No Tab Left Behind

With the new Safari 4 beta, Apple is taking a page from the book of Opera and Google Chrome and moving their browser tabs all the way to the top:


While not an incredibly original idea, it is a good idea and there are a number of reasons why. First of all, it optimizes the amount of vertical real-estate, which—with the upcoming surge in lo-res Netbooks—will matter more than you think. Secondly, it moves an important multi-tasking feature right up to the literal application top, where discoverability is great. Finally, it helps users understand what exactly tabs are: individual content windows with their own unique address-bar and history.

This is clearly a usability improvement, and I’m sure that now Apple has canonized what is (probably) an Opera invention, it’ll make both Mozilla and Internet Explorer scramble to get with the program. So much the better: thanks Apple.

There’s one aspect Mac users will miss out on, though. On Windows systems, when a browser is maximized, tabs that are topmost will fondle the very edges of the screen, an area of extremely valuable realestate. The little secret that makes this top screen edge price go through the roof is the fact that, to reach it, you have only to push your mouse upwards; soon enough your cursor will bump into the edge. When a browser window places its tabs there, that means you only have to worry about left or right to pick your tabs. Not even a shopping cart is left behind in such a system.

Alas, Apple has permanently reserved this top area of the screen for the ubiquitous file menu, which I’m sure a number of people appreciate. Not those who want to get the full flavor of topmost tabs though, they’ll be left out in the cold. Perhaps Apple should place tabs at the bottom of the screen instead? (Oh wait, that’s where The Dock lurks, spring-loaded to pop out when innocent cursors are nearby).

Running Windows On The Mac: Did It Ever Work? [Update 3: Returning It]

Just last week, I bought myself a brand new unibody Macbook Pro 15, a rather expensive piece of hardware. I bought it, expecting it to run Windows natively via multi-boot; Apple advertises that their Boot Camp feature will do just this:

[Mac OSX] Leopard is the world’s most advanced operating system. So advanced, it even lets you run Windows if there’s a PC application you need to use. […] Setup is simple and straightforward – just as you’d expect with a Mac.

As it turns out, sure, setup is easy, but that’s pretty much where the trademark simple and straightforward ends. Windows, running on my late 2008 Macbook crashes, freezes and Blue Screen Of Deaths me constantly, as in at every 10 minutes of plain use. To preempt your question, “Why run Windows at all?”: gaming.

There are a number of problems:

  • Windows doesn’t seem to control the cooling fans at all, and so it overheats
  • Windows can’t switch between the two (fast or power friendly) graphics adapters
  • Windows freezes when simply browsing websites

So overall, Windows on the Mac is a consistently unpleasant experience, which brings me to the purpose of this post. I need to decide whether I should return the Mac for a full refund and buy a different laptop for half the price, or alternatively, establish whether it’s likely that Apple will address all of these issues given reasonable time. It would really be a pity to return the unit, as I have already grown quite fond of the hardware. Furthermore, despite prior gripes, I can actually now see myself switching to OSX for day to day work, only to boot Windows for the occasional game of Fallout, whereas I bought this Mac with the expectation to do both while in Windows.

Because I genuinely want to make this thing work, I have a number of questions I would love to hear your opinions on, and preferrably before thursday this week where my 14-day right of return expires:

  • Do you have a late 2008 Unibody 15 Macbook running Windows, and are you having similar troubles?
  • Do you have any other Mac running Windows, and if so, is that unit running perfectly?
  • Have you had problems like these on older Mac hardware, which Apple fixed with firmware and software updates?
  • If you are running Windows on a Mac, is it Vista or XP, and did switching from one to the other fix your troubles?

Please note again that I’m referring to Windows running in Boot Camp, not in emulation or virtualization like Parallels or VirtualBox.

While I have done some a lot of research on the topic and found that quite a few others are having the same troubles, and even articles on Apple supposedly working on a fix for these issues, I would love to hear updated feedback on this. As a point of note: OSX runs just fine, doesn’t crash and cools the machine aptly, which leads me to believe this is mainly a Boot Camp software / driver issue, rather than solely a hardware issue.

So there it is, the current state of my fling with The Mac. Please help me turn this into a love-affair. I’ll end this with a Steve Jobs quote:

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

If you’re reading, Steve, right now it doesn’t work.

Update: I’m putting a signed print of your choice on the line for the author of the comment that fixes the problems I’ve been having—not that I think that’s possible without Apple actually getting involved, but it’s worth a shot.

Update 2: After reading an article on The Inquirer, I’m now finding it likely that this Macbook and many others are suffering from bad Nvidia hardware. Please help me decide whether I should return the unit, or request a repair.

Update 3: Returning it. More to follow.

The Quest For A Sturdy Laptop

A coworker and myself are looking for laptops in the “desktop replacement” class. That means fairly fast computers sporting plenty of RAM and dedicated graphics cards. That means prices in the 1500 ranges. These are all Fisherprice plastic concoctions, however, and therein lies the problem. Can it really be true, that only Apple makes truly sturdy laptops? No, I will not just buy a 2500 dollar laptop, even if it is prettier, sturdier and smells better; for that amount I’d rather get a slightly used Toyota.

Is it the metal build quality that jacks up prices? I’ve used the XO (the 100 dollar laptop) and it is plenty sturdy even, so I know it’s possible to build a computer whose keyboard doesn’t break when you type antipathy. Even so, it seems only Sony, Lenovo and Apple has gotten this and at their prices I might as well get the Mac the Toyota. I find it both frustrating and mindboggling that only three laptop makers in a fierce market have discovered that “durable” is a boon, so help me out here: is there a sub 1500 dollar laptop with the above specs and sturdy build quality?

Flash And Quicktime: Not Sitting In A Tree

In a recent piece, News Flash: No Flash, John Gruber writes that he finds it unlikely for Flash to appear on the iPhone any time soon. He’s right, as usual, but he’s got a few details wrong.

The single most popular thing people use Flash for is to watch YouTube videos, which you can already watch a subset of using the native Mobile OS X YouTube app. In short, is the lack of Flash keeping people from buying iPhones and iPod Touches?

Right, but wrong. Video is great, but the coming battle won’t be about video. I dare predict that Apple has a dirty secret in their pocket, a secret that’s ready to explode. A secret that’ll bring them head to head (more so) with Adobe, Microsoft and Mozilla. Possibly even Sony and Nintendo.

Flash and the future of Flash, is not only about video. Sure, video was what really got Flash to the mass-market via YouTube and the likes, but the true future of Flash relies upon a new Adobe technology called AIR1. AIR is something we’ll see quite a lot more of in the coming year. The idea is that HTML is too limiting for web-apps such as Google Docs, Flickr, Twitter and so on. Yes, it works, but could it work better?

Enter Flash. There’s good Flash and there’s bad Flash. For the last decade or so, we’ve mostly seen bad Flash. YouTube was the exception, so much that in mainstream terms, Flash is now about video, when in fact that’s only a tiny subset of what Flash does. Flash does RSS, HTML, app-scripting, fullscreen, video, mp3 and graphics with advanced filters including scalable vector graphics. Theoretically, you could rewrite Gmail in Flash and AIR to make it an offline application with functionality rivaling that of other email apps such as Outlook and Thunderbird. Did I mention Flash does games as well?

Of course this is when you should splash yourself with cold water, smell the coffee and so on. There’s a real good reason why only video has really succeeded for Flash. The bulk of the reason is lack of usability (and accessibility), the cherry on top being that Flash is really CPU intensive. But Adobe is working on that. Real, no-bullshit hardware acceleration could possibly solve many of the CPU problems that plague Flash and AIR is making headway with regards to usability and accessibility.

As such, I believe the next great Internet battle will surround offline applications. Adobe has AIR, Microsoft has Silverlight and Mozilla is positioning both Firefox 3, Mozilla Prism and Mozilla Weave. The purpose of each of these frameworks is to allow people to create widgets, applications, games, music and video that you can take with you offline and even to your cellphone.

Apples website shows no trace of Flash, even though it could be used for their videos, hardware presentations and interactive website elements. Things might even work slightly better than it does now. So why doesn’t Apple just use Flash? Because Apple wants in on it.

Apple makes widgets, applications, games, music and video. Right now you can take your music, video, and most recently, your games with you offline and to your iDevices. As Gruber mentions, the iPhone even has a great amount of really good HTML/CSS/JavaScript powered applications. The iPhone even does YouTube video without the use of Flash. Apple wants you to know that you really don’t need Flash, because their big dirty secret is that they’re going to position Quicktime as an alternative to Flash/AIR and Silverlight.

Think about it. Really get it in there. Quicktime is a widespread plugin. Maybe not as much as Flash, but spread enough. Add to that Apples hardware accelerated Core Animation technology, and you’ve got graphical prowess that matches that of both Flash and Silverlight. Combine that with HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and you’ll get video, music, games and applications through Quicktime. All of it, stuff we thought would be on either Adobes or Microsofts turf once the dust settled. With portable games, Apple might even face off with Nintendos and Sonys handhelds2.

Keep thinking about it. Apple has been real quiet about iPhone application SDKs. Very few games have been released. People are supposed to write applications using web-technologies (HTML, CSS, JavaScript). Why all the secrecy? Could it be that Apples engineers are hard at work combining Core Animation and Quicktime into a lightweight browser plugin? My prediction: yes. Count on it. In 6-10 months, Apple will unveil the new Quicktime, a browser plugin for Windows and Mac that brings Core Animation to the browser. Build your websites, movie-microsites, games, web-apps and play your videos directly in Coretime! Oh, and there’s one more thing. Once you’re done building: take it with you to your dashboard, your iPods and your iPhones.

  1. Not coincidentally, AIR is RIA a spelled backwards, RIA for Rich Internet Application []
  2. That said, they’ll probably go after Nokias NGage platform first and we all know how that’ll play out. Spoiler alert: Nokia doesn’t stand a chance. []

Gestures Is The New Black

Multi-touch trackpad. For me, that was the most interesting aspect of the just-announced-days-ago Apple Macbook Air. Unlike normal trackpads, a multi-touch trackpad also accepts input from two or more fingers. Before, you could only point, now you can pinch, swipe and turn; any gesture that requires more than one digit (or person).

This bodes well for future computer interfaces. Since the advent of the mouse, we’ve come to rely on it for nearly all computer related input; I couldn’t imagine a current computer without a mouse. In time, I’m sure, we’ll feel the same way about gestures. Not only multi-touch gestures, but all sorts of gestures: shaking, swiping, pinching, throwing, tapping, pointing, waving, drawing. We’re already seeing this expand to consoles and telephones; the more devices, the better. Gestures make things easy and fast and helps prevent RSI.

We won’t see distant future “Minority Report”-type gestures. If you really think about it, there’s a distinct lack of precision and tactile feedback associated with waving your hands in the air like Tom Cruise; a surface—rough, smooth or bumpy—has to be involved. Touch screens, trackpads, digitizers, even bump-mapped touch screens.

I’m using mouse gestures on my computer today, so much that I’d feel crippled, had I not access to them. StrokeIt (love that name) provides me with simple mouse gestures: holding the right mouse button and dragging diagonally towards the left corner minimizes a window. Holding the right mouse button and scrolling cycles through open apps. Holding the right mouse button and drawing an L closes an app or a window. It’s all much faster than pointing at tiny buttons or reaching for the keyboard.

The new Macbook now has access to multi-touch gestures. Mac interface guru Gruber writes:

To take advantage of this [multi-touch trackpad], apps need to handle new event notifications. Something more or less like “the user is pinching at these coordinates”. No existing apps other than Apple’s handle these events yet.

That’s only partially true. In this case—like it is with Wacom tablets—a memory resident driver could do most of the work. An application, whether it be iPhoto, iTunes or Adobe Photoshop only needs signals to function: rotate clockwise, zoom in or go back. He’s right that for gradual, smooth zooms and rotations, applications need to know how to deal with the input. But there’s no reason a memory resident driver shouldn’t be able to round up rotate 35.1 degrees to simply rotate clockwise one step: that’s just an emulated keyboard shortcut signal. Most multi-touch gestures—given a good driver—could benefit people today.

In The Market For A Mac Mini

My current PC is in it’s autumn. It’s long-term memory has started clicking and it sometimes dozes off when it should be awake. I built the damn thing myself. Or rather, bribed my cousin to do it for me. Limbs were ordered seperately and surgically put together in a fashion similar to that of Frankensteins monster. It’s been a good run. It’s been fast enough for what I do.

It’s just not that quiet. It’s not that small either. The Mac Mini is. I hear they run Windows now?

I’ve told my good american friend about these flirtations with the dark side, these forbidden thoughts about shiny white plastic and brushed chrome finish. Already part of this club, I’m sure he was thrilled to see me prepare my fall from grace.

The hardware was never the problem, it’s been the operating system and it’s lack of the very odd and obscure Windows applications I use, it’s lack of some very specific game titles, and it’s annoying application metaphor which I’ve discussed at length in the past. I’m told, however, that I can’t use these arguments anymore; as mentioned two paragraphs ago: they now run Windows.

Not being a convertee just yet, I keep telling myself there are roadblocks to this most dangerous shopping endeavour. Are there alternatives such as a vendor-built, small, good-looking, cheap, quiet PC box that does the same? Could the Mini double as a network accessible server for wireless music and files? Is it really, really quiet? Is it fast enough to open 60×45 cm 300 DPI PSD files? Is the RAM upgradable, cheaply? Will there be a new one in January? Does it require that you use iTunes? These are all things I need to answer before venturing into the lair of the unknown.

iTunes Is The New Real Player

I’ve been extremely happy with my iPod Shuffle. It is a fantastic device. Much to my sadness, though, the Shuffle is a package deal: you can only transfer music to the iPod using the bundled iTunes media player. Is that bad? Well, yeah, because iTunes is the new Real Player.

Remember Real Player?


Let’s take a trip down memory lane:

  1. No-one really liked the application, but installed it anyway.
  2. It had a completely non-standard skin which couldn’t be turned off.
  3. It repeatedly advertised other peripheral products that could be bought via the player.
  4. It was slow and bulky, possibly due to all sorts of features no-one used.
  5. Installing it didn’t install only the player, but lots of other stuff too, stuff such as hidden network and update services that were all but impossible to turn off.
  6. Unless the player was used the way prescribed by Real, it wasn’t very useful.
  7. Wasn’t fullscreen a “paid for” feature at one time?

Goodbye Real, hello iTunes.


  1. iTunes is needed to transfer music to the iPod.
  2. iTunes has a brushed metal skin that can’t be turned off.
  3. iTunes repeatedly advertises it’s music and video store which are accessible via the player.
  4. iTunes on Windows is slow and bulky, possibly due to all sorts of features and services.
  5. iTunes installs the Bonjour network service, Apple Software Update and Quicktime.
  6. The “Sync” feature is a risky thing to use in iTunes. Ever synced your iPod to an empty playlist? Zip. Your things are gone. In other words, if I don’t use iTunes the way Apple wants me to, it’s not very useful.
  7. Wasn’t fullscreen a “paid for” feature at one time?


Safari for Windows – No Really! It’s Not WebKit!

From the “what the hell” department comes this: Safari 3 Public Beta. For Windows.

I’ll just make a linebreak and let that one sink in.

There. Now: what’s up with this? Is it an attempt to sway Windows users of iTunes? Is it a gift to web-developers hungry for developing crossplatform sites? Is it part of a bigger and currently veiled plan to enter the RIA (Rich Internet Application)—Adobe AIR, Microsoft Silverlight, Firefox 3 Offline Apps—market? Or is it trying to compete with IE7 and Firefox? Please, somebody tell me!