Sunday, February 27, 2011

It's Over, Mac OS X is dead

It disappoints me to say this, but I've come to the conclusion that Mac OS X as an operating system is dead. Now before anyone panics, rejoices or denies it, I'm sure it will continue to sell very well, and yes it will probably always be better than Windows, but I'm talking from an evolutionary perspective. This post is designed to serve as a history to Mac OS X as I see it, and a rally cry for change before its too late.

Note: I would like to emphasize that this isn't a rally cry to save Apple or anything of the sort. This is more of a shout to get people to realize that the Apple that once cared about its users is long gone and how we as users need something else to depend on.

Since Mac OS X first came out in 2001, it has been on a steady growth path in terms of features, stability, speed, ease of use, and install base. I remember when I tried out OS X  back when it was 10.0 and it was a pretty horrible experience. It broke software compatibility with OS 9 to no end, and if you tried running it on a G3 it would take forever to load anything. Because of these problems, the loading ball became notoriously known as the spinning beach ball of death. Things were so bad that Apple decided to distribute the version that followed as an upgrade free of charge.

Mac OS X 10.1 “Puma” fixed some the speed issues on G4's, but by this point it was clear that it would never be fast enough on a G3. As an OS it was still very buggy, the UI still needed some tweaking, and more features needed to be added. It was also around this time where I gave up using Mac OS 9 as a daily driver, and I jumped ship and went on to use Windows for awhile.

Mac OS X 10.2 "Jaguar" became the first tolerable Mac OS X release. Speed was improved once again and a lot of the bugs were beginning to disappear. This was also the release that got rid of the happy Mac logo which used to greet users. From this point forward, Mac OS X became its own beast and you could start to forget about Mac OS 9 and older.

If Jaguar was the first tolerable version of OS X, then Mac OS X 10.3 "Panther" was the first good one. This OS added the Exposé feature which other than the dock, defines OS X. It was stable, the hardware had caught up to the OS, and the UI had been fixed with an elegant brushed metal look. Safari was introduced which ended the need for Internet Explorer and as an entire package, it was nice. This was the release that got me excited about using and advocating Macs once again.

Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" was the release that really put Apple into the mainstream. By this time, the iPod had become such a success that people were switching to OS X in really large numbers. This release added two more features that define OS X and those were Dashboard and Spotlight. I loved playing with the widgets in dashboard and being able to search for anything at a fairly quick speed was priceless. Mac OS 10.4 was the first release that was ported to Intel based Macs and the transition was fairly seamless. The switch from PPC to Intel was nothing like OS 9 to OS X. While some PPC based applications did slow down a bit, in general speed actually increased by a large margin particularly when it came to boot time.

Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard” which was released in 2007, was the peak. This was the greatest release Apple had. They got the features spot on, stability was perfected, and the UI was gorgeous. The defining features were Time Machine and Boot Camp. Time Machine became a very nice way of backing up your system and Boot Camp allowed you to run non Mac OS's on Apple hardware for the first time. The competition from Microsoft was a joke since the switch from XP to Vista left behind a lot of pissed off users. This period was truly a good time to be a Mac advocate. The switch from XP to Vista reminded me a lot of OS 9 to OS X. Based on that knowledge, I knew that it would take three years for Windows to recover. Apple was now free to coast on their successes and they had earned it. 2007 was also an important year for Apple because of the huge iPhone release. It was at this time when I said goodbye to being a Mac advocate because going forward I knew that Apple would start to neglect Mac OS X in favor of its iOS. Not wanting to go back to Windows, I began to use Ubuntu 7.10 and have continued to use every version since.

Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” was a non release. Apple basically took the code from 10.5 and just stripped all PPC related bits of it and dumped it in the bin. For new Intel Mac users, this would be a good thing since speed was dramatically improved. For those users that have been around for awhile and have watched the OS get to this stage, it introduced some incompatibilities and forced PPC users to upgrade or die. Apple acknowledged that this was a non release and charged very little for the upgrade. A cheap enough investment for most people to say, “Oh may as well upgrade.” Apple did some tweaks here and there but for the most part, you would notice very little between this release and the previous 10.5 Leopard.

At this stage it is clear that Apple is just coasting and with good reasons. Mac OS X is considered a viable alternative to Windows, iOS based devices are selling like crazy, and Apple as a company is dough rolling in cash. However going forward, I see very little hope for Mac OS X.

Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion” while not released yet, appears to be a joke. I'm using Apple's page as my reference point since the features listed on that page is obviously what Apple wants us to care about. Feel free to visit there and follow along with my commentary.

Feature #1 is the all new Mac App store which Apple claims is just like shopping the App Store on iPad. This feature has been available since 10.6 so I hardly see how its a new feature. On a side note, Ubuntu has had it's own software center for free software since version 9.10 (released in October 2009), and a section for paid programs which was added in the 10.04 release just six months later. Because of these things, Apple isn’t even ahead of the competition here.

Feature #2 is Launchpad which at a click of a button, shows you all your applications that are on your computer. While technically a new feature, I don’t see how this is any different than opening a maximized version of your Applications folder and viewing it as icons.

Feature #3 is Full-screen apps which lets you use your application in full screen. I don’t even know what to say about this. Most games have had this since the beginning of time by just being a full screen experience. All this feature does is hide the menu bar and hide the dock, hardly groundbreaking.

Feature #4 is Mission Control which Apple claims “is a powerful and handy new feature that provides you with a comprehensive look at what’s running on your Mac.” I don't see how this is a new feature as this is more of a consolidation of Dashboard, “Full-screen apps”, and Exposé.

Feature #5 is Gestures and animations which is just new ways of using your track pad. Hardly a feature since Mac OS 10.6 had this already in the track pad preferences.

Feature #6 is Auto Save which saves changes in the working document instead of creating additional copies. I don’t even know what to say about this since Auto Save has been a feature that word processor applications have had for about a decade now.

Feature #7 is Versions which Apple claims “records the evolution of a document as you create it. Mac OS X Lion automatically creates a version of the document each time you open it and every hour while you’re working on it.” I don't see how this is a feature since I thought that is what Time Machine did and that was introduced in 2007.

Feature #8 is Resume which Apple claims “lets you restart your Mac — after a software update, for example — and return to what you were doing. With all your apps back in the exact places you left them.” Now this might be a genuine feature, but I think it is pants on head retarded. One of the largest complaints I've heard about Windows is that when you start the OS, a bunch of stuff starts launching in the background and that really bogs down the system. I remember when I was using my grandma's computer that ran Windows XP it would take 6 minutes for all the applications to stop launching. Why Apple would want to take something that bad and port it over to the Mac is beyond me. My guess is they they think when SSD's become standard, computers will be able to handle this kind of behavior. That may be a fair point but until then, they should shelve this feature.

Feature #9 is Mail 5 and is barely a feature. All they have managed to do is to rework the UI, but that doesn’t equate to new features. They claim Mail 5 “also introduces Conversations, a natural new way to read and manage email that automatically groups messages from the same conversation” Perhaps this is a new feature to the Mac OS but if you run Gmail on Safari (which has conversation grouping), shouldn't that count?

Feature #10 is Airdrop and is basically file sharing via a temporary public folder. Hardly a feature...

Feature #11 is FileVault which encrypts your data on the go. This is a feature but not an innovation. Ubuntu has the ability to encrypt your home folder, and file encryption software like TrueCrypt has been around for years.

Feature #12 is Lion Server and it helps you configure your Mac as a server. A genuine feature, but the mainstream user has no use for this. A lip service to administrators.

It is now 2011 and Apple has problems. It looks like Steve Jobs isn’t coming back anytime soon and I’m sure people worry about this a lot. They can be in denial about it for the time being, but sooner or later somethings gonna give. There are also rumors that Jonathan Ive will quit after being at Apple and designing pretty much every product launched since the second coming of Steve Jobs. Windows 7 now has the media on its side and is now considered in the mainstream a viable upgrade for those users that stuck with XP for so long. (I disagree with the premise that Windows 7 is viable at any task except launching games, but that's a fight for a different day.) Even in the iOS field, it looks like Android will eclipse iOS usage as its adoption continues to roll forward. We can't expect Apple to improve their Mac OS in a way that suits its users. Apple will continue to tweak Mac OS X for as long as it makes business sense to the company. This isn't bad or anything, its just how corporations operate. Apple used to be the exception to this rule to some extent, but it looks like greed has finally gotten to them. If Windows sucks and Mac OS X is dead, where do we go from here? We as users need an OS that will suite our needs and I have a few ideas.

With the release of Ubuntu 10.04 in 2010, Ubuntu became a truly rocking OS and I consider it a serious alternative to the Mac OS and Windows OS. Media coverage may be next to non existent, but remember Mac OS X in 2002?  That is where Ubuntu is today. Give it three years and everyone is going to want a piece of it. Windows will never be secure, and Mac OS X is dead. My advice is learn how to use Ubuntu today, and beat the rush before the snow falls. The good news is Ubuntu is free of charge and free to distribute which should be a cheap enough investment for most people to say, “Oh may as well upgrade.” The bad news is, you will have to learn new things, and learning is scary. If you expect Ubuntu to be a drop in replacement for Windows or Mac OS X, you will fail. Go in with an open mind and you will one day have that aha moment that makes you realize that Ubuntu really is the way forward.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Configure an awesome custom PC for 1000 dollars or less.

Every three months or so, people I know will ask me, "Hey what computer should I get?" and every three months I recommend that they build their own, but warn them not to go crazy. Of course everyone wants the latest and greatest, but often it is just a waste of money to have all that power today. Remember it's a computer, not a personal arms race. From the top of the line PCs that cost 3000 USD to the bottom of the barrel that cost 300 USD, I can almost guarantee that you will want to start upgrading something three years from the date of purchase. I feel that a three year upgrade path makes a lot of sense for gamers since I have noticed that every three to four years there is a defining title that pushes computer hardware. Examples include Quake 3 just before 2000, Doom 3 in mid 2004, Crysis in 2007, and Metro 2033 in 2010. 

For everyone else, one would expect the top of the line three years ago to be today's midrange and the past midrange to be today's low end. 

Well, not exactly. 

For the rest of us there is usually some technology that comes along and changes the way we work. The explosion of Flash back in 2006 thanks to sites like Youtube, and HD video which started getting pushed in 2007 have made video cards and CPU's from three years ago inefficient by today's standards. Dual core CPU's that were a luxury in 2006 are now almost a requirement. 1 GB of RAM was good enough as well, but it is now on its last legs.

Starting today, I will post every build that I configure online and try to justify it. The target is to build an awesome computer for less than 1000 dollars. It must also have some degree of future proofing so that in three years you can use some of the parts from this build. It must also play all of today's games at a reasonable resolution and detail with out slowdown. Today's build is going to be an AMD based system due to a motherboard recall that has significantly hurt availability of Intel Sandy Bridge based motherboards. At this rate, I expect it to be April until I can recommend building an Intel based PC.

Since this is the first build that I am posting, and since the date is February 21st, 2011, I will call it Version 1.022111. (Build #.mmddyy)

AMD System Build Version 1.022111

CPU: AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition Six-Core Processor 3.2 GHz Socket AM3 (200 USD)
Motherboard: ASUS M4A87TD EVO Socket AM3 (110 USD)
RAM: Any (2x4GB) DDR3-1600 for a total of 8 GB (100 USD)
Video Card: ASUS ENGTS450 or any Nvidia GTS 450 based card (125 USD)
Hard Drive: 1Tb Hitachi Deskstar 7200 RPM drive (59 USD)
Optical Drive: Anything with 24X DVD-R and Lightscribe (20 USD)
Power Supply: Antec TruePower New TP-550 550W (70 USD)
Total Base System Cost: 734 USD

Additional Items:
Keyboard: Any (30 USD and up) otherwise Razer BlackWidow Mechanical Keyboard (80 USD)
Mouse: Any (10 USD and up)
Speakers: Built into the Display listed below, otherwise M-Audio Studiophile AV 40 (130 USD)
Display: ASUS VW242H 23.6-Inch Widescreen LCD Monitor (180 USD)
Operating System: Ubuntu 10.10 or Win 7 Home Premium 64bit (Free or 100 USD)
Complete System Cost: 959-1234 USD


CPU: This 200 dollar Phenom II X6 1090T has six cores so in certain applications it can be pretty competitive with entry level Intel Core i7's, but it is significantly cheaper. Think of it as a top of the line Core i5 and you get the idea. Only with this you get six cores instead of four. This 1090T I recommend is pretty much the top of the line from AMD except for the newer Phenom II X6 1100T. However I can't recommend that version since it carries a 40 USD price premium over the 1090T and the main difference is a 0.1 Ghz clock speed bump. As for future proofing, this processor can be overclocked since it is the unlocked Black Edition. If its gaming, image editing or video encoding you do, the Phenom II X6 1090T has you covered.

Motherboard: GIGABYTE or ASUS tends to make top tier boards these days, but in terms of future upgrades, this 110 dollar ASUS M4A87TD EVO caught my eye. It supports a max of 16 GB of ram which will probably never be necessary within this computer's life expectancy of three years. It's got a couple USB 3.0 ports that will probably start to become necessary two years from now. Until then, it has an eSATA port, a bunch of USB 2.0 and a IEEE 1394a port to keep you going. It has SATA III 6.0Gbs/sec support which will be useful for when SSD's start to mature within three years. This board even has IDE and standard PCI slots just in case you brought some parts from three years ago to today. All in all, a well balanced board that will easily last three years.

RAM: The motherboard has 4 slots and supports up to 16GB of RAM. This means that we want a 4GB stick in each slot to prevent future waste. Ever since operating systems have gone 64bit, I have noticed a significant increase in the amount of RAM necessary to be comfortable. So get 2x4GB of DDR3-1600 sticks for now and enjoy your 8Gb today. A few years down, buy a second set to fill all four slots. the 8GB kit should cost around 100 dollars no matter what brand you go with, just try to get sticks with a heat spreader on them

Video Card: An Nvidia GeForce GTS 450 is good for playing today's game titles at 1080p without hassle. These cards should cost no more than 130 dollars no matter what brand you end up getting. Try finding a card that has HDMI, DVI, and VGA ports. This ASUS ENGTS450 that I have pictured has those ports. If you need a new video card in the future, there will be plenty of options then to swap for.

Hard Drive: Hitachi's used to be more expensive than the competition, but recently I have been seeing a 1 Tb Hitachi Deskstar 7200 RPM for less than 60 dollars which makes it an attractive deal. If you need more space, I feel that a hard drive is one of the easiest things to upgrade in a desktop PC so this is one of the few items that is okay to cut back on today. In the future, we can expect 3Tb hard drives, and really high quality SSD's to be the norm, so I would wait for that train to come. In general, any 7200 RPM will do, but try to avoid Seagate since they seem to have a ridiculously high failure rate these days.


 Optical Drive: Any drive with 24X DVD-R and Lightscribe will be excellent and these can be found for around 20 dollars. You still need the occasional CD for installing programs and a lot of movies are still on DVD's. I would avoid Blu-Ray entirely because of its crazy DRM schemes, and high cost. To watch movies, its best to just get a dedicated Blu-Ray player or a PS3 and be done with it. That way you can avoid loading the terrible playback software Blu-Rays require. As a storage medium, I just don't see Blu-Rays taking off. SD cards and USB flashdrives are getting very big, and various online storage programs seems to be growing faster than the use of Blu-Ray discs.

Power Supply: Even with the most beefy video card and processor, you hardly ever need more than 450W on a power supply. The exceptions would be if you were building for a computer that had multiple CPU's or Video Cards. For today, I am recommending the 70 dollar Antec TruePower New TP-550 550W. It has enough wattage to get through any task even if you add several hard drives. It is rated with an 80+ Bronze Certification which means that it will always run at at least 80% efficiency. In general, you can't go wrong with any PSU that has a 80+ certification, but this one had the best balance of power, design and price.


Case: The case can be either the most important part or the least important one depending on how you look at it. Cases are completely personal so choose whatever one you like. I chose the 50 dollar NZXT GAMMA because it was cheap but also included an eSATA port on the front panel. It has holes in the back in case you upgrade to a water cooled system It also has lots of space for fans so the airflow should be good. In general, cases over 100 dollars are showy and cases cheaper than 30 dollars are just lacking in features or quality.

This should bring our total base system cost to 734 USD. If you take advantages of rebates and sales, I bet you could get that down to 700 dollars. This will leave around 300 dollars for the rest of the system. If you already have your own keyboard, mouse, speakers, OS, and display you are done. Otherwise continue reading.

Keyboard: You can find these from 30 dollars and up. Ultimately they should all work, but for a sturdy peripheral, I recommend the Razer BlackWidow Mechanical Keyboard. It's good for gamers because it has a lot of possible macros you can set. It's good for everyone because of its mechanical Cherry MX Blue keyswitch, which makes it a joy to type on.

Mouse: I have no specific mouse to recommend, but mice start at 10 dollars and just go up from there. You don't need to get a mouse with insane DPI unless if you play first person shooters on ultra sensitivity or something. Anything Logitech or Razer makes should be fine for a mouse.

Speakers: The display I listed below has built in speakers that should be fine for every day use, but if you want a quality setup get the M-Audio Studiophile AV 40 pictured above for around 130 USD. Don't worry about the fact that it doesn't have a subwoofer since these speakers are quite beefy on their own.


Display: The ASUS VW242H 23.6-Inch Widescreen LCD Monitor (180 USD) seems to be ideal for the job. It has three of the most common ports which are VGA, DVI, and HDMI. It does 1080p so you could even plug in a Playstation 3 or something to this monitor. it is pretty much 24 inches, and has built in speakers as well. For less than 200 dollars, I think it's a great value.

OS: I recommend Ubuntu 10.10 over any other OS. It is very easy to use as long as you don't expect it to be a drop in replacement for Windows and its free price is also attractive. There are new things you may have to learn, but if my grandma can do it, so can you! However for gamers it may be easier to stick to Windows. If you go the Ubuntu route, I have found that a lot of Windows games do work in Ubuntu using free software called Wine, but you would have to look into that more closely to see if the game you want to play will work. If you must, get Windows 7 64bit Home Premium since it will be supported for another three years and it also supports 16GB of RAM, which this build could eventually use.

That's it for now. If you stuck with Ubuntu, a cheap keyboard, mouse, and speakers this should bring the total to 959. Which is just below our magic 1000 dollars. If you went all out, expect to pay around 1234 USD. I'm guessing most people have at least a keyboard and mouse lying around, so even if you just got the monitor and the Windows license, you are looking at spending around 1054 USD. Taking advantage of rebates and sales and I bet this drops to 1000 dollars as well. Once the new Sandy Bridge motherboards come back to stores, I will be configuring an Intel CPU based PC and posting that build.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Banshee Pre-Alpha on Windows

Note: This version is in pre-alpha stages, things just don't work and I can't recommend it to anyone except developers and truly dedicated fans.

Banshee is possibly the best piece of media player software around. It is set to become the default media player in Ubuntu 11.04 and it even has a development version for Windows. It's like iTunes, but without the bloat and Apple proprietary garbage. When I heard that it was coming to Windows, I was excited. Not because I like Windows or anything, but because I believe that the best software should be cross platform.

It takes some work to build for Windows since it requires things like .NET 3.5 SP1, msysgit ,and the WiX toolset. The directions can be found here:

UPDATE: The new prebuilt .msi file based on version 1.9.4 is now available for download. Find it at

It even has an interesting version number: