Sunday, August 28, 2011

If I did it

I'm really sorry to those of you who have been waiting almost a week for this, but I hope you enjoy it as I put a lot of time and thought into it. I hope it was worth the wait, and I hope to get back to a more regular writing schedule in the upcoming weeks.

Hey again, it's been quite a while, and while I've been mulling over quite a few topics the last week and a bit, I haven't made the time to write anything non-academic. Since I have way too many things rolling around in my head now, I thought it's as good a time as any to write some of these things down and hopefully get some feedback. I've been thinking a lot about computers recently and though I am very happy with my laptop from Dell, which has a great battery life and is super fast with a big hard drive and a 15 inch screen for under $1000 tax included, I thought it would be at interesting experiment to write a pros and cons list and perhaps even include a table describing what my life would be like if I had made the leap and purchased a Mac. I will do this for both my desktop and laptop, and hopefully look objectively at the issue, from a price point perspective, in terms of the hardware and software which appear on both systems, as well as capturing the overall experience of the actual and alternate universe. Since this is for me and is simply a thought experiment, I will hopefully be able to remain objective, and if at any point I feel like I have let my emotions sway my decision, I will make that clear. I'm not entirely sure I'm ready for this, but I'm going to jump right in and see where I come out. I'm ready to be surprised.

Pre-shopping:
The first and arguably most important criterion of any major purchase comes long before you enter a mall or open up your favourite web browser (Chrome obviously) to visit a shopping site. Your opinions and choices are very easily influenced by friends, family and people you see every day. In this way, the shininess and glamour of Apple products is quite hypnotizing, but the familiarity and comfort of Acer, Toshiba, Dell or Samsung PCs with Windows installed can also sway the consumer to stick with what they have seen at school or grown up with. However, in this case I have to give the narrow lead in this category to Apple, especially in 2011 with their massive growth and remarkable market share gains. Apple 1, Microsoft 0

Shopping experience:
Right upon walking into an Apple store or visiting the website with the intent to make a purchase, the differences in this category are clear. Apple do a fabulous job of making you feel at home both in store and online, because they know exactly what people want out of their products. Because of their limited product line, choices are very simple and to the uninitiated, basically come down to a matter of weight and screen size. Because Apple make all the decisions for you, it is a very easy, convenient place to shop. As for Microsoft, Windows, PCs are available in many more places and from various retailers and online distributors. This is a strength for people who like the choice and who know the differences between the different options, but for a vast, VAST majority of people, this is actually a detriment. Again, the advantage here has to be to Apple. Apple 2, Microsoft 0

Skill Level:
In terms of skill level with people who have never used a personal computer, I have to imagine there would be a very steep learning curve with either operating system. However, that being said, modern computers have removed many of the complications of computers from view, leaving only the things that the common denominator uses on a regular basis. Mac is arguably best at this, almost to a fault in that usually design and function decisions they make are final and unmodifiable. Windows 7 also hides almost all work the computer does behind the scenes as well, but there are also many controls which are meant to give the user more control. In 2011, with Windows 7 and Mac OS X Lion to compare, I have to give a slight edge to Windows, simply because the simple features are almost equivalent but power users can work more easily on Windows. Apple 2, Microsoft 1

Aesthetics:
Need I say more? Similarly to the above categories, Mac users don't get to make decisions about style, unless they want to purchase additional skins for their PCs. Things which stand out, such as well-designed laptops, or advanced features like backlit keyboards, are very hard to find, especially on cheaper Windows PCs, but come standard on Macs and cannot be removed. In this way, Windows could be preferred simply because the choice is yours, if you don't want to pay 30$ for a backlit keyboard, you won't get one. Bluetooth adapters are another thing which come standard with a built-in additional cost on a Mac but which Windows users have to pay to include in their systems. In this way, it is extremely difficult to judge apples and oranges here, this one is much more personal preference. Apple 3, Microsoft 2

Software:
First, in terms of the operating systems, it really comes down to a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer to have their menu buttons top left, some would choose top-right. Minor points aside, for the majority of users the overall experience with Windows and Mac is very similar, and each OS has its minutiae of small differences and advanced features, so all I will do in this case is link to the ten best features of Windows and those of Mac and let you make your own decision. Also showcased in those two pages are stark differences between the tactics of the marketing teams at Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft, frankly, doesn't really care if you, as the consumer, buy their computer. They know that people will buy the operating system, and millions of enterprise computers will continue to use Windows without a second thought. Apple, regardless of their level of actually forming emotional bonds with consumers, really care about the user experience as well as the satisfaction of the customer with their new or old machine. Apple has to get the point in this category, simply for caring. Apple 4, Microsoft 3

Hardware:
The specifications (specs) on Windows PCs will always beat Macs head-to-head, but there is definitely more to this story than just raw power. Because Apple controls every aspect of its operating system as well as having strict policies on applications (especially with the advent of its new Mac App Store), they also get to control how their hardware interacts with the software. This means that all of their computers are extremely stable machines, rarely failing except in catastrophic, unpredictable ways. With this system in place, it is very easy for Apple to offer excellent warranties with extremely forgiving policies without worrying too much about losing money, since the computer is well-encased, modifications by the end-user are frowned upon. The sole major drawback of this, which is irrelevant to the consumer almost all the time, is that all parts of a Mac work together very well, often incorporating multiple functions into one computer part, so if something does break, replacing just that part is almost never a simple matter. Windows PCs have easily interchangeable parts, but they don't work anywhere near as well together as they were not necessarily intended to specifically work well with one another. In this way the actual specs of Macs are less important, because the parts all work so well together. In this category, it is another case of delicious apples vs. sumptuous oranges, so I'm not going to make them compete. It would just be messy. Apple 5, Microsoft 4

Dimensionality:
This category specifically refers to weight/dimensions of laptops. There are cheap Windows notebooks, regular Windows laptops, and thin, expensive Windows laptops. Apple only do two kinds of laptops, and they are both fairly small, although the MacBook Air is much smaller by far and seems to defy the laws of physics in how small and light it is. Apple has to take this category, unless you have a specific use for a very small netbook. Apple 6, Microsoft 4

Development:
While this category used to be Windows-dominated, the application development gap between Mac and Windows is narrowing, as the gap in number of systems sold also narrows. I think that while this trend will continue, for the time being this category goes to Windows. Apple 6, Microsoft 5

Malware:
This category actually goes hand-in-hand with app development. As there start to be more and more Macs, malware and virus authors will also increase. This year there have already been multiple instances of Mac-targeting malware which caught many people off-guard, since Macs are purported to be virus-proof, any computer can get a virus. Regardless though, because Windows is larger, they definitely get more attacks. Apple 7, Microsoft 5

Customer Service:
Inevitably, no matter how much you pay for your computer, it will need service from somebody at some point. It is this part of the process which makes most people cringe. Hopefully the company who sold you the machine will hold themselves accountable if the problem is with the product itself, and perhaps give you some room for error as a human without charging you through the ear for repairs or maintenance. Apple is phenomenal in this department, with a built-in one year warranty for any computer problems as well as extremely loose benefit of the doubt in-store repair centres. They know that providing these services is very good for business and that people will come back again when they know they are being treated well. Being so spread out, and so far from the end product itself, it is much more difficult for Microsoft to be accountable for software issues, and since hardware issues are not their fault, the blame is spread and in the end the customer suffers. Apple 8, Microsoft 5


Price:
For this category, I am going to start with a very nice laptop from Apple, and then attempt to match its specs to a Windows PC (Dell, because I am most familiar with their website and they have a very customizable system in place).

Apple:
15.4" screen - Backlit LED
5.6 pounds - 14.5" x 10" x 1" thick
i7 processor (Quad-core (4 cores)) at 2.0 GHz, 6 MB shared L3 cache (bigger numbers are better)
4 GB RAM 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (supports up to 8 GB)
2 USB ports - Thunderbolt (Mini-Display/Fast Data Transfer)
Ethernet/WiFi/Bluetooth
AMD Radeon Graphics card with 256 MB GDDR5 memory
"HD" (720p) Camera
500 GB SATA hard drive
DVD/CD drive
77.5 WHr battery (rated at 7 hours use)
Speakers/Backlit Keyboard/Multitouch Trackpad


Software

  • OS X Lion

Final cost (before tax): $1749

Dell: Improvements in bold*

15.6" screen - Backlit LED
6.3 pounds - 15 x 10.5" x 1.5" thick *Apple is slightly smaller and battery size means a little more weight
i7 processor (Quad-core (4 cores)) at 2.0 GHz, 8 MB shared L3 cache (bigger numbers are better)
6 GB RAM 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (supports up to 8 GB)
2 USB ports - Mini-Display Port
Ethernet/WiFi/Bluetooth
NVIDIA GeForce GT 525 M with 1 GB memory
"HD" (720p) Camera
750 GB SATA hard drive
DVD/CD drive
90 WHr battery (rated at 9 hours use)
Speakers/Backlit Keyboard/Multitouch Trackpad



Software

  • Windows 7 Home Premium, 64-bit

Final cost (before tax): $995

See, after all of that I cannot logically justify spending almost fully double the cost for a laptop. However, that being said, if you want an 11 or 13 inch MacBook Pro or Air, and are okay with slightly lacklustre specs, you will still get a great computer for about the price of a higher-end Dell PC. I hope you can understand that in the end the final score speaks for itself. Apple 1003, Microsoft 1754

Sorry Apple. I still really do want an Air, and would probably buy one very soon if anyone`s in the market for the above Dell computer (because its twin is on my lap right now) I would probably sell it for the Air. The 11" seems like it would be a wonderful machine to own. And Apple products are incredibly cooperative with one another.

Disclaimer: I actually didn't intend to totally validate my Dell purchase in February, but that's how it seems to have worked out. I hope you trust my objectivity in this looking at the fact that I do want to try owning both this laptop and a MacBook Air just to see which one I pick up and use on a day-to-day basis. I hope to try this experiment some day.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Purview of Happiness

Hey everybody,
I have decided that today is as good a day as any to take a little break from writing about "the future" in a literal sense and refer to it more in a figurative or literary sense. All of us want to be happy in some form, and the problem with this is that happiness the way we want it is almost always entirely unattainable. As humans, we can only dwell on the good in our lives for a very short time before things which bother us take over again, which seems to make striving for a type of permanent happiness completely futile in a way. That being said, here is a list of quite basic things that make me happy.

-Music (singing/playing/listening)
-Sports (playing/watching)
-Technology (playing/using/reading about)
-Eating/Drinking
-Being outside
-Television/Movies

This is off the top of my head, and there are many more, but the basic point is, why is it so hard to find lasting happiness with such a diverse interest base and when I spend so much time partaking in these activities. The simple fact is, overall I am quite happy. I give myself a very hard time because I do spend such a large chunk of my time thinking, but it is just as important as any other time to me. My mental health benefits hugely from spending time in my own head. I think this is mostly because inside my own head I have complete control over everything, nothing is left to chance or to anybody else. It concerns me most times that things that I'm unhappy with in life are things I have no control over. Things I don't understand fall into the same category, as well as things which simply don't work the way I expect them to.

I had intended to make this post longer, but it turns out writing about happiness isn't nearly as fun as it sounds. That might be the most poignant part of this entire story. Anyhow, it's short but I can't really be bothered by that. I'm a pretty happy guy right now!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Facebook Messenger

Alright you guys, since you seem to hate everything you haven't used already, can you please try this?

Facebook Messenger: A free iOS and Android app which allows messaging and uses push notifications. Assuming you don't want to use Google+, which already has this (Huddle) capability built into its iOS and Android apps, at least download this and give it a try.

My sanity thanks you, and again I look forward to a day when I don't have to send any text messages!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Life, Interrupted

Hello again,

Sorry about taking so long to write a post, but I've been a little bit occupied with school and more generally life. I thought that today I would talk about an issue which has been close to my heart for a VERY long time now, basically from the first time I ever used a computer. This issue has no real platform (operating system or otherwise) dependence and most people don't consider it an issue, so please allow me to explain why keeping your technology up-to-date is very important and worth doing.

First of all, regardless of the discussion we are having, be it software, hardware or links between the two, updates are extremely useful and shouldn't be ignored. Everyone I know, with very VERY few exceptions, absolutely detest updates of any kind. Of course, there are cons to updates, but hopefully I can compel you to agree that they are minimal and shouldn't prevent you from adopting new software or technology.

First, there is the main issue I hear when I tell people they should update (using computer OS updates as an example), that of inconvenience. The popup reminding you that there are updates to be installed the next time your computer restarts always seems to happen while you are just about to get to your Farmville strawberry bushes, and since you have had that in your calendar for two days, you click cancel and move right back to Facebook. While this is perhaps an unfair characterization, it illustrates the point I'm trying to make quite nicely. The fact is, what you're doing is really important in your mind and shouldn't be interrupted by your computer. In reality though, you probably could very easily spend a minute or two, or even five, doing something else while your computer installs these updates and reboots itself, or even press cancel once, close everything you're doing, and then restart the computer yourself before it asks again, then go find something to do for a minute. We expect technology to work around our schedule but forget that it doesn't know our schedule. It is possible, and very easy I might add, to schedule updates for a specific time (in Windows that's 3 AM). The fundamental problem with this is that most everyone turns off their computers at night, and so 3 AM gets pushed to whenever the computer is booted up in the morning (AKA when you need it to check your email before work/school/whatever you do during the day) and interrupts you again. Being proactive about updates, and even getting excited about them (as I, a self-proclaimed monarch of nerddom, do) will keep you on top of them, so that they don't control your life.

The second issue people tell me about in reference to updating software is that they have documents, internet tabs, folders, programs and the like open, and losing all of these is a fate they wouldn't wish on an archenemy. Therefore, they put off updates so as to not risk losing anything they had open. Never mind that with modern operating systems and internet browsers it is incredibly simple to save webpages, as well as keep shortcuts to commonly used folders and files right in the toolbar. There is also the issue that most people, especially students and people who don't want anything more from a computer than to be able to post to Facebook and Google things, will often opt for the cheapest option when looking for a computer. There is really nothing inherently wrong with opting for that approach, since it is quite cost-effective, but it does mean that your computers resources are almost always in somewhat short supply. Especially sought-after in the computers infrastructure is a little piece of hardware called RAM (or random access memory). Basically, in order to run a program quickly and efficiently, every piece of information about a file or program must be readily available to the computer. Hard drives, which these days don't normally limit people with respect to their size, transfer this data very slowly and so are not feasible for use as fast memory. RAM uses flash memory, which as its name suggests, can access data much more quickly than can hard disc memory. When you open a program, you use decent amounts of memory (music/video players, productivity applications such as Microsoft Office products,  internet browsers, as well as intense applications such as Photoshop are particularly demanding) to keep all the information about the program close at hand. Having several of these programs open at once can quickly lead to a deficiency of memory. This is a very long way of saying that having all of these programs open at once is not good for your computer (it uses a lot of electricity/battery), it slows down your experience and considering that most of these programs are only open in the background and aren't actually being used at the time means that this is not a very compelling excuse for not wanting to update.

A third common qualm with these Ludditic updaters is that they don't want new software or hardware because they very much like what they have and are extremely comfortable with it. This applies more to the web than desktops or programs because it is very easy to update webpages and applications with no effort on the part of the end user. Every time there is an update in look or functionality to Facebook, which is a common victim of this type of thing, there is an uproar of people who can't believe things are changing and complain about how much worse the new Facebook is. The fact is, if you were to keep with this idea over the last 5 years, you would just look ridiculous. To put it bluntly, if you always chose to keep the old layout or functionality of technology, you would end up looking completely foolish and would be missing out on the innovating and ever-changing nature of the internet. The reason these changes are made are to continue moving into the future, and as new technologies are developed, this will continue to happen, and we should embrace it. Another great example of this is Microsoft Office. Imagine trying to make a modern Word or Excel document using Office 2003. I imagine that many people don't actually have to imagine this, because it is a reality for them. And if you are somebody who uses a modern operating system (and no, Windows XP is now over 10 years old and is NOT modern in any sense, same goes for Internet Explorer 6) just imagine having to go back to using those horribly slow and inefficient operating systems. I know I don't make a lot of friends in suggesting this, but in order my favorite Windows operating systems are (objectively I might add) Windows 95, 98, XP, Vista and 7 (and 8 will be my new favorite when it is released, from what I've seen so far). I found the user experience much better in Vista than XP, and it would seem to me that its failure to be widely adopted stemmed from an excellent marketing campaign from Apple, as most people who think it is a horrible operating system refused to use it in the first place. I used it for a year after it came out (I actually bought a copy) and it was much nicer and better than XP, well worth the money. Software and hardware will only continue to improve, and we should keep up with it to stay on the cutting edge of what is possible. It can only improve our lives.

Finally, the pros list for keeping your system up-to-date:

1. Updates provide increased security, lessening the likelihood of malware being installed on your computer (mostly for internet browsers)
2. Updates provide increased functionality, with new features and capabilities which enhance and change your experience online and off.
3. Updates increase speed as well as stability, leading to fewer crashes and a cleaner experience.
4. Updates can solve problems which you didn't even know you had, or give you things you didn't realize you were missing.

Google Chrome, arguably the best browser out there today, deals with updates in what I think is the best way so far. Updates are installed quietly in the background, so you don't even have to think about them, unless that is something you fancy, in which case you can also hasten the process by updating yourself at any opportunity. The browser also waits until you close it to install new versions as you quit, making it a completely painless and almost invisible process. More software updates should work like this!


I hope all of these reasons are compelling enough for you to at least consider clicking "update" when you see that popup.

Jailbreak Tweak: WiFi SMS (iOS) / DeskSMS (Android)

These apps fill the need I mentioned in an earlier post of being able to check your text messages from your computer via WiFi. They are both very new and extremely useful for anybody who finds themselves sending text messages while at a computer, since it eliminates the need to stop using the computer and find your phone. They both use an internet browser to send and receive texts, and they are extremely great to use. Again, if you would like help jailbreaking and finding great tweaks, leave me a message and I can help you out. If you haven't updated your iPhone's software in a while [HAHA] (you are on version 4.3.3 or lower) it is still VERY easy to jailbreak.

Application: Bump

This app lets you exchange contact information with others just by being in their vicinity with the app loaded and activating the accelerometer in both phones at the same time. However, the apps usefulness has now far surpassed this basic functionality. You can now share applications, music, contacts, social networking information,  photos and calendar events, and you needn't even be in the same physical space as the recipient anymore. When the app is open in the background, it interfaces with people who also have the app installed who are nearby and gives you the ability to see them in a list and add them as possible contacts. Once this connection is made, you can send things or chat through the app at any distance over the internet. It's an incredible app which very few people use to the potential which is possible.