Archive for September, 2009

21
Sep
09

iTunes 9 Review

I didn’t rush out my iTunes 9 review, simply because I felt the need to actually use it for a while to see how I felt. Also, I’m not a gadget blog, so I can take my damn time. Anyway, my feelings and wants for iTunes are no one’s but my own. Anyway, I wrote a little wishlist before Apple’s music event, which if I had to sum up, was for iTunes not to suck anymore. While that didn’t entirely come true, iTunes 9 sucks a hell of a lot less than before.

First of all, iTunes 9 plays much, MUCH nicer with my dying iPod than 8 did. It manages to sync the first time, almost every time. It may not seem like much, but its a vast improvement. Its also quite a bit faster with the 3GS. It still beachballs for a second when I connect the phone, but it takes (subjectively) less time than before. Switching views from Music to Podcasts to Applications is very fast, with no beachballing at all. Note that I have just shy of 10,000 tracks with 984 artists, 45 podcast subscriptions, and 96 apps. ITunes 9 seems to have pulled a lot of its speed by drawing icons on the fly after the view switch. I’d far rather switch fast and see the icons drawn while I’m interacting with the window.

Which is not to say that I don’t have problems. The first and worst is that smart playlist sync seems to be broken between iTunes 9 and iPhone OS 3.1. I mainly listen to podcasts on my iPhone, and exclusively while commuting. I set up a smart playlist that grabs podcasts as they’re downloaded, and I’l go in and manually arrange the order. I did this because my car’s iPod connector only sees playlists, artists, albums and songs, so I had to make a playlist to listen to my podcasts in the car. It actually turned out to be a really convenient way to consume them. The problem is that the podcasts showed up in a random order after the update. This seems to be a problem with iTunes, rather than the iPhone OS, since turning off live updating solves the problem. Its annoying to have to do additional steps, but I’m sure a fix is coming.

I only had one crash, right after I updated. I still had to wait while iTunes checked the library, but it only took about a minute. I’m sure that this is a result of iTunes’ Carbon-ness and inability to use Core Data. (I’m making the assumption that Core Data will handle crashes more gracefully than whatever it is that iTunes does now. We all know about assumptions, right?)

As far as the rest, I can’t use Home Sharing, because I have one updated machine and almost nothing from the iTunes Store. I tried Genius Mixes, and while the feature is cool, its not my cup of tea. I love the ability to arrange apps from iTunes and really wish it had been there last year, but what can you do? Clearly, Apple didn’t expect people to put hundreds of apps on their phones, so it took a while. I don’t like the white background behind the icons. The black background provided more contrast and was easier on the eyes. Maybe a background preference?

So, yeah, I’m really happy with iTunes 9, and hope that it just keeps getting better. ITunes is home to a lot of stuff and it takes some serious UI mojo to keep everything simple and tidy and fast. While I still say that iTunes has some suckage to work out, its with the understanding that a lot of work goes into it.

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08
Sep
09

Music Event Wishlist

I’m not going to predict anything about tomorrow’s event, mainly because other people are far better at it than I. That, and I could give a shit about the Beatles or even new iPods. Although I might pick up a current-gen Classic if it gets the cheap refurb treatment, since my 4th gen is dying. No, I shall again engage in pointless and useless speculation. This is what I want from tomorrow’s event:

I want iTunes to not suck any more.

That’s it. iTunes is slow, oh so slow. It takes forever to load, to check the library, to switch between music, podcasts and iPhone apps. God help you if it crashes, because it has to “check the library” until I get a gray hair.

I don’t care how Apple pulls it off. I don’t have to code iTunes, so I don’t care if its Carbon or Cocoa (even though it has to go Cocoa sooner rather than later because everything has to go Cocoa) or if its a glorified WebKit shell talking to a CoreData blob. (Like my mindless name drops there?)

Just let iTunes not suck. This not not involve adding a fucking Facebook or Twitter button to spam everyone with my favorite embarrassing music or anything stupid like that. We’re in the Snow Leopard era here. Less is more. Smaller and faster is better. That is my wish, and I’m not even sure I’ll get that.

08
Sep
09

Fights With MacMacs

Earlier I made the mistake of commenting (negatively) on a RoughlyDrafted.com post here. I’m not innocent here as I flame-baited the thread by linking to John Welch’s immensely entertaining takedown here. Dilgar seemed to be getting a bit defensive, so when I posted my own comment here, he got all pissy about it.

I’m posting my response not because I feel wronged or offended, I just wanted to share the stupid, especially when it comes from a real-life Artie McStrawman.

[Disclaimer]

I am not an IT goon and have neither an Exchange server nor a Snow Leopard server lying around to play with, so my response is written from the perspective of a knowledgeable user. You have been warned.

[/Disclaimer]

I think your perspective has been contaminated by the vitriolic strawman attacks posted by John C. Welch in his franticly unprofessional frustration outlet known as Bynkii.com.

Just because you think it doesn’t make it so.

When you say “the idea that MobileMe is a credible Exchange alternative is a joke,” where did you get the impression that I wrote of MobileMe as a drop in replacement for the majority of Exchange shops?

When you wrote this: “With Snow Leopard and the iPhone each now providing their own client layer for accessing Exchange Server, Apple can now offer its users alternative access to other server products as well, from its own MobileMe and Snow Leopard Server offerings to web services from Google and Yahoo. This effectively turns Microsoft from a direct seller into a wholesaler that has to deal with Apple as a middleman retailer.”

That very strongly implies that Exchange and MM are in direct competition. While SL Server is a more credible drop-in replacement/alternative to Exchange, MM is most certainly not. MM is just that: all about me. It has no groupware functionality at all, even between members of a family plan. In order to share calendars, I had to build a hack that goes through Google calendar and BusyCal, which requires at least one of our Macs to be on to sync everything. Its an ugly solution for something that should be built-in, especially considering how easy it is to share calendars using Google. If it wasn’t for the fact that Google tends to mangle my contacts, I would seriously be considering dropping my MM.

Your next line, “The fact is that MobileMe is and always has been a consumer solution, and Apple has always billed it as such (Remember “Exchange for the rest of us”?)” is correct, and harmonizes with what I did write, that MobileMe offers an Exchange alternative for “us,” that is users who don’t need or want to spend $25,000 on an entry level Exchange infrastructure.

Then why compare them? As if a $25k solution is in the same ballpark as a $100 one. An apples to apples comparison should be Exchange vs SL Server and/or MM vs Live/MyPhone vs Google. Exchange is not a consumer product and MM isn’t for business (or even for groups). They’re totally different markets with different needs. If there’s any confusion on my part, its the fact that you weren’t clear about the distinction between them.

The problem with reading delusional, fact bending, strawman burning, poop flinging rants like those published by Welch is that you end up repeating talking points that have no connection to the discussion at hand. You might as well sit in front of an AM radio spewing lather about death panels, Kenyan birth certificate forgeries, and how public insurance will turn the USA into Nazi Germany.

Frankly, I don’t even want to address the knuckle dragging, sexualized fantasies Welch manages to inject in every rage tantrum he writes, even if they might include random jabs as me.

His point, that there is only one market on earth, and only one problem solved by one solution, is so simple minded that it doesn’t deserve discussion. Apple is rapidly selling its services to users who don’t need Exchange. Nobody is suggesting that Exchange Server installations are directly competing against MM or SL Server, any more than FileMaker Pro is pitted against Oracle or SQL Server. There’s still a big market for FM Pro.

OK, exactly which of his “talking points” did I mindlessly repeat. He brought up some very specific technical inaccuracies which you failed to address. I pointed out the obvious (and non-conspiracy theory) reason why MS would license Exchange to Apple (and Google) and mentioned my personal experience with MM and connecting a SL Mac to an old Exchange account. Neither Welch nor I insinuated that there’s only one email market, but there two markets that use Exchange: Big organizations and SMB. MM is a poor solution for either one. Its that market that uses Exchange, and since you were comparing it to MM, the logical conclusion is that you were mentioning those markets.

Also, for the AM-radio crack: fuck you. Using flowery language to hurl your shit doesn’t make it smell any better.

In the mobile market, MM offers a superior alternative for anyone who wants a personal account that provides desktop/mobile sync and push messaging, and lacks a connection to a huge corporation that has invested millions in building an Exchange infrastructure.

Clearly, but that’s like being surprised that the sky is blue. (Although, I’ve lived in SF long enough to know that it is a pleasant surprise when there’s a blue sky, but you get the point.) Again, no one uses Exchange who isn’t using it for business, so why bring it up? Consumers use Yahoo, Hotmail/Live and Gmail or their ISP for email. So yeah, if you want the features that MM offers, its a good value, but that’s hardly worthy of analysis.

Microsoft has a very strong position in corporate messaging, but it isn’t making much headway in mobile messaging, thanks in part to the failure of Windows Mobile. RIM has eaten up Microsoft’s business prospects in the mobile push messaging arena. That’s why Microsoft is desperate to associate the iPhone with Exchange. It’s also happy to have SL apps working with Exchange.

I don’t know what you mean here. If you’re talking about BES, then we’re still on Exchange. If you’re talking about EWS, then we’re STILL on Exchange, but including WinMo, iPhone, Pre, Symbian and HTC Android builds. Basically every non-BB smartphone and a bunch of dumbphones. MS isn’t doing nearly as much work to integrate the iPhone and OS X with Exchange as Apple is. Apple has far more to gain from the proposition than MS does. Again, we’re dealing with entirely different divisions of MS here. Exchange cares about Exchange, not WinMo.

Will SL apps help Microsoft sell upgrades to the now two year old, current version of Exchange? It doesn’t matter if it does. Mac users who think Apple should have made SL apps support old versions of Exchange dating back to 2003 or 2000 are simply pinning the problem on the wrong vendor. It’s Microsoft that has changed its strategy and API enough to leave Apple with less than ideal options.

The new Outlook for Mac will likely also use EWS, as even Microsoft sees MAPI as a pile of old spaghetti code.

SL is not at all likely to get companies to upgrade their Exchange servers, which as you like to point out, is a very expensive undertaking. I also don’t think that either Apple or MS is to “blame” for anything. Clearly, MS is going to be using its own new standard for upcoming products. Whether or not Outlook 2010 will be backwards-compatible remains to be seen. Also, MS now isn’t allowed to break from the past or update their API’s? I thought we all wanted MS to embrace the future (or at least the recent past). That’s why people are still bitching about Win7 still having the registry, etc. Apple building its own apps to connect to other people’s services is nothing new. Office for the Mac has been shitty for years, but MS screwed Apple over by switching to something new? Something Apple likes to do itself quite a bit, BTW. Color me unconvinced.

Apple is adding Exchange support to SL to increase the visibility of Macs and bypass the third rate clients Microsoft has provided Mac users. The fact that Microsoft keeps moving its own goalposts in terms of the latest Exchange features is no surprise. It’s not Apple’s goal to beat Microsoft at its own game. Look at how unwinnable that has been for WINE, OpenOffice, or any other attempt to clone Microsoft’s proprietary protocols.

Which is why Apple licensed it. The reason why all of those projects suffer from such high levels of suck is because they have a religious devotion to the GPL that Apple doesn’t share. Updating their software with new features is hardly “moving the goalposts,” especially since this is the first time that Apple has offered this level of integration.

As I pointed out, Apple’s goal is to offer workable Exchange support while focusing on delivering products targeted to its own customer base, sharing much of the investments made. Apple isn’t trying to make SL apps on par with Outlook, it’s making its own MobileMe and SL Server on par with its own support for Exchange, enabling and encouraging Mac users to switch to Apple’s own offerings wherever possible.

But you were talking about MM in comparison to Exchange. Users don’t use Exchange or SL Server, they use Outlook, Entourage or Mail.app. Mac users aren’t going to switch from Exchange to SL Server; that’s generally not a decision they get to make. MM exists in parallel to Exchange. It offers value for an individual similar to what one gets from Exchange, but since one generally uses Exchange for work and MM for personal stuff, there is little room for overlap or “switching.”

If you doubt that, come back in 5 years and tell me how MobileMe compares to MyPhone or whatever Microsoft is offering for its dwindling Windows Mobile platform. Then tell me how much progress Exchange has made in expanding its market share compared to SL Server. Exchange will certainly still be making Microsoft money, and more money that Apple makes in the enterprise by some factor of ten, but Apple isn’t about winning dominance, it’s about making a better product. And for many Mac users, MM is a superior alternative to running their own Exchange Server.

You’re asking me to predict what an Apple service will look like in 5 years? I can say pretty confidently that MM will still be a consumer product and will not be a viable replacement for Exchange. And since MM is already superior to MyPhone/Live (even though both have features that the other lacks), I don’t know what point you’re trying to make here. As for the progress part, I think you got turned around. Its Apple that needs to catch up to MS. Apple is adding features to OS X server that make it more enterprise friendly, but here Apple’s solutions are immature. I have no doubt that Apple will continue to improve OS X server, but MS’s services are robust and mature already. Hell, Apple HAD to use EWS for the iPhone, since OS X server only gained the ability to remotely manage iPhones with SL. Its nice that Apple finally supports its own product that’s been on the market for more than two years, isn’t it?