I’ve been labelled a *nix fanboy! I win!

Apparently I am now a linux zealot because I want to ssh easily into linux vms:

A brief summary of my daily computing environment: I use an android phone currently, iOS iPads, Osx on laptops, win8 on a desktop machine. I develop software components that target most of the above, as well as various flavors of linux for appliances and cloud hosted environments. On a less frequent basis I use a surface RT that I bought at launch. Each os has its pros and cons, each machine has its merits.

I have no emotional attachment to any os because deep down they aren’t all that differentiated. And I can’t afford the luxury of irrational attachment — I need to target users wherever they are, and I need to use tools that are the most efficient. My own usage, and that of most users, is inherently spread across many vendors and many oses, and I don’t see that changing. Multiplatform and interoperability is just a fact of life.

So when I said wanted ssh, I don’t want something better/different than ssh. I want exactly ssh because I need to connect to a variety of environments and ssh is the only reasonable common denominator. Powershell remoting may be super awesome and wonderful, but it doesn’t solve any problem I have, and just introduces a new non-interoperable tool and protocol with its attendant complexity. Not at all helpful — doesn’t save me time, just creates complexity. I am not saying that Powershell remoting is bad, it just isn’t useful in an inherently multiplatform environment. If your environment is Windows only, then by all means embrace Powershell if that works for you.

And when I say I want easy copy/paste, I don’t want copy/paste with some completely different keyboard and mouse interface. Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V and Cmd-C/Cmd-V have become second nature to me, I have a lot of muscle memory built up around those. Giving me copy/paste using some other keyboard interface or mouse interface is not very helpful (nor is command window text selection that works on blocks instead of lines). I don’t need or value innovation in the copy/paste interface, it doesn’t make me more productive.

So for those reasons, for me, OSX is substantially better than Windows as a development tool today. Which frustrates me because these are stupid little reasons, and there is no reason why Windows couldn’t add these features, it would only make Windows more valuable, and would make my life better. And frustrates me because I still have some affinity for Microsoft, and these seem like such petty features over which to alienate developers. If I was in charge, I’d make sure Windows was excellent at modern cross-platform devops, as well as having Windows-centric features. I can’t see the negative in this.

Why is OSX terminal so much better than Windows command prompts?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/n3wjack/One of the simple reasons why I do most of my dev work on a Macbook is because OSX terminal windows just work way better than Windows command prompts. Notably for copy paste. I can for instance easily copy a command and paste it and re-execute on OSX, or copy it and paste it into an editor window, etc. The normal system-wide copy/paste keyboard commands just work.

Contrast with Windows, where every terminal window has that stupid edit window, and that stupid Mark command, and stupid paste command with no keyboard equivalent (or none that I know). Even the fancy new powershell prompts still have this same old stupid behaviour. it is the behaviour that the dos box had in Windows 95, probably even Windows 3.x before that. In 20 years it can’t be fixed??

Sorry, just in a grumbly mood this morning.

UPDATE: and hey to be clear I am just sshing from either OSX or Windows into Linux VMs. I don’t give a hoot about the native command line tools, except for needing SSH to be present WHICH WINDOWS SCREWS UP AS WELL. C’mon guys, show some pride in your work.

MORE UPDATE: Sadly the Quick Edit setting mentioned in the comments doesn’t really seem to work. Probably why it is off by default. Supposedly it enables Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V Copy/Paste but it doesn’t seem to work on my Win8 machine. Ctrl-C does something — the current selection in the window is forgotten — but doesn’t seem to put the selection into the clipboard. And Ctrl-V just sends a Ctrl-V to the input line, no change. This is true in both the command prompt and the powershell prompt.

Linux 3.11 for Workgroups brings a tear to my eye

win311logoApparently Linux 3.11 has been named Linux for Workgroups. How awesome, even if it is not really meant in tribute.

This was the first shipping product I worked on at Microsoft. A great great team of people. I remember how surprised we all were on the product team when the product was marketed at launch as a “Notes Killer”. We were just trying to make networking work within Windows, because up to that point, networking install for Windows was a ball buster.

I still have a WFW screwdriver.

Software (mostly) on my to-play-with list — Circuitlab, Paintcode, Pressgram, Tabular, …

  • CircuitLab — worth watching. Today it is kind of a toy, but if this could grow, say, into a tool that would let me design and emulate SOC-based systems, and then outsource the parts supply, circuit board mfr, and even assembly of them, well that could be cool.
  • PaintCode — if I was doing iOS/osx app development, this seems like a must have. Laying out visuals and then creating all the boilerplate framework is tedious and boring.
  • Pressgram — Love this idea. Never understand why people gift content to other branded services, this lets people own and control their own content.
  • Some Ecards Store — I’d like to buy a bunch of the coffee mugs and stock our office with them.
  • Tabular — I don’t have enough time (or, to be honest, enough skill) to engage in my secret desire to compose music, but if I did…
  • 2 factor Apple ID auth — purportedly you can turn this on but it has been a failure for me, apple claims i set some security question answers that i have never seen before, and now I am locked out of my account after too many tries. Awesome.
  • WindowsRT jailbreak tool — something to do with my stupid surface machine

I wouldn’t rush out to buy a Surface.

I have the attention span of a gnat, and too large a hardware budget, so of course I ordered a “Surface”:http://www.microsoft.com/Surface/en-US day one. I got my Surface on Friday. 64G, black, both the touch and the type covers. My motto — “Buying first release technology since 1979 so you don’t have to!”

There are a million reviews to read of the Surface. I’ll be using it over the course of the next several months and will share my thoughts, including these initial views. “Hal Berenson”:http://hal2020.com/2012/10/28/understanding-the-microsoft-surface-a-sort-of-review/ is a thoughtful guy and I’d read his notes, he is more positive than I am at this point. So some good balance.

The hardware is solid. A little heavy but feels robust, and I like the width a lot. Having a kb is nice. When you are sitting at a table or desk, the type cover is probably superior. When sitting on the couch with the Surface on your lap, I think the touch cover is a little more functional. As others have said tho, your fingers can easily drift on the touch cover and occasionally you start hitting the wrong keys entirely. It is odd that the kbs have a Fn key, and I have no idea what the Device and Share buttons are for. But good kbs, the Surface delivers on the tablet+keyboard promise.

The Win8 touch interface is fine. Different than iOS but not in a bad way, just different. And some things are very nice — the live tiles are definitely an improvement over iOS as is the ability to pin objects to the home screen. But…Win8 has oh so many fit and finish issues. Copy and paste is tricky to use. Edit focus jumps around randomly on some screens. Moving the text insertion point is painful. Too many clicks to do common operations. Laggy at times. Config options buried and hard to find — it took me a long time to figure out how to selectively show a calendar. Dragging to rearrange the home screen is a hit or miss proposition. The whole legacy desktop thing which is particularly useless on an ARM device.

The marketplace is very weak. Lots of brandname apps missing. No Dropbox. No Spotify. No ESPN Scorecenter. No Twitter, Tweetbot, Tweetdeck. There are some offbrand replacements for some of these but many of them are crap, of the two twitter clients I tried, only 1 actually worked, and I have to terminate and restart it regularly. WordPress app won’t work. Feed reader won’t work. In MSFT’s attempt to fill the store, they have obviously lowered the quality bar. Will this get better? One can hope. It probably depends on how committed MSFT really is to the Surface, and their orphaning of my Nokia Lumia doesn’t bode well. This is one reason why I say “wait”, MSFT needs to prove they are committed to fixing the marketplace issues (particularly for the ARM devices, I am sure this will be less an issue for Intel-based devices).

The other big selling point of the Surface is Office. Office is just a direct port of the desktop app, with only modest concessions for touch. And the touch support is simply not sufficient — mapping fat-fingered touches onto a fine resolution mouse interface is not a good experience. Sure you can type, but try creating a slide in PPT with a simple architecture diagram — some boxes with text and connecting lines. Now do it in Keynote on an iPad. The PPT experience is very trying, the Keynote experience is pretty slick. There are limited changes in Office to embrace the touch screen experience — you have to touch your way thru a myriad of teeny menu choices, in many cases choosing blind since your finger obscures the choice. Turning on Touch Mode (why is this not on by default?) doesn’t help much. Fine movements of the text edit point, fine selections — all super painful via touch. You find yourself jumping back to the arrow keys on the KB or wishing you had bought a little portable mouse.

As one smart observer said to me, “the Office team bet against Win8” by not doing a native Win8 version. Yes it works but compared to what it could have been, it is completely inadequate. Somehow Apple found the time and engineers to do versions of their productivity apps optimized for OSX and for iOS; Microsoft needs to dig deep and do the same. The current Office apps are adequate viewers of content, but I will never use these for any intensive content creation — and they drag along the whole confusing legacy desktop mode, which is pointless on an ARM-based device. Office delivers limited value on these devices, I would wait until MSFT delivers real Win8 versions of the apps. (BTW, I’ve heard some complaints that MSFT didn’t port Outlook. Well I say thank goodness, the Surface Mail and Calendar apps are native Win8 apps and are usable. If I had to use desktop Outlook, that would be bad.)

So: keyboards good, Windows8 looks nice but needs polish, office pointless, marketplace weak. I’d wait to buy, and I’d look hard at other Win8 options.

Different views?

After many months of my Nokia Lumia Windows Phone, I am frustrated

OK I have been diligent in using this phone, I really want MSFT to have a competitive offering in the phone space, it would be good for me as a customer and good for the region.

But I am starting to get frustrated, and looking forward very much to my next phone.

* Back button versus Home button. If you enter an app from the Home screen, it is a fresh new copy, always. If you enter from the back button, you come back where you were. So suppose you are drafting an email, go to the browser to grab a url to stuff in the email. If you get back to email via the homescreen, your in-process message is gone. F^&k. You have to go back using the back button. Stupid. Annoying. Bites me every freaking day, several times. Apps should remember where they were.
* The bottom row buttons become unresponsive once a day — the home, back, search buttons. No amount of pressing helps. Reboot. This is extra special if you were composing something, jumped to the browser to get a url, and then can’t get back. Grrr.
* Prominence of the Bing button. Way too easy to hit unintentionally, I constantly bring up the Bing page which I never want. It is not that I hate Bing, it is just that I can easily search from the browser address bar and I don’t need a big freaking button that is too easy to hit on the device.
* Spontaneous TellMe invocation. No idea why but at least once a day, the voice reco dialog pops up. Often when I set the phone down at night and plug it in — about 10 seconds after setting it down, TellMe pops up. No idea why. Voice reco blows (on all phones) and I never need this feature.
* Tabbed browsing. Something is wrong with it, it is way less intuitive than with the iphone, I don’t understand when tabs are created or reused. I end up never using tabs.

Very soon, this phone is headed for retirement. What will I get next? Well I will wait to see the purported September iPhone refresh and make a decision then. The Nokia hardware is solid and I like it, but I don’t feel great about the overall experience, and I’m still pissed that this device has been orphaned by MSFT. I could go Android as well, the Android user in the family is very happy.

Does it make sense to use a hosted Windows desktop for development?

Maybe this is a goofy idea, I am just thinking about it.

I do casual development on OSX and Windows. I probably do more on OSX but would like access to both environments.

So I’d like to have a windows desktop machine with a full windows dev environment, all kinds of dev tools installed, pointing to my source libraries and storage. And I want it available to me everywhere — at home, at work, on the road, wherever.

Today I have all this set up on my home office machine. But that limits me, I can’t do dev at work, or on the go.

I could carry a windows laptop but…I already carry a Mac laptop and don’t want to walk away from that. I could put a vm on my mac laptop i guess, but I don’t always have a laptop with me, sometimes like today I am tablet-only, but would still like to do some work.

So I am wondering if maybe I should pay for a hosted windows desktop somewhere. And then remote into it from whatever machine I am at right now. But I am seeing prices of $25-40 a month for a full hosted windows desktop and this seems expensive. I am not using this machine 24/7 so I want a price much more suited for casual use.

Of course I could remote into my home machine. But a) this requires me tearing thru firewalls and nat and I find this to be unreliable, and b) this requires me to open up the home machine to remote ops and that makes me a little nervous about security implications, and c) this requires me to really manage that home machine well, keep it backed up and updated and running perfectly, and I tend to want to tinker on that machine and not be held to this level of reliability.

Another alternative is to accept that the entire tool chain just lives on the one machine, and of course I’ll use github or the moral equivalent for source storage, and all I do on other machines is edit. That is not a terrible outcome but I’d like to do better.

What I’d really like is something like c9.io which would let me develop win phone apps, as well as a variety of other targets.

Advice welcome!

Switching to the Nokia Lumia 900 for a while

I’ve decided to move away from the iPhone for a while, I just got the new Nokia Lumia 900 and am filling it up with apps right now.

Why? Well, iOS is starting to feeling stale — I have an unending grid of apps, there have to be other ways to organize tasks and data. iOS has poor integration across apps, very limited integration between apps and the shell, little data sharing between apps, etc.

And only exposing myself to iOS makes my brain stale — I start to let myself be constrained by the iOS grid and app model. I need to experience are other ways to skin the cat, and Windows Phone is trying some different things which are worth understanding — the facebook integration, pinning of content to the shell, etc.

Switching to Windows Phone also appeals to the contrarian in me. How cool can it be to have an iPhone if everybody has one?

So off I go. Hanselman has a “good list of essential apps”:hnsl.mn/wyuZhY. And I’ve installed the WordPress, ESPN, and Starbucks apps. It is interesting that I can bill apps to either ATT or to a credit card on file with my Zune app — I wonder what the rev split is between carrier and MSFT and app developer for these two different models.

One very positive initial reaction — no stupid pair of crappy earbuds in the box. I’ve thrown so many of the useless Apple ones away.

Win 8 first impressions — bold move by MSFT, not sure what it does for me

I’m playing with Windows 8. If you are going to go down this path, some “tips to get started”:http://www.edbott.com/weblog/2012/03/where-is-the-windows-8-consumer-preview-product-key/.

I’ve had lots of troubles installing. The “same error repeatedly writing the OS to my disk”:http://theludwigs.com/2012/03/3-failed-attempts-to-install-win8-preview-and-i-am-giving-up/, tho judging by lack of internet hits on the error code, this is unique to me. The error went away for a while but came back. My machine is rock solid under Win7, has never given me a moment’s problem, but something about the hardware is making win8 install unhappy. I reformatted my hard disk, and then replaced it with a brand new one; updated my bios; tried install off of USB and DVD media; downloaded multiple install images; tried a virtual HD instead of a physical disk; ran a thorough memtest; and it still failed. I finally moved to a VirtualBox VM install and this worked, but it really limits the experience. Some MSFT guys are trying to help me, but no solutions yet.

Maybe an upgrade install would have worked better, but I am sure not going to try that at this point.

So, impressions? Impressions:

* Despite my install troubles the product basically feels solid. Seems like quality won’t prevent MSFT from shipping.
* My multi-monitor setup seems kind of ideal. Monitor 1 is a new Dell ST2220t 21.5 inch touch screen LCD which is great for playing with the Metro interface, and then my existing 27″ monitor. This lets me run Metro on the touch screen and classic Windows on the 27″.
* As with any new version of windows, it feels a little like MSFT moved stuff around just for the sake of moving stuff around. The “fins and chrome” strategy. Maybe(?) I am getting old, but this all just kind of makes me cranky. The number of articles on the net explaining just how to shut down Win8 is kind of telling.
* Metro at one level is basically a replacement for the start menu and task bar. It is an odd experience on a big screen. 27″ of minimalist primary color blocks doesn’t seem very helpful. Even on a 21.5″ it seems wrong. I can’t say I love it. And as mentioned above, it seems different for different’s sake.
* then you have the metro apps. they are fine and if I could get 5-6 on the screen at once it might be cool. but again on a big screen they seem kind of strange and wasteful. I really don’t need a weather applet blown up to 27″.
* And then the combo of Metro and classic Windows in one system is just kind of jarring and inexplicable. Which IE version do I use and why? Which version of Evernote?

Some reviewers love it — “for instance the Chicago Sun-Times”:http://www.suntimes.com/technology/ihnatko/10992191-452/windows-8-and-metro-show-true-multiplatform-os-promise.html. Others not so much — “The Guardian”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2012/mar/05/windows-8-desktop-experience. I’m kind of more towards the Guardian view.

Overall, MSFT is being pretty bold here. Win8 is certainly pushing a new UI and you have to give credit for MSFT for trying out something new. It is probably a great UI on smaller form factors, and that might be the right device for MSFT to prioritize, given user trends and MSFT’s weakness to date on those devices. But it feels like an odd fit for larger screens and for existing Windows users, and so there is some risk in selling it to that user base. I understand why the risk makes sense for Microsoft, they have to create some momentum and innovation on mobile devices. I’m not sure why it makes sense for me, I don’t see a reason to be obviously happier with Win8 than I am with Win7.

3 failed attempts to install Win8 preview and I am giving up

Sigh. I’ve downloaded the install 3 times, generated a new license key (I hope they don’t run out), and twice tried to do a clean install off a USB key and once off a burned DVD. Every time install fails partway thru with a error 0x8007025D and some text about being unable to write files. I’m doing an install to a new disk with 1.3TB of free space, and the drive seems to work fine under win7. I don’t want to do an upgrade install. Searching around the Internet doesn’t seem to bring any relief, some people have encountered similar issues when installing in a VM but I am not doing that.

On the plus side my Lytro arrived so I will go play with that.

UPDATE: some nice MSFT folks have been helping me thru the problems and I have a working win8 install now. Will do a separate post on that, but just want to thank the MSFT folks for working with me.

Recent software trials — Camino, Shuffler, GIT, Wisestamp, Microsoft Windows Live Sync

* Firefox is feeling increasingly bloated, maybe because I’ve got a bunch of plugins jammed in. But trying out “Camino”:http://db.tidbits.com/article/11548?rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+tidbits_main+(TidBITS%3A+Mac+News+for+the+Rest+of+Us)&utm_content=Google+Reader on the Mac, seems cleaner and lighter.
* “Shuffler.FM”:www.shuffler.fm. Eh, streaming music just doesn’t work for me. My primary listening time is while driving and I need music that I can put on an ipod or cd. When I am at an actual computer I am too busy doing other things. But I like music discovery tools and guides, I just don’t want them bound into streaming.
* “GIT for the lazy”:http://www.spheredev.org/wiki/Git_for_the_lazy. Perfect for me.
* “Terminal tips and tricks for OSX”:http://superuser.com/questions/52483/terminal-tips-and-tricks-for-mac-os-x and in general SuperUser seems helpful.
* I want to love “WiseStamp”:http://www.wisestamp.com/ but I don’t get email addins that assume you are only sending email from a browser. iPhone? iPad? OSX Mail? How can I commit to this thing if I can’t use it consistently? Sigh.
* I’m super late to “Windows Live Sync”:https://sync.live.com/home.aspx?wa=wsignin1.0 but it is very useful. I do have a quibble with the naming, once upon a time MSFT was confident enough in its products to give them simple iconic names — Word, Excel, Windows. The company seems to have lost its confidence in products and jams these crazy names on them to try to ride on the coattails of other products. Mistake.

Recent utility software of note

My MacBook is entering middle age and as my intensity of use has grown over the last 6 months (due to coursework at UW) I’m finding I need to start focusing on productivity a little. Some tools that seem helpful:

* “Popchar”:http://www.macility.com/products/popcharx/ provides much better special character insertion than the standard OSX tool. Helpful for entering math symbols, etc. I love this. The basic OSX system tool is weak.
* “Keycue”:http://www.macility.com/products/keycue/ from the same guys, cheat sheet of keyboard shortcuts. Better than it sounds. I cannot remember all these keyboard shortcuts and this is way way way better than help/manual/online search.
* “Hazel”:http://www.noodlesoft.com/hazel.php for automagically managing files. My use case is dealing with downloads from various UW course sites and automagically handling. Keeps my downloads folder in order. Handy tho not absolutely mandatory.
* “Path Finder”:http://www.cocoatech.com/ as a replacement for Finder. Definitely more handy for moving files between folders.
* “Growl”:http://growl.info/ — not sure why I installed but all the cool kids seem to use.

Also on my new Windows 7 setup I am starting to play with some things:

* “Win7 multimonitor taskbars”:http://www.hanselman.com/blog/TheNearFinalWordOnMultiMonitorTaskbarsForWindows7UltramonVsDisplayFusion.aspx?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ScottHanselman+%28Scott+Hanselman+-+ComputerZen.com%29&utm_content=Google+Reader — haven’t tried these but probably should try one.
* “Feedroller”:http://lifehacker.com/5352037/feedroller-puts-rss-and-twitter-updates-across-your-monitor?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+lifehacker%2Ffull+%28Lifehacker%29&utm_content=Google+Reader — well I wanted to love this, and it looks great, but seems to have problems updating its content.

And across both machines:

* “Helvitical”:http://www.iamadtaylor.com/helvetical/ and its friends Helvetimail and Helvetireader certainly improve the looks of google apps. A little buggy tho.

Holiday PC Builds

Time for our biennial system build exercise. We built two systems over the last two weeks. While I still use my MacBook Pro for 95% of my productivity work, the Mac game market is moribund, and there is some joy in building a machine from components. So for the fun of building, and for gaming use as well as other general use, we built out two different systems:

* Cases. Very different choices. Air cooling for both, we’ve had 3-4 liquid-cooled systems. Liquid cooling looks awesome with the right fluids and lights, but — another maintenance hassle; sometimes catastrophic failures; and they just aren’t any quieter really.
** First system is an Antec 1200. Classic full tower case, tons of drive bays, tons of fans, full complement of front panel ports. Nice clear sides, some cool interior lighting. Nice looking final system, but a little time consuming to pull together — particularly all the cable connections for fans and front panel connectors. But looks nice complete.
** Second system is built around a High Speed PC Tech Station. An open, “caseless” system, super easy and quick to assemble, and gives nice open access to all elements of the system. The finished product looks messy but that is part of the appeal. No protection from the elements either. Massively faster to assemble tho.
* Motherboards. The Antec has an ASUS P6X58D and this is a great board — USB3, SATA3, designed for overclockers. Probably should have gotten this board for both systems. The second has an ASRock X58 which is fine and a little cheaper but lacks the USB3 and SATA3 support. For the price-difference, probably should have goen with the more future-proof board. Both boards seem pretty equivalent otherwise.
* Processors. Intel i7-920 2.66Ghz quad-core on both. Not the most expensive but overclockable. On the first PC with the Antec case, we installed a higher capacity cooler for overclocking support — a noname generic cooler but something like this one that we picked up at a the local parts store.
* RAM. 6GB of Corsair Dominator Triple Channel ram (3x2GIG) on both systems. Pretty easy to install, tho absolutely no documentation on the fan, but there was really only one way to try to install it and it seemed to work.
* Power supplies. The Antec has an OCZ 1000W. This is a solid supply with tons of connectors, certainly good enough for nearly any system. But the Enermax Galaxy 1250W is super nice because of the modular cable system — you only attach the power connectors you actually need. Cuts down massively on cable clutter, particularly helpful for the caseless system. I’d go with modular supplies every time in the future.
* Hard drives. Both machines have 2 1.5TB WD Caviar drives, 7200 RPM. Nothing fancy, amazing how cheap drives have become. Considered faster drives but they contribute to noise and, based on past experience with 10K rpm drives, not clear they add that much performance.
* DVD/Blue Ray drives. Not having strong opinions on drive vendors (partly because I’ve had bad drives from every vendor in the past), we scattered out purchases around here. Both systems have the same bluray drive — an LG drive. One system then has a Samsung DVD burner, the other a Pioneer.
* Removeable media. Both systems have a 17-in-1 Sony memory card reader. Neither has a floppy, thank goodness Windows install doesn’t need that anymore.
* Video cards. OK we really wanted Radeon 5970s but these are mythical. The 5870s are near-mythical, almost like unicorns. But they are findable on ebay for near MSRP and that is the route we went. Expect to pay $500 or so. Standard ebay warnings apply — look for vendors with long selling histories, flawless reputations, US-based, etc. We had no problems. The caseless system also has a second card, a 5770, the goal is to be able to run directx games on one display while running other apps on the other card, I’m not convinced this is actually possible.
* Software. Win7 ultimate, from MS Company Store for $50. Worth renewing my alumni membership for this. Installed easily, 64bit on both. Unlike vista, this version really seems to work and driver software seems plentiful. The experience isn’t flawless — IE hung when downloading the latest ATI drivers and we had to use opera/chrome/firefox; and the homegroup network UI is ill-considered at best, the networking UI is basically awful. Inventing funky abstractions like homegroups and libraries isn’t that helpful, lipstick on a pig. I just want to see the machines and devices on my network as a first step, is that so hard?
* Other software. Opera, Chrome, Firefox, Acrobat, Steam (with COD4, L4D2), Zune, Office10Beta, FileZilla, Tunebite all installed fairly quickly.

Machines both running well and seem to be happy so far. What do we still want?

* SSD drives. Also near mythical, impossible to find. Will have to add these post holidays.
* 5970 video cards.
* A desktop power switch for the caseless system. With no case, there is no obvious power and reset button, just little switches on the motherboard. One idea is to switch to a PS2 keyboard and enable powerup from keyboard in the BIOS.

Mac vs PC anecdote

My Macbook had a motherboard failure two weeks ago. Both USB ports on left side blown, wifi chipset blown. (Blame Tekkcharge but that is another discussion). Discovered this at about 4pm on a Wednesday, went to Apple.com and scheduled a genius bar appointment at 830pm same day.

At 830 I roll into the Bellevue Square Apple store, in 30 seconds someone approaches me and logs me in for my appointment. In a few minutes I am at the desk describing my problem. The genius asked me if I had Applecare, I sheepishly admitted not. Crap, I am going to have to pay for this. Wait says the genius, perhaps your MacBook Pro has the faulty NVidia chipset, in which case it is a free warranty motherboard replacement! And indeed, my machine fails the NVidia stress test, so free motherboard for me! The genius says this will in all likelihood fix my problem — but if not, not to worry, once Apple has cracked the case and messed with the motherboard, if the system is still failing, it is now their responsibility!!! Awesomeness.

Two days later they called and said the motherboard had been replaced but one of my RAM sticks was faulty, and so they were going to replace that as well. For free.

Within a week I got the machine back. New motherboard. New RAM stick. My hard disk and software safely untouched. Total cost to me: $0. The only complication was discovering that Aperture would not run, the activation logic ties the product guid to the processor guid, and so Aperture felt it was not a licensed install. Apple.com again, scheduled a callback, in one minute an Apple rep called and we were finally able to resolve (they were going to get me a new activation once we established my proof of ownership, but I eventually found the original install media).

OK so the MacBook Pro is way more expensive than a PC but I just got hundreds of dollars of parts and service out of warranty for free. And, despite a tragic hardware error, I lost no data, and had the machine fixed locally in under a week. Basically the extra costs for the Mac represent prepaid parts, prepaid service, and retail store staffing to make the lifetime experience of owning a Mac painless.

I don’t even know how to replicate this in the PC world. BestBuy is the remaining significant retailer of PCs. And the service levels are dramatically different. You can’t get much in the way of service there, when we had a broken PC purchased through BestBuy it got shipped away for repair, and took weeks. And just the simplest store experience in BestBuy is worlds different. I was in BestBuy this morning to buy a microSD card reader. I found what I wanted easily enough and went to the checkout. There were two checkers working, each busy. 4 of us in line waiting to checkout. One checker finished with her customer, and apparently decided it was breaktime, and left her station and wandered away. 4 of us in line waiting with money in hand, just needing someone to give it to. The other checker was involved in some complicated transaction so we wait and wait. Meanwhile there are 10s of BestBuy employees walking through the store all doing super important things. I finally spot one and yell across 30 feet of floorspace “Hey, can we get some checkout help here, 4 of us are waiting?” She looks around for someone to help us and goes back to what she was doing. !!!! Finally she comes over and starts to help check us out.

If I was running a retail business, I think I would instruct my employees that job 1 is taking money from people who want to give it to us. Apparently that is not the BestBuy priority. I really can’t fathom this, what does BestBuy tell its employees to do all day??

It is not that PC hardware is necessarily terrible (some of it is but some is just fine), or that the software on it is awful (though again some of it is), but the entire experience from purchase through support over the lifetime of the PC is dramatically worse than the experience available from Apple. As a smart guy said to me recently, “PCs are now throwaway”, when they quit working, you really have no choice but to just chuck it in the trash.

Enough ranting. Glad my MacBook is back humming.

Recent app trials

* Scanaroo. The idea of something to manage all my cards is cool — one place to see account numbers, 1800 customer service numbers, etc etc etc. But this isn’t it. The shortcoming is the dependency on the iphone camera. If it worked more like snaptell (use the photo to ID the card in a dbase and get all the detailed info and image from a dbase) it would be better.
* Statplot. Interesting idea, charts for sports junkies. Not a lot of community around my teams yet but will be fun to watch
* Card.ly. Microsites. If 140 chars is good enough for a message, why should a website need much more? I guess. Ultimately I don’t know what I’d use this for.
* TuneWiki. Rich loves it, I am not sure I get it yet.
* Linear Programming using Google Spreadsheets. Is this really what is keeping people tied to Excel?
* Notepad++ and plugins. Not sure I will stick with, the app is busy
* SuperUser. This could turn out to be super helpful

Software recently adopted

* Tweetdeck. Duh.
* ECMerge. I complained to Scooter Software about the lack of a mac version of BeyondCompare, they kindly suggested ECMerge or Araxis Merge. Araxis is way too expensive. ECMerge is solid but I still pine for BeyondCompare.
* Toast Titanium. I want a way to watch my Tivo shows on my mac and Toast seems to be the way to go. Seems to work well.
* MATLAB. I’m a sucker for math software. Only reasonable if you are an active student or your employer buys it for you.
* VLC. Another duh. THE way to watch wmvs on a mac (and UW lectures are all delivered in wmv format).

Oh and on the PC I am so in love with Steam. I don’t even think about CD-based games anymore. Why isn’t all Windows software delivered this way? Why hasn’t Microsoft purchased Valve?