Macs - News, Features, and Slideshows


  • Steve Jobs resigns as Apple CEO

    Steve Jobs has resigned as Apple CEO, according to documents posted by Apple to Business Wire. Jobs has recommended that Apple COO Tim Cook be named CEO, according to the Apple press release.

  • There's no turning back from a Mac

    I've been relating the story of a professional colleague who, some months ago and under semi-voluntary circumstances, made the switch from Windows to the Mac. Her twisted arm now nicely healed, she has not only switched, she has an unshakable conviction that even the fastest, newest PC would be an embarrassing hand-me-down next to a mature Mac. If I were to swap her early model MacBook for a quad-core PC desktop, she'd accept it with the graciousness one brings to the gift of a fruitcake (or one from a fruitcake), and then covertly scan eBay for a PowerPC Mac. It is not the particular machine or its performance to which she has become attached; indeed, the hardware is, to her, invisible. The Mac platform is home to her now, not out of religious devotion or some wish not to disappoint me, but because it clicks with both halves of her brain in a way that Windows cannot.
    I've held forth with her on this subject, namely how creativity and logic get equal attention from Mac developers because Apple's development tools, code samples, documentation and style guide naturally produce applications that are right brain/left brain balanced. Mac developers' first published efforts often bear an apologetic "this is my first time... don't hate me" in their accompanying README file, and yet they exhibit a degree of usability and consistency that Windows and X Window System developers can't afford to invest. When you're coding for a Mac, form and function progress hand in hand without special effort.
    When I treat my colleague to theses such as this that are outside her realm of interest, her advice, borrowed from a film, is "write it, dear boy". One cannot be a friend to me and a stranger to patience.
    The vessel that carried her from Windows to the Mac platform was an early Core 2 Duo MacBook, a fit little notebook that I chose for two reasons. I figured that she'd want a Mac that she could take with her when she travels. I was also mindful of keeping Apple's investment in this project to a minimum. Although it nets me the best observational research for which a writer could hope, and it is further enabling my efforts to adapt technology to the changing needs forced on users by the deterioration of their vision, it benefits Apple nothing.
    We worked together to fashion MacBook into a functional desktop. It took an old Lexan-encased 20-inch Apple Cinema Display, a trio of Lego pedestals with double-sided tape to raise it to the proper height, and a small, battery-operated fluorescent lamp fixed beneath the display to gently illuminate the keyboard. This weird-looking arrangement works surprisingly well, but the MacBook can only wedge in with its lid closed, and it has to be turned to one side to make room to insert or eject a CD or DVD. This is what you or I might consider extraordinary effort to derive a barely acceptable result, but she's so much in the Mac that she's never expressed anything but delight in her use of what we've put together, be it ever so kludgy.
    Even with all of this, she has to lean in to see her work at her desk because she cannot rotate or tilt her display. She cannot hope to use a notebook computer for longer than the briefest periods because to raise its display to a workable height would necessitate the use of a separate keyboard and pointing device (defeating the purpose). While its user hadn't the merest desire to replace or upgrade it, I resolved to cut the MacBook loose so that it would be free to travel as it is designed to do.
    I expressed to Apple my desire to carry my research to a new level by bringing in an iMac all-in-one desktop for my subject's use. To my surprise, Apple agreed, at least for a time. The 24-inch iMac has arrived, and my colleague, who shares my lack of susceptibility to anything new for its own sake, is not keen to have it on her desk. In her experience, moving from one computer to a newer one leeches productivity while leaving her no better off than before. My long experience with PCs and Unix servers and workstations leaves me in total agreement. My experience with replacing a Mac for a new one is something I'm not sharing with her.
    I've told her that the MacBook is going back next Monday. Its shipping box sits next to my subject's desk as a reminder. I gave her an external hard drive and told her to make ready for the move by copying everything that matters to the external drive, burning the stuff she really can't afford to lose to DVD, and gathering all of the installation media and registration keys for her software. It's standard operating procedure for a PC swap, a routine that all sensible people put off for as long as possible.
    Imagine how pleased she'll be when I tell her that Apple insists on having the MacBook back this Thursday rather than next Monday, and by the way, I'm leaving town and I won't be able to help her set up her new machine. Apple is making no such demand, but there is much to be learned from observing subjects' reactions to unexpected challenges.

  • Back to the Mac, to my true passion

    Several months ago, I determined that my years-long fondness for Macs required re-examination. I quietly took a break from the Mac to get some perspective, to check out Vista, AMD and Longhorn (Windows Server 2008) untainted by Apple's PR and uninfluenced by other journalists and bloggers. I elected to take a break from reviews of new Mac hardware, the occasion of which always piques my interest in Apple's platform. There were times when I felt I'd chosen the worst possible time for this hiatus. I ended up passing on MacBook Air, Time Capsule, Harpertown Mac Pro, and most painful of all, the new MacBook Pro. It was difficult seeing InfoWorld pick up reviews of these from sister publications, but I take my responsibility to readers very seriously. I can't very well counsel you on technology choices if I consider the field limited to one worthwhile player, especially when that player projects the image that it competes only with the generation of systems that preceded what's presently sold.
    I found enormous value in my time away from Mac. I made the kind of discoveries I used to make routinely before I took on the Mac as a specialty, and as I take up the Mac again — which I am doing immediately — it's clear that my appreciation for the platform is justified, and that the customary split of my effort and attention between Apple and AMD is justified.
    The genuine, practical superiority of AMD's Barcelona server platform, and its Phenom desktop platforms that derived from Barcelona, came to light during the break I took from Mac. A one-socket, quad-core Spider (Phenom plus ATI CrossFire graphics) runs Vista so obscenely fast that even a die-hard Mac user's head will turn. Privately, of course.
    I found it extremely intriguing that systems built on Phenom platforms can tune themselves autonomously for the maximum possible CPU and GPU speed over a surprisingly broad range, based on a whole system approach that takes cooling, power supply capacity, and your preferences for noise and maximum power consumption into account. I found that I could speed bump an AMD Phenom desktop for free by moving it closer to the floor, where the cooler air prevails. What a grand idea that in itself shows genuine customer-focused insight.
    I gained a fresh appreciation for the GNU compiler collection, which has taken remarkable strides since I last took a deep dive in it. I was unaware of the level of engagement from commercial partners, including Apple, AMD and Novell. Each is undoubtedly pursuing its own agenda, but it does so within the framework and culture of one of the most tightly controlled and liberally licensed open source projects in existence. AMD has finally embarked on the long road to compiler parity with Intel with its contribution of Family 10 (Barcelona/Phenom) architecture-specific optimisations to GNU.
    Apple has been busy on the gcc front as well. Objective-C 2.0, with its desperately needed garbage collection, has been a reality in the GNU toolchain since Xcode 3 was in non-disclosure beta. In release 4.2 of gcc, auto-parallelisation joins auto-vectorisation to adapt projects to multiprocessing and vector acceleration without developer intervention. Unless I'm mistaken, the public beta versions of the iPhone SDK, now at Beta 3, mark Apple's first swing at Microsoft-style free public distribution of pre-release dev tools. The privilege of early access has been reserved for paid members of Apple's Developer Connection programs. That iPhone SDK carries all of the latest GUI tools, documentation, and GNU command-line compilers, including Fortran, into Apple's default distribution. Go toApple's iPhone Dev Centre website and scroll to the bottom of the page for the download link. You do not need to pay the $99 fee to register as an iPhone developer to use the new tools, which compile applications for Leopard as well as iPhone.
    Apple is getting ever more daring in its engagement with open source in other ways. WebKit, the fast HTML/CSS/SVG rendering and JavaScript engine used in Safari, has caught on like wildfire outside Apple, and why not? To get a commercial browser, loaded with current and emerging standards, free and open for incorporation in your software, is the stuff of fantasy, and Apple holds virtually nothing back. The WebKit project is not strictly Apple's. It enjoys broad community engagement, but it is worked as a priority by Apple's staff, even to the benefit of direct competitors. For example, the browser on Nokia's E-series phones is WebKit-based, and this is not the only example where Apple effectively put its staff and technology to work for the benefit of a competitor. The GNU toolchain's adaptability to multiple embedded platforms will see WebKit in everything from phones to toys, starting with iPhone and iPod Touch. Now that WebKit has been accepted into Google's Summer of Code, I can't wait to see what innovation comes from that gathering. I plan to ply the most influential attendees with the libations of their choice and get their take on where development is headed.
    Apple pushed the source code for the publicly exposed innards of OS X Leopard, known as Darwin 9, out for public download on MacOS Forge. Every time it does that, I imagine the move preceded by arguments inside the office about the effort and risks that such a program visits on Apple's platform business. The work of preparing a project of Darwin's size for public distribution is inestimable, and Apple deserves credit for putting it on the agenda of its top OS engineers and project leaders.
    I love the conservative approach that Apple is taking with iPhone, especially with regard to multiprocessing. iPhone applications need to launch and quit instantly, yet relaunch after the first execution, having cached and persisted their closing state in detail. It's a freeze/thaw model of state persistence that I'd like to see extended to applications in general. Apple's Xcode has Instruments (prior: xRay), a tool that jams electrodes into your program's and the system's running environment. It records and charts statistical data at runtime along several axes for later examination. It's the most effective means of hand-tuning code for efficiency that I've ever used, and it shows the benefits of persistence quite plainly.
    Taking a break from Mac hardware gave me a chance to drink more deeply of the software that Apple maintains off its beaten path. MacPorts and Apple's validated versions of open source projects are open source treasure troves stuffed with some 5,000 free applications tuned and packaged for Intel and PowerPC Macs. Digging through these repositories is so addicting that I had to issue myself an edict to get back to work, which I shall do, newly confident in my mission and purpose. I'm a Macophile for good reason.

  • Better Mac management tools bring benefits

    As a senior technical support analyst at educational publisher Harcourt, Randy Rowles is happy that he gets to manage the company's 1,000 or so Macintosh systems — perhaps he's even a little smug, as Mac afficionados can be, about how the stability and ease of use of the systems makes his job so easy.

  • Wired: Blame slow Mac web surfing on OS X

    Writing for Wired News Paul Boutin says that new Macs are considerably slower at rendering web pages than their Windows XP-equipped counterparts. The allegation comes in a new article entitled Why do new iMacs surf so slowly?