OS X experience: month one

March 29, 2007

Certain time ago I happened to get an OSX-powered mac mini machine, which has become my first “real mac” (i.e. no emulator involved) experience.

So, as promised, my thoughts by the end of the first month of the machine’s usage…

Pros:

  • OS X is beautiful out of the box. In comparison, XP looks quite pitiful nowadays (Yes, I’ve heard of Vista, but I’m talking about year 2005 OS) with its Luna. Royal makes the difference less annoying, though.
  • All the fancy “genie”, “flip”, “slide”, “cube”, etc effects are parts of design and used when they should, contrary to Windows or Compiz and co effects which are distracting and annoying. I’ll return to this topic later.
  • OS X offers a good set of applications by default and with minimal efforts you may even make QuickTime play DivX encoded AVI movies. No “bare” system by default.
  • If you ever thought that QuickTime or iTunes are just bloated pieces of crap, try their OS X versions which are, in contrast, quite good applications. Still don’t like to run them in Windows, though 😉 Even a mac version of VLC looks more “noble”, probably because of its brushed metal skin and some polishes.
  • Installing applications is as easy as dragging them out of mounted drive images (double-click DMG file to mount) to Applications folder. Installers are rare and are usually used for “system” stuff.
  • Application usually look to the end user as a single file which can be freely moved to another location.
  • Shortcuts are updated by the system on moving files (hello to Windows).
  • Expose is a wonder. Very handy window switcher.
  • Build-in instant search in the face of Spotlight rocks. I find it even more useful than Google Desktop.
  • Changing application’s icon is as easy as copy-paste in file properties dialog (imagine that in Windows).
  • Lots of interesting applications like Adium, Shiira (just to name two) are free while having highest quality (in contrast to Linux stuff).
  • You have a good Linux Unix-powered machine out of the box: terminal is already in, Apache is pre-installed.
  • Preferences pane is easy and clean: no Windows (or KDE)-like configuration hell. If you need more power, you may tweak a bit more from within terminal. Even better is that system has very good default configuration, so you’re unlikely have a strong need to use it anyway. Even Microsoft mouse drivers look better in OSX than in Window. I’m serious…
  • Graphics acceleration really works and makes work easier instead of making your system slower 🙂

Cons:

  • Apple keyboard is designed by an idiot. Freaky key setup and GOST Russian keyboardlayout (while Windows one is superior and is a de-facto standard).
  • Keyboard layout is switched by CMD+Space. That’s OK, but I’dliked to have a chance to bind it to Ctrl+Shift (Windows-style) or Caps Lock (BeOS one).
  • Finder sucks when it comes to file management. GNOME Nautilus and Windows explorer are far superior to it.
  • Finder hotkeys are freaky: “Enter” for rename and “cmd+up” for level up is something definitely from underworld…
  • It still relies on file extension when it comes to file type guessing. Linux has made a step further in this area.
  • Default mouse drivers/settings suck. Feel myself more comfortable with third-party ones (never had such problems in Windows/Linux)
  • The system still relies on one-button mouse button although you may use any modern mices with it. Apple must have been hit hard for what they’ve done to a mouse. In fact, zooming, horizontal scrolling etc worked fine with Logitech or MS mouse drivers installed.
  • 16×16 icons look fugly (hey, guys, isn’t it a right time to redraw them?)
  • Dock is nice, but has many problems “by design”.

Overall, not much to complain about.

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Microsoft Vista icon design tutorial published

March 22, 2007

Microsoft has just published a draft version of their new Vista icon design tutorial. Definitely a must-know for everyone involved in the process of software design.

Even now the tutorial is quite comprehensive (especially compared to Apple’s guide with a little of useful info), but some graphics is blocky (nearest neighbor resampling, oh no…) plus some there’re certain problems with text parts on images. An excellent document nevertheless!

As you may also notice, Vista icons try to balance between a photorealistic Aqua style and “dummy”-like XP. I don’t personally like the whole their icon set, but some icons are interesting.

P.S.: does anyone know, who worked on Vista icons this time? Before there used to be IconFactory, who has made a classic XP style.


SUSE, mac mini and back to Russia

March 20, 2007

After a journew to Tartu, St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod I’m finally back to Sarov.

Olesja and Polina (my little daughter)  should follow in a couple of weeks.

So far I’ve managed to get a new HDD (320 Gb beauty from Seagate)  and a G4 mac mini as my entry-level experience to mac OS X. Also wiped out the remains of Ubuntu and replaced them with SUSE as the latter seems to be a way more sane solution for “install and go” work.

So far I must admit I do really love mac:small, pretty and silent machine with a surprising lot of power. OS X also rocks in many areas though some things still drive me mad. I’lltry to write a bit more on my OSX vs Linux vs Windows experience a bit later.


When iTunes and iPod fail

March 1, 2007

A recent topic on 90 Percent of Everything blog has made me recall some troubles of iTunes/iPod couple that sometimes realy annoy me.

Here’re the problems suggested by original blog author (comments are mine) :

  • When you’re listening to your ipod and a crappy song comes on, there is no option to trash it.
    That’s especially anoying for broken podcasts or songs, imported with glitches. There’re some workarounds like playing with rating, but still…
  • If you import a CD when your computer is offline, it gives the tracks generic names (”track 1, track 2″ etc), and then they stay like that. This isn’t very helpful. What it should do is watch out for when you are next online, and then get the real song names off Gracenote in the background, without requiring any intervention from you.
    Agree. Implementing this feature is quite trivial and I have no idea why Apple hasn’t done this before. Hello, software developers, maybe it’s your chance to be the first 😉
  • Podcasts are listed under Albums. A podcast is not an album.
    Absolutely.
  • iTunes doesn’t do anything intelligent with tags. It doesn’t parse tags for similarities (e.g. “BobDylan” and “Bob Dylan” are obviously the same artist), and it doesn’t try to improve them with any social webby magic either.
    Well, at least it couples “Future Sound of London” with “The Future Sound of London” although using more complex approaches might help improving the experience. I’ve already covered this topic a bit before…
  • It copes badly with compilation CDs. You end up with hundreds of artists listed (e.g. itunes puts a song by “Javis Cocker & Thom Yorke” in its own artist category, rather than listing it twice: under “Jarvis Cocker” and under “Thom Yorke”). And if you have one 4 minute song by an artist, it lists it as an album when you browse by album on your iPod.
    Agree once again. From another side, this might be suitable for people who buy music from iTMS (I still prefer old good CDs) and get one-two tracks from an album. Otherwise for large collections of musics this is really annoying.
  • iTunes expects you to make your own playlists. I hate making playlists, but I want something better than “random-everything” or the crappy smartplaylists that come preloaded when you install iTunes.
    As some responders have already noticed, there’s a magic Predixis Music IP program which could ease the work a lot by creating playlists with certain “mood” automatically. From another side, the program is buggy and has an unacceptable GUI so there’re lots of chances to “compete”. In fact, if Apple licenses the technology, playlist creation for iTunes would become magic instead of a boring process it is now. Really, people don’t want to make much work computers can do for them 😉
  • iTunes thinks it owns your bandwidth. When it starts downloading two big podcasts simultaneously (which it often does), your web browsing experience slows right down. It should throttle itself!
    Not that much a problem for me personally, but while downloading large podcasts this may be annoying.
  • iTunes thinks it owns all the audio on your computer, and always tries to put things into your music library. So if you double click a music file, iTunes will load itself and automatically move that file into your music library. I hate that.
    Thankfully I use Foobar as my primary music player. Expecting to have troubles on mac though…

There’re surely other options I’d liked to add from myself:

  • Poor CD importing defaults. Making 128kbps AAC out of modern music is OK especially as the quality is adequate for most purposes of casual listener, but error correction option must have been set by default! Even with error correction enabled you’ll never know for sure that the CD has been copied OK as iTunes would not notify you about errors. Taking into account its inferior (to EAC, AKrip, etc) error correction engin this sucks: It’s really annoying to hear sound skips while listening to the music on your iPod.
  • iTunes does not maintain the database. Delete, move a song and iTunes would still think it’s there. iTunes loosing track of songs is a known issue, bugging lots of users IIRC, but why not making a decent workaround? You may use third-party tools but why can’t iTunes make this work itself?
  • CrappyID3 tag management. This topic is largely covered on the web already.
  • No support for AAC-HE. The format exists for years already and is widely supported by many companies. For example, most modern cell phones play AAC-HE files without problems, but Apple seems remain in a stone age. Adding HE-AAC support could make podcasts smaller and let creating higher quality video podcasts with the same picture size.
  • Denial of modern loseless codecs. There’s surealyApple loseless, but why should I care if I can only handle it with iTunes? There’re widely supported FLAC and Wavpack, but ok, they have no DRM build-in. Is this the only only reason? In fact, I’d not liked to stick much to closed formats… Otherwise, even though we have MPEG-4 ALS loseless codec, Apple denies to support it.

Overall, iTunes is a nice application and iPod is the best music player ever, but come one, Steve, aren’t you trying to make great products, not just “good enough” ones?