OS X Snow Leopard

Introduction

So far on my site I’ve just published Linux reviews.  While I have been working on this OS X review along with a Windows 7 review, it’s actually quite odd that my first if not one of my earliest reviews was NOT for an OS X release.  I’ve been using OS X  longer than I’ve used Linux, and have been using Macs since I first started using computers.  So why the long wait to write a review?

Part of it may be that OS X, along with other Apple products, have for the most part been in their own little world.  In the great Mac vs. PC debate, I’ve happily sat on the sidelines as I used all three OS’s at work and at home.  Like Windows and Linux, there are many things about OS X that I really like, and a few things that I wish could be refined or completely changed.  On my MacBook I’ve started with 10.4 and it’s now on 10.6, and it’s been easy to see that each new release has been changing things, mostly for the better.  While this review will primarily focus on OS X itself and its core, I will also discuss the other Apple-developed software that goes along with OS X, as well as some apps that are OS X-exclusive.  I will also compare some apps that can be run on Windows and/or Linux as well, such as Firefox and Microsoft Office.

The “Buy-in”

Unlike Windows and Linux, OS X cannot be (easily) installed on just any hardware.  It is intended to be used solely on Apple hardware.  Many have criticized this, as they feel Apple can charge a higher price for their hardware and offer the user fewer choices.

As someone who happily builds their own system for Linux/Windows, I can agree with both sides of this issue.  I do think Apple makes the best laptops in the business, hands down.  Their unibody aluminum construction is un-matched, and their magnetic power connector is genius.  However, I have had to deal with numerous failings in their laptops as well as iMacs.  Both of these systems place a premium on space, which results in poor cooling and such.  I’ve also have had more than usual bad luck with the hard drives used in Apple systems, but I would hope the slow move to SSD will alleviate this problem for all PC manufacturers.

Apple also continues to not offer a true middle-ground PC.  While the iMac is a great value, it is basically a laptop in that all of its components are integrated including the screen.  What about the user who would like a separate tower case to allow upgrades and the choice of their own screen, but doesn’t have the budget to pay for the ridiculously over-specced and over-priced Mac Pro?  For that user, I would have to say they may have look at a Linux/Windows build.  Going that route, a user has nearly infinite choices, both for their hardware and software.

For some users, that many choices can be too daunting or just unreasonable.  They may want something that Just Works.  Do I think having to use an Apple system is worth it simply to have access to OS X?  Depending on a user’s needs and budget, I can say yes.

Installation

When booting from the OS X disc, it will come up to the welcome screen and you can begin installing it.  Unlike the installers for Windows and Linux, it won’t give any prompt for erasing or managing partitions on the drive.  By default, OS X will ask what kind of install to do, with the selection set to “Upgrade”.  In order to perform a clean install, you have to go to the menu at the top and select “Disk Utility”.  In this program you can erase a drive, set-up a partition scheme, etc.  Like other OS’s, I always perform a clean install to prevent any problems.  Once the disc has been prepared, you can quit Disk Utility to return to the OS X installer.  It won’t show any options on the screen for what you’d want to install; you have to click “Customize”.  The default choices are fine, but you can save a bit of space by not installing fonts and such for other languages if you know you won’t be using them.  After those changes are made OS X will begin installing.  The install doesn’t take too long, and once it’s finished it will restart and prompt to set-up a user account.

Default Set-up

When OS X loads up the desktop, the first thing to notice is the 3D dock at the bottom of the screen.  It looks nice and has most of the default applications in it.  One change that Snow Leopard has made is that the hard drive isn’t shown by default on the desktop, so once you eject the OS X disc the desktop is blank.  I’m not sure why this change was made, but it’s one that I don’t like at all.  Most users won’t know to either hit “Command-N” or go through the menu to open a new Finder window.  In the Finder preferences you can enable hard disks and connected servers to appear on the desktop.

The overall appearance and layout of Finder hasn’t changed much from previous OS X versions.  In the Finder window there’s now a slider at the bottom right when in Icon view to easily change the size of the icons, which is a nice shortcut for computers that don’t have a trackpad with the advanced gestures available.  I recently discovered this when setting up a new MacBook Pro, and you can use two fingers to pinch and change the icon size.  Another great feature is Quicklook; when a file is highlighted, you can press the Space bar to get a preview of that file, regardless if it’s a picture, document, PDF, etc.  It’s a great way to quickly check a file without having to open any programs.

Like previous OS X versions there are alot of applications to get started.  Safari has become an excellent browser, though I still prefer Chrome and Firefox over it.  TextEdit is a good text editor and can now open and edit .doc files.  Mail has also had alot of work done and is a great program to use for Gmail and Exchange accounts.  It’s not a complete Outlook replacement for those coming from a PC, but it compares much more favorably than Thunderbird or such.  iTunes  has alot of changes as it’s added support for the iPad and such.  Although like previous OS X versions it won’t have the latest version of iTunes, and it’s highly recommended to update it along with everything else through Apple Software Update.

OS X Exclusives

There are quite a few applications that exclusively run on OS X, just as there are plenty that are exclusives to other OS’s.  Whether a user wants or needs that software can determine using that OS along with or instead of another one.  The list is certainly shorter for OS X exclusives, but the ones that are available are as good if not better than anything else.

Up until version 4 Cyberduck was an OS X-exclusive application for connecting to websites/servers via (S)FTP, SSH, etc.  While it’s now available on Windows, its history is deeply rooted to OS X, and likely has far fewer problems on it.  Another great program similar to Cyberduck is Transmit, developed by Panic Software.  Panic develops software only for OS X, and their programs are of top-quality and reasonable prices.  They also develop Coda, an outstanding application for web development that combines text editor, connection manager and more.

Another program which has recently spawned a Windows version is Scrivener.  Unlike Cyberduck, the Windows version of Scrivener is not developed by the same person, and is even listed on a completely different website.  The OS X version is a robust tool for writers, strongly supported by a sole(!) developer who is a writer himself and clearly understands what some writers will need in a program in order to complete their work.  Whether used along with Word, Final Draft, etc. or as a complete replacement, this program is wonderful.

TextWrangler is a great free text editor developed by Bare Bones Software.  They have a fully-featured text editor, BBEdit, and TextWrangler is a great way to see if a user would want to commit to the full program.

Things is a task management program.  Along with OS X, there are versions available for the iPhone and iPad.  There has been criticism of the lack of syncing between the various versions, but it’s not something I’ve been able to verify/test as I just use the OS X version.  I do know there are updates fairly often, and so far I haven’t had a single problem.  It’s a program that’s very easy to use and really does succeed at what it claims to do.

Carbon Copy Cloner is essentially a GUI front-end to the terminal commands available to image a drive.  This program makes it extremely easy to create back-ups of a user’s folder or the entire system.

OS X Equivalents

There are alot of programs that are available on multiple OSs, primarily OS X and Windows.  Some of these receive equal attention on all OSs, while other programs it’s clear to see that the Windows version has the priority.

Adobe Reader is not required as OS X has Preview, but I have encountered PDFs that don’t render correctly in Preview.  The OS X version of Reader receives updates around the same time as the Windows version, and the newest X version shows the same performance improvements on OS X as it does on Windows.

Celtx is the screenwriting program that I’ve been using for quite awhile.  Using the Mozilla Firefox interface framework, it was very easy for the developers to make this program available across the 3 major OSs.  The Mac version is basically the same as the ones for Windows and Linux, and just like Firefox its performance is not that great, but for a free screenwriting program there aren’t many complaints that can be made.

Dropbox has an application available for OS X to allow those users sync their Dropbox folder on that OS along with Windows and Linux.  Its features are exactly the same on all OSs, and each version has received updates around the same time.

Firefox has always been platform-agnostic.  All  major OSs are supported, and they all receive the updates around the same time.  Unfortunately even with an increased release schedule and years of supposed improvement have not helped Firefox a whole lot, as its performance is pretty bad on all OSs, but it seems to be the worst on OS X.  Compared to both Apple’s Safari and Google Chrome, Firefox seems to be slipping further and further behind, and it’s not helped by Internet Explorer’s massive improvements and Opera’s continued progress.  Google Chrome is also available on all 3 OSs, and with a very rapid release schedule, background updating and constantly evolving feature set, it will take alot for Firefox to come back to its top position.

While available on Windows, iTunes is still clearly meant to be used on OS X.  Its performance on Windows has never been good, and with its own interface framework the memory and CPU consumption doesn’t help.  The only odd exception is that iTunes is available in a 64-bit version on Windows, while in OS X 10.6 it’s still at 32-bit.  Many have suggested that iTunes 10.5 will finally fix that, but whether that was a complete code re-write or not remains to be seen.

Microsoft has made Office available on OS X for as long as it’s been around, and it’s clear to see that they don’t give this version of Office the short end of the stick.  Each release has improved performance and features, and the 2011 version upholds that tradition.  Whether a user is a fan of Windows or not, there’s no denying Microsoft knows how to make a good office suite, and even though Apple provides alternate programs they can’t really compete except on price.

Propellerheads has always developed their music applications to run as well on OS X as on Windows.  The newest versions of Record and Reason still prove this, and using OS X’s wonderful audio framework as a foundation, these two programs can offer a composer almost everything needed.

Conclusion

OS X has evolved and expanded for a long time, and sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s actually been around for as long as it has.  Within the next month or so we’ll see the release of 10.7, which shows continued refinement along with influences from iOS.  Starting with a Unix-based foundation and adding on the knowledge gained from Next, OS X has come a long way to stand alongside Linux and Windows as a great OS.  As always the choice of an OS will always come down to what a user needs to accomplish with a computer, and with OS X they can be assured they made a great choice.

The End of the Frenzy

April has come and gone, and that means the end of Script Frenzy.  For the last month writers from all over the world have been hopefully busy working on a script.  At this point, that script should be completed.  While I am nowhere near finished with my script, I can still call it a success.

Why?

As I mentioned in my previous post, this has been a great cause to encourage me to write more overall.  Although there have been plenty of days this past month where I haven’t written anything, I’ve still been far more productive.  I’ve also re-affirmed that screenwriting is still my favorite form of writing, a feeling I haven’t felt since I first got into it many years ago while at St. Thomas.  While other forms of writing will still receive some attention, there’s no doubt that screenwriting will occupy the majority of that time.  While I love to read novels and such, it’s hard to deny that a good movie or tv episode is more exciting to me.  So the potential to create something in that medium  still excites me.

So where does my writing go from here?  I’m still continuing work on that script, and hopefully I can celebrate its completion before too long.  I have some more ideas for other scripts, both original works as well as for existing franchises.

The Frenzy Begins

Today is April 1.  For most that will mean juvenile pranks on people and wading through countless unimaginative articles littering the web, hoping to elicit a laugh but usually getting nothing more than rolling eyes.

For a very few select, this day marks the first day of Script Frenzy.  This is a contest where participants have the month of April to write a 100-page script.  That averages to about 3-4 pages a day.  For a script that’s not a whole lot of writing per day, so this is someone that pretty much anyone should be able to complete successfully.

So far I am on Page 2.  That’s not very much writing at all, even though in line with the daily goal.  However, that’s far more than I’ve put down in I don’t know how long, so that is an accomplishment on its own.  With the weekend coming up, I hope to maintain or even surpass the daily writing goal, along with plotting a rough outline so that later on I don’t get stuck trying to figure things out or worrying I’ve written myself into a corner.  As I don’t work on the weekends and should be home for the most part, I have no excuses to not do this.  I’ve spent alot more time working on drumming and other things, but completing this would show other people as well as myself that I still have what’s needed to call myself a “writer” and be proud in knowing that’s not a lie.

Goodbye Nibbler, Hello Voyager

I built my first PC from scratch in 2003 in order to play Doom 3.  Before that I had a Micron PC, and I had done a few upgrades to it.  I had already researched everything I’d need to know to build a PC, but as it was my first build it was plenty nerve-wracking, especially installing the CPU heatsink.  It went well and I had been using that PC since then, using Windows XP and various Linux distros.  Its name is nibbler.

It was a great system, but after so many years it was starting to get a little slow.  I was also not thrilled that with only three RAM slots, I had already maxed out the amount of RAM that motherboard could handle.  It also had an AGP slot, which meant any graphics card upgrade would have been a waste of money.  I also was using an add-in SATA card, which was a pain to get set-up in Widows XP.  I started putting together parts on Newegg to get an idea of how much it’d cost.  I knew I was going to keep my hard drive and DVD burner.  I was on the fence on keeping my current case, but eventually decided I wanted a new case that used 120mm fans instead of 80mm.  My case was quite loud, and I knew the main reason for that was the 3 (formerly 4) smaller fans spinning at near-max speed.

I finally decided on the parts from Newegg and ordered them.  I also found a nice Antec case at Best Buy that had 2 120mm fans as well as the power supply bay located at the bottom.  The first thing I did was take everything from nibbler and installed it into the new case to make sure the fans were working correctly.  I knew I was going to have a great system soon because when I did get that build up and running, the lower amount of noise was unbelievable.  I could barely hear the computer from more than a few feet away.  I could have even kept that system running, but I knew I wouldn’t be completely happy if I didn’t build a whole new system.

The parts arrived at work.  I was shocked by how small the box was.  I was expecting a pretty big box, and at first I was worried that it was only one of so many boxes.  But after checking everything in my office, I was relieved and amazed to find everything packed into it.  I did a quick check to make sure nothing looked bad and such.  I also had to take the graphics card out to admire its design.  The Asus GTS450 is a great-looking card.  It took me a long time to decide to stick with an Nvidia card, as there are some great AMD cards, but that was before Nvidia finally rebounded from their slump and began releasing more designs based on their Fermi architecture.  I knew the GTS450 was perfect for me, as it offered plenty of power for a few games, but wouldn’t kill my budget for what I intended to be a primarily work computer.

After getting the parts home, I began the process of building the new system.  I put all the old parts of nibbler back in the original case, leaving the hard drive and DVD burner to go into the new system.  I laid out some fabric on the coffee table and put down the motherboard.  Just like the graphics card, I decided to go with Asus.  I had read alot of reviews for both Asus and Gigabyte boards, but finally decided just to use Asus.

I grabbed the CPU with its cooler and installed it.  For the CPU I picked an Athlon II dual-core.  While the quad-core Athlon II’s and the dual-core Phenoms weren’t too much more, I knew for that I needed that the dual-core Athlon II would be fine.  Compared to the amount of work and energy I had to put into installing the CPU cooler on nibbler, on this new system it didn’t even take me a minute.  I decided to go ahead and just use the paste that was on the cooler, though I had purchased some Arctic Silver.  I may eventually use that when I upgrade to a quad-core CPU, but in the meantime I knew the stock parts would be fine.

Once the CPU and its cooler was secured to the motherboard, I installed it into the case and installed the RAM.  While the motherboard has 4 slots, for now I’m just using two 2GB sticks.  Eventually I’ll add another 4GB, but for now it’s more than enough for me.  Next the power supply went in.  I went with a Seasonic PSU as I had read very few bad reviews for their stuff.  Unlike my older PSU this one was alot more efficient, and like the new case it also uses a 120MM fan.

After all the core items were in, I installed the GTS450.  Power cables from the PSU went to all items, and then SATA cables for the hard drive and DVD-RW.  I knew that the WD Green drive was going to be a little on the slow side, but until SSD drives come down further in price I’ll stick with it.  I’ve used a WD Raptor drive in the past, but the amount of noise was more than I wanted, and while the performance was pretty nice it just wasn’t required for my work.

With everything installed, it was time to power on the system to see if it even worked before I took the time to clean up the cabling.  Just like when I tested the case with the parts from nibbler, when I powered on the computer again I could barely hear it.  For a brief moment I was convinced it wasn’t working.  But I saw that all the fans (case, CPU, PSU and grahics) were spinning away.  I looked on the screen and the ASUS logo came up.  I went into settings and checked.  The CPU was correct, as well as the amount of RAM.  After a few tweaks, it was time to reboot and begin a fresh Ubuntu 10.10 install.  Finally I could put a 64-bit OS to true use, having 4Gb RAM along with 1GB for the video card.  I even had the name ready for this new system: voyager.

Overall I am very happy with my new build.  Salvaging just a few parts from nibbler (hard drive, DVD-RW and wireless), I was able to build what for me is a very powerful system for not too much money.  I know I’ll double the RAM soon.  If SSDs come down in price then it will become the main drive and the WD Green will be the /home partition.  Will I upgrade to a quad-core AthlonII or PhenomII?  I don’t really foresee that.  The dual-core AthlonII is pretty fast enough for me, and it uses very little power.  What I’m most interested in is seeing if voyager will meet my needs for the same amount of time nibbler did (7 years!).

Ubuntu 10.10

As the most current review I’ve written for a Linux OS, the first thing you may notice is that I’ve changed the title for this review.  Previous reviews have been titled “Linux Review:…”, while here I simply title it as an Ubuntu review.  Why the change?  I realized that it isn’t a really big deal that Ubuntu is running the Linux kernel.  It could run BSD, etc. and it would still be Ubuntu.  For most people, they’ll just want to know that it’s something different from Windows or OS X.  Like any other Linux distro, Ubuntu is its own ecosystem, as much as it borrows from the hard work of Debian, Red Hat, etc.  This is certainly not a slight against Ubuntu, as that as is the spirit of open-source software, and without that attitude and licenses to allow it, none of these distros would be around.

As the first release since the 10.04 LTS release, I was hoping for some cutting-edge features to grace 10.10.  While there are some refinements, overall there isn’t a whole lot of “new” in this release.  That’s certainly not a bad thing, but I was hoping for something a little more bold.

The biggest feature that I seemed to notice in this release is the inclusion of the new Ubuntu font (link).  Unlike Red Hat’s Liberation fonts, this font wasn’t meant to be a replacement for another font.  In fact, at first glance you can see it’s quite different from a normal font.   At first I didn’t think I would like it, but as I started to use it, I found I actually preferred it more often.  It hasn’t replaced my favorite font of all time (Courier New) but it’s pretty darn close.  They are even working on a Monospace variant, so I can use this gorgeous font while using a text editor.

Other than that, I honestly can’t see anything drastically different besides some bumped up version numbers on the software.  OpenOffice is still in, but the next release will use LibreOffice instead.  These days I find myself using Gedit and AbiWord more often, as I just don’t need many features.  I’m hoping for a big performance improvement as LibreOffice development ramps up.  GIMP is still not included by default, so I have to make sure to include that in my initial addition list in Synaptic Package Manager.

The main thing I’m happy with in this release is that simply everything works as-is.  My wireless card works, while a driver isn’t even available for Windows 7.  I can install Dropbox and Google Chrome just fine.  All of my music is added and can be played in Rhythmbox.  When I built my new PC, I knew it was going to be a work system and not for gaming, as I do plenty of that on consoles.  There are some games I’d like to download and try out (Nexuiz, Alien Arena, etc.) but otherwise my GTS450 will just be for providing a good-looking and snappy interface.  Eventually web browsers and perhaps the new Unity interface will put that card to better use.  I do hope that the next release of Ubuntu pushes forward a little more aggressively, but I do know that until it’s been out for awhile I’ll be quite happy with Ubuntu 10.10 as my OS of choice.

Speaking of the new Unity interface, the next version of Ubuntu that’s currently in development will definitely be bringing in some huge changes.  Will these be changes that I’ll like, or will I need to disable it or even look at a KDE-centered distro?  I look forward to testing it out once it hits Beta, but until then I have a very stable and useable PC with Ubuntu 10.10.