A Year With an Apple Mac

•July 12, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Last November, I was feeling a bit flush (had just done a wallet bulging amount of overtime with a client) and thought I’d replace my creaking Celeron laptop with a shiny new MacBook. I did this purely out of curiosity since I was (and in many ways still am) a die hard Windows user. But, I was curious and wanted to try the Mac experience. Are Mac’s really better than PCs? Are Mac users justified in being so smug.

So, I didn’t just want to a Mac; I wanted to immerse myself into the DNA that Apple has created around the Macbook. This means using Mobile Me (the service formerly known as .mac) for email, my home page and online storage. It means using iPhoto to edit and organise photos. It means using iWeb to create web content. It means giving Apple’s Aperture a trial. It means using Apple’s web browser.

The one thing I’ve not gone and got myself is an iPhone. I don’t want O2. If I lived in the States, I doubt I’d want AT&T either so I’ve used my iPod Touch instead. So how have things gone so far? I’ll start with a couple of things I don’t like:

THE THINGS I DON’T LIKE THAT MUCH

iPhoto and Aperture

As far as I can tell, iPhoto does nothing that my favourit Photoshop Elements cannot do, other than perhaps plugging into the rest of Apple’s DNA a little more easily. The same is true of Aperture compared with Adobe Lightroom. And then there’s Apple’s attitude to raw support. I treated myself to one of these new fangled hybrid cameras at Christmas (the Panasonic G1) and seven months later, Apple OSX still doesn’t support this (Apple builds in raw support at the OS level).

Contrast this with Adobe who as a bare minimum often have at very least beta support for a new camera’s raw files soon after it hits the shelves (and often before). Adobe software works just as well on a PC as does on a Mac!

Another thing I find with the Mac is that its photo import tools don’t seem to be as intuitive as those that come with XP and Vista.

iWeb

This is an interesting one. Many have complained that iWeb is too limited and I have to agree:

  • It links into Apple’s DNA very nicely but not much else
  • It doesn’t really play nice with other photo hosting and blog sites though the work arounds are obvious enough
  • On the other hand, if you happen to keep all your images on Mobile Me (which can be expensive compared to Flickr or Smugmug if you have a lot of images), the Web Widgets work very well.

I’d much rather Apple played nice with these external services. Better still, let Mobile me link in with these external services and keep the applications lean.

That said, iWeb makes creating and publishing attractive web pages very easy. Example:

http://web.me.com/jasonhindle/Site/Welcome.html

Safari

This was the first thing to go and was quickly replaced with Firefox and no regrets. Enough said!

Paying For Software

I find it strange that living in Freetard Nation, Mac users are a little bit odd in that they pay for software. I even had to pay for a bit of offline software to write my blog (free on the PC if you sign up for the free Windows Live service).

THE THINGS I LIKE

OSX

The all too smug retort of Apple users that everything just works rings true here. OSX boots as quickly today as the day I bought it. I’ve installed plenty of applications but this has made little if no difference. In fact, only one program has ever made itself start when the computer starts was a program by Microsoft (surprise surprise). On the rare occasion more than ten windows open, the combination of the Dock and Spaces makes getting to the right application quickly very easy compared to Windows XP (though I understand Windows 7 introduces a similar concept here).

Ultimately, a big advantage of OSX to me is that it is basically UNIX with a user friendly front end.

The Hardware

Apple find it beneath them to supply a piece of hardware that isn’t up to effectively running their OS and applications. As such, things tend to run very smoothly. The Mag Safe power supply does exactly what it’s supposed to and the Wireless Mighty Mouse lasts a few weeks on a pair of charged up NimH AAs. It’s worth noting that Apple’s Mighty Mouse is by no means the best mouse out there (I suspect that crown would go to one of the current generation of high end Microsoft mice). Of course, Apple charge a premium for good looking hardware and well integrated software and this is typically £150 over the cost of a similarly spec’d laptop running Windows (and even that alleged dog of an OS, Windows Vista runs very well on a similarly spec’d laptop).

Mobile Me

Now, Apple provide Mobile Me which provides an email address, online storage, calender, web hosting and gallery functions. This all works very well but, as I said above, this integration is something of a closed shop. Apple locks you into its DNA in a way that Microsoft hasn’t quite achieved. Likewise, the standards based mail package that comes with OSX is very nice. It’s worth noting that Windows Live comes with all this accept web site hosting (available through the separate Office Live product), arguably has a better calender (it works with Outlook) and is absolutely free. Like a lot of things in Mac Land, Mobile Me comes at a cost.

iPod Touch

It’s simply the best portable media player ever, bar none. It has thousands of songs and even a few movies for those odd occasions when I have to fly with American Airlines (think none existent entertainment, paid booze, frumpy flight attendants and you’ll understand why). It syncs nicely with my Mobile Me account. It also works perfectly well with a PC (and you can sync your Outlook calender, contacts and tasks if they are held locally and not on an Exchange server).

MAC vs PC

So would I recommend the Mac over the PC? Here I’m not sure. Do I prefer the Mac? Absolutely! Would I recommend it to someone who is perfectly happy with Windows? Perhaps not…… Looking at Microsoft, Windows XP was and still is a very good operating system. It’s not as slick looking as OSX and it does have a long standing flaw that once you’ve had it for a year or so, it slows down considerably as you install new applications (especially in the area of start up).

In that respect, XP has a higher maintenance cost over time. This can be partly avoided: Skype, MSN and whatever else can be forced not to start when windows starts though some applications ensure that their DLLs get loaded into memory on startup no matter what you do.

Also, Windows users don’t have to install every bit of free crap that comes along It’s not mandatory!

Partly, this is Microsoft’s fault but Windows developers take their share of the blame.

With Windows Vista, Microsoft made some bad mistakes. They released a product that was buggy (Apple are so secretive, they don’t actually have any pressure to release buggy software to meet a deadline) and performed poorly on the cheaper hardware that most people want to buy. The good news is that Windows 7 should rectify a lot of this and provide some of OSX’s slickness combined with the kind of stability XP users are used to (I’ve even heard good reports of the beta running reasonably well, if a little slowly on a Netbook).


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Why a Gold Card With Your Airline Matters

•July 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

These are lean times and for many of us, this means no more business class travel.  The airlines know this and rarely even give out upgrades anymore unless they absolutely have to.  However, for very frequent travelers who are lucky enough to stick to the same airline or alliance of airlines, help is potentially at hand.  If you fly enough of the right kind of miles, you might just be lucky enough to have a gold card land on your doormat.  This doesn’t come without  effort though and for starters, you must have a frequent flyer card with your airline of choice.

Choosing a Frequent Flyer Card

Now this is a bit Europe centric but most of what I’m about to say applies to anywhere.  There are many reasons for choosing a specific frequent flyer card and if you’re a business traveller, you may not always get to fly with your preferred airline.  Here are a few general guidelines:

If you’re flying a lot of economy class short haul within Europe, a frequent flyer programme that has sector based qualification is probably a good idea.  A good example is Air France/KLM’s Flying Blue programme which can get you a gold card with thirty one way flights.

If you’re flying a moderate amount of long haul economy then you might want to look at those programmes that have lower qualification targets.  Two examples are BMI (16000 miles to Silver plus a further 38000 miles to gold and then 38000 miles per year re-qualification thereafter) and Air Canada.  Note:  BMI is about to be swallowed up by Lufthansa so you don’t have too long to take advantage of this.

If you’re flying long haul to the extent that you pretty much live on the plane (not very healthy) then you might want to try for Lufthansa’s Senator card (100000 miles but you get to keep the Gold/Senator status for two years and can re-qualify for the following two years by getting 100000 miles in one of your two years of Gold status).

If you travel from Europe to Australia a few times a year or visit the Middle East a lot, Emirates is probably a good idea (and they often come out as one of the cheaper options if you’re under price pressure).

The Benefits of a Gold Card

Should you manage to obtain a Gold card, what you get is a package of benefits that amount to business class but without the comfy seat (sorry, you have to pay for that):

  • You get speedy business class check in
  • At some airports you also get the priority security line (Sydney even gives you priority immigration and customs on arrival and departure)
  • For those long waits in the airport (especially between flights), you get access to the airline’s lounge (and I mean a proper lounge, not like one of the BAA lounges in Manchester Terminal Chav where you can watch holiday makers drinking free Stella at six in the morning)
  • You get priority boarding (yes, you get a space for your sensible hand luggage before the idiots board)
  • Some airlines will give you one of their extra legroom economy seats towards the front
  • When things go wrong, sometimes, you will get treated like a human being (lounge hounds get help, advice and priority in the event of cancellations and delays).

As an example of how a shiny bit of plastic can help when things go wrong, I had to fly from Manchester to Dallas last year with a colleague.  Our route was MAN-ORD with BMI and ORD-DFW with UA.  While in the MAN BMI lounge, we were told the long haul segment from MAN-ORD had been cancelled.  Here is what happened to the people in the lounge:

  • A wedding party from Scotland who absolutely had to get to Las Vegas that day were given priority and other flights for the same day were arranged
  • The rest of us in the lounge were simply put on the same flight for the following day (and given this flight was often full, I’m guessing some people got bumped the following day)
  • They even honoured the upgrade vouchers I’d used, getting us both nice comfy seats.

As for the passengers without status, they were simply found space on whatever flight/whatever route with whatever airline the following day.

So, all in all you get a package of benefits that can save you, you’re employer and your clients time and money.