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MobileMe’s My Gallery Isn’t Mine, It’s Apple’s

4 Feb

I’ve been testing the value of Apple’s MobileMe service. I use it to backup some critical files, but it’s more expensive than many other similar services. I use its e-mail service, which is very good. It does a fine job of synchronizing my calendar and contacts. All of these I use in private. This is my first public use of Apple’s online $90-a-year service.

MobileMe offers something called My Gallery, where you can post multimedia files, such as movies and photos, and share them with others. Kind of like YouTube only more difficult to use and share. In this test, I’ve created a slideshow of me (of course, it’s MobileMe) and friends on various cycling trips. Many of the photos include my riding partner, jazz musician Mike Nord.

In all honesty, I see little value in the My Gallery service. First of all, I cannot embed a My Gallery slideshow into my blog. I can only link to it. If the link launched the video, I’d be mostly satisfied. But it doesn’t.  It takes you to the MyGallery directory, not to the file I specifically put in the link. Then you need to click on the album, in this case Croisan Views. You then click on the file to launch the slideshow. How stupid! (See Comments below.)

My Gallery is a lame offering. YouTube is much more flexible, easier to use, and, being free, is far, far cheaper. 🙂 In truth, My Gallery belongs to Apple’s development team, given the limits they put on my ability to use their service. Maybe the company should re-brand the service as “MobilePartofMe.” Or “NotAllofMobileMe.” Something a little more accurate.

Here’s the link again, in case you missed it above.

Apple Does a “Doh!”

9 Dec

I wrote about my wonderful MacBook Air in an earlier post. I still can’t say enough positive things about the machine. I do, however, have one trenchant criticism. If Apple is going to design, build, market, and sell laptop computers without any removable media capabilities built into them, maybe, just maybe the company ought to consider not sending its new customers who purchase AppleCare compact discs. (See photo.)


The above shows what came in my mail after I purchased my MacBook Air and also signed up for AppleCare product protection. A CD that explains the ins and outs of AppleCare.

Yes, yes, I know that I can attach an external drive to read the CD. But it strikes me as even beyond the arrogance of Apple to assume that its new customers will automatically buy an external device for their new MacBook Air computers. I didn’t.

The units come equipped with USB connectors. That’s what I’d expect to receive, a USB stick, if Apple wanted me to read information from external media. Getting the CD makes me think Steve Jobs has let some Homer Simpson impersonator into his shipping department. Maybe someone should slap the fellow on the head to knock some sense into him.

MacBook Air: It’s All About the Hardware

23 Nov

The computer industry is obsessed with software and services. That’s not surprising given that most of us spend countless hours moving between and staring at applications on our computer displays. When we think about our computer we think about what we use it for, which is software, not so much for the thing itself.The MacBook Air is the first machine in a long while that has me thinking more about its hardware than any of its software. Despite having a relatively pokey CPU, my MacBook Air’s hardware still boosts application performance because of the device’s flash storage system. Opening, closing, and executing applications and tasks that require any I/O function are flat out quick. Hands down, it’s the most responsive computer I’ve ever used.

Then there’s the wonderful trackpad. It feels so much nicer on my fingertips than when I use Ubuntu on my aging, but eminently serviceable IBM ThinkPad T43. More importantly, now there are new ways I can leverage OS X through the trackpad’s advanced user interface.

Great operating system UIs let me move within and between applications and tasks, windows and files using hardware in the way that suits me best. The more choices I have, the more efficient I’ll be at using the machine and its software. The MacBook Air trackpad has added new, logical choices for me to use.

Inside documents on my other computers I can jump around via function keys on my keyboard or through scroll bars with my mouse. With the MacBook Air’s trackpad I can now also move inside files by gliding two fingers up or down the trackpad and the document with roll up or down the screen accordingly. It is now my preferred way to move within a document. To me, that’s a radical step. It took me years to get comfortable using a mouse to scroll up and down a file when keyboard shortcuts were so much faster. Now, however, within a couple of weeks I’ve embraced the two-finger scroll on the new trackpad as the best way to work inside a document.

Plus, the clever trackpad has broadened my choice for how to navigate between open applications. Let me explain with a typical scenario:

I’m typing in Pages. I want to change the song I’m listening to. With my MacBook Air I can:

1. Hit the F4 button and open my Dashboard widgets, one of which lets me flick through iTunes’ selections;

2. Hit the F3 button and launch Expose’ so I can find the iTunes window and click into it and make my change;

3. Move the cursor to the Dock and pick iTunes and a new tune;

4. Close window after window until I find iTunes on my display and can choose a new song.

And now I can also:

5. Swipe four fingers across the MacBook Air trackpad, which brings up the Application Switcher and lets me pick iTunes and make a new selection.

Adding this fifth option gives me another easy and useful method to find my away around an 11-inch display cluttered with too many open windows.

I could also extol the virtues of the responsive keyboard, the tight packaging, and other hardware traits. But those items, I think, are about taste and fashion and not about true hardware improvements that benefit all MacBook Air users. That is, because of the MacBook Air’s sophisticated hardware I waste less time fooling around with ways to get to the software and more time actually using it. And ultimately that’s what great hardware does: makes using software a better experience.

SSDs: Speeding Up the Data Center

7 May

Unless you’re editing film or manipulating massive PhotoShop files, odds are pretty good that the performance problems you encounter on your personal computer aren’t local. They emanate from a data center out on the Internet.

A classic example I encounter is making an online purchase. After trolling through the Web site, loading my shopping cart with goodies, and winding my way to the purchase page, I click the Buy button. And wait. And wait.

Sometimes the website’s owners are wise enough to toss up a splash screen warning me not to hit the back button or asking me to be patient, because compared to every other process in the transaction actually making the purchase takes a while. That’s because in the background the e-commerce vendor is requesting from other service providers all sorts of data about the credit card I’m using. Is the card current? Do I have enough credit? Is it really me using the card or am I a fraudster? Getting the answers can take a while.

A big part of the problem is that those other service providers, such as Visa, American Express, and others, have enormous amounts of data that need to be processed before they can deliver the answer to those basic questions: card’s current, good credit, no fraud. And much of that data is stored on hard disk drives (HDDs).

Although today’s high-performance HDDs spin at up to an astonishing 15,000 rpms, that’s still slow compared to the near instantaneous response of solid state drives (SSDs). The problem with SSDs, also called flash drives, is that they are darned expensive when deployed at the capacity level required in a data center.

Or, maybe I should say, were darned expensive.

I’ve noticed a few developments lately that have begun to shift the cost equation. First, due to the proliferation of flash memory in consumer electronics, there are more SSD manufacturers, making the market more competitive. As a result, prices have come down.

Nimbus Data Systems Inc. in San Francisco is taking advantage of these lower costs and now offers a pure SSD storage system starting at around $25,000 for 2.5 terabytes of capacity. CEO Tom Iskavorich told me this is comparable with high-end 15,000 rpm HDD offerings if you factor in the cost of his company’s HALO operating system, which comes bundled with the hardware for free.

And data warehouse giant Teradata Corp.* is getting into the SSD game with specialized appliances for data centers dogged with less responsive HDDs. Scott Gnau, chief development officer, explained to me that SSD devices have additional characteristics that appeal to IT managers. With the cost of energy rising, he said, companies are beginning to evaluate products on a “performance per watt basis.” He said SSDs save up to 87% in energy costs compared with HDDs, making them an appealing alternative beyond their sheer performance.

Iskavorich added yet another metric: I/O per floor tile. That is, the input/output of storage capacity compared with the space the device uses in a data center. Given that SSDs need about one-tenth the floor space of HDD systems, for companies with limited real estate to expand, this could prove to be an important metric.

These data center-oriented SSD systems are new to the IT market. So we may still have to remain patient for our credit cards to clear. I just hope it’s not a long wait.

[*Disclosure: I have done consulting work for Teradata Corp. in the past.]