have only one screen, you must use the first-numbered DVI rather than the second (the numbers are very small), or you'll spend a lot of time wondering where your cursor went.The old 8200/350 (upgraded) G3 is gone from the home site now. He bought out the Quicksilver dual 1G G4 from the office, and upgraded it with a Sonnet Encore/ST Duet DUAL G4/1.8GHz with 512K L2 Cache from OWC. The install was straightforward (programmers switch and OS9 needed) and it worked well from the git go. On many apps, there is no noticeable difference between the 1.8 dual G4 and the quad G5. That's of course because most applications only use one processor or core and were never G5 optimized before the plug got pulled.
Why not wait for the Intel desktops? See above. Some apps (NisusWriter) are far more fully-featured on Classic, and the Intel machines won't run Classic (yet). Even for those that are satisfactory on OSX, Rosetta will impose a significant speed penalty until they are upgraded over the next couple of years. Thus, for the Spy, the G4/G5 machines have at least one replacement life cycle of five+ years remaining.
The original plan was to go to a FireWire 800 pocket drive for backups, so he added a card to give the Quicksilver this capability and picked up a Mercury 100G drive from OWC. Sadly, both it and a replacement (and later an external FW drive) had the FireWire circuitry fail. The USB side still works, but on the FW side the drive spins up but is not recognized--possible signal line failure.)
Since it was likewise for a replacement drive from FireWire Depot, the Spy began to suspect something amiss with the computer, so while still waiting for this to be replaced, the Spy searched the net for relevant info and discovered the G5 FireWire implementation is reportedly flawed, delivering a higher-than-usual (thought technically within spec) voltage on the FW bus. Suspecting the new G5 is the real culprit, he's added a card to it as well. Tests to be continued when the new drive arrives.
Latest Glitch department
Every once in a while the 10.4.6 Finder (all the latest updates) seems to run into problems with certain directories. Likewise applications. Trying to access those directories in either causes the app or the finder, as the case may be, to quit. The only solution in most cases is to reboot. This has been happening a lot lately, and the Spy suspects that the current finder may have a memory management bug. Reported to Apple. We'll see.
The Spy cannot help wondering how many iterations of the real iPod video Steve and his boffins have rejected as "not good enough". At minimum, such a device must have a large screen, capable of playing video at full resolution. Very likely Apple is aiming at a pull-out keyboard, and possibly an underlying full OSX. Alas, despite the move to offer a few books on the store, the Spy suspects that eBook reading is a low priority.
But, when? Since WWDC is in August, and its announcements are likely to be new desktops and an eval copy of Leopard, and since Apple likes to space out product intros for maximum publicity, the early release date window is the last half of June. Miss this, and don't expect anything until well after WWDC.
--The Northern Spy
Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Trinity Western University. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one of which was named best in the science fiction genre for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.
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