Archive for January, 2008

Why Apple Computers are the Best Windows PCs (or the lesser of several evils)

I’m now spending most of my time on an Apple computer, the 20″ 2.4 GHz iMac. I also use a Dell Inspiron e1505 and a Toshiba R100, both of which just run Windows. In my opinion, compared with the typical big-box computer (there are exceptions, like some Dell laptops, mainly the XPS series, and some other units by other lesser-known manufacturers) units by Apple hold some advantages if you’re deciding to purchase one over the other:

1. No promos
I like promo-hunting but lots of people don’t. Apple’s simply computer line  doesn’t rapidly vacillate in price, and the relative dearth of customization options make it pretty easy to figure out what Mac you’re gonna buy. Easier than, say, buying a PC from elsewhere.

2. It can run the best of both worlds.
Macs run Windows too. And they run their own pretty-darn-good operating system. So while in the hardware arena ou give up some choice by going Apple, you get twice the operting system choice you do normally from a PC. Heck, the percentage is actually less…in a good way…x86-based Linux will run perfectly fine on n Apple unit.

3. They don’t skimp on components
As opposed to the PC manufacturers, which start you off with 512 MB of 533 MHz memory, a single core 1.46 GHz processor and a rather limited operating system, not to mention a lowcapacity battery in some instances, for Apple computers the low-end models are perfectly capable of doing everyday tasks very smoothly. The desktop situation is a bit better for PCs, since Apple elects to use a bunch of notebook components in their iMac(the only thing I don’t really like about having that system). But to get down to cheap price levels, PC makers skimp on components that Apple doesn’t, thus making Apple look betterand PCs look nearly as costly as Macs when you get similar features, at least on the consumer end of things. Macbook Pros are much more expensive than Dell XPS m1530s, but less expensive than workstation laptop models that Dell tucks away in the business categor. Likewise, Mac Pros are more expensive than high-end home machines, but are cheap compared with desktop workstations in many cases. :/

4. They DO skimp on bloatware
PC makers are getting better about this, but Apple never had any problems with it to start with. One suggestion that you might want to buy a .Mac subscription, and you’re on your way. All trial versions of software are neatly tucked away should you want them, but they’re tucked away so you won’t be annoyed if you don’t want them. Again, Dell at least is slimming down the junk they include with their computers, so that the darn things will run with 1 GB of memory and a rather slow dual-core processor in a Vista environment without grinding to a screeching halt, but no matter whether you put Windows or just keep Mac OS on your Apple computer,  things are quite clean.

5. Mac OS is pretty, and so are Apple computers
Don’t get me wrong, Windows Vista looks awesome, and actually is much flashier than Apple’s Leopard OS. But Mac OS X has been doggone beautiful since pretty much the start, and thus applications built for the system are actually made to look nice, as opposed to a rather haphazard collection of Windows doodads. It’s probably easier for programmers to make pretty Mac apps, too, what with all the developer tools Apple builds into the operating system. Oh, and on the hardware side, while PC makers are getting better about this every day, I still think my iMac looks better than the Dell XPS One system. The Macbook also looks very cool compared with…oh…every other laptop on the market, though expansion capabilities, beyond memory and hard disk space, are nil internally. Yep, no ExpressCard slot on that little bad boy.

So if you just want to use your computer, whether that means using WIndows or using Mac OS, the Apple bunch trumps Dell, Gateway, HP et al. Though if you’re willing to work it a bit, the latter manufacturers will get you a better deal on a better system. Just be prepared to delete a few miscellaneous trial versions at the get-go. Oh, and your computer won’t be designed by Apple in California, for what that’s worth. Hey, I have nothing against anybody…yet…my next normal laptop will likely be the Dell XPS m1530. My next ultraportable, coming soon? If it proves worth the wierd USB and headphone jack arrangement, the Macbook Air.

Short Bits: Assembler, Android, Headsets, Neener neener

Okay, so here are some rapid-fire bits of bloggery I need to get off my chest to be totally caught up with everything…here at least…

First off, I admire the few, the porud, the assembler programmers. Yu know, the guys who write in assembly language. They are the people who create awesome apps that can be downloaded over dialup like it was broadband, then flipped onto a floppy with room to spare. These guys could probably create an operating system that could fit on a floppy yet still have a graphical interface, mass storage support, decent video and audio, and enough extensibility to add apps easily. For example, a web browser, e-mail client, word processor and spreadsheet that all fit onto another floppy. But I’m probably exaggerating…exaggerating how much space this sort of thing would take up. After all, Steve Gibson’s a-mc-mazing SpinRite disk utility weighs in at around 140k, including a FreeDOS mini-operating system and the means to format and make bootable the media of your choice. Wow. Any other assembler programs out there of note? I’d like to revel in their amazing-ness. After all, not even Windows is written in assembler.

Second, I hope that Google’s Android system is a success. Even if that means an ad or two on my phone, I’ll take it for a smartphone operating system that just works, and works well, providing for lots and lots of powerful applications, no matter whether your phone has a touch screen, a full keyboard, both or neither. Personally, I’m looking to replace my HTC Mogul with a sweet new HTC Dream when that phone comes out for CDMA networks. If Sprint stays above water for that long, that is :/

Third,  both mycell phone headsets have bene washed. My HTC Mogul headset survived, albeit with oneof its heabuds dead. My iPhone headset looked like a piece of junk coming out of the dryer, but it worked fine. But I now dont know where it is…probably washed into oblivion. But hey, that’s a testament to Apple construction. But anyhow, I’ve replaced my Apple heaset with a par of cheap TDK “Gummy” earbuds. To work with the iPhone though, I had to shave off a quarter-inch long swatch ofplastic sheathing near the 3.5mm connector tip. If I have to do that for the Macbook Air (I’m trying it before buying it at this point) that’s just one more reason not to get the little laptop.

Fourth and finally, neener neener. You see, my PC an run Windows XP simultaneously with BSD. Well, Mac OS X, which is based on BSD Unix. Which counts because I can pull up VIM (Vi IMproved) from the Mac OS X terminal. Anyway, with the assistance of my choice of either Parallels or VMWare Fusion, my computer runs two hi-fi operating systems at once, more than can be said of any computer not made by Apple Inc. Cool, huh? Well, it’s cool enough that I’m using OS X instead of Windows to writ ethis post…


Well, I finally updated this site, by deleting that page of stuff to do as far as posts go. After all, after making off with $1000 worth of software for $100, including TaskPaper (Google it) I can write task lists on my very own computer with ease, so I’m just keep ing blog to-dos there.

So instead of doing calculus 3 or economics questions at the moment, I’ve decided to listen through “Something To Say” by Matthew West to see whether any of its melodies are fit for my radio show, now airing at 6-7 pm Mountain Time Mondays because my original time gotrather hijacked…even though I’m now radio station president. But anyway, I’m also going to rant and rave about text messaging…

First off,why the heck to carriers think they can chargetwo arms and a leg for a service that effectively costs them nothing in bandwidth, is not time-sensitive, is ten years old and generaly a staple that should get cheaper and not more expensive? But let me explain…

A text message merely gets slotted in when your phone checks, every few seconds, with the tower to make sure there are no incoming calls or important stuff like that. There are a few hundred bytes left in the status message, so why not use those to transmit short messages from phone to phone? Thus SMS (Short Message Service) was born. Again, when a phone sends or receives a text, it’s send ing some sort of information anyway, this time around it just happens not to be an empty container.

So why the price hike from five or ten cents per message to fifteen, and now twenty, hard-earned pennies for somewhere between 140 and 160 characters of  text? Even if you can formulate your thoughts better textually than via voice, you can now on a typical phone plan talk for a full two minutes for the price of one text, one way. Two minutes at one hundred words per minute (not unusual) gets you 1000 or so characters. Seems to me texting is WAY overpriced. Especially since the bandwidth it uses, even when directly compared to voice, is less 0.2 seconds of a call. I’m not making this stuff up.  You heard me right; if a carrier is charging 10 cents per minute for calls, they should logically charge 0.1 cents per text message to maintain a similar profit margin. So even a penny per message is a big ripoff. And…twenty cents per message. If you were paying even a penny per text message for data access in that quantity, data would cost six cents per kilobyte, double the “pay as you go” rate for most providers’ rip-off data plans. And we’re paying twenty times that for a single message. Geez.

But there is hope. It’s called “what the carriers want you to do”. That is to say, get a texting bundle. You’ve got Virgin Mobile, offering 30 texts for $2, 200 texts for $5, one thousand texts for $10 and unlimited for $20. So unless you get the unlimited plan you’re paying a minimum of a penny per text, probably more. Other than the packages you’re paying 10 cents per text. To be fair, the packages include picture messaging (much, MUCH more data-intensive, and a decent use of your money,for the few times you use it…I’ve probably sent one hundred of such messages in my life, and we’re atlking 90% uploads to websites, and most people probably only send a message or two per month, if that), IM (data-service based, disgustingly small amounts of data per penny, twopenny ha’penny or dime) or e-mail (using a mini-email program so you won’t ue more than a thousand characters per message without throwing your hands up in desperation). But if you look, you’ll see in the right corner data plans, which start at $0.002 (yes, two tenths of a cent) per kilobyte, and end at a tenth of a cent per kilobyte. A thousand text messages would cost less than a buck. Way less.  But hey, you’ve got unlimited messaging if you want to text your heart out (and, contrary to popular disbelief, people do send\receive upwards of 5000 texts per month, especially if they use texting like instant messaging; with various alerts I use maybe 800-1000 per month on my included-in-plan unlimited feature).

Next, let’s quickly consider AT&T’s GoPhone service. Similar deal as Virgin Mobile; 200 messages for $5, 1000 for $10, unlimited for $20, but individual messages are 15 cents apiece. In contrast, data is $5 for 1 MB, $10 for 5 MB, $15 for 10 MB or $20 for unlimited per month. 1000 texts per month gets you through about $1 of that $5 in data. Or $5 if you pay per kilobyte, a penny per kilobyte to be precise. Not even close to the $10 per month you pay.

Contract time. AT&T has similar offerings to their prepaid service, except you pay $15 for 1500 messages instead of $10 for 1000. Lame. Verizon gives you 500 messages for $10, 1500 messages for $15 or 5000 messages for $20. Oh, and all these plans give you free text to and from Verizon subscribers. You can also get unlimited messaging as an integral part of your phone plan for $20 extra per month. Zzzz. Sprint is a bit better, though they started the 20-cent messaging craze. 300 messages for $5, 1000 for $10, unlimited for $15. Or, if you’re on a new Power Pack plan (one of their recent plans that doesn’t have free incoming calls and starts at $40 per month) you get the unlimited pack for just $10 on top of your plan. Or just grab a special plan (SERO) starting at $30 and get it included…my personal favorite choice. But $10 for unlimited isn’t horrible. Last but not least, T-Mobile gets 400 messages for $5 extra per month, 1000 for $10 or unlimited for $15. Fair enough, considering their plans are a fair bit cheaper than everyone else’s.  But the situation is stillr ather lame.

What I like better is how the smaller carriers do it. In Texas, the local carrier is Five Star Wireless. Unlimited text is $1.95 extra per month. I’ll go for that, if I had their service (I don’t but they have AMAZING coverage). The local unlimited carrier, Pocket (now with over 200,000 customers), gives everyone, on plans $25 and up (in other words, all their plans) the feature, plus unlimited picture messaging.  Sure beats having the carrier pay for voice bandwidth and inter-carrier long distance charges. CricKet gives unlimited text with most of their plans (starting at $30) or offers it for $5 extra. MetroPCS allows you to either add it for $3 per month to their $35 plan or get it free with any plan of $40 or more. That’s more like it.

Okay, so it’s a ripoff. But there are pockets of unlimited-ness out there. So if you text, lok for them and don’t bend to the unnecessary expense of having a line of service otherwise. Your texting overages will mount quicker than your talking overages…

Darwin Awards: A Critical Review of Leopard’s 300+ New Features

For the original list, look here:

Address Book (worth 99c)
Google Map Addresses – Decent feature, though it’s trivial to implement.
Sync with Yahoo – Legitimate feature as well. Though not earth-shattering.

AppleScript (worth $15)
Full unicode support – okay, good job, but this is devs-only
Scripting bridge for objective-C, Enhanced Application Object Model,
Read/Write Property Lists, Updated anguage Guide, Descriptive Error
messages, Updated Folder Action Support – see above

Automator (worth $20)
Starting points, Improved Inerface, UI Recording and Playback, CLI,
Workflow Variables, Workflow Looping, New Actions – Good, now Automator
is useful for the common man. But the whole system is still rather

Boot Camp (worth $20)
I suppose hereshould be a cost to take the app ut of beta, but
it’s just a beta app turned gold, nothing added from last version.

Dashboard (worth $10)
Web Clip – This is the bit  of genius that makes Dashboard worth something in the upgrade…it’s very useful.
Movies in Dashboard – Next? Google and Yahoo have this one, right?
Okay, maybe without the trailer but still, I don’t use this feature.
Sync via .Mac – Yay, the $99 package keeps getting better at
sync-ing…and it’s that for-pay package, not the Dashboard app, that
really benefits

Dashcode IDE (worth $20)
Okay, good, you added a new app to develop for another app to mae
it worthwhile to use. Maybe it’s worth paying for, probably not.

Desktop (worth $10)
Here, stacks are cool…sort of like the Start Menu except lots of
them. .Mac sync, again, is Mac specific, so I don’t consider that a
huge feature. The spring-loaded feature I didn’t know about, but hey,
that’s a PowerToy-ish thing.

Disctionary (worth $10)
Wikipedia is a good adition, though there’s also something called
your web browser, or a Dashboard widget, to use that. Apple dictionary?
You mean Apple needs to define its terms? The extra front and back
matter stuff is interesting, though not earth-shattering, and Japanese
language support appeals to just a small bunch of users. Why did the
turn it into two features?

DVD Player (worth $15)
I don’t watch many DVDs but hey, the Mac DVD player is no worthwhile,
maybe een cooler than Windows’ offerings. Though you’re not going to
use most of the features that have been introduced, I’d think…or they
were features that shoulda been in there to start with.

Finder (worth $40)
Okay, CoverFlow is very cool. Back to my Mac is worth something
(namely the $30 upgrade on the Windows side to a business version that
includes the time-tested Remote Desktop) but then again it requires
.Mac. Other features, like the sidebar, icon preview, the path bar,
folder options and folder sharing…either I’ve seen those in Windows
XP or I’ve seen those in Vista. Nice catch-up game, Apple.

Fonts (worth $4.95)
S0 you can print fonts out…Windows has been able to do this for
awhile now. If I remember correctly, since Windows 95. Other stuff?
Blah. Sorry, nothing terribly new there.

Front Row (worth $20)
Nice job Apple…you’re now relatively on par with Windows’ Media
Center product.  Which is $20 above the basic version of Windows (which
costs $100). Big. Whoop.

Graphics and Media (worth $20)
Okay, I’m spreading the cost of this one over consumers. Developers
would give their firstborn for this I know, but for the rest of us it
might mean a cool looking Leopard-only app. Probably not cheaper than
an equally good app elsewhere not utilizing these frameworks.

iCal (worth $10)
Why worth so little? Well, asie from from the drop box, auto pick
and…looks ike that is about it… you’ve got Windows’ built-in
calendar (on Vista), or Mozilla Sunbird.

iChat (worth $20)
Most of the new features can be found elsewhere for free, but iChat
Theater, AAC-LD, Backdrop effects and Screen Sharing might put it $20
above something free like Adium.

Imaging (worth $5)
Okay, three features that are rather limited and rather evolutionary. Pros might pay for them. Everyone else? Nah.

Instruments (worth $5)
Again, spreading things around between developers and end users, this
one is dev-only. Maybe it lets you create better apps, but the end-user
application is very small.

International (worth the international market)
Yay, now Leopard approaches the worldwide0ness of Windows. You mean
that Tiger DOESN’T support these locales?!? And they aren’t gonna do
anything about it !?!

Mail (worth $15)
Okay, so Mail catches up with Windows Mail and Thunderbird, plus you
get data detectors  and…dot-Mac sync. Good for you, Apple.

Networking (worth $5)
Why is it just worth $5? Because Windows XP has the first feature, and Windows Vista has the second. Something new please?

Parental Controls (worth $20)
Congrats, Leopard. Meet Vista, which got to this market nine months before you did. Yep, Windows beats Mac to the punch here.

Photo Booth (worth $10)
This is a gimmicky feature, and is thus worth as much as a gimmicky
feature. There’s nothing like it built into Windows, and I think I know
the reason: it’s for people under the age of 21 for extended periods of

Preview (worth $15)
Sure, WIndows XP and Vista have similar features, but Preview is a bit
nicer with PDF manipulation and with a tiny UI. So it’s worth something.

Printing (worth $10)
Congrats, Apple. Now can we have more drivers?

Quick Look (worth $20)
Hey, it’s a great feature. It’s worth something. Good.

Safari (worth $5)
I’ll just be nice here. Firefox is better except maybe for speed. End
of story. Web clipping was mentioned in the Dashboard section so can’t
be here.

Screen Savers (worth $5)
Okay, so you get new screen savers, for people with desktops who don’t
have their screen auto-off in a few minutes. Oh, and with every version
of Windows you got new screen savers. Snore.

Security (worth $15)
Windows has all these features too…XP and Vista…except maybe for
sandboxing. But for mainstream users the User Account Control will keep
ay ill from happening, right? Okay, here’s you $15.

Spaces (worth 99c)
Sorry guys. WIndows XP has a PowerToy for this, and has had one for a
long time. It even works quite well. It’s a great feature but nothing

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Re: TUAW’s never-ending comment chain about the Macbook Air aka MBA

I’m a sudent and I’m getting the Macbook Air. Now granted I also run a company (iPhoneSIMFree’s top reseller) so I do have a flow of money, but as a student this is an amazing machine…

First off, I’m upgrading from the Toshiba r100, which I got recently. Like others here, I don’t know why Toshiba isn’t put in the mix with Sony etc. in an ultraportable comparison. Anyhow, think Powerbook 12″, except running Windows. And 0.7″ thick, a true ultraportable. This was after the Palm Foleo got cancelled, and now I’m hooked on ultraportable PCs, so much so that I wouldn’t think of bringing my Dell e1505 (.4″ thicker than the MBP) to class now. It’s just too big.

So let’s compare the Air to both my R100 and my 15-month-old e1505. Oh, and I’ve got a “main” computer for heay-duty stuff: the higher-end 20″ iMac, with an external display.

First off, the MBA is actually faster on the high end than the $600 Mac Mini, for comparison. Even after you upgrade the memory to 2GB, Santa Rosa Low Voltage Edition gets you very decent performance, unless you’re trying to import video from a camcorder while running Parallels which is hosting an instance of your favorite PlaysForSure subscribtion app. Wait…no FireWire port on this baby…Apple obviously took that deal into account and specifically left a feature out that, while useful, might have kept the system from being perfectly speedy. Speaking of speed, a LOT of budget laptops out there clock in lower than the MBA. My e1505 is a mere 1.6 GHz with a 533 MHz bus, and a friend’s original Macbook came with a mere quarter of the MBA’s memory and similar processing power in something that might last 3:30 on a charge and was rather heavy. Comparing this with any similarly thin laptop, like the Toshiba R500, you find that it’s about 50% faster on the high end…amazing. Compared with my R100, whih is useable only for web, e-mail, IM and light office work at 1GHz on Pentium M, this can be a full 4x faster, a Godsend for someone who also uses the computer on flights.

Speaking of flights, let’s talk about battery life. I ctually believe Apple’s battery claims for low-usage (web browsing using wireless) scenarios; I remember seeing an iBook with six hours of batery on the countdown. I’ve heard G4 12″ PowerBooks (as opposed to the G4 iBook I was looking at) would get 3:30-4 hours. My “ultralite” gets 2:30 or so, until you plug in a six-cell battery that moves its thickness into line with the current Sony ultraportables and takes battery north of six hours…five hours if you’re doing web browsing via wireless with a reasonable degree of usage. Right in line with the MBA. Again, I believe Apple’s reports because I remember seeing the Macbooks at 4:30 on battery life (impressive but my 15″ Dell can get there, even with Vista’s Aero turned on) and MBPs get maybe three hours. Okay, Apple’s battery specs are totally screwed up on the Macbook\Pro stuff, but then again on the MBA they specify a specific usage scenario, which means that I can return the jobbie if I don’t get that performance.

One other airline deal: in coach class when someone sreclines the seat you need a 10-inch-display, widescreen computer to be able to keep working. Which maxes out at 1024×600 resolution wise if you want to keep your eyesight. Comparing the 13.3″ regular Macbook to my R100, the Macbook is actually shorter height-wise, meaning that it has more “recliner tolerance”. Welcome to the widescreen world. Personally though, 12.1″ is too small for 1280×800…XGA is tops for 12.1″ standard format. 13.3″ I’m fine with. That resolution is also in line with the 1440×900 and 1680×1050 res’s on the 15 and 17 inch MBPs if you look at it. I would NOT want a 1440×900 13.3″ display unless I could turn text sizes back up, which defeats the purpose of higher resolution anyway.

Construction-wise, it’s aluminum, which is cool looking and pretty good when it comes to structural integrity. That’s probably what the next Macbook is gonna be made out of anyhow, judging from the iMac…

Graphics-wise, I’ve heard (or rather, read) that the Intel X3100 graphics are leaps and bounds better than the GMA 950. With 144 MB of memory available (vs. 64 before) you might even fall in line with the 64MB GeForce Go FX 5200 seen on the G4. This would seem pathetic if we were comparing apples to apples, but the MBA has integrated graphics, which translates to better battery life. Oh, and the G4 is a full-size computer, with a thickness that is between 55% and 600% more than the MBA, and a weight that is about 50% more. Comparing this system to other ultraportables, it again compares favorably.

Oh, about weight. Just wondering how much the “strong” people tote around their 5.5-pound laptops. Trust me, losing three pounds makes an appreciable difference when walking several blocks to class, and I’m on a small campus. It’s also really fun to tote around (holding it in your hand) something weighing 3 pounds or so. Five and a half? Not so much.

USB? I agree that Apple should have put another port in there, but let’s face it: coming from a PC, where you get 4 USB ports on a regular laptop, more than on any Mac except the Mac Pro (which is in turn less than what any current desktop PC gets…) I really can’t say anything. At points I’ve had those ports used, plugging in an iPhone, another phone, a flash drive and a memory card reader, but it would have been just as easy to plug the stuff in one at a time. Unless you’re using your laptop as a mobile charging station for your stuff. Anyhow, realistically I can see only one instance n which I personally would need to use two USB ports at once: printing from a flash drive. But you can copy from the drive to your computer, unplug, plug in the printer and print. Or buy a USB hub, which is just as good and saves space on the computer. The only problem is when you’re dealing with optical media…

…which requires the SuperDrive which probably won’t be “hub-able”. Thing is, aside from ripping my Radiohead box set (can be done using Remote Disk or just sharing the iles over the network) this semester and running one app last semester, no big deal. I don’t have an optical drive for my R100 and I’ve gotten along fine without it. Having an inexpensive external high-speed option is great. Though with N wireless and Remote Disk the network throughput is enough that it’s as if you’re using that slimline drive hooked through with USB.

Ethernet? I needed that one time, about a year ago. Everything else I’ve done with a laptop has been wireless, network-wise. I use gigabit on my iMac, onnected to a 100 megabit port in my dorm room, but wireless would be, if slightly slower, still fine for what I need to do. Slower only because my campus doesn’t have N wireless yet.

So, as a student (albeit a rather affluent one…but aren’t you a bit rich anyway when you opt for a Mac over a PC?) the MBA is fine for what I want to do. I haven’t ordered it yet, but once the ship time is a week or so, I’ll be grabbing the 1.8GHz HDD-based option at a similar price to any other ultraportable out there. I don’t know why everyone is complaining about the darn thing being so expensive…oh wait, they’ve obviously never heard of an ultraportable laptop and are thus applauding features that are standard on every ultraportable, wondering where non-ultarportable features went, and not understanding why they have to give up a chunk of processor speed and a chunk of change for something that’s way tiny.

Which reminds me (sorry for the long post): don’t compare this to the Eee PC or whatever Fujitsu puts out in that category. A few words on those machines: woefully slow (especially the Eee, makes my R100 look like a racehorse), unexpandable without hacking, tiny screens with low resolution or even crazier prices. I mean coe on, look at UMPCs. Yech. Leopard wouldn’t even run well on half of ’em. Oh, and if you’re looking at an ultarportable, they all have mono speakers…except I guess the Eee. Stop complaining.

Lastly, stop harping on the Powerbook G4. If you love it, buy it. It’s the functional equivalent of a Macbook, except with a standard-ratio screen. The graphics aren’t great, no expandability beyond the Macbook, thicker than the Macbook, about the same price range as the Macbook. If you want a replacement for it rather than the Macbook, be advised that Apple can’t make everything, stop the blatant fanboyism and get a 12.1″ Lenovo (IBM) Thinkpad X61. Or the upcoming Dell Vostro 1200. Or the $600 Everex 12.1″ machine available at TigerDirect. Or one of the other multiple 4.x-pound 12.1″ widescreen machines.

Sorry if I’m writing too much about PCs on an Apple blog, but the Keynote is over and we’re not going to see any major upgrades to this for awhile (maybe a speed bump to 2GHz, or a 120 GB single-platter 4200rpm hard disk…which is useable, albeit with a lame 21 MB/s sustained throughput on a disk three years old, on my R100). So if you don’t like it, don’t buy it or buy something else. As for me, the MBA is a great product and I’m buying it.

Macbook Air…the good, the bad, and the other ultraportables out there

Don’t get me wrong. I’m getting the Macbook Air. But due to what else is out there, I’ll likely be getting the base model, which is about as powerful as my year-and-a-half-old $650-ish Dell laptop, except with more memory, no optical drive, three times the price and a hard drive that is smaller than my Dell’s current one but bigger than what it had when I bought it. I love ultraportables, and the Air is no exception…again I’m buying it once it really comes out…but here are some pros, cons and other options.

Pro: It’s the tiniest 13.3-inch widescreen laptop out there. Sort of like how the Macbook Pro series is the tiniest bunch of 15- and 17-inch widescreen laptops out there. Apple is just good at making things thin.

Pro: It’s the thinnest laptop out there. Even the old Sharp Actius MM10 was thicker than the Air for most of its length. The Air is a tad thicker than my current (bad hard disk’d) Toshiba R100 at one edge, but only for a teeny part of its body. The rest of the roundish laptop is much, much thinner.

Pro: It has a decent-sized screen. Personally, I can’t stand WXGA-sized 12.1″ screens, let alone anything smaller. 13.3 inches is the smallest I’d lie to go at that resolution. Surprise: Apple delivers. Note that my current ultraportable has a 12.1″ screen but it is vertical-aspect (you know, like regular monitors on older computers) and lower-resolution, at XGA. Perfectly readable, nicely sized. I like it. The 13.3″ widescreen is darn close to that experience. Except it’ll fit easier in coach class than the rather vertical 12.1″ 4:3 job.

Pro: It has 5 hours of real battery life, built-in. No extra, extended, heavy batteries needed for this one. We’re talking web browsing battery life, without the need for an extended battery that places the laptop a bit away from the ultraportable range it is supposed to be in. It’d be awesome to ditch the extended battery on my R100, but then I’d have maybe two hours of battery life. Maybe. Whereas the Air will likely get six hours if you’re word processing on the plane, or four hours watching an on-drive movie.

Pro:  Accessories aren’t overpriced. The external optical drive is $100, much less than everyone else sells the darn things for. Ethernet can be had for $30, through USB. Not fast gigabit, but it works. Oh, and if you need external display connectors, they’re included. $40 value right there.

Pro: It uses the newest technology available. A 1.8-GHz processor is unheard-of in such a thin machine. Also, the Intel x3100 graphics chipset, while not the greatest, is a good bit better then the GMA 950 that came before it. And the GMA 950 is no slouch for integrated graphics. The only thing missing is the 160-GB 1.8″ hard disk option that is in the iPod classic. After all, you have the iPod classic eighty gigger in the Air to start with, why not offer the extra capacity for another C-note?

Pros: If you’re adventurou, only ten regular phillips-head screws separate you from Macbook modding madness. Don’t let Apple tell you that you can’t switch out your hard disk by yourself…which can probably happen…though you can probably bet on voiding your warranty to do this madness.

Now to the cons…

Con: One. USB. Port. No upgrade connectivity above 480 megabits per second. None. Not even a microphone jack. Not eevn a mini-Firewire 400 jack. Yay USB hubs. I also expect a FireWire adapter to come soon. Though with a 4200-rpm hard disk maybe this thing can’t keep up with uncompressed DV video. Doubt that though.

Con: No upgrades without opening the thing up, either yourself (voiding the varranty) or Apple (which they probably won’t let you do). Yeah I know, it’s to save weight, but…

Con: No user-replaceable battery (except the above). That means, unless you have a special MagSafe power pack, when your battery (singular) is dead, it’s dead. At least it lasts awhile.

Con: Apple charges $300 to up the processor 200 MHz. IBM, who looks to have the same proc, but might not (who knows, looks the same to me) gives it for free if you pay fifty bucks to upgrade your laptop screen. I’m not complaining about the SSD ‘cuz those are expensive, but I will complain about the processor. I’ve decided against paying 17% more for 12.5% more performance on one component. At least, that’s what I feel right now.

Con: There are other alternatives that are a good bit cheaper.

Those alternatives are the IBM ThinkPad x61s (s as in model number, not plural) and the Toshiba Portege R500 (which isn’t cheaper but still in the running). See below for why to get them, or ot get them, over the Air:


Pros:  It has a built-in optical drive, if you want it. It also looks to boast better battery life, by a fair margin, and has enough ports on it that you can actually do something meaningful in terms of extensability. You know, like hook up a video camera. The hard drive is also bigger…and the battery is removable. All this in a chassis that is actually lighter than that of the Macbook Air.

Cons: It’s thicker. Not to say it’s thik…it’s the same height as a dime’s larger dimensions. But still, it’s thicker. The screen is also that annoying 12.1″ model. The processor tops out at 1.2 GHz, quite a bt lower than the one in the Air, and it uses the older GMA 950 graphics system. Oh, and if you want similar specs memory-wise you’re paying more for the system. Which will weigh more than the Air by virtue of its integrated optical drive. Also, no webcam.

Conclusion: If you want dimension-wise smallness rather than sheer thin-ness, the R500 bests the Air. You can also add stuff to the R500…the Air is a closed box unless you void the warranty. The hard disk is bigger on the R500, and you get a decent aount of ports to play with. Then again, the Air has a bigger screen, that fancy schmancy full-size backlit keyboard, a freakin’ huge touchpad, and generally speaking a good bit more processing ower than the R500 It’s also marginally cheaper for what you get.

Thinkpad x61s (Lenovo fka IBM Computers)

Pros: Expandable like crazy…a docking base gives you desktop-like connectivity (as in six USB ports…SIX!). It uses “full size” 2.5″ hard drives so you can get a lot more capacity in there. Upgrade-ability  shouldn’t be a problem either. The battery can last longer, if you opt for a large one. It has a trackpoint,if you’re into that sorta thing. It’s actually lighter than the Air with the standard battery, and has Thinkpad-class quality, aka World Class. Oh, and it’s freaking cheap compared with the Air…similar in price to the Macbook except with no optical drive and a slower processor.

Cons: Larger thickness-wise than the Air, particularly with the extended battery. Which reminds me: with all those full-size components you’re not going to get as good battery life with the smaller battery…think three or four hours. You also pay an arm and a leg for the docking station. There’s also that darn trackpoint…there is no touchpad.

Conclusion: Want an ultralight, not something necessarily ultra-thin? The x61s packs similar specs to the Macbook Air, with probably a better, albeit less stylish, keyboard, for a much, much lower price. Until you add the external optical drive, that is. Then it’s just much lower. You know all that ranting about the processor in the Macbook Air? Looks like it may just be the low-voltage part that the x61s shares…for a lower price. Or maybe not. One thing I know is the Thinkpad is much more “full size” than the Macbook Air in certain components, aka everything but the screen and keyboard. Another thing: what you lose in price you lose in thin-ness, a big deal for people who want to send their laptop through interoffice mail, or shove it into a backpack along with textbooks and other such junk. But then again, you can expand on the x61s. Air? Nope.

So for my needs the Air triumphs. Whether I’ll pony up $300 for a processor upgrade is to be seen in a few weeks. But take a look at the above comparisons…the Air may not be for you.

Amazon S3 is great, but…

Okay, so you hae Amazon S3, the shiny new service that, for a mere $0.15 per GB per month, you can store whatever data you want. Transfer? A mere 10 cents per gig one way, 18 cents per gig the other. $20 gets you JungleDisk so you can tap into all that triple-redundant goodness.

But why not just use your webhost to do data duties?

No, I’m not kidding. Due to their overselling policies, web hosts will give you a heckuva lot more than the above for a whole lot less, because people usually don’t use their tons of web space anyhow. Usually their websites are maybe 50 MB in size or less. But anyway, let’s compare…between S3 and 1&1…

$3.99 – 10 GB storage, 300 GB transfer. $1.50 worth of storage,but if you download\upload that amount you’re n par with S3. If you transfer a ton of data, the webhost comes out ahead. WAY ahead.

$4.99 – 120 GB storage, 1.2 TB (1,200 GB) transfer. If you use a mere third of the storage available in your package, you’ve come out quite a bit ahead of the Amazon offering. Not counting transfer. Wow.

$9.99 – 250 GB storage, 2.5 TB (2,500 GB) transfer. Again, a mere third of storage used means that 1&1 is cheaper than S3. Again, not counting transfer. Duuuuuude.

$19.99 – 300 GB storage, 3 TB (3,000 GB) transfer. Lousy deal if you ask me; you have to use more than half the storage capacity to get your money’s worth, but if you use your full allotment, you’re looking at $45/month from Amazon just to store your stuff. Another $30 to download it, another $56 to upload it.

So how do you use your web space to substitute for S3? Just encrypt your data (or don’t make it easily accessible by some other means). Then open up Windows Explorer or Finder on the Mac and point it to your web space’s FTP server. No tools needed…or if you must, FileZilla is free on Windows and CyberDuck is free on Mac.

So the advantage here is price all around, by a pretty nice margin. The $10 package on 1&1 gives you storage at a mere four cents per gigabyte per month, and your first 10x-the-storage-amount of transfer is free.

The disadvantage? Probably speed. Web servers like 1&1 have lots of people on there at the same time, cramming as many sites on a server as they can. Infrastructure, while good (20 gigabit pipes on their US facility), isn’t optimized for lightning-fast downloading. After all, your website is just text, images and flash demos right? Maybe some PDFs thrown in for good measure. All of them rather small files. Try downloading a big file from and you’ll see what I mean. No, wait…we don’t have any files to download from there anymore. Anyway, the bandwidth we get is maybe 150 KB/s. Perfectly fine for little files. But big ones? Amazon downloads clock in at 2.5 MB/s on a fast enough connection (you know, college broadband).

Also, web hosts don’t charge based on usage. They charge based on package. So if you arent using up a ton of storage, they’re a flat-out lousy choice. Using 20 GB of storage and 10 GB of transfer per month? $4.40 on S3. $4.99 on 1&1. If the files are just sitting there, $3 on Amazon, $4.99 on 1&1. That’s because web hosts are out to make money on people that don’t max out the service. S3 is out to make money on customers who use the service. That’s it.

Because of this, Amazon can scale dynamically for a traffic flood. For example, if you put up your software as part of the MacHeist deal (really good deal, e-mail me if you want more info…hurry though if you’ve got a Mac…the deal ends in less than a week) Amazon will keep charging you a dime per gig for data transfer. Web hosts will just overload. That’s where the difference lies between Amazon (and guys like Cachefly) and a regular web host: the former are CDNs (content delivery networks) whereas the latter are mere places to put your website. There is a difference in performance and the mentality behind that performance.

Cool to think about though. As for me, when I need web hosting I’ll go with 1&1. For storage, I’m sticking with S3 for the moment, at least until my internet connection gets slower when I move back home for the summer, then onto cable at my non-dorm location. Shoot…they use Comcast. But wait…I don’t need storage…I use Mozy for backup. But I digress…