Should I Upgrade to Leopard?

leopard_box_125.jpgI’ve been asked this question so many times privately about Apple’s newest Mac operating system, that I figure it’s time I let it all hang out publicly.

I like Leopard. I like it a lot. It’s, quite simply, the most mature, refined, aesthetically pleasing and capable desktop computer operating system I’ve ever used.

And, yes (because I know this is what you’re wondering about — everybody else seems to, anyway), it mops the floor with Microsoft’s Windows Vista.

There’s simply no competition.

But the less said about Vista, the better. I don’t want to rub salt in Microsoft’s wounds.

Besides, I’d rather focus on the things that make Leopard truly great.

An important thing to understand about Leopard: it’s all about refinement.

Apple’s intention with Leopard is clearly not to revolutionize the desktop computer OS. Instead, the company seems intent on perfecting it.

With Leopard, it’s all about stability, performance, and the little details that can make a computer more intuitive and easier to use.

Leopard even has a sense of humour: networked Windows computers are represented by a monitor displaying the infamous Blue Screen of Death.

The best new utility in Leopard fills a glaring hole that exists in most computer systems to date: built-in data backup.  

Leopard could have just featured a standard backup utility that you have to spend your life configuring and managing.
But Leopard’s better than that. Instead, Time Machine is a stylish and intuitive data backup environment that is actually fun to use.

To start protecting your data with Leopard, just plug an external hard drive into your Mac. Time Machine will automatically start backing up your entire hard drive every day, with no further effort on your part.

If you ever need to get anything back, use Time Machine to browse through a series of windows that cascade off into space. These represent your files over time. It’s a visually enthralling way to examine a history of your computing use.

When you find the file or folder you want to restore from a particular point in time, Time Machine brings it back to the present in a snap.

In terms of day-to-day use, Leopard’s best feature is Quick Look.

Receive an attachment with an email and you need to know what’s inside? In the olden days, you’d double click it and then wait for Word or Excel or whatever to open and show it to you. Not in Leopard.

Quick Look lets you view and browse inside a file without needing any other application. It can show you anything: Word or Excel files, PDFs, videos, photos, music, whatever.

Quick Look is available in Apple Mail or just on your Mac desktop.

It’s instantaneous and works with the click of the the spacebar on your keyboard.

It sounds so simple, but Quick Look is the one feature that has most dramatically improved my work flow and saved me massive time.

Then there’s Leopard and the web.

Competitive since the day of its release, the new Safari web browser in Leopard is, without a doubt, the best web browser in existence.

It’s fast. Like, it starts up in barely more than a second.

It’s fast. Like, it renders and displays complex pages instantly.

From my experience with Safari over the past month, it makes Firefox feel more like Embermutt.

And Internet Explorer? Well, like I said, I’m going easy on Microsoft in this column. ‘Nuff said.

But, again, like Leopard in general, Safari is really all about refinement.

Managing your bookmarks library in Safari has become easier and more intuitive.

While you’re browsing multiple web pages, you can drag and drop tabs to reorder them.

If you’re filling out a form on a web page and run out of visible space in a field, Safari lets you resize it.

But, really, what’s truly best about Leopard? It made my old MacBook faster.

Seriously.

Whatever Apple did to the basic functionality of Leopard, it makes my old laptop feel like a new machine.

This surprised me. Major software updates usually send hardware into anaphylactic shock. Not Leopard. It actually made my old Mac as fast as, well, a Leopard.

Interestingly, even as it’s become easier to use, faster, and more capable, Apple’s new Mac OS X has also become geekier under the hood.

Leopard receive an elite UNIX 03 rating from The Open Group, essentially certifying the operating system as “real” UNIX. The only other companies to receive this certification are Sun, HP, and IBM, for their super-high-end server operating systems.

Why should you care? Boasting rights, of course. Not many people can claim to be carrying an industrial-strength UNIX operating system with them to the café.

More to the point though, Leopard is not a closed, proprietary environment. It shares a common base with many other operating systems which makes it easier and less expensive to support and operate.

Of course, that also make Leopard a bit more vulnerable to viruses, as I’ve previously written.

I’ve mentioned just three of my favourite new features in Leopard. Apple claims there are 300. I haven’t found them all yet. But, even now, a month into using Leopard, they reveal themselves like easter eggs every day.

To answer the question of this column: should you upgrade to Leopard? I’d say yes. Without question.

Leopard is the pinnacle of the modern computer operating system. It’s elegant, intuitive, stable, and powerful. It’s feature-packed.

And what’s more, it’ll make your old machine new again.

Go for it. Come run fast with the pack.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, November 30, 2007. 

Want to discuss this column online? Head over to our talk area for a free opportunity to rant and rave. 

Wanted: Creative, Passionate Writer (Job)

You crave a creative challenge that involves story writing, digital media, and thinking crazy. You dig technologies like the internet and mobile phones but maybe don’t totally understand them. You believe in the perfect marriage of art and technology. You love brands. You want to become involved in a unique creative project that will be challenging and fun but also frustrating and demanding of your absolute passion. Oh, and it’ll net you some solid cash. Interested? Fill out the online form. We’ll get back to you with more information.

 Note: We’ll only consider Yukon-based applicants. 

Protect Yourself from Yukon Electrical this Winter

computerbarbie2.thumbnail.jpgReliable power in the Yukon is fast becoming an oxymoronic concept. In fact, a steady stream of power outages is now more certain that a constant supply of clean electricity from Yukon Electrical.

For technology users that means trouble.

Here’s are some tips to help make sure your technology (and, hence, your productivity and your sanity) doesn’t go down with the crummy Yukon power grid.

In a nutshell, there are three things you should be doing to protect your precious electronics.

First, make sure all your kit is on one or more hefty power-cleaning battery backups.

Second, make sure all of your data is backed up securely.

Finally, be ready for the distinct possibility that Yukon Electrical will cook a device. By subscribing to an extended warranty plan for your hardware, you’ll be able to have it repaired or replaced.

Really, any technology user should be taking the steps above. But when you’re on the equivalent of a third-world power grid, these efforts become doubly important.

Okay, to start off here, when you’re electricity comes from a dirty, unreliable source, nothing is more important than a UPS — an “uninterruptible power supply”.

Also known as a battery backup, a UPS performs two duties. First, it cleans up your power. So when Yukon Electrical lovingly delivers brown outs and power spikes to you, your UPS will stop them from hitting your precious electronics.

When Yukon Electrical just drops the ball and your power goes out, a UPS contains a battery that will provide enough juice to keep you productive for a while.

I can’t emphasize how important a UPS is on a shoddy power grid like we have in the Yukon. Every electronics owner should have at least one protecting their devices.

Personally, I have four. I have two in my home office protecting my array of computer kit. I have another in the living room protecting my television and stereo. And I have a huge one hidden in the basement to make sure my ADSL and Wifi never go down.

Okay, one more time, just to make sure you get the message: if your electronics gear isn’t on a UPS in the Yukon, you’re crazy.

Next up is data backup.

Again, every computer user should be doing data backup. It’s just another one of those things  that’s essential to make sure you protect yourself from a massive loss of productivity. And, speaking from a long-ago experience, data backup can also save you from experiencing severe emotional trauma.

These days, the most cost-effective method of backup is to an external hard drive. These are boxes that sit on your desktop and hook up to your computer and play the same role that the disk inside your computer plays.

I have three 500 GB hard drives protecting my data. I back up to them incrementally every night (so only that changes files for that day are backed up) and fully every weekend.

I currently rely on Leopard’s Time Machine on my Macs, and Acronis True Image for my PCs.

However, if Yukon Electrical cooks your computer, your desktop hard drive is probably on the power grill right beside it. So you need to get your data off site.

There are a slew of internet-based data backup providers. I use a combination of Apple’s .Mac service for my Macs and Mozy for my PCs. I’m pretty happy with both.

The downside to internet-based data backup, however, is that, well, it’s internet based. That means it’s very slow to backup large amounts of data and, with the ridiculous data caps imposed by Northwestel on your ADSL, you could end up paying through the nose to protect your most important information.

A good alternative is another form of network-based backup called Crash Plan, which enables you to securely back your data up to other computers, even ones you don’t own. I haven’t used it yet, so I can’t vouch for it, but it sounds good in concept.

Of course, backing up to physical media like an external hard drive or DVDs and then physically removing them from the power grid and even your home or office is that best option. But that requires a lot more rigour and habit than I’ve found most people (including myself) really have.

Finally, in my experience, Yukon Electrical will burn you eventually. Over the years I’ve lost all form of device to their electric power grill.

Despite all your best efforts to protect your kit at your own home or office, eventually you’ll have to visit a client, friend, or public facility that isn’t as well defended from the local power utility.

That’s when you need to be prepared for your device to cook. And that’s when you need to make sure that you’ve purchased an extended warranty on your equipment.

With my Macs, Apple’s extended AppleCare service has always been a must. Apple provides pretty much the best technical assistance in the industry, and AppleCare has paid for itself ten times over in the form of replaced hardware.

Another good option is the extended service plan from a retailer. Staples’ offerings are very valuable, and I highly recommend purchasing them when you shop there, especially for big ticket items you buy.

Take note, though, that no extended warranty in the world, will get your data back. And data is likewise excluded from all insurance plans.

So once your data is gone, there’s nothing that anybody, other than a counsellor, can do for you there.

We all know that the quality of the power grid in the Yukon drops precipitously during the coldest months. And it’s been anything but reliable over the summer.

Make sure you’re ready for the worst that Yukon Electrical has to throw at you this winter, and follow my advice.

I guarantee that, one cold, dark night when the lights go out and you can feel the winter creep in through your windows, you’ll thank me.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, November 23, 2007.

The Endgame of Desktop Computers

Rotaty Dial PhoneI’ve been using Apple’s new Leopard operating system on my Mac for the past few weeks. And, for the most part, Microsoft’s Windows Vista’s been on my PC since the spring (though I periodically upgrade back to XP out of frustration).

At first, both environments were pretty exciting to dive into and start using.

However, over time, my enthusiasm has dwindled. Really, there’s very little either Leopard or Vista deliver to us users that we didn’t have before.

And I wonder if the innovation lifespan of the desktop computer, as a general consumer device, isn’t spent? Continue reading

Evolve to the Modern Age of Email with IMAP

Letter SorterI love IMAP.

There, I’ve said it. And if that brief statement doesn’t mark me as a geek, nothing ever will.

And I bet you don’t even know what I’m talking about.

But just stick with me here.

I’m going to share one of the great secrets of modern email with you.

IMAP is an email protocol that’s used mainly by software on your computer, like Apple Mail or Microsoft Outlook.

More than an email protocol, though, it’s a way of living.

Old school desktop email was all about POP.

And, truth be told, most email these days is still old school.

I pity the masses that suffer under the cruel dominance of that ancient, decrepit email protocol.

That probably means you.

In a nutshell, POP is dumb. Not in that grade 2 ways, like, “you’re dumb!”

No, POP is dumb in that blonde sort of way.

POP doesn’t know that you’ve read an email message. POP has no idea about how you might want to organize your email. Heck, it has no idea about organization, period.

With POP, there’s a hard line between your computer (known in geek parlance as the “client”) and the computer that’s delivering your mail to you (the “server”).

Once you’ve read your email, it’s on your computer. End of story.

That’s relatively cool if you’ve just got one computer and you never want to get at your email from anywhere else.

Because you won’t be able to. But, oh, what a sad life.

Of course, you could leave all your mail on the server. Then you could get it from wherever.

But because POP, as I’ve established, is dumb, each computer you read your email on will think all your email is unread. A POP server has no clue as to which messages you’ve read and which are new.

What’s more, POP can’t get organized. Everything exists in one big, fat Inbox. If you want to organize your email along more comprehensible guidelines, you’ll have to take it off the server and put it on your computer.

But then you can’t get at it from any other computer.

Ah, what a vicious circle ye are, POP.

Here’s where my love begins.

IMAP is all about taking the work out of email.

IMAP knows what you’ve read. It keeps track of this and shares the information between computers.

IMAP helps you organize your email. All of your folders, flags, and stars are shared between all of the computers you use to access your email.

IMAP lets you get at your email from whatever computer you might be using. No matter what computer you use, you always see the same information.

But you’re not stuck to just using a desktop client like Outlook or Mail.

Most IMAP services also have web-based interfaces so that if you’re using someone else’s computer you can still get at your mail. You can read and manage your email just as you would at your own computer.

If you have more than one computer and need to keep your email activities synchronized between them, IMAP is for you.

POP will just drive you mad (and probably already is) as you manually work to try and remember on which machine you downloaded what email message.

Oddly enough, even in this modern age, most people are stiffed with email providers that only support the POP protocol. And that’s pretty whacked.

POP’s one of those old-world services, like coal fueled power, that need to be quickly migrated out of existence.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon.

Still, many commercial email providers are adopting it alongside POP.

Probably the best deal for IMAP these days is Google’s Gmail. You can go with a standard-fare gmail.com address, or subscribe to the free Google Apps service and use your own domain name. Then set up your desktop email client to log in using IMAP.

Of course, going with Google puts you and your organization under the jurisdiction of a foreign legal and privacy system.

If you want to stay within friendlier, more familiar boundaries then shell out a few bucks a month for an IMAP account with Webnames.ca, Canada’s best implementation of the protocol.

Whatever you do though, ditch POP. As fast as you can. And join me and my geek love affair in the modern age of email.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, November 2, 2007.