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Category Archives: apple

The New OS Challenge: Data Integration and Synchronization

>Today’s OS challenge
In the past, operating systems had a limited function, synchronizing access to internal and external hardware, file systems, memory, processes, etc.

Nowadays, user’s demands far exceed these ‘simple’ requirements, expecting data integration and synchronization. People use different (portable) machines, applications and different (online) storage realms, and these all need to integrate in a customer-focused manner.

Examples: image manipulation, bookmarks, data exchange
For example, on Mac OS X images can be manipulated with all sorts of relatively cheap programs these days (e.g. Skitch, LittleSnapper, Acorn, Pixelmator, Picturesque, etc.) All these programs have a different focus and provide different functions, with some overlap. However, when you try combining the functions of these programs, you are facing a real challenge. What format do you use for data exchange? PNG is a good choice for one-way image manipulation, but then don’t try changing something in the middle of your process.

This challenge becomes even larger when you try exchanging vector images between multiple applications, like Keynote, Pages, NeoOffice, Novamind, Microsoft Office, etc. Both SVG and OpenDocument are formally standards, but they are currently far from practical for inter-application data exchange. On the Mac platform, EPS and PDF are typically the best bets. An established practical standard is lacking.

Another example is your bookmarks. How do you synchronize your bookmarks between Firefox, Safari, Opera and Internet Explorer? Each vendor starts to deploy his own web-based synchronization service (MobileMe, Opera Link, etc.) and there are some that go a bit further already (XMarks, Delicious) but we need one solution for all browsers that integrates with different operating systems.

Finally, notice how online data exchange services have started to emerge. For example Quicksnapper, Skitch.com, MobileMe, Flickr, YouTube, etc. These services make it easy to share data over the internet, but they are typically focused on one type of data (images or video, for example) and fail to integrate with different sorts of applications. Their focus is typically limited.

Dropbox is a positive exception here, providing a generic data exchange experience that is seamless across Mac OS X and Windows platforms, transparently working with all sorts of applications and providing limited history/backup/versioning support. However, optimally, applications should be adjusted so they recognize and support this platform.

And what if you want to view and edit your files on the fly from your mobile device, like an iPhone?

Network computer?
In the past, companies like Sun MicroSystems attempted to resolve these issues with a largely closed environment: the network computer, sporting a central server for sharing all applications and data. Although there are still (business) environments where this is an excellent solution, the majority of the customers requires more choice and an open system.

Operating system support
This is where an operating system like Mac OS X can make a big difference. OS X is already much appreciated for the system-wide services it provides, like spell checking, hyphenation, speech, etc. But these don’t go far enough.

For application interoperability, Apple should extend their vision, provide a platform and produce some guidelines. These should enable application developers to write interoperable programs that support tomorrow’s applications, collaboration and synchronization tools and data exchange methods, including versioning support.

This may require a strategic shift, as Apple is currently trying to make money off MobileMe, which is a closed and proprietary platform that has limited features and is based on an expensive yearly subscription model. Such a model is hardly suitable for large groups of customers that will look elsewhere for their data exchange requirements.

 

>Firefox 3.0 released – and other browser news

>

Today (June 18), Mozilla Firefox 3.0 has officially been released. YSlow (a web page performance analysis extension for Firefox, by Yahoo) has been updated to 0.9.5 beta 2, just in time to support Firefox 3.

Some other browser news:

  • Opera 9.5 has been released;
  • the Firefox 3.1 features have been defined, see the MozillaWiki and the article on MozillaLink; a first alpha release is target for mid July;
  • Microsoft announced that the 2nd beta of IE 8 is scheduled for August 2008;
  • Apple has provided an early build of Safari 4 on the Apple Developer Connection, apparently with their new JavaScript engine SquirrelFish integrated;
  • the GrApple theme (that makes Firefox look like a native Mac app) has been updated for Firefox 3.
 

>Mac OS X 10.6 ‘Snow Leopard’ (updated)

>Several sites (including MacRumors and Arstechnica) are spreading the rumor that Mac OS X 10.6 will be announced at Apple’s WWDC, this coming week. The new release will supposedly be called “Snow Leopard” and the release focus will be on stability and performance.

If this is true, then that is in my opinion a Good Thing. After using FreeBSD and Linux on my primary desktop for years, I switched to Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) in Q4 2006. Although I’ve not had major problems, OS X has been pestering me now and then:

  • crashing background processes (sometimes several times an hour)
  • spontaneous reboots (1 or 2 per year)
  • failures to come back to life after being suspended (closed lid on MacBook Pro)

Rock solid stability is definitely very much welcomed, as well as improved security, especially for professional/business users like myself.

For me, a desktop computer should allow it’s users to work efficient. For this, you need sufficient speed, proper functionality, an effective keyboard/mouse/touch interface, stability and security.

In my experience, the OS X 10.4 operating system works nicely, but has it’s stability issues. It’s probably more stable than Windows, but definitely less than Linux and FreeBSD.

Update (June 10): Indeed this has been announced by Apple as anticipated, see the Apple site for more information.

 
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Posted by on 4 June 2008 in apple, leopard, mac, macos, macosx, osx, snow leopard

 

>Opacity 1.1 released

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If you’re creating iconic graphics, either for desktop applications, mobile apps or the web, and you’re lucky to be using Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard), then Opacity is definitely a contender for creating those nifty looking images.

Opacity is simple, intuitive but still very powerful when it comes to creating small graphics. It supports layers, different kinds of shapes, all sorts of effects and integrates with a couple of FTP programs.

The user interface works mostly consistent with the rest of Leopard.

Have a look at the screencast on their site.

 
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Posted by on 7 May 2008 in apple, graphics, leopard, mac, macos, macosx, png, web design

 

>OpenOffice 3.0 beta available

>

The OpenOffice.org 3.0 beta is now available from download.openoffice.org. One of the most compelling changes is Mac OS X support. Localized builds are also available, but not directly linked from that page. Instead, check out one of the mirrors.

Currently, most Mac users prefer NeoOffice over OpenOffice 3. OpenOffice 2 does not work under Aqua (only under X11) and NeoOffice has a history of stable OpenOffice-functionality for the Aqua/Mac OS X platform. This may change once OpenOffice 3 becomes (more) stable.

 

>Apple Keynote 4 does not support soft hyphens

>Currently, Apple’s Keynote (v4.0.2) does not support soft hyphens. When a soft hyphen is inserted, it is treated as a normal (breaking) hyphen: even if the word is no split over 2 lines, the hyphen is still shown.

Steps to reproduce:

  1. create a new Keynote document
  2. create a text field
  3. add a long word in it
  4. move the cursos to the middle of the word
  5. go to Edit > Special characters…
  6. in the dialog that appears, enter “SOFT HYPHEN” in the search box
  7. double-click on “SOFT HYPHEN” in the list that appears
  8. click on button labeled “Insert”
  9. resize the text field so it is large enough to show the word without breaking

Expected behaviour:

  • the soft hyphen does not show

Actual behaviour:

  • the soft hyphen shows, in the middle of the word
 
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Posted by on 10 March 2008 in apple, iwork, keynote

 

>iGTD

>Today I started using iGTD, a Mac OS X application for todo-management. This application helps you to get yourself organized, registering all things you need to do in a single database on your own machine.

Overall iGTD v1.4.5.6 seems to be a well-designed application that is very usable for it’s core functionality. It works very stable on Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger). I have not tried running it on 10.5 (Leopard).

Wish list
While working with iGTD for a couple of hours, here’s a list of things I’d recommend for improvement:

  1. Search everything – when searching, you currently have to choose from “Search by task name or note” and few other options, but “Search everything” is not an option. I’d like a single operation to search project names, task names, tags, etc.
  2. Dates – Although iGTD displays dates in a friendly format such as “Today” or “Tuesday”, it’s not possible to enter dates that way. It would be nice to just type “tue” and get iGTD to recognize that as “this coming Tuesday”.
  3. Resize window – When increasing the size of the main iGTD application window, the last column in the task list becomes wider. By default, that’s the “Due date” column, which doesn’t need that much space, normally. Instead, the “Name” column should be widened, which contains both the task name (left-aligned) and the tag names (right-aligned).
  4. Effort colors – The effort column in the task list allows 4 values, ranging from low to high (see the image). The values are represented by a bar that is shorter (for low effort) or longer. Each bar length has it’s own color, these are (from low effort to high): dark grey, green, brown and red. It would be nice if the colors would be more intuitive, such as: green, orange, red and black.
  5. Defaults – It would be nice if the configuration would allow that tasks entered without details (e.g. via “Quick type”, hotkey F8) are explicitly be assigned some defaults, such as a default project.
  6. Dock icon – iGTD offers the option of putting the number of open tasks in your Inbox in the dock icon. That’s very nice indeed. It would, however, by even nicer if it could show the combined number of open tasks from all contexts, or even show multiple numbers, for different contexts, similar to what DockStar (see image) does for the Apple Mail application.
  7. Resize panes – The main application window is divided in 3 main panes: the list of contexts or projects, the list of tasks and task details. It would be nice if these panes could be resized, for example to allow more room for the task list.
  8. Task dependencies – It seems there is no way to make tasks dependent on eachother. I tried looking at the various task properties, I tried right-clicking a task and I tried dragging a task onto another using various modifier keys (Cmd, Cmd-Alt, Shift, etc.) If iGTD offers this functionality, it seems well-hidden…
  9. Multi-client – I am one of the (probably many) people that do work in multiple locations, from different computers, but want to have the same personal information in all these places. To accomplish this, you can use a combination of .Mac (for your address book, certificates, etc.), del.ico.us (for your bookmarks).
    What I could not find out yet, is whether iGTD also supports working from different computers in an easy-to-setup manner.

In my opinion, iGTD is a great application that is very usable. And the iGTD 2 alpha looks very promising!

 
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Posted by on 18 January 2008 in apple, gtd, igtd, mac, macos, macosx, todo