Archive for the 'Mac OS X' Category

Our Experience with Lion So Far

September 6, 2011  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

I always debate whether to share the big Apple announcements on Apple Briefs.  I usually come down on the side of not doing so, under the theory that anyone who reads this has already read the big Apple news on three or four other sites already.

And so, on the day Lion was released, I simply installed it and began using it.  I had been using the developer preview for a while on our server.  But I hadn’t used it day-to-day.

So far I would describe the experience as:  cautious optimism.

Lion certainly does some big things.  All new apps for the core tools (Mail, Address Book, iCal, Preview).  Versions, with corresponding updates to iWork.  Remembering open windows.  Redesigned Dashboard.  All new Launchpad and Mission Control.

Here’s what I like the best:

  • The new Mail is pretty nice.  Not all the existing plugins work, though.  So the experience has been mixed.  Still, it’s a definite upgrade.  I like the new threaded message view (where you can see the entire thread in one shot).  And the overall interface is just much more pleasing and friendly.
  • iCal is a little less fugly.
  • Preview is a major improvement.  It no longer feels like a blast from the past (everything else seemed moving to the future but Preview in Snow Leopard felt like a Panther app for some reason).  Lion’s Preview is a lot more slick.
  • Lion Server feels more friendly for casual use (but see below).

Here’s what isn’t working:

  • It’s definitely slower.  I noticed that within about 10 minutes of installing Lion.
  • It’s also buggier.  I get a lockup about every 5-7 days.  That never happened with Snow Leopard.  And there are plenty of smaller things (trouble unlocking screen, missing icons when saving some files, etc).
  • I initially hated the new way Lion handles duplicate files when copying (“Keep Both” is a problem when dragging multiple files).  But they’ve mostly fixed that with the 10.7.1 update.
  • Launchpad is next to useless.  I have seven pages of apps displayed and I can’t understand how I am supposed to make it better than the Finder for getting to an app.
  • The Finder’s prettier.  But I still end up waiting for it while an external hard drive spins up.  Why do all of the Finder windows block when one window needs a hard drive to spin up?  It makes no sense.
  • Lion Server is a little stripped down.  It’s possible to restore some functionality by manually installing additional tools.  But it’s frustrating to have things removed.

Our verdict, as you can see, is essentially a hung jury (with a major lean toward “guilty”).  At this time, I don’t see any compelling reason for a business to upgrade to Lion (especially if everything you have is working just fine).  We’re leaving the rest of our machines on Snow Leopard until things stabilize and more apps are fully Lion compatible.

Down the road, I do expect that to change.  And using a laptop certainly brings additional benefits (the new apps, full screen, etc.).  But for our office use, we’re staying with Snow Leopard on the desktop for now.

Mac OS X Lion Sneak Peak

March 1, 2011  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

Alongside the new (blazing fast) laptops this past week, Apple released the first developer preview of Mac OS X Lion.  In addition to the previously announced features, a few new things were revealed.  So what do we know?

  • Apple seems to be pulling many of the design and usability concepts that have made iOS successful over into desktop Mac OS X.  Included in Lion is better support for full screen applications and Aqua, popovers, overlay scrollbars, and multitouch support reminiscent of the iPad interface.  Not to mention Launchpad, a new “iPad style” application launcher.
  • When Apple discontinued the Xserve, speculation ran wild that Apple was also discontinuing Mac OS X Server.  That’s technically correct (the best kind of correct!) but also wrong.  Mac OS X Server will now simply be an installable feature of Lion.
  • Lion will include built-in support for auto-saving and storing complete version histories of documents.  Users will be able to enter a mode similar to Time Machine showing the entire history of a single document.
  • Applications will be able to support resuming, letting the software return to exactly the place it was when it was opened last time.  This is part of a broader move by Apple to make Mac OS X more iOS-like by eliminating the distinction between applications which are not currently being used and those which the user has Quit.  When applications have implemented Resume, it should allow Mac OS X to be more responsive in low-memory situations without asking users to remember to Quit applications they aren’t currently using.
  • Mail has a revamped interface, which is (you guessed it!) drawn from the iPad.  Ok, yes, there is already a plugin for that.  But it will be nice to have official support.  Plus, the new Mail will include a conversation view and better search tools.  iCal and Address Book have also received an iPad-style makeover.
  • By all accounts, Safari in Lion is faster and more stable.  If they’ve solved the memory issues, it might again become a viable contender to Chrome.  Apple needs to do something here, because Chrome has risen like a rocket while Safari usage has remained fairly low.
  • iChat AV is rumored to be including support for Yahoo Messenger video chat.

Lion sounds like great news for small businesses.  Buying a copy of OS X Server is a big deal for a small business.  At $500 a copy, it’s not cheap.  Lots of thought needs to go into the business case for shelling out that kind of money.  Lion will immediately change the conversation from “should I use Server?” to “how should I use Server?”  But the features I am most excited about are Auto Save and Versions.  Two features, but they work so well together that I think of them as one.  Time Machine is great, but using it is inefficient and often ineffective.  It’s inefficient because I have to leave the application and use the Finder to step through older versions.  And it’s often ineffective because Time Machine only runs once an hour.  I can do a lot of damage to a document in an hour.  A limitless history (via Versions) of every single change I made to a document (via Auto Save, regardless of whether I hit command-S) will be a godsend.

Apple also seems to be making great strides with Lion’s usability.  The mantra for iOS has consistently been that users shouldn’t have to concern themselves with the operating system.  This was apparent when Apple steadfastly refused to allow multitasking on iOS devices until it could be done right.  Users shouldn’t have to fiddle with a process list and kill applications to get good performance.  But the truth is, users of Mac OS X do have to pay attention to that today.  System running a little slow?  Search out some running applications on the dock that you don’t currently need.  Mac OS X Lion, with its Resume feature and reworked interface, should eliminate that step entirely.  Mac OS X should just work.

Likewise the Auto Save and Versions feature helps eliminate the file system.  A user only needs to work with the application and the document.  Thinking about “saving” and “backups” takes the user out of that suspension of disbelief and forces a focus on the OS.

Snow Leopard came across primarily as a maintenance release, so it’s nice to see Apple take some big steps with Lion.  And while Leopard was famous for its 300+ features, I get the sense that Lion includes more new features that will change how I work everyday.  But maybe that’s just because Leopard was released oh so long ago…

Firetask: A new(ish) GTD app for Mac OS X

February 19, 2011  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

Our firm has finally settled on a practice management application (more on that in a few days).  That tool should cover our task tracking needs for client work.  But we still need an application to make sure our marketing and practice-development projects stay on course.

Until recently, I had been using OmniFocus.  My path to OmniFocus (via Things and other apps) has been a long and storied one.  But I still wasn’t entirely sold on it.  OmniFocus has some quirks, and it’s not the easiest application to use.  Plus, OmniFocus just isn’t pretty (yes, I know that shouldn’t matter, but it does!).

And then I stumbled upon a new entry into the field, Firetask.  What makes Firetask somewhat unique is that it started on iOS and migrated to Mac OS X after the success of its iPhone and iPad apps.  The design of the desktop client was clearly inspired by the iPad app, both usable and attractive.

Firetask has a few interesting differences from other GTD apps.  First, Firetask is (proudly, I might add), a project-oriented task manager.  Every task belongs to a project (by default, tasks go into the Miscellaneous project).  Unlike OmniFocus and Things, Firetask doesn’t distinguish between types of projects (ie. completable project vs.  single action / area of responsibility).  Second, Firetask has predefined categories.  These are similar to the contexts in OmniFocus, but they include a handy visual icon indicator.  The colorful indicator allows for easy identification of different types of tasks when scanning through a list.  And like OmniFocus, Firetask allows users to define their own categories (although you’re limited to the set of 31 built-in icons).

Firetask has much to like:

  • Attractive interface is quite user friendly, letting you get in and start working without a steep learning curve
  • Category indicators allow me to quickly identify different types of tasks

But Firetask isn’t perfect:

  • No apparent way to add long descriptions, links to email messages, or attachments to task description
  • Needs to make better use of drag-and-drop (for example, the info palette seems to be the only way to change a task from Today to Someday)
  • Using the calendar for entering a due date oddly requires users to click on a different task first
  • Syncing is limited to wi-fi (no MobileMe syncing yet)

Firetask is definitely a contender.  But as you can see, the list of negatives is longer than the list of positives.  Of course, the same is true of OmniFocus and Things (which is what has made choosing a final direction so difficult!).

I stopped using Safari this week

December 24, 2010  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

I have mentioned before my dissatisfaction with the stability of Safari.  It just seemed odd that in this day and age, a web browser would need to be “rebooted” occasionally to keep it running smoothly.  But the memory was also a concern.

As the Chrome releases piled up, I decided to give Chrome a test drive.  Using it for a bit revealed a very small (in comparison to Safari) memory footprint.  The final ounce of courage to make the switch was provided by a report showing Chrome blowing past Safari and reaching almost a 10% share of the browser market.

The Chrome experiment has been quite successful.  A quick check of Activity Monitor after using it for some time reveals a memory footprint about 75% smaller than Safari’s.  I did have one crash (that took down the entire application), but Chrome recovered gracefully when I restarted it.  Overall, I’ve had a good experience with Chrome.

More on the new Mini Server

October 25, 2009  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

AppleInsider has a nice cost comparison between the new Mac Mini Server and cheap Windows servers. Apple essentially deciding to throw in a free copy of OS X Server really tips the balance in favor of Macs (and it’s not even close!)

Or, as AppleInsider put it:

Prior to Snow Leopard, the unlimited user version of Mac OS X Server cost $999; that’s what the unlimited user version now costs with the Mac mini server thrown in for free.

I’m not deluding myself into believing that small businesses that currently run Windows are going to race out to buy Mac Minis to replace their servers. But for small businesses that are on the fence or leaning toward Macs, this could be a game changer.