Xee

I came across Xee while following a link on Reddit (“PSD is not my favorite file format“). It’s an open source replacement for Apple’s Preview app. Also linked to this page is The Unarchiver, a replacement for OS X’s built-in unarchiving software. It’s not that either of these programs is especially deficient, but Xee and The Unarchiver are simply brilliant. Xee not only runs fast and light, it opens almost any image format you can think of, while The Unarchiver does the same for archives.

The only thing I don’t much care for are their icons.

Edit: actually Xee has two major annoyances.

  1. It won’t let you disassociate file types. Once you assign it a file type, you’re stuck with it.
  2. It’s missing a lot of the newer features of Preview (notably editing features).

The Unarchiver still rocks though.

Apple’s Security Issues

Rixstep is one of the most intelligently critical Mac-centric (well, originally NeXT-centric) websites around. Here’s their latest commentary on Apple’s security issues — an issue they’ve been railing about for years.

Now, I’m not about to switch to Windows for the superior security of Vista (which, if anything, is more vulnerable to social engineering attacks, which are by far the biggest threat*), but it would be nice if Apple closed some of the glaring holes before there actually are some real world exploits.

Note: * all the remote attacks to which Mac OS X is vulnerable are in essence going to require a social engineering approach to work in the first place. Whether it’s getting a user to visit a web page with a specially crafted QuickTime movie, or getting a user to download a trojan, the point is getting the user to do something. Vista screws up its warnings by crying wolf so often that the chance of a user inadvertently clicking “yes” at a critical juncture is much higher, and this is something CanWest et al don’t measure.

Expectations Dashed and Exceeded (iPhone 3.0 Addendum)

Whatever iPhone 3.0 features Apple announces—copy-and-paste, push notifications, video capture, or hourly affirmations of what a swell human being you are for owning such a superlative phone—somebody, somewhere will declare that Apple’s announcement failed to live up to expectations. From Macworld.com “Apple and the Expectations Game”

Apple has added a bunch of things to the iPhone (as of 3.0) that folks like Engadget (and I) didn’t even think of wishing for. Bluetooth networking for collaborative apps (such as games) and perhaps third-party tethering if Apple doesn’t give it to us out-of-the-box. Apps that can talk directly to third-party hardware. In-app purchasing (so you can sell a magazine app that adds new issues, or a game app that adds new levels). Deluge of new APIs, including wrapping functionality from Apple’s apps (such as Google Maps) into APIs so any developer can easily use them. Support for turn-by-turn directions (provided you supply your own map database). Push notifications (finally — and Apple cited concrete reasons for using them instead of background apps, namely huge drop in battery life and significant hit to performance). Voice memo recorder (seems like an obvious function, but why not integrate it with Notes?). Support for calendars other than iCal and Exchange (yay). Spotlight feature (allows searching throughout the iPhone’s app data and apps — kind of like Spotlight on a Mac (obviously) or the Newton’s search function). Auto-fill (seems like a no-brainer but nice to have it).

When the Apple folks say “over 1000 APIs” one can only assume (and indeed hope) they mean something like “1000 API calls” or “1000 newly exposed classes, methods, and properties”. Another term has become devalued.

Now, back in the realm of things that did appear in wish lists: Cut, Copy, and Paste. (I see they’ve mapped double-tap to clipboard functions… That’s a bit of a shame. The Newton’s “draw a circle around it” gesture would have been nice.) MMS (multimedia messages … inevitable but … sigh). Landscape mode for all major (Apple) apps. Stereo bluetooth.

Post Script

In the Q&A after the main presentation it emerges that tethering is supported in 3.0, but there’s a question as to which carriers will permit it.

Early 2009 Mac Pro: Update!

Bare Feats has some interesting benchmarks of the new Mac Pros. (Could they have labelled their charts any more confusingly? I doubt it.) It’s also nice to see they’re using Geekbench instead of the lamentable Xbench, although Geekbench doesn’t try to do the many things that Xbench does so badly.

As I expected, the new “base” 4-core Mac Pro is slower than the old base 8-core Mac Pro, so that for the $200 you save over the old machine’s price you lose significant CPU performance, albeit not as much as you might think (it looks like ~10%)! The new CPUs have double the memory bandwidth of the old, and with their considerably superior graphics cards in the end are probably better balanced machines. Oh, but the memory requirements are annoying (you need to buy your RAM in sets of three for optimal performance with one 4-core CPU, and six for two 4-core CPUs).

I’m using a (borrowed) 2008 8-core Mac Pro and it very seldom makes use of its extra cores. So I guess the new machine looks like it’s probably slightly better value, all-told, than the model it replaces. Nothing like the value proposition of the new Mac Minis though.

Shuffling through a bad economy

Apple has scarcely bothered to publicize it, but they’ve released a new version of the Shuffle today that’s half as big, has more RAM (4GB for the $79 version) and a voice navigation sysem. In many ways, this makes it better — as an audio player, at least — than the more expensive models which require you to look at their screens to navigate play lists.

This is a very cool move, particularly in a terrible economy.

And in other news, the Mac Mini is apparently doing very well — amazing what fixing the previous model’s most glaring deficiency (i.e. 3d graphics performance) can do!

Just for comparison, a Mac Mini at $599 is pretty competitive with a PS3 or optioned up X-Box 360, both of which are bigger, noisier, and a lot less useful.

If Apple could just close the TV loop (i.e. provide reliable DVR functionality either out-of-the-box or as an accessory) for a suitable price (i.e. less than $100), it would be game over in the living room today. As it is, Apple seems to be ignoring the TiVo niche because they know that, in the medium run, TV is dead*. The problem is that the medium run may be five years, and a lot of things can happen in five years.

Indeed, looking out five years it would seem that at least one of the following markets, and probably two, will be dead: iPod, desktop computer, notebook computer, netbook — and Apple appears to be investing in all of these.

* Why TV Lost is a really nice analysis by Paul Graham. He observes that the TV companies (like the newspapers) are stupid not to treat the web as their primary medium, and instead do stupid things like pull desirable TV shows off their sites after a limited time, and make sure you can’t see a show online before it airs on TV. Once the TV companies evolve or are replaced it won’t be necessary to provide DVR functionality, but in the mean time Apple may be missing a big opportunity to build market share.

Or Apple may not be interested in investing in a business which is ultimately doomed.

The iPod business may be doomed, but Apple is already in it, already dominates it, and will make a ton of money from it for the forseeable future. The TV business is probably doomed, but Apple isn’t in it, may never dominate it, and may never make any money from it. I guess I just answered my own question.

Addendum: The Earbuds Thing

It’s odd to me that Apple didn’t make the new Shuffle’s headphones separate from the controls (e.g. put a connector above the controls and below the earbuds) since the only obvious objection to the new iPod is its (currently) unique controller. It’s not so much that it doesn’t support third-party earbuds (although yes, that’s annoying) but that the earbuds aren’t interchangeable with other iPods. I’m always misplacing my earbuds. But then, the iPhone already has that problem and seems to be doing fine.