Apple

Boot Camp 3.0 + Windows XP Service Pack 3 = installation error

Seeing as I completely reformatted my MacBook Pro's hard disk, I also had to reinstall Windows via Boot Camp 3.0 today. Everything went well, however when the time came to install Service Pack 3 (my copy of XP is an SP2 OEM disc), I received an odd error I had never seen before:

An error occured while copying file osloader.ntd.  Cannot copy file to destination directory.  Click Retry to retry the operation or click Cancel.

A Google revealed that this error is caused by an Apple's new HFS+ drivers for Windows, as detailed here. Simply following the instructions and renaming the driver fixes the problem. After installing SP3, I restored the HFS+ driver to it's original state and all is well.

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OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard)

I just installed Snow Leopard and I must say that I am very impressed. Apple has once again done an excellent job and rounded off the rough edges on Leopard, which was already a pleasure to use.

Although Apple recommends doing an upgrade install over a clean install, I opted for a clean install because I've modified various parts of my OS X Leopard installation over time (installed Python 2.6 over 2.5, installed KDE for OS X, a few MySQL installations/upgrades, etc) and I wanted to try a fresh start of OS X. Formatting the hard disk took and the installation was about half an hour from start to finish, and I was able to use my new system as soon as the Snow Leopard installer rebooted the machine for me.

One of the first things I noticed was that everything was much more snappy compared to Leopard. Everything I do seems more responsive while using Snow Leopard; all of the small lags or delays (while restoring a minimized window, for example) are gone. On the other hand, more intensive tasks like opening a large application or restarting the machine are noticeably faster. Phoronix released an article today comparing the performance of Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6) vs Leopard (OS X 10.5), and at first glance it seems like OpenGL performance has dropped a bit, but otherwise there are enhancements all around.

I was a bit worried as I was upgrading because I had read this document describing that certain (popular) software titles were incompatible and would not open on Snow Leopard. As it turns out, I had no problems at all with any of my software. All of the software I was using with OS X 10.5 works perfectly with OS X 10.6, including Thunderbird 3.0b3, MacFUSE+NTFS-3G, Starcraft and OpenOffice.org. It should be noted that for Starcraft and other PPC-based applications to work, you need to install Rosetta from the Optional Installs of the Snow Leopard installation DVD.

So if you're reading this on a Mac with OS X 10.4 (Tiger) or 10.5 (Leopard), I recommend that you grab a copy of Snow Leopard the next time you are nearby an Apple store or reseller. Snow Leopard is being sold at $35 for a single license or $55 for the family pack (5 licenses for use in one household) and the feature and performance enhancements it brings are well worth it.

For what it's worth, one of the changes I particularly like is how Snow Leopard reports disk size, which as documented here, has changed. All tools in Snow Leopard now report disk size using base 10 measurements, meaning a 200GB hard drive appears in your system as 200GB and not 186.26GB. I'm glad that somebody has finally made a move, because users - myself included - honestly don't care if a GB is 1024 or 1000 MB. That is irrelevant. What does matter is that the measurement doesn't change in one context and another. Otherwise, it isn't much of a standard measurement, right? It would be ridiculous to propose that the same unit "kilometre" represented a different distance depending on if you walked or drove from point A to B, but essentially that is what has happened in the computer industry. Depending on if you are shopping for or writing information to a storage medium, its size changes with the same unit. It's pretty odd to explain that when someone asks "where has the remaining 300MB gone on my 4GB USB key? I only see 3.7GB."

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iTunes 8.2.0

Apple Software Update just popped up with an update for QuickTime and iTunes... The changelog indicates that it has added support for iPhones OS 3.0. I am installing it now, back soon with more info.

Edit: Okay, so apart from bug fixes nothing much seems to have changed for now - iPhones OS 3.0 isn't available immediately.

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Lisa and Jackson get a Sony VAIO

I read an article on Ars Technica about the new Windows advertisement titled "Lisa and Jackson get a Sony VAIO". In the advertisement, Lisa and her 11-year old
son Jackson are looking for a $1500 computer, choosing a PC over a Mac. While I think it's good that Microsoft is recovering from the "Vista blunder" and starting to retaliate against Apple's aggressive ads, it bothers me that these ads are based on absolutely nothing.

After watching the ad (several times), the only valid point I could find was that Apple computer don't include Blu-ray drives (yet). Here are the things Jackson says he needs:

  • Speed
  • A big hard drive
  • A good gaming computer
  • Price under $1500

Hm, so we have one quantifiable objective and 3 other subjective ones.

Jackson starts by takes a look at the Macs and decides they are "a little too small" and immediately moves on. While I'll agree that the MacBook's 13.3" screen is a bit small (and the MacBook Pro is outside his price range), Jackson and his mother completely ignore all specifications! They move on to the PCs where they discover that they can use a remote to control the computer... Of course, no mention that Apple's computers have also this feature (and for years before it became mainstream on PCs, might I add). So in short, because the Sony VIAO Jackson is looking at has a Blu-ray drive and a 16" screen, he's sold. What happened to checking for "speed", "a big hard drive" or a graphics card? A large screen is always nice, but useless for gaming unless you have a decent GPU.

I did a quick search on bestbuy.ca (16" laptops, price range >= $1500) and it found two matching Sony VIAOs, so I took the more expensive one. For $1349.99, the Sony VAIO 16.4" Laptop (VGNFW275DW) (click for specs) features:

  • CPU: 2.26GHz Intel Centrino Core 2 Duo P8400 (3MB Cache, 1066MHz FSB)
  • RAM: 4GB DDR2 800MHz (2GB x 2)
  • Hard drive: 320GB 5400RPM
  • Optical drive: 2X Blu-ray writer, 8X DVD writer
  • Screen: 16.4" (1920 x 1080)
  • Display output: VGA, HDMI (not HDCP compliant)
  • Dedicated GPU: None (Mobile Intel GM45 Express, 1750MB shared system memory)
  • Battery: Lithium-ion (approx. 1-3 hour battery life)
  • Internal microphone amplifier
  • MS Duo & SD card readers

Here's the comparison with Apple's MacBook (click for specs), available for a very similar $1,399.00:

  • CPU: 2.0GHz Intel Centrino Core 2 Duo P7350 (3MB Cache, 1066MHz FSB)
  • RAM: 2GB DDR3 1066MHz (1GB x 2)
  • Hard drive: 160GB 5400RPM
  • Optical drive: 8X DVD writer
  • Screen: 13.3" (1280 x 800 LED backlit)
  • Display output: mini-DisplayPort (VGA, HDMI (HDCP compliant), DVI and dual-DVI available via $34 adapters)
  • Dedicated GPU: None (nVidia GeForce 9400M, 256MB shared system memory)
  • Battery: Lithium-ion (approx. 5 hours)
  • Multitouch trackpad (supports gestures such as three-finger swipe for back/foward and two-finger scrolling)
  • Extremely environmentally friendly: EPEAT Gold rating + more (see spec page for more info)
  • MagSafe power port: Magnetic power latch

I've left out any sort of software comparison since that is very subjective and opinions vary from user to user. As well, I did not list components which were equivalent such as the built-in webcam or wireless 802.11a/b/g/n.

Let's return to Jackson's original criteria:

  • Speed: VAIO wins by a tiny margin... The difference between the P7350 and the P8400 would be negligible during "real world" use.
  • Big hard drive: VAIO wins by a large margin, as Apple tends to be very conservative with their laptop hard drive size.
  • Good gaming computer: In reality, neither computer has a dedicated graphics card which is what really matters for gaming. Ignoring that fact, the MacBook wins by a huge margin. nVidia has reported that their 9400M is up to 5x faster than Intel's GM45 integrated graphics chipset. As always reports like that should be taken with a grain of salt since the "up to" can be a bit misleading. The 9400M, however, is still a much better choice than the GM45 even if it's only 2-3x faster on average and in one or two cases, 5x faster. Finally, we must also consider the RAM size and type. Sure, it makes the VAIO look great if you say "4GB of RAM!" but let's take a look at the bigger picture. The GM45 is using up to 1750MB of system memory, so that means that if you're gaming on the VAIO, you only really have 2GB of RAM... Just like the MacBook. The 9400M used in the new MacBooks only uses 256MB of system memory, which is much smaller than the GM45 - leaving 1.75GB available for system use. Let's not also forget that Apple is using faster RAM than the VAIO; DDR2 800MHz versus the DDR3 1066MHz RAM on the Macbook.

I'm not even going to compare the features outside of Jackson's criteria, I think you can see where this is going ;)

For your viewing pleasure, here's the ad:

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The MacBook Pro Latch

If you've been following my blog (I don't post often do I don't blame you if you don't Wink) you know that I've become a pretty big fan of Apple. Even though you do end up paying a slight premium for Apple hardware compared to a Dell let's say, the peace of mind from using OS X and the bundled software is well worth the extra cost.

I only have three complains about my MacBook Pro 4,1 (early 2008 model): A small and very bright white dot on the screen that only appears when displaying white pixels, small amounts of corrosion on the hand rest area near the trackpad (aluminum pitting), and finally the latch button to pop up the display has been stuck pressed in for the past two days and so the screen won't stay close properly.

Turns out that there isn't much I can do about the first problem; many other owners of MacBook models with LED-backlit screens also seem to have the same problem. The second is slightly annoying, but rather harmless... I doubt my sweat will be able to react all the way through the aluminum casing. However, the last one also seems to be a relatively common problem, and fortunately it's easy to fix! After two hours of fidgeting with a paperclip and protractor trying to push the latch forward, I finally decided to shine a flashlight into the small holes near the trackpad and latch mechanism. Sure enough, there was a small piece of plastic that had fallen into the hole and was blocking the latch from springing forward. I used a small metal hook to carefully move the piece of plastic upwards and not slide it ;across ;(where it would eventually just obstruct the latch again) and then removed it. Voila, the latch was working again!

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iPod touch

I have to say, I'm impressed. I'm typing this from an iPod while listening to citizen cope... You can even type with two fingers! ;)

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I'm tired of this (rev3)

Apple has been in my good books for a long time because as their computers have no problems. Nearly no viruses, popups or adware at all. No additional software needed. Their computers 'just worked', right out of the box. I'm seeing more and more things in Apple that I don't like, things that I stopped using Microsoft's products for. Apple's products work wonderfully, but in many cases only with other Apple-based products. iPhone. iPod. iLife. iMac. And even then I find they don't work that well all the time.

A perfect example is recently when I was creating a slideshow using music purchased from iTunes. The iTunes Plus tracks worked flawlessly - Drag & drop, that was it. I'm happy Steve Jobs supports it and I really hope the industry moves DRM free... But I'm getting off track. I try the regular iTunes tracks (DRM encumbered) and turns out they refused to be added to the iMovie slideshow claiming the computer wasn't authorized. I entered my password, authorizing from iMovie which didn't work so then from iTunes too. I even deauthorized and reauthorized the Macbook in iTunes to make sure. Then I tried playing the tracks in iTunes - It worked. I switched to iMovie and what d'ya you know, same results. In the end I burnt all the songs to two CDs and then ripped them. Another two hours of my time wasted. Apple's FairPlay doesn't seem too fair at all - I couldn't use it on the very same computer I had purchased the songs from, and forget even trying to play them on another computer. I don't even know if you can put songs purchased from iTunes onto non-iPod players without having to break the DRM first (which is illegal in the US).

This time, Apple has added encrypted firmware and hashes in the database which makes it near impossible to use a new iPod with 3rd party tools (see the article I posted at the beginning of this entry). To make it worse, the encrypted firmware makes you unable to run Linux (aka Rockbox) on it to workaround the database issue. One could say otherwise, but I don't see the advantage of encrypted firmware or hashes in the database to users... What do the 3rd party tools change from Apple point of view? Users have still purchased their iPods, and whether people update iPods from iTunes or GtkPod doesn't make a difference to Apple whatsoever.

Considering one can't use an iPod with Linux anymore, I'll have to use iTunes from Windows or Mac OS X. And considering what happened the last time I used iTunes, I won't be buying the new iPod everyone's talking about either.

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