Monthly Archives: November, 2007

The King is Dead?

It had to happen eventually, but perhaps it really is beginning now… in Japan at least. PC sales are falling, according to this AP article.

I have always looked forward to living in a post-PC world.

The personal computer as we normally picture it has been such a successful model over the last quarter of a century that it has stifled quite a lot of innovation because many ideas, which might otherwise have exciting new tangible forms, are easier just to do on a PC. But as PCs become less of a focus, we should see new types of interaction becoming more common.

Mark Weiser’s famous article, “The Computer for the 21st Century“, talks about when core technologies become really powerful: when you don’t notice them any more.

The most frequently-cited example of this – highlighted by Don Norman – is the electric motor. There was a time when you could buy a ‘household electric motor’ and a range of accessories which would allow you to use it as a blender one minute, and a vacuum cleaner the next. But you know electric motors have become really significant as a technology when you start thinking of a washing machine as a washing machine, and a drill as a drill, rather than as incarnations of an electric motor.

Perhaps that’s what we’re starting to see in Japan.

Millions download music directly to their mobiles, and many more use their handsets for online shopping and to play games. Digital cameras connect directly to printers and high-definition TVs for viewing photos, bypassing PCs altogether. Movies now download straight to TVs.

More than 50 percent of Japanese send e-mail and browse the Internet from their mobile phones, according to a 2006 survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The same survey found that 30 percent of people with e-mail on their phones used PC-based e-mail less, including 4 percent who said they had stopped sending e-mails from PCs completely.

Now, to be fair, it’s not clear that people are actually doing without traditional PCs, they just aren’t upgrading their old ones very fast.

But this is a start. One thing that characterises appliances like washing machines, at least for most of us, is that you replace them when you have to. You don’t buy a new one so you can boast to your friends that this years’ model has a higher-wattage motor.

This is not the end of personal computing. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

What fun!

Thanks to Rex Hughes for the link.

Leopard continued

In a wild burst of enthusiasm, I updated our other two Macs to Leopard yesterday.

These were both upgrades rather than clean installs, and I did fall foul of another glitch which can affect upgrades. It’s easy to fix once you know what’s happening, but ironically it manifests itself as an unresponsive “blue screen”, which appears when the system first boots after the OS installation and so can be a little worrying!

The issue is a third-party subsystem called ‘Application Enhancer‘ (‘APE’) which you may never knowingly have installed but which is distributed as part of a few popular utilities and so may be on your system. It doesn’t work under Leopard, which is fine, but unfortunately, early versions of APE will cause the Leopard login window to crash. If you do an Upgrade installation of Leopard, which doesn’t remove such things from your system, you never get a chance to log in to your shiny new OS!

Some argue that this isn’t really Apple’s fault, because APE puts hooks into the OS in ways that weren’t really intended, and is installed, like the Abomination of Desolation, in a place where it ought not to be. On the other hand, APE’s creator, Unsanity, point out that you have to be using a pretty elderly version of their library for this to be an issue.

Fortunately, there are various easy ways to make sure this doesn’t happen to you:

  • Check, before you install, whether you have any of the following files on your machine and delete them if so:

    (that’s the important one)

    /Library/PreferencePanes/Application\ Enhancer.prefpane
  • or, install the latest version of APE before beginning
  • or, install Leopard by doing an ‘archive and install’ rather than an ‘upgrade’
  • or, if you find you’re already in this situation, you can fix it by booting into single-user mode and running a couple of commands as described in Apple’s article on the problem.

So, perhaps because I’m a somewhat unusual user, two out of our three Macs hit issues on the Leopard install. This is bad. On the other hand, they were the most common issues others have faced too, and were quickly resolved by Googling.

I can’t comment on the long-term stability of Leopard yet, but I’m very pleased with how well everything seems to be working now it’s up and running. I was expecting a lot more pain, or at least inconvenience.

There was a nasty moment when I thought that one of my network printers wasn’t supported, but everything went much better after I went into the next room and discovered that it wasn’t actually turned on!

Leopard, Leopard, burning bright

This is my first post from my Macbook Pro running under Leopard. So far everything is going swimmingly and I’m enjoying it a lot. As others have said, most of the improvements are under the hood, but in general I like the new stuff that is visible, and everything feels just that bit snappier. How much this is due to Leopard, and how much to the removal of a few years’ miscellaneous junk from my hard disk is hard to say, but it’s very nice.

I did a clean ‘Erase and install’, having first made a couple of clones of my disk using SuperDuper. I then used the migration assistant to copy all my docs and settings back from the clone, but I didn’t copy all the applications; I wanted to thin those out. The ones I wanted I’ve either re-installed from their original media or copied over by hand.

A couple of tips:

  1. If you know that you want to do a clean install, then I suggest booting from your clone disk and using Disk Utility to format your main one before starting.

    Why? Well, during the install process each of your hard disks will be checked to see if they’re a suitable location for the installation, and then you’re able to choose between them. For some reason, certain disks can take a very long time to appear. There are various discussions about this on the Apple discussion forums, but the answer seems to be just to wait. In my case, I suspect because my hard disk was so full, it took over half an hour, with no progress indication, before the disk appeared and I could continue with the install. That was a few nights ago, and I didn’t have time to continue after that. It’s a big flaw, but it’s the only one I’ve seen in an otherwise painless upgrade process.

    This time, I had formatted the drive beforehand, and everything was very quick.

  2. A new but little-known feature in Disk Utility is the ability to resize Mac partitions non-destructively. Like me, you may want to try out the very sweet new Time Machine backup system, but it needs its own disk or partition for the backups. I had a big external drive with lots of space free and was able to split it into two partitions to make space for Time Machine. This should, of course, always be done with care, and generally after, rather than before, making backups!

All in all, so far, I’m very glad I upgraded. Lots of things that I thought might not work are working just fine, and some things very much better.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser