The Dirty Deed is Done……

Amazing how quickly things move on……

You’ll have read all about my inner turmoil yesterday, being tempted by the new Mac Pro and the realisation that my plans for a new development machine based on a new Mac mini had to be put on hold whilst I considered using an iMac as an alternative.

I’m fortunate to already have a Mac Pro, one of the 8 cores introduced in Jan 2008, which is my main desktop machine and video production workstation. I wanted a second Mac to both act as a Snow Leopard test bed and also as a potential dedicated screencapture workstation.

I’d figured on getting a Mac mini for this, but the price differential between the maxed out Mac mini and the iMac was a mere £350 to get a much more capable machine plus a 24″ glossy screen.

Well, I was happily working away yesterday afternoon, with one eye on my Twitter feed as normal, when I spotted a tweet from @leanda with the news that she’d just had a great offer on the now “end of line” Mac Pro from her local Apple store. A significant discount off the usual price of a Xeon Quad Core 2.8Ghz Mac Pro – £400 off in fact!

Hmm, now that’s a development machine.

Curious, I rang my local Apple store and lo and behold, they also had a couple of the same machines with the same discount (for business customers).

The bottom line was that could get a Xeon Quad Core 2.8Ghz Mac Pro with 2GB RAM for just under the price of a new 24″ iMac. In all honesty, I didn’t really need the display on the iMac, and with the Mac Pro, I’d have the ultimate in flexibility and more than enough raw computing power for a long time to come. Besides which, if I had a second 8 core Mac Pro, I could combine both machines at encoding time using Virtual Clusters in Compressor and all 16 cores should be utilised to the max, reducing my current video encoding times by half.

Now my current Mac Pro is currently configured with 10GB RAM and potential “other’ Mac Pro has only 2GB. Apple memory is out of the question but a quick search at OWC showed I could upgrade both machines to 16GB RAM for approx £400 including shipping. A quick trawl at ebuyer showed 4 x 1TB drives would set me back another £280.

So in effect, I’d be getting an Xeon Quad Core 2.8Ghz Mac Pro with 16GB RAM and 4TB disk (and upgrading my current Mac Pro to 16GB RAM in the process) for approximately £600 less than buying a base model of the new Mac Pro.


So yes, I scuttled off to my local Apple store and did the dirty deed!

So now I’m the owner of two “End of LIne” Mac Pros with more horsepower that I ever dreamed possible. I’ve not set up the other beast yet as I’m waiting on the other bits to arrive.

One thing I’m going to test out is “teaming” the dual gigabit ethernet ports on each machine using link aggregation

Link aggregation allows you to aggregate or combine multiple physical links that connect your Mac to a link aggregation device (a switch or another Mac) into a single logical link. The result is a fault-tolerant link with a bandwidth equal to the sum of the bandwidths of the physical links.

In effect, this would give each machine a huge fat fast pipe between each other which again, should speed up the video encoding and enable me to pass the huge video files I create between each machine with ease. I need to do some more research on this as I think you need a special type of gigabit switch, but I’ll keep you informed!

I’m also seriously considering setting one of the machines up as just a dedicated video production machine, optimised for video production and not to be fiddled with or experimented with.

So that’s the end of my justification to myself reasoning behind what some people may think as crazyness (looking at you Allison) but it really is a business tool. I spend countless hours in front of my rig editing and encoding, so it’s an investment in technology to help smooth out the process and also another learning experience to share.

With GrandCentral in Snow Leopard, I’m fully expecting more and more applications to become multi processor aware, so over time it’s not just the video encoding side that will benefit.

Finally, it’s always good to remember when investing in Mac kit, just how long the kit both lasts and is supported. I fully expect these machines to be earning their keep for many years, not just for me. The resale value of Macs is significant, so when the time does come to upgrade to the next level, both machines should still attract a pretty decent price, recouping a significant amount of the initial investment.

If I can ever bring myself to part with them!

WWDC08 – Obligatory Predictions [Updated]

The keynote is now over so it’s time to see how I did! Results are in red.

Well less than 24 hours to go, so I may as well nail my colours to the mast and give you my take on how it’s going to go tomorrow.

I’m feeling slightly nervous about this one as expectations seem to be even higher than usual and there’s nothing worse than being disappointed, even when Apple perform and release a ton of new stuff – it’s just not what people have been led to expect.

So saying that, let’s press on!

The World Wide Developers conference has three themes – iPhone (Mobile), OS X and IT (Enterprise) so I would expect some announcements on all three themes.

iPhone (Mobile)

3G iPhone – The fact that a 3G iPhone is to be launched appears to be a given – scary stuff! However, with Apple withholding stocks of the iPhone for the past three weeks or so, I have to admit that this is the nearest I’ve ever seen to a dead cert for any Apple key note.

Rating: Yes! – Pretty much a cert!

GPS – Mixed feelings on this. Yes, I’d love them to include this but I’m not sure if they’d take the hit on the extra expense and the extra power requirements. Also, why would they have gone to all the trouble of including the cell tower and wifi hot spot triangulation in the last iPhone update. This is an unlikely for me but I would really welcome the addition of GPS.

Rating: No! – Well at least I wanted it. Glad to see it included

Video on the iPhone – If they are embracing 3G on the iPhone then surely video will be there too? I’d even go so far as to say that they’ll also include some mechanism whereby you can have a front facing video capture to do video-conferencing via iChat. I think the leaked CrunchGear photos will be close to the mark, especially with the design theme of tapering edges – just like the MacBook Air.

Rating: Yes and No! – No mention of video – Extremely surprised. Speaking with various people though, it appears the video hooks are available via the API so this may be facilitated by third party apps. See newer post

802.11n WiFi – I’d previously considered 802.11n for the iPhone but was prompted by a twitter from Klaus Lovgreen earlier today to include it. Provided the chipset is small enough and power efficient, 802.11n would be a welcome addition.

Rating: No! – still 802.11g

Wireless Sync – OK, more of a wish than a prediction but Apple really need to implement wireless syncing for the iPhone.

Rating: Yes & No! – Giving myself a let on this one as MobileMe does allow wireless application data syncing and the App store will sync apps wirelessly. I did really mean iTunes syncing so not 100% on this one!

Applications and App Store – Fully expect to see some major software vendors to demonstrate some iPhone apps that will make your head spin. Available as soon as the App store is launched.

Rating: Yes! – But too, too many during the keynote

Games – Lots and lots of iPhone games!

Rating: Yes! – But too, too many during the keynote

Release Date of the iPhone 2.0 – Within 2 weeks of the Keynote

Rating: No! – Not until July 11th but I sort of called it wouldn’t be available on the day


.Mac Upgrade/Rebranding – Touted as a major relaunch of .Mac as MobileMe or something similar, both the timing and the venue for a major announcement on .Mac seems likely due to the increased relevance of Apples mobile focus and the fact that this is a development event.

This will have significant overlap with both the iPhone theme and the IT theme. The enhanced .Mac will offer many push technologies to further boost the potency of the iPhone. One thing that concerns me with the increased functionality provided in iPhone 2.0 with the additions for Exchange support is the exclusion of these features for non-Exchange users i.e a large percentage of Mac users. Apple need to be able to provide these additional features to corporate Mac users so I would imagine they will provide some additional tools/features for Apple Mail and potentially other applications.

Rating: Yes and Yes! – I think I nailed this one

10.6 Launch – I fully expect the 10.6 announcement to be as rumoured although dropping PowerPC support won’t happen just yet – it’s much too soon. The rumour is that 10.6 will be a performance enhancement/stability release without any major new features. This could be an excellent ploy when comparing OS X with the problematic bloatware that is Vista and the apparent Leopard copycat that is Windows 7.

Why move forward on new features when Leopard already has a ton of cutting edge features already (including multi-touch) and the biggest problem Windows suffers from is performance and stability? A performance/stability release would show Apple is more concerned with the user experience and as a side benefit, I would imagine this strategy would free up a lot of spare resource for Apple to apply on developing other software and other consumer products. In most respects, I think I’d prefer a performance/stability release!

Rating: Yes! – I think I’m OK with this one! – Link

IT (Enterprise)

Enterprise Level Apps – As previously indicated, expect to see some significant changes in Apple software to support the Enterprise. This may take a more important part of the keynote than people expect. Apple have the Enterprise firmly in their sights based on the huge steps they are taking in the iPhone space. I fully expect them to at least seed some ideas on how they can support the Enterprise using the Mac and OS X to fully engage those corporates who adopt the iPhone.

Rating: Yes! – Some additional functions of supporting the iPhone in the Enterprise but not perhaps on the OSX side

One More Thing

Well your guess is as good as mine! Some suggestions….

Mac Tablet – Nah! Would be too revolutionary and divert too much information away from the iPhone. Could be available by MacWorld 2009

Rating: Yes! – No Mac Tablet

Updated MacBook Pro – Although the MBP has had a recent speed bump and chipset change, the overall design is badly in need of modernisation. As the event is a developers event and the bulk of those in the audience will probably have a MBP on their lap (heat permitting) or in their bag, the introduction of a redesigned MBP is a possibility. Lots of design cues can be taken from the more modern Macs such as the glass and aluminium styling of the iMac or the tapering design of the MacBook Air. There may also design cues adopted from the newly released iPhones.

Rating: No!

New Cinema Displays – Well I had to include this didn’t I. If there is one product range badly in need of a refresh and price adjustment, it’s the Apple Cinema Displays. If they make an appearance, expect some design cues from the iMac again plus the inclusion of the new super bright LCD displays as found in the more recent laptops. I have heard from certain quarters that iSight cameras are perhaps not welcomed in new Cinema Displays so the inclusion of iSights are less than certain.

Rating: No! And for the record, this is the last time I will ever mention Cinema Displays in a Keynote prediction blog

So there you go, nothing too earth shattering or completely unexpected but Steve Jobs does have a tendency to surprise us at these events so I wouldn’t be too shocked if things turned out completely differently!

Windows 7 and Multi Touch

Well it comes as no real surprise that Microsoft have got the old copier machines working in Redmond again.

This video demo shows Windows 7 working on a modified PC laptop:

NB There is no sound until later in the video

A couple of things:

I wonder what patents are being infringed following the announcement at the iPhone launch that Apple have applied for over 200 patents on the iPhone and multitouch technologies?

Do I really want to smear my fingerprints all over my main display on my desktop computer?

Do the ergonomics of using touch screens on a primary display really work?

Given that this isn’t due to be available until late 2009 (but based on Microsofts track record, you may want to add another year or so on that) and OSX already has multitouch built in (iPhone, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro), how far advanced will OSX be when Windows 7 finally hits the street.

Don’t you find it fascinating that Microsoft have decided to release this video less than two weeks before the announcements at WWDC!

Do they know something we don’t?

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Apple TV Mark 2?

Dock-1.pngLots of talk about the perceived “failure” of the Apple TV typified by posts like this from Macworld.

There’s probably some truth in that, especially following Steve Jobs pronouncement at the D Conference that the Apple TV was “a hobby” for Apple. That’s a pretty off the wall statement to make about one of your own products and most definitely not an off the cuff remark. A classic case of misdirection I believe.

I’ve been using the Apple TV since it was released and it has the potential to be a killer device. The current plus points include:

  • It’s always on and there when I need it.
  • It syncs pretty transparently.
  • The UI is brilliant and so simple to use.
  • YouTube support is something I never thought I’d use but it’s pretty compelling

But there have been downsides:

  • Due to the lack of availability of material on the iTunes store (here in the UK at least), I’ve had to rely mainly on Podcasts and material sourced from elsewhere.
  • Invariably, most external content requires conversion and is time consuming and unwieldy.
  • Even if more content were available, I can’t buy from the iTunes store directly from the Apple TV
  • If I want to play a DVD I have to rip it first – again time consuming and unwieldy
  • Lack of support for external storage even though a USB port is built into the device.

One of the problems with the Apple TV Mark 1 was the timing of its introduction. Originally announced back in September 2006, launched at Macworld 2007 and finally released in April of 2007, the Apple TV has had to play second fiddle to both the iPhone and Leopard for most of 2007. As we know, scarce resources were diverted from the Leopard team across to the iPhone team in the middle of the year and since then Leopard has probably taken up most of Apples development time. So I think the Apple TV has suffered through lack of attention.

So understandably, many people have switched from the Apple TV to the Mac Mini as their home entertainment hub.

The Mac Mini provides a much more flexible option which removes the hassle and limitations of the Apple TV:

  • Hook up a 500GB external USB drive
  • support for a gazillion codecs so everything will play on it – no conversion required
  • a DVD drive so you can watch your existing movies straight away
  • Direct support for PVR such as EyeTV so you can use it as a VCR replacement
  • Not forgetting it’s a fully featured Mac so you can do everything that you can on a Mac – browsing, burning, you name it
  • Add in a software package like Remote Buddy and control your Mac Mini from your Apple remote

Not forgetting of course that Leopard now includes FrontRow, the Apple TV interface.

So what’s next for the Apple TV Mark 2?

Not withstanding the PVR capabilities (as I’m sure that Apple don’t want you to record TV, they want you to buy from iTunes) I’m confident we’ll see a new Apple TV at Macworld based on the Mac Mini form factor including an Optical drive. Things that would re-energise the Apple TV would be:

  • The capability to playback existing DVD media (plus HD-DVD or Bluray?)
  • The availability of HD material from the iTunes store
  • The ability to buy video content from iTunes directly from the Apple TV
  • The introduction of Movie rentals within the iTunes store
  • The ability to extend the storage via an external drive
  • The introduction of new capabilities to enable access to the other functions of the Mac OS via the Apple remote – simplified browsing, access other Macs on the network, etc.
  • A tweak to enable the Apple remote to control the TV Volume

If we get really fanciful, how about some other cool features such as:

  • Integration with Back To My Mac so you can access your Apple TV content from anywhere
  • Integration with the iPhone or iPod touch to create the killer remote control
  • Built in streaming from the Apple TV to the iPhone or iPod touch (as already demonstrated by the EyeTV)

Perhaps the new Apple TV will in fact be a new TV, the fabled Apple flat panel TV with a Mac Mini built right inside.

Well it won’t be long until we find out what Apples strategy is moving the platform forward, but rest assured, it’s certainly not a hobby for them!

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Spaces – So close yet so far!

Dock-1.jpgOK, I’ve tried, I’ve really tried.

Spaces was one of the new features I was really looking forward too in Leopard. Even though I’ve got significant screen real estate (a 30″ Dell monster) I knew I could still benefit from having an orderly Spaces environment to group my related screens altogether.

Spaces is so close to being a great feature but just falls short of the mark.

I like being able to assign applications to various spaces but I just haven’t found a consistently useable way to configure it. Not withstanding the issue of open windows mysteriously just disappearing without trace.

I think Spaces Rev 2 might fix some of the issues but until then, I’m afraid I’ve reverted back to just a single window on the world.

Mind you, I’m formulating a new master plan using multiple monitors once Apple release the next rev of the Mac Pro.

Stay tuned!

What’s your experience with Spaces been?

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