Reasons to hate Microsoft (today)

Entourage (Microsoft’s email app that comes with Office v.X for Mac OS X) has some great features. The seemingly unlimited criteria and actions for rules (filters) makes managing vast quantities of email a breeze. Other features I particularly appreciate are the ability to link messages to contacts automatically, and to filter messages based on categories in your address book (for example, I keep email addresses I accept direct mail to in a category called Direct Mail OK, and with one filter I can move them into a single mailbox. Much better than creating dozens of individual rules).

But Microsoft giveth and Microsoft taketh away: they sometimes do something so awfully stupid, you wonder if their software’s written by a schizoid programming team. For example, they have both “rules” to filter your incoming email, and “mailing list rules”… to filter your incoming email from a mailing list.

The difference? I’m not sure, really, but some mailing lists aren’t recognized as such, meaning you have to make a regular old rule if you want to filter it anyway!

So why bother with a separate “mailing list rule”?!

Another annoyance is Microsoft’s definition of “preference”. They offer you the “choice,” for example, of turning off the ability to view attached images in the body of your email.

But choosing that preference doesn’t work. How do I know? Because right now I’m looking at porn-spam, with attachments — pictures of naked women showing me how well-shaved they are — right in the body of my email.

Entourage also has an “option” to turn off “complex” html. What its definition of “complex” is I don’t know, because I’m constantly getting spam with color backgrounds, font changes and horizontal rules. I suppose “complex” includes only tables and CSS.

I dislike HTML email because it’s both a significant privacy and security hazard; by sending a “web tag” — an image hosted on a website — anyone can validate your email address: the minute you read the message they know you’re legit. They can also craft HTML that exposes your system to future attacks. Why would anyone want that feature turned on? And if you turn it off, why won’t it be honored?

But suppose I should feel secure that I’ve also turned off the “allow network access when displaying complex html” option, and rely on Microsoft’s stellar track record providing stable, well-designed and secure software.

Seriously though… Entourage has a slew of time-saving features (I haven’t even begun to delve into the calendaring system), but as glitzy as it is, the shortcomings, like the inability to completely turn off html email will probably be the number one reason I run back into the warm, comforting arms of Eudora 5.1b20 for OS x. I just value my privacy and security to0 much to be seduced by the pretty baubles.

One Airport deserves another

That’s what the folks over in Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport seem to be thinking: they’ve taken to installing 802.11b wireless internet connectivity, a mouthful better known as Airport (or Wi-Fi), and come March 1st, it’ll be accessible to all travelers passing through their concourse.

The best part? It’s free if you have a laptop that’s Airport-enabled (all Apple iBooks and PowerBooks, and many other laptops are Airport/Wi-Fi-capable). Now business travelers will have an easy and fast way to get online while on waiting out the inevitable plane delays (and harried moms can keep Junior occupied).

It’s great to see the airport honchos in Minneapolis-St. Paul take the lead on something I believe will prove revolutionary, although I’m surprised that it wasn’t done first in, say, New York’s JFK or LaGuardia, or perhaps in Los Angeles’ LAX, all of which are much busier than Minneapolis-St. Paul. But the Twin Cities airport is ranked at the 13th busiest according to an organization that has too much time on its hands; there are plans to roll this program out to JFK, LaGuardia, Newark and Detroit Metro airports in the future however.

I’ve believed for a long time that wireless internet connectivity is going to become ubiquitous, simply because the Internet has taken on such a central part of many people’s lives. We’re demanding the ability to find a decent Thai restaurant in a strange city, with ratings, prices and turn-by-turn directions at our carpal-tunnelled fingertips, and we don’t want to stroll through the yellow pages (or the wrong part of town) to do it.

People want to go online anywhere and everywhere, and wireless connectivity makes that possible. More and more “FreeNets” (802.11 networks made available to anyone within range) are popping up in the three-Starbucks-to-a-block neighborhoods, and that (unlike the Starbucks issue) is A Good Thing.

After Macworld San Francisco this year, with a couple of hours to kill, I kicked back at the Sony Metreon with my iBook and was pleasantly surprised to find an Airport connection. It made my downtime pass significantly faster, and made it more likely I’d return to the Metreon when I need to get out the house. And since the Metreon has a food court (and, yes, a Starbucks), I’ll probably end up spending money there.

Everybody surfs, everybody wins.

Apple releases new machines

Apple released new machines today. Nothing significant, really. Intel and crowd have had machines with higher megahertz than what’s now available on the Macintosh for a while. After all, what good is a dual-gigahertz Macintosh when you can get an Intel running Windows at 2.2 gigahertz, right?

And you’d be right.

Except for the rest of the specs.

512MB RAM, standard. A brand-new, still-to-be-announced-by-the-company-who-makes-it NVIDIA GeForce 4 MX with 64MB of DDR RAM, with dual monitor hookups. An 80GB Ultra ATA hard drive. A SuperDrive, Apple’s pet name for a drive that can burn home-viewable DVDs, in addition to your run-of-the-mill CD-R/RWs. Gigahertz Ethernet. USB. Firewire.Airport-ready.Oh yeah, and those two one-gigahertz G4 chips, offering up 15 gigaflops of pure, mainlined power.

Yeah, yeah, whatever, you say. Who can afford to pay Apple’s historically high premiums for their top-of-the-line, drool-inducing computers?

Anyone with three grand.

You read it right. All that power, all those flopping gigas, can be yours for $2,999.

I suspect this is going to be hugely popular.

Ultimate Re-cap: MacWorld Expo, San Francisco 2001

Well, another MacWorld has come and gone, and left in its wake a ton of product litter-ature, six months’ worth of t-shirts and enough tchotchkes to fund your retirement account through eBay sales.

As I have every year since 1995, I roamed the bright, carpeted halls of MacWorld Expo, the bi-annual gathering of Macintosh faithful, held every January in hilly (and chilly) San Francisco, seeking out products useful to my clients and friends.

In this brief recap, I’ve focused on a few “Ultimate” items from the expo. Top of the list, of course, is Apple’s gorgeous new PowerBook G4. So let’s jump right in!

Ultimate Sleekness

Without a doubt, the greatest buzz was generated by Apple’s stunning new PowerBook G4. This has to be the sexiest laptop I’ve seen since the Sony Vaio. Unless you’re in the market for a new portable, don’t get anywhere near this baby. Sure, the long list of technical specs, like a 500 MHz G4 processor, up to a gigabyte of RAM, a built-in slot-loading DVD, a five-hour battery and a 15.2″ screen are fantastic, but that’s not what had everyone who caressed this hotrod ooh-ing and ahh-ing.

No, the reason hordes of fawning fans were ready to sacrifice their credit cards for a machine that won’t even ship until the end of January was the silvery titanium case, which, when closed, measures a miniscule one inch thick.

Yes. Titanium.

Yes. One inch.

If you’ve lusted after one of Sony’s Vaio laptops (and, honestly, who hasn’t?), you’d better have a napkin to wipe off the drool after seeing this PowerBook. Sure the Vaio is a bit lighter, but it doesn’t have a built-in DVD player; its battery lasts only two hours; and you can’t hook it up to a presentation system on the road. Add all that stuff, and you’ve blown past the 5.3 pounds and $2,599 price tag of the everything-included PowerBook G4 (the loaded Vaio weighs in at 6.5 pounds and $3,350).

And don’t forget those technical specs! This is not some wimpy retread laptop in a pretty wrapping. Oh no. This is Apple’s fastest laptop ever, and it’s faster than most Windows portables on the market.

Every executive, designer, sales manager and sysadmin you know is going to want one. As Steve Jobs said during his keynote, “Power + Sex”. www.apple.com/powerbook

Ultimate Compatibility

Even non-Mac users might consider the PowerBook G4 thanks to Virtual PC 4, from Connectix. Thanks to this ingenious software, Macs are now the most compatible computer in the world. You can run Windows 98, ME, NT and 2000, along with Mac OS 8, 9, the forthcoming OS X and Linux–all on one machine.

This version takes full advantage of the G4 processor so you might be hard-pressed to tell you aren’t running Windows natively.

Web designers can now use a single machine to see their work in multiple browser and operating system combinations; sysadmins can use the best tools available to manage their networks; and support specialists can solve problems from a single workstation.

Think of the desk space you’ll save! www.connectix.com

Ultimate Undo

I have an itchy trigger finger. If the phone rings, I save. If I pause to think, I save. If I’ve deleted 15 paragraphs worth of brilliant prose, and I’ve saved… well, that’s what screaming into a pillow is for.

Or, more productively, I can jump over to Power On Software’s Rewind window, click the document name to see the last several versions I’ve saved, and revert to the one containing my pearls of wisdom.

Rewind tracks every change to your computer’s hard drive, including deleted preferences, corrupted System files, and, yes, bone-headed mistakes. Your computer worked fine this morning but suddenly won’t boot? Rewind has a startup feature that lets you jump back to that working System, so you can get back to work.

This is total CYA protection. www.poweronsoftware.com

Ultimate Integration

I hate having multiple lists of contacts—one in my email program, another in my regular contact manager. When I add someone to one list, I have to waste time adding them to the other. Well, no more. Microsoft’s Entourage is an integrated Email , contact manager and calendar application that works great and might make me upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft Office 2001 for Macintosh (since that’s the only way to get your hands on Entourage: it’s bundled with Office).

Now, when I receive Email from someone asking for a meeting, I can add them immediately to my contact list, enter the meeting date on my calendar, and sync it all to my Palm device. It takes laziness—sorry, I mean productivity—to a new high. www.microsoft.com/mac

Ultimate Apple News

Apple’s new PowerBook wasn’t the only news to come out of Cupertino (just the best-looking). Here are a few highlights.

  • You know the megahertz wars mean very little in the real world (a brand-new 1 GHz Pentium 4 is just barely faster than an older 1 GHz Pentium III, for example, and Apple’s G4 processors handily beats Pentiums at the same speeds). But the general public uses those numbers as an indicator of speed, so Apple’s release of new machines with speeds from 466 MHz to 733 MHz is fantastic, and long over-due. www.apple.com/powermac
  • Media professionals are rapidly running out of space on ordinary CDs, and are looking to the higher-capacity DVDs to store and share presentations, portfolios and marketing materials. Creating professional-quality DVDs which play on almost any consumer DVD recently required $5,000 devices, but Apple’s SuperDrive, which reads and writes DVDs, along with CDs, CD-Rs and CD-RWs, is bundled with their $3,499, top-of-the-line PowerMac G4. You also get the new iDVD software to easily assemble and burn your DVDs. www.apple.com/dvd

Ultimate Wrap-up

With three hundred or so booths and thousands of products, this brief recap can’t come close to doing justice to the spectacle that was MacWorld San Francisco 2001. Macintouch has an in-depth report, or contact me, and we can talk about which products might be useful to you.

The Mac’s strength is its usability

While “user-friendly” and “Macintosh” have been used together for a long time, it is not the only thing that makes a Macintosh a Macintosh.

Certainly the ease-of-use factor is a big one.

But inherent in the macintosh is a sense of “usablility”. I distinguish this from “user-friendly” and “ease-of-use” because I find that these latter two come from extended periods of learning, despite the concept of “intuitive”.

No, the Macintosh’s strength is its usability.

This means things work the way you think they should work; they show a level of consistency in the way they work; and using the system slows you down as little as possible.

All of these things lead to being both “user-friendly” and “easy to use”, but these two are the results of the Mac’s usability, not the cause of it.

When I see that Mac OS X is “un-Macintosh” I take it to mean that the user interface that has worked—been usable—for many years no longer exists. In Mac OS X, it often means that things that were once usable are no longer useable—or at least the usability has dropped significantly from previous incarnations.

In many cases, it’s tiny things: a huge clock that takes up significant portion of the screen, rather than a small corner; windows whose minimum size are two or three times larger than they were before; a font that is larger than it needs to be for no apparant reason; a lack of control in how the user is able to see their system.

I think of things like people with poor vision. In previous versions of the Mac OS, you could choose a font and size that was appropriate to your needs.

That’s no longer possible.

In many ways, using Mac OS X feels like we’ve stepped into the Way-Back Machine, to a time before many of the problems of previous Mac OS incarnations were not fixed. Why, for example, can you only change the name of a file while in icon mode, not in list or browse mode? The fact that it’s a known issue doesn’t excuse such basic functionality.

Likewise, why is the new Finder so difficult to navigate? In OS 9 and earlier, I could move around the Finder without ever touching a mouse. This didn’t require any command lines or dozens of paths: only the command key, the four arrows and the return key.

Basic things a Mac user with almost any time invested would come to expect.

Like pressing “command-period” to activate the close/cancel button in a dialog box.

Or “command-w” to close a window.

Or dragging and dropping of text.

Sometimes they’re implemented, other times, they’re not. And when they’re not, it’s often in the most unexpected of places, like Apple’s very own applications shipped with the OS.

The interface’s consistency has gone down the drain.

The frustration many people feel is based on not knowing why 16 years of a constantly-improving interface was so unceremoniously shoved by the wayside.

Intel Pentium III ID will fail miserably

Note: This was originally written as a letter to the editor of a newspaper; I don’t recall which. Saving here for posterity.


Dear Editor:

In all of the stories discussing the Intel Pentium III ID feature, one glaring ommission has been made about why this chip will fail miserably: the assumption that one computer equals one user.

The chip’s ID is meant to identify and tie a particular person to a particular computer. Yet there are dozens of situations when someone might access data from different computers, or several people might use one computer. Three ready examples include households that share a single computer amongst husband, wife and kids; school labs where there are dozens, if not hundreds of students per computer; and companies with “hoteling” or shared-cubicle policies, where employees do not have their own offices or computers, but “rent” space and equipment.

How does the Pentium III ensure and provide for a “unique” user under these rather mundane scenarios? It doesn’t.

Intel would have the public belief their new chip provides increased security. In reality, the Pentium III is proof that Intel is desperate to add the semblance of life to a dying chip, and that it is much better at marketing to a customer’s fears than a customer’s needs.