Computers

Computers

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That Was Easy Dot Text

I’m a Macintosh bigot, so I really enjoyed this. Via Discovering Biology in a Digital World, a hilarious demonstration of speech recognition in Microsoft Windows Vista:

We’re gonna do a little perl script using the Windows Vista software recognition to show you how easy it is.

(Warning: strong language.)

In fairness, the speech recognition seems to work really well. Programming may not be the best use of this technology, and this guy probably needs to learn a few new techniques to meet the computer half way… well, two-thirds of the way.

Computers

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You’re Gonna Have to Run Again

Via the O’Reilly Network, a look at the future of computer interfaces:

One of the chaps doing the handiwork in that video is Jeff Han, famous for his demonstration of a (somewhat smaller) multi-touch setup at TED a year or so ago. This video shows work by Jeff’s new company Perceptive Pixel. And that’s the progress over just one year…

The music isn’t ominous enough. Didn’t these people see Minority Report? Can Future Crime be far behind?

Computers
Politics

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NSA Helps Microsoft “Secure” Vista

I don’t know why this doesn’t fill me with a lot of confidence:

The U.S. agency best known for eavesdropping on telephone calls had a hand in the development of Microsoft Corp.’s Vista operating system, the software vendor confirmed yesterday.

The National Security Agency stepped in to help Microsoft develop a configuration of its next-generation operating system that would meet U.S. Department of Defense requirements, said NSA spokesman Ken White.

The theory, I suppose, is that you might as well give them the keys because they’re going to get in anyway, and it’s less messy for everyone if they don’t have to smash the door down.

Airy Persiflage
Computers

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Ticking and Ticking

I’ve been using Macintosh computers since about 1989, I think, and I’m an unabashed fan. Sometimes when I hold forth about the glories of the Mac, I see eyes rolling and resigned, weary sighs from my rapt listeners, and I wonder: Am I wrong? Am I crazy? Do I carry this thing too far?

It’s a source of comfort to me when I see something like this, from The Omni Group blog:

Michaela brought in some pillows that her friend Roberto spent the last several months crafting for her. Mac nerds can’t be content with a row of regular pillows on the couch, no, no way. Our decor needs to resemble graphical user interfaces whenever possible! Behold, Michaela’s dock in cushiony fabric form!

Soft Dock

Or this hand-made oak clock, called the Macintock.

Macintock

See? I’m not the most obsessive person in the world. Really!

Or maybe it’s just that I’m really, really lazy, and making those things looks too much like work.

Computers

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Who’s Crazy?

Earlier this week, Apple Computer introduced Intel-based replacements for their PowerMac G5 desktop systems, and announced an October shipping date for Intel-based XServes, Apple’s line of rack-mounted servers. The announcements complete Apple’s transition to Intel CPUs on their entire Macintosh line.

On its website Apple says:

Ushering in a new era of outstanding performance, Mac Pro introduces the 64-bit Dual-Core Intel Xeon “Woodcrest” processor to the Mac lineup. A state-of-the-art processor, it makes Mac Pro one of the fastest desktop computers on the planet.

And at 3GHz, the Mac Pro runs up to 2x faster than the Power Mac G5 Quad.

Macworld has done some early benchmarks, and this is what they have to say about the 2.66GHz Mac Pro:

The standard configuration of the Mac Pro outperforms its PowerPC-based G5 predecessors by a wide margin, helping to justify Apple’s 2005 decision to switch to processors from Intel.

Outperforms by a wide margin, huh? Are they nuts, or is it me?

A video render that took 30 seconds on the Power Macs takes only 28 seconds on the new Mac Pro. An MPEG2 encode operation that used to take 1:52 now takes only 1:47, and an iMovie effect that previously ran 39 seconds now comes in at 38 seconds! WHOOooooooo!!

To be fair, there are some tests where the Intel-based machines have a more impressive edge. But there are also results like this: MP3 encoding that took 43 seconds on the old machine takes 48 seconds on the new one. A Photoshop benchmark that runs in 45 seconds on a Power Mac takes almost twice as long on a Mac Pro.

The Photoshop results aren’t terribly surprising. There is not yet an Intel-native version of Photoshop for the Mac. That’s expected sometime next year, almost certainly at an upgrade price of hundreds of dollars. It’s hard to be certain, but that new version probably will perform a little bit better on a Mac Pro than on a Power Mac.

Okay, Apple’s business depends on shipping machines. It’s no surprise they’re hyping their new products. Macworld’s business depends on Apple’s business, and I guess if you’re shilling computers for a living, you don’t need to maintain even the appearance of objectivity or journalistic integrity.

Computers

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Apple Turns 30

Not an April Fool’s gag: today is the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of Apple Computer, Inc. Joy of Tech has a birthday cake in the shape of the Apple I computer. The Apple I was one of the very first personal computers, a kit intended for customers who were comfortable around a soldering iron. The company’s fortunes really took off with the introduction, in April 1977, of the Apple II, a machine designed for ordinary mortals.

Thirty years is a very long time in this business, and Apple’s fortunes have been up and down. The Apple II’s success brought IBM into the world of personal computing in 1982, with a hastily-designed machine that was deliberately crippled, to avoid competing with IBM’s expensive “big iron” computers.

Apple answered in 1984 with the Macintosh. The Mac sported a mouse-driven graphical user interface with multiple windows, on-screen buttons, pull-down menus, icons representing files and programs, and many other innovations that are universally accepted today as the natural way to interact with computers. Apple built simple networking into every Macintosh in 1985, when some wondered why you would ever want to let two computers talk to each other. Competitors derided the Mac interface while desperately struggling to duplicate it. It took Microsoft more than ten years to come within hailing distance of the Mac interface, with Windows 95.

Ten years ago, many pundits declared that Apple Computer was doomed. Macworld, a magazine for Macintosh users, ran a series of articles to help readers switch to Microsoft Windows. Now Macworld Online has an article about Apple’s impact. Wired Magazine, cNet — even American Heritage — have put together articles and photo galleries in honor of thirty years of Apple.

It’s been no small achievement that Apple has defied the doomsayers to reach this thirtieth anniversary. Time after time, Apple has been daring and innovative when other companies have been timid and conservative. Even if you’ve never touched an Apple computer in your life, if you’re reading this, you’re a beneficiary of Apple’s history of innovation.

Happy birthday, Apple.

Airy Persiflage
Computers

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Redmond Style

Via Ranchero: Microsoft design in action? What if Microsoft re-designed the packaging for Apple’s popular iPod? This video clip provides the answer.

Computers

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I’m Not Always Right

Last June, Apple Computer announced that future versions of their Macintosh computers would be based on CPU chips from monopolist Intel. At the time, I said this:

In the past year or so, Macintosh sales seemed to be inching up. Now, sales of existing Macs are going to crater. The new machines won’t ship until about the time that Microsoft’s continually-postponed Longhorn operating system does. The first Macintels will ship in about a year. The entire line won’t be converted for two and a half years. During that time, nobody will want to buy machines that Apple has already abandoned.

Apparently I was wrong:

Mr. Jobs also revealed that Apple’s revenue for the quarter ended Dec. 31 jumped 63 percent, to $5.7 billion. The figure easily beat Wall Street’s expectations, as sales of the iPod portable music player more than tripled compared with the holiday quarter in 2004. Revenue for that quarter was $3.5 billion.

Mr. Jobs said the company sold 14 million iPods during the holiday quarter, up from 4.5 million during the 2004 holiday season. Perhaps more surprising was the news that Apple sold 1.25 million Macintosh computers in the quarter, up from 1.05 million in 2004, despite the worries of some analysts that consumers would delay their purchases. Sales at Apple’s retail stores rose to about $1 billion, Mr. Jobs said.

This week, Apple introduced their first Intel-based Macs, almost six months before the predictions made last year. They said that the transition would be completed by the end of this year, about a year before last year’s predictions.

Unlike the prototype machines Apple supplied to software developers last June, the new Macs won’t run any currently shipping version of Microsoft Windows, so visions of running Windows and Macintosh software on the same machine are on hold. Longhorn, the forthcoming version of Windows, has been renamed Vista. It’s expected by the end of this year, and may be able to run on the new machines.

I still don’t want one of the new machines. Intel has built DRM capabilities into many of their chips, and I’m still concerned that Apple made the switch to take advantage of those capabilities.

The point of the microcomputer revolution that started in the 1970s was that ordinary people could have complete control of computer power that had previously been available only to governments and big corporations. Once that revolution was well entrenched, Microsoft and other software vendors started trying to take that control back, with things like product activation, active updates and “digital rights management” (DRM) everywhere. Apple has always been an oasis from these anti-customer efforts. However, one apparent reason for Apple’s move to Intel now is that Intel is building DRM capabilities into their CPUs, helping ensure that, although you may have paid for the computer, someone else will control what you can do with it.

I believe it may be a year or two before we know whether Apple intends to limit users’ control over their own computers. Hard as it is to believe, I’ve been wrong before. I’d be delighted to be proved wrong once more.

Computers

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Dooooomed! Okay, I’m Done

Since Monday, when Apple announced it will switch the CPUs in their Macintosh computers from the current PowerPCs to Intel Pentium-type chips, I have wandered the highways and byways of the internet, sharing my view that the move dooms the Macintosh, and explaining why I think so.

Late last night, I suddenly realized I was trying to convince people to join me in my gloomy assessment. And I realized that nothing good would come of that effort.

Only time will tell whether my prediction is correct. It’s entirely possible that I’ll be proven wrong. If so, what am I doing now but annoying people?

Even if time shows I’m right, what good will come of my prediction? Certainly I’m not going to persuade Apple to reverse course.

I also realized that I’ve been blurring together two separate predictions:

  1. That Apple sales will suffer severely, and
  2. That Apple will join Microsoft in extending DRM Everywhere, and taking control out of the hands of the computer owner.

I’m more worried about the second prediction. I surely hope I’m wrong about that. I love my Macintosh. But if Apple switches to a locked-down computing experience, I will go rough it with the Linux hippies in the Land of the Free.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Computers

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Handwriting on the Wall

I’m not the only person who sees Monday’s announcement as the end of the Macintosh. Via Backup Brain, here’s Jerry Kindall:

Mark my words: within five years, there will be no Macintosh. There will probably be no Apple. Bill Gates will have his last little sliver of marketshare. He’s sitting in his office in Redmond, not ten miles from where I am right now, cackling with glee. Apple’s only hope is to get out of the computer business entirely, and that’s too speculative to hang their entire company on. The Macintosh today has been declared end-of-life and the userbase is being transitioned to Windows. I wouldn’t be surprised to see many small Mac developers decide to jump to Windows development today.

I remember Jerry from BBS days, when we were both using the Apple II family of computers. We’ve both been around for a while. We’ve both seen handwriting on walls.

Computers

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R. I. P. Macintosh

I wish Steve Jobs had bit the bullet today, and announced in plain English that Apple Computer is dropping out of the computer business.

That’s not what he said, but I’m convinced that’s what happened today. Normally, I would add that I hope I’ll be proven wrong. This time, I’m not so sure that success in Apple’s transition to monopolist Intel’s CPUs would be preferable to the end of the company’s computer line.

The point of the microcomputer revolution that started in the 1970s was that ordinary people could have complete control of computer power that had previously been available only to governments and big corporations. Once that revolution was well entrenched, Microsoft and other software vendors started trying to take that control back, with things like product activation, active updates and “digital rights management” (DRM) everywhere. Apple has always been an oasis from these anti-customer efforts. However, one apparent reason for Apple’s move to Intel now is that Intel is building DRM capabilities into their CPUs, helping ensure that, although you may have paid for the computer, someone else will control what you can do with it.

In the past year or so, Macintosh sales seemed to be inching up. Now, sales of existing Macs are going to crater. The new machines won’t ship until about the time that Microsoft’s continually-postponed Longhorn operating system does. The first Macintels will ship in about a year. The entire line won’t be converted for two and a half years. During that time, nobody will want to buy machines that Apple has already abandoned. Promises of continuing support for Macs based on PowerPC chips aren’t worth the hot air they’re comprised of.

Whether Steve Jobs said it or not, Apple Computer ceased to be a computer company today.

Time to investigate Linux.

Computers

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Assimilated

1984:

A picture named hello-mac.jpg

2005:

A picture named goodbye-mac.jpg

Well, it was nice while it lasted.

Airy Persiflage
Computers

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If I Only Had a Brain

I bought my first computer 22 years ago today, on May 11, 1983. Changed my life.

It was an Apple IIe, a minor 1983 update to the classic Apple II that had been introduced in 1977. The pace of technological change has accelerated since then.

The central processing unit (CPU) in my Apple IIe was a 6502 chip running at 1 MHz, just like the original Apple II. When I tried my hand at typing in programs in the built-in BASIC language, I was astonished at the speed of the machine. Error messages might flash by too quickly for me to see. My daisy-wheel printer could hammer out about 12 characters per second — very impressive compared to my own halting manual typing.

The computer I’m using right now has two CPUs, each running at 2GHz — 2,000 times the clock speed of my first computer. The CPUs are of a different design: they can deal with data in bigger chunks than the 6502; they use a RISC instruction set that operates significantly differently from the 6502. My new computer might be many thousands of times faster than my Apple IIe, or it might be only about 1,000 times faster. I’m sometimes frustrated that some operations seem to take too long. My expectations have changed during the past 22 years, but I’m also doing things with this computer that I never would have imagined doing with the Apple IIe.

My Apple IIe came fully loaded with 64K of RAM memory, the maximum amount of memory that could be directly accessed by the 6502 CPU. The Apple Writer word processor fit into a lean 16K, leaving ample memory for documents of about twenty pages. Longer documents could be saved in a series of files. Having plenty of RAM, I got spoiled. I’ve stuffed my current machine with 2.5 gigabytes of RAM — more than 40,000 times as much memory as my Apple IIe. When that’s not enough, the operating system on my current machine can use virtual memory to make it seem as if I’ve got even more memory.

My Apple IIe had two floppy disk drives, each capable of holding 144K of programs and data. A few programs were too complicated to fit in the machine’s 64K of RAM, so it was often a good idea to leave the program disk in one drive so segments of the program could be loaded as they were needed. The other drive could be used to hold any files I might create while running the program.

My current computer has two hard drives, totaling over 400Gb. That’s a little less than 1.5 million times as much storage as I got with my first computer. I have most of my CD collection instantly available on my computer. I can edit video clips and burn DVDs. Every now and then I look into adding more disk space.

I can’t prove this, but I feel fairly confident that when I bought my Apple IIe, I owned more computer power than existed in the entire world at the end of World War II — more than was used by the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb, more than was used by the code-breakers at Bletchley Park to crack the German Enigma codes, more than was possessed by all the governments on both sides of the war.

It’s nice to have the latest and greatest hardware and software, but a fast computer is no substitute for a good brain.

Computers
Politics

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Happy to Be a Macintosh User

I’m a bigot, all right. I’ve used Apple computers since I bought my first computer way back in 1983. I had to use Windows computers at work, and I tried, not very successfully, to overcome my prejudices against the criminal monopolist Microsoft. But a few years ago, when Apple Computer seemed to be near collapse, I declared that if Microsoft was the only software choice available, I’d just do without a computer. It’s not entirely a rational response; some of Microsoft’s products are very good. Some aren’t. Now, via John Moltz’s weblog, I’ve got a specific reason to be glad I’m a Macintosh user:

Microsoft is currently paying a $20,000 a month retainer to former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed’s consulting firm Century Strategies. Which now begs the question of whether Reed was in any way involved with Microsoft’s recent decision to abandon its decades long support for gay civil rights in order to curry favor with anti-gay bigots of the radical right.