Sunday, January 9, 2011

Cutting the Cable (TV)

My wife surprised me a little while ago by approaching ME with an idea that I had been toying with for a while but never suggested to her because I thought she'd hate it:

"Could we save money if we canceled our cable subscription and just did Netflix instead?"

Well, yes! Yes we could. With our special "we want to keep you as a customer so we'll lower your cost for 12 months" rate having just expired a decent internet connection and standard cable package was now running us about $120 a month. Ouch. The plan was then to sign up for Netflix and Hulu Plus, get a Roku player, and see how it worked out. This was a bit of a leap of faith for us, since we'd never used Netflix before, and I'd only tried Hulu online. If we stuck with it, though, we'd be keeping an additional $45 or so each month, so it was well worth it!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My Mac experience: Awesome, and occasionally awesomely frustrating.

I mentioned in my last post that I replaced my old (extra crispy) PC with a Mac. I've been using it pretty heavily for more than a week now, and wanted to post some of my initial impressions. Just FYI: I'm fairly new to this whole Apple thing, so some of my comments may be the result of ignorance on my part. If they are, feel free to correct me. (Note: "You just don't get it, it's better that way!" is NOT a valid form of correction.)

The great:

  • Out of box experience is FANTASTIC. Plug it in, turn it on. Done. Windows is physically incapable of providing an experience like this (though that's not always a bad thing. More on that later.)
  • NO CRAPWARE! The things that come pre-installed (iMovie, Garage Band, etc) are actually full, useable programs that I want to keep! What a concept! 
  • I love the program installation model. 90% of apps are "Drag into folder to install, drag to trash to uninstall." Beautiful! And it's only possible because...
  • No registry! I know that this can have it's downsides (the windows registry does address some issues) but most of the time it's just a badly maintained disaster waiting to happen.
  • Everything is... shiny! It's silly, but all those smooth little transitions make more of an impact than you know. Apple seem to be the only software company that really, truly appreciates how much a slick UI matters.
  • It's silent! At first I was upset by how load the magic mouse was dragging across my desk, but when I switched back to my G500 I realized that it was just as loud. The problem was, apparently, that this was the first time I could actually hear my mouse movements over the cooling fans. Wow. The loudest part of my computer now is the external hard drive.
  • Drivers, or lack thereof. I plugged in my printer and it just worked (didn't even tell me it was "Installing new hardware."), same goes for pretty much everything else. The most surprising so far: NO additional drivers needed to sync, develop for, and debug on my Android phone! There was one notable exception, which I'll mention in a bit.
  • I can actually let my computer go to sleep now and not have to worry that it may not wake up again. That's really REALLY nice.
The quirky (things that are weird to a newbie, but not necessarily "bad"):
  • It kinda weirds me out how programs don't actually "close" when I hit that little X in the corner. Well, most of the time, anyway. Some programs do. The inconsistency takes a bit to get used to.
  • All those little shortcut symbols used in the menus are greek to a new user. Command is easy to figure out (the same symbol is on the keyboard), and Shift can be guessed with a bit of thought, but that Option symbol is terrible. I only figured it out through careful experimentation. Same goes for Escape and Control.
  • The mouse ballistics feel all wrong to me. I simply can't get them to a comfortable point. Not to mention that the highest mouse movement speed is way too slow using the magic mouse. I'm glad I can crank it up with my G500.
  • Dual screen use is odd. It works okay, but to have the menu for all windows stuck on the main screen is inconvenient at best.
  • My nice 5.1 speaker system is useless now, since it was the "3 analog jack" type. (Yes, you can get converters. For the price you may as well get new speakers, though.) Not really Apple's problem, since they provide an optical out. Makes me sad though.
  • Had to buy a DisplayPort to VGA adapter after finding out that the DVI port on my old monitor apparently wasn't the right kind of DVI, rendering my DisplayPort to DVI converter useless. More ViewSonic's fault than Apples, but annoying nonetheless.
  • The magic mouse served to very quickly remind me of how much I depend on the middle mouse button (wheel click). It's annoying that there's no way to simulate that with some gesture. (Three finger click? I don't know.) I want to love the magic mouse, but I can't use it without going crazy due to this.
The maddening:
  • The hardware is limited and expensive. As a graphics developer and a gamer I was forced to buy the second tier of iMac hardware JUST to get a decent graphics card. I love the computer, don't get me wrong, but there's no question that it cost more than an equivalent PC (sorry, it does. You can't convince me otherwise) and that the choices are very slim. I would LOVE the ability to get a 3Ghz machine with the 5670 GPU, but I can't. I know this is part of what allows Apple to make such a stable OS and machine, but it doesn't stop it from being a major frustration. As much as Windows gets dinged for compatibility issues, the fact that they don't have such an iron grip on the hardware they are compatible with means that ANYONE can find a Windows machine that suits their needs. The same cannot be said about Apple hardware. (Nope, not even if you consider the Mac Mini.) 
  • Finder is painfully primitive compared to Windows Explorer. There's some nice touches (like playing music files directly from the thumbnail) but way too many omissions: There's no obvious way to go up to your parent folder (had to look up a keyboard shortcut). Opening an image in Preview doesn't let you navigate between any other images in the same folder. No built in way to open a terminal window from your current folder. No way to manually enter a file path. No "New file here" option. Oh, and to rename a file you press "Enter" but to open it you press "Command+O"? Really? I'm sorry, but that's just stupid.
  • What, exactly, is that stupid little green "+" in the corner supposed to do? SOMETIMES, if I'm lucky, it maximizes a window like I wanted. Other times (like in Google Chrome! Augh!) it just makes the window "a little bigger" (for seemingly random values of bigger). Is it really that weird to want a consistent method for making my window fill my screen? Oh, and on the subject of resizing...
  • Sorry guys, but the lower right corner just ain't cutting it for me. There's really no reason why I shouldn't be able to grab ANY side or corner of the window and stretch it out. Yes, Windows did it first, but that doesn't mean it was a bad idea. Suck it up, admit they did it right, and make all of our lives a little easier.
  • With all the peripherals that just works, the fact that I had to go pull a random driver built by a hobby developer off of Google Code to get my XBox 360 gamepad to work at all was a massive disappointment. I know that it's Microsoft's product, and I know that Apple isn't a big fan of games, but after everything else worked flawlessly this was a huge let down, and there's really not much excuse for it.
  • The fanboys. There's a reason why people dub it "the cult of Mac." You guys are worse than the Linux zealots out there sometimes! I'm sure that someone out there is reading this post right now and preparing to explain to me in great detail why all of the flaws I listed above are defects in ME, not OSX. You know what: I just don't care. If I'm fighting with the machine to get it to do what I need it to, it has failed. Windows failed a lot. OSX fails less, but it still fails, and it's all the more annoying because of how much they managed to get right.
Despite all my gripes however (and I didn't even list them all here) the fact remains that the thought of booting into my Windows partition now makes me cringe. I still work with Windows at my job every day, and I don't have a problem with that, but when I'm at home I stay in OSX as much as possible. Even with some real head-scratchers in the design department it blows away anything Microsoft has to offer. I love my Mac, and I'm glad I made the switch.

Now can someone give me a working "Maximize" button?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Back up your data! Now!

So, wow... this has been a crazy last week for me. I managed to luck into having the entire week off of work, so I was looking forward to a nice break that I could spend working on my game project (which I mentioned a couple of posts back) to try and get it ready for the Mozilla Game On competition.

[Quick side note here: Apparently Mozilla decided to go and drop WebSocket support in Firefox 4 due to security concerns with untrustworthy proxies, something which I utterly fail to understand as being a WebSocket concern. If your proxy is lying to you, aren't you pretty much screwed anyway? Whatever the reason, though, that put a serious cramp in my entry as is because I relied heavily on WebSockets to get performance that didn't, you know, suck. I was rather annoyed about the whole thing, but that's not much of a concern for me now...]

Before I jumped into my little coding spree, however, I did a little post-Christmas shopping with some gift cards I received. I used one of these to purchase a new hard drive, since I was running a bit low on space on one of mine. Took the new drive home that night, plugged it in (SATA, so the plugging part was ridiculously simple) and flipped the computer on...

...and all hell broke loose.