Web/Tech, Writing

Going on a software detox diet

A comment yesterday reminded me what a software junkie I used to be. Had I tried TextExpander instead of setting up auto-correct in Word? Of course. And Typinator. And probably lots else besides.

I started using computers in the Eighties, when most of them were as inadequate as they were expensive. True they could do things that nothing else was capable of. But there were always holes, glitches, things you needed that weren’t there out of the box.

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Not just me kissing the Mac goodbye….

John Scalzi’s bought himself a new computer. It’s Windows 8 after using a MacBook Air and a Mac Mini. Sounds like his reasons for moving away from Apple are a bit different to mine (he wants graphics power and the ability to play games).

Interesting though. I tried the machine he’s gone for, the Dell XPS One. And sent it back. The fans were a bit noisy, I couldn’t see the point of touch on a desktop and the whole thing was just so very, very big.

Each to his or her own…

Web/Tech, Writing

A word of warning before you buy that retina Mac

Apple have a new MacBook out, one with an astonishing price tag and the highest resolution screen around. Should writers rush out to buy it? Honest answer: don’t know. Haven’t seen it yet, have no plans to go out of my way to see it, so what you will now read is mere speculation/hearsay.

A really high resolution display primarily benefits images it seems to me. I have the latest iPad. Photos look amazing on it. So does text too provided it comes from an app that has been retuned for the higher resolution.

That caveat also appears to apply to the new retina MacBook. Apple released new versions of several of its apps yesterday (you probably know that already because of the huge updates millions of us had to download, even though we don’t have that high res screen). It was interesting that Apple’s iWork suite wasn’t among them. I’ve no idea how Apple’s own word processor, Pages, looks on the retina. It hasn’t been updated seriously now in years.

But here’s the Verge on how some other text apps, including Word, look…

A few other apps have this text issue (Kindle and Nook being two of the more aggravating examples), but we don’t want to dwell too much on this. As with the new iPad, we suspect app developers will be fairly quick to upgrade their apps to support the new Retina standard. Some of the notable pain points for now include Kindle, Nook, and the entire Microsoft Office Suite — all the text looks jagged and pixelated in a very grating way.

I love the line ‘we don’t want to dwell too much on this’. Imagine if any other company released something that made text look ‘very grating’. Would they dwell on it then? Ah well…

There’s a rumour that iWork will be updated when Apple release Mountain Lion, the gadget-laden new version of OS X due soon. But then there have been rumours of a new release of iWork many times over the past few years and none of them have come to anything. Nor have Microsoft said if they’ll release a new, retina-tuned version. Scrivener will support it one day, as I’d expect given its huge Mac fan base, and you can read more on this here.

If you’re a photographer, someone who works with video, or deals in other forms of image-based work I imagine this new screen is pretty exciting. But I work with words and frankly I’m not. As far as I can see anyone who buys this thing today won’t see any improvement in the way words appear on screen. In fact they may well look worse than on existing, much cheaper kit and it’s unclear when that situation will change.

I’ve been writing on Macs since they came out in 1984. Apple always positioned itself as a company that supported creative people. It doesn’t seem quite so keen any more. I’m clearly not the only long-term user who feels that way. Here’s an interesting comment from Macintouch

Overall, I’m extremely disappointed with the changes yesterday. Granted, a lot of the new technologies are neat, but they focus on using the Mac as a social networking tool, not as a work/productivity tool.

The demise of the MacBook Pro 17” is a serious blow to my productivity. I’m an admin, as well as a web, FileMaker, and iOS developer.

The Retina Display on the new 15” doesn’t provide readable screen real estate. The pixel size of my 17” is already at the limit of my aging, astigmatic eyes.

Lion does not give me the power I need to work productively – one factor is the lack of Rosetta; another is the dysfunctional Finder. I keep folders organized; I don’t want to search every time I need to access one of the thousands of documents I have.

As of yesterday, applications I’ve purchased within the last year are no longer being upgraded for an operating system that came with my Mac 16 months ago. Really, Apple? I need to upgrade my OS less than a year and a half after buying my computer? Microsoft still releases updates for XP…

As a power user, I feel like I’m being forced to dumb down my workflow. IMHO Apple is restricting users, as it transitions to a consumer electronics manufacturer from a computer manufacturer. IMHO this is a total about-face from the Apple I’ve loved since 1986, which considered my productivity top priority.

I’ll stop now, it’s too depressing…

Really high res screens sound wonderful in principle. On the new iPad they look great with text and pictures with apps that have been reconfigured for the screen. But an iPad is something I use on my lap or close on a table. A laptop’s further away. A desktop screen is much further away. My current desktop, a 27-inch iMac, has the same resolution as the new retina MB Pro. Text looks fine. Would it look markedly better if Apple doubled the resolution of that machine? I honestly don’t know. But I doubt I’d fork out a stack of money to find out. These are just words I’m typing. They look OK two feet away already.

And actually that resolution works very well in Windows too. So since the current project is a Word one I’m using Windows in Boot Camp on the iMac (which makes an excellent Windows host). It’s fast, Word 2010 is immeasurably better than Mac Word, and you have the added bonus of OneNote, a piece of software that is rapidly becoming essential to me, especially since I bought a new Windows phone (an HTC Titan II which is – gasp! – very good) and transitioned from Google Apps to Office 365.

Apple seems to want to make computers that are fun. Which is fine and I’m sure there’s a huge market for that. But I want a computer for work. Nothing more. I’m not convinced the retina MB Pro fits that bill yet, or when it might. If you’re a writer and tempted I’d make sure you see one first, try some writing apps on it, and get some idea when your favourites might be retuned to take advantage of all those extra pixels. Otherwise you could be in for a shock.