Link

Yes, readers, you read that correctly. I’m going to praise an operating system that I have historically bashed.

And yes, this is a new post. I have returned from wherever I’ve been to write something new for Brood Coffee Talk*. Actually, I’ve been wanting to do just that for quite a while now, but haven’t been able to find the time.

It’s been about a month since I took a day off from work to drive my–for all intents and purposes–wife to the airport, flying back East for her father’s funeral. Soon afterwards I found myself at a nearby Fry’s Electronics, and after taking a few minutes to peruse their newspaper ad (posted on a wall by the entrance), I headed over to the tablet area.

The actual details of how I arrived at the Android tablet I ended up with are best left for another post. Let’s just say that the store was advertising a tablet for $47, were out of that one, and after much deliberation I settled on another that I’m certain was the better choice.

I bought a Hisense Sero 7 (refurbished) for $69. It’s a 7″ Android tablet with 4.2 Jelly Bean…it has a nice bright and sharp 1280×800 display, a mini HDMI port, it accepts a 32GB (maximum) mini-SD card, etc. You can read more about it here.

Anyway, as someone who has used Apple products fairly exclusively (I’ve also owned a BlackBerry 8300 Curve, an HP iPaq x3715, a Handspring Visor, and a Windows Mobile phone), there was a bit of a learning curve. I have friends that have Android devices, and I’ve played around a little with them…but, just in case no one has ever told you, having such a device for your very own is quite a bit different than that. For one thing, you probably won’t have them at your side every minute of every day to answer questions for you. And, believe me, I had a LOT of questions, mostly of the “how-do-you-do-THIS?” variety. Fortunately, it was pretty easy to figure out. It wasn’t long before I had added some of my favorite apps from my iPhone: Dropbox, avast! and Evernote. The tablet has a lot of useful apps already included…I also added ES File Explorer, textPlus and HP ePrint through the Google Play store.

How do I like it? I absolutely love it! While I won’t be trading in my iPhone for an Android one any time soon, I was and remain VERY impressed with the Android experience. (One reason is that there’s too much integration between iOS and OS X for such a switch, which is only going to get better with iOS 8 and OS X 10 [Yosemite]).

I paired it with a low-cost ideaUSA leather-styled clamshell case that includes a built-in mini-USB keyboard…I am using both to compose this WordPress post.

One of the reasons I thought this might be a good idea was an Andy Inhatko column I read about a year and a half ago. He’s an Apple guy, been one for many years. That’s why I was very surprised to hear–in his three-part article–that he preferred an Android phone to his iPhone. I wrote about that here, in this Brood Coffee Talk post.

Inhatko is no dummy. He knows what’s good and what’s…better. And, apparently, isn’t afraid to come right out and say it.

So, I did it. I gave the other side–“the Dark Side”–a try…and, I was very impressed. You Android owners–you’re really on to something, here.

How many of you would join me? Show some, uh, stones and go to the other side…? Hmmm? Try an Apple/iOS product?

You never know, you might actually LIKE it. I know that I did.

*******

*(I suppose at least some of the reason I stopped was in large part due to a certain burnout factor. Those of you that post regularly have my admiration–it’s harder than it looks.)

How-to: Quickly transferring your choice of data from an old Mac to a new one

Not long ago I purchased an older Macintosh computer for use as a desktop machine. I depend on a MacBook Pro for my everyday use, but there are times when I need a second computer, running concurrently with the MBP, for research. I needed to find a relatively fast and easy way to transfer certain files and folders from my workhorse machine to my recently-obtained older one.

I already have two Mac desktops–an iMac Indigo model from early 2001, which has a slower processor (500MHz); and a 2002 iMac G4 (Flat Panel) (the cool looking flatscreen-monitor-on-a-stalk machine known as Sunflower), which has a not-much-faster 800MHz processor.

Let me take a few moments to try and explain why one might have so many computers.

It’s a sad fact of personal computers that a sort of unplanned obsolescence takes place. Moore’s Law–which is really not a law but more of an observation–states that processor speed will double roughly every two years. Since everyone wants the newest and best available and not yesterday’s models, and computer manufacturers don’t design a way to add fasters processors or allow most circuit board components to be upgradeable, these older computers have much in common with the rusted and decaying hulks of metal, glass and plastic that are the abandoned automobiles one often sees in vacant lots grown up with weeds.

The difference is that these computers still function. While older cars possess moving parts that eventually give way and wear out, ending their operational use, computers nearly always still function much the same as new. While the reason for this is obviously that computers have very few moving parts, there is another more important element.

To continue the automobile analogy: it would be as if every other year cars were made to go twice as fast. While this is an interesting idea in itself, further imagine that as this was taking place, both the maximum and minimum speed limits on highways were increased, to coincide with the release of the newer, faster automobiles. This would likely mean changes in the way these roads were built as well, to accommodate the advanced vehicles.

Therefore, a car that was several years old and had a top speed of 70 mph, for instance, would soon be legally unable to even get on the highway once the minimum speed limit was increased to 75.

So it is with personal computers. While all parts might still function as originally intended, software that was once less complex and smaller in data size soon increases in both complexity and relative size to meet the heftier demands of the newer and more powerful machines.

Imagine that you get a raise at work and go out and buy new furniture. Well, the new furniture is bigger and has more pieces that the old, so now you have to move to a new home because you need the extra space. The furniture is that new software that you want to or have to run…your aging computer is your old home.

Simply put–older machines can’t effectively run newer more advanced software as well. They become sluggish and are generally unresponsive–if they are even capable of running it at all.

Sadly, my most recently acquired Mac will eventually fall by the side of the road as well…but for now, it works well and does what I want.

It’s a PowerMac G4 FW800, and the first machine to have a Firewire (FW) 800 port, which allows data transfer of about 800 megabits per second (Mbit/s)–actually 786.432 Mbit/s. This is almost twice as fast as USB 2.0 (at 480 Mbit/s), which up until recently was the data transfer most often used by Windows-based computers.

I tend to be attracted to computers that hold some kind of milestone or signpost in history. The Mirror Drive Door Macs (of which this is one) were only around a short time, but were among the fastest and most powerful of all computers for that span.

Another plus is it is one of the first of the older models that will run OS X 10.5 Leopard, the last OS available for PPC processors (Apple switched to Intel in 2006). I’ve always been fond of this version of the Mac’s operating system.

I wanted to transfer my personal settings, files and folders from the MacBook Pro to this machine. Apple has created an application to do just that, called Migration Assistant.

Migration Assistant’s opening window (click to enlarge). Credit: Apple Inc.

One of the very good reasons to utilize Migration Assistant is that it allows the use of Firewire to transfer data from machine to machine. This Mac has USB 1.1, which is okay for most things…but it has a top speed for data transfer of 12 Mbit/s, and if I used that to transfer the data it would be a long and arduous process…and depending on how much data I have, it could take somewhere on the magnitude of days to complete.

One of the problems with Migration Assistant is that it doesn’t allow you to select individual files or folders. The app’s twin, Setup Assistant–which appears when you first install a new OS or start up a brand new Mac–is great for the initial transfer of information, and works quite well. But it won’t allow you to choose individual files and folders either. Maybe you have an external hard drive filled with hundreds of gigabytes of pictures and family videos. If you wanted to transfer only certain data from that drive, neither Assistant could help you.

Another problem is that Migration Assistant isn’t designed to try and transfer data from a newer OS to an older machine–you’ll get the “There is no version of OS X on this machine” message on the older computer (“this machine” meaning the one with the newer OS).

So, if you’re trying to accomplish what I am–in either or both examples–there has to be another way.

Fortunately, there is. The trick is to allow the app to make the Firewire connection for you…then just transfer the information yourself. If it sounds complicated, it’s not. It’s actually not much harder than copying and pasting from one to the other.

The first thing you’ll want to do is disable FileVault, if you use it. FileVault is a way to keep your Mac’s data more safe and secure, should it fall into the wrong hands. It encrypts that dataconverts it to a special type of code–that makes it extremely difficult for anyone that doesn’t know the code to translate it. Chances are, if you have this you already know about it. It’s a special option and is something that you could not turn on accidentally. If you have questions or need assistance in turning it off or learning more about it, you can find instructions here for OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, or here for 10.7 Lion and 10.8 Mountain Lion.

Next you’ll want to start Migration Assistant on the Destination Mac–the one that will be receiving the information. It’s found in the Applications folder>Utilities subfolder. (Full instructions for using the app can be found here.)

Follow the step by step directions found on the display. Briefly, this is what you’ll do (I would advise reading the instructions found at the above link if you are unfamiliar with the procedure). Click the Continue button on the Destination Mac after each step:

  • Connect the appropriate Firewire cable to both machines (either FW400 or 800–the cables aren’t interchangeable).
  • Set the Source Mac up in Target Disk mode. This essentially involves making it into a giant hard drive.You do this by restarting it and holding down the “T” key as soon as the screen goes black. Continue to hold down the “T” key until you see the big Firewire symbol appear.
  • When the message “Firewire connection established” appears, STOP.
  • You can now minimize the Migration Assistant. We won’t be needing it for the remainder of the transfer, but don’t close it completely or you could disrupt the connection.
  • By now you should have the icon of an orange rectangle bearing the Firewire symbol appearing on the Destination Mac’s display. Its name will be the same as the Source Mac’s hard drive, and is a representation of it. (You might have more than one, depending on how many drives you have in the Source Mac.)
  • Now, all you have to do is double-click on the Source Mac’s drive icon found on the Destination Mac’s display to find what you’d like to transfer, open the Destination Mac’s hard drive icon to locate where you’d like to put it, highlight and drag the files and folders you want from one to the other.
  • It’s important to remember that you’re only copying the files and folders, not actually moving them.
  • This is the easy part–you wait for the transfer to complete.
  • Once you’re done copying all the data you wanted to transfer, highlight the Source Mac’s hard drive icon and drag it to the Destination Mac’s Trash. This ejects the drive.
  • DO NOT DISCONNECT THE FIREWIRE CABLE UNTIL YOU HAVE EJECTED THE DRIVE! It’s possible you could damage the Source Mac’s drive if you don’t eject it first from the Destination Mac’s desktop.
  • Once it no longer appears on the desktop, you can disconnect the Firewire cable from both machines.
  • Restart the Source Mac by pressing the Power button to turn it off. After a few moments, press the button again to start it up.
  • You’re done!

By following these instructions you can enjoy the higher speed of a Firewire data transfer, which is especially good if your machine is otherwise only capable of the snail’s pace slooowwwness of the older USB 1.1 standard.

(Note: it is also possible to connect the computers directly with a short length of ethernet cable, which should provide the same results. While I have not attempted this transfer method, more on it can be found here–almost at the end of the article. Click the link marked Wireless (Wi-Fi) or Ethernet Migration.”)

Longtime columnist/iPhone user Andy Inhatko switches to Android

It’s like Coca-cola users suddenly drinking Pepsi! Chevrolet owners switching to Ford! Budweiser drinkers guzzling Miller beer! Michigan fans now cheering for Ohio State!

Well, something like that.

One of the things that I’ve noted about iOS (Apple) users versus Android (Samsung, HTC to name a few) users is that while neither side likes the other, I suspect that each side secretly fears that the other one–just might be better. Thus, the war of words.

And, there’s some ignorance and hatred mixed in as well, outright contempt. It’s like the Communist/gay/liberal hate mongers of years ago (the last two, from far too recently)–“What do you mean? I’M not (a)_______! Wait a minute…why, I’ll bet it’s YOU! YOU are (a)__________!” Just insert the same word in both blanks to see what I mean.

So, word came down Tuesday that Chicago Sun-Times tech columnist and longtime Apple supporter Andy Inhatko switched from the iPhone brand he’s had for years…to Android!

THE HORROR!

So, how did we find out about this dire deed? Did someone spy him at an AT&T store buying a Samsung Galaxy S III? Was he seen using his computer to download apps from the Android Store? Was he seen actually USING an Android phone?

Nope. Simpler than that. He told us.

In a three-installment TechHive story appearing online today, Inhatko says there’s nothing wrong with his iPhone…and no, he doesn’t think Apple is failing to innovate and that Android has passed them by (hint: he says he still loves his iPad)–far from it, he says.

He says after using the Galaxy S III for several months, he just likes it…better.

And he’s always been an APPLE guy!

I can just hear the screams and moans of Apple fanboys and supporters everywhere. It’s like the three words I mentioned before. “We listened to the same music…wore the same clothes, ate the same food, had the same ideas…GEEZ, MAYBE I’M ALSO (A )______!” (Except–now insert the words “Android user” in there.)

STOP IT! IT’S A CHOICE! All of those words are CHOICES–that any of us can make…if we think that any of them are about us. You can’t catch it, it’s not like Cooties!

Anyway, Inhatko chose. And he chose Android. And, I gotta say…I read the article, and I agree with a lot of it. I’ve said for some time that if I found something I liked better, I also wouldn’t hesitate to switch. I’ve looked at Windows Phones for some time…but they’re not quite there yet. I said before that I’ve had access to an Android phone and was able to try it out…and while I wasn’t overly impressed, that was a few years ago, maybe today I’d feel differently. I will say that Android’s Swipe-style keyboard feature easily trumps the iPhone one. That alone would not be enough to make me switch, but it is something to think about. Like him, maybe given the choice I’d consider it.

An excerpt from Part One is below; Parts Two and Three are linked from the article–I’ve got links for them below as well.

Parts One and Two cover the good points of his Android phone, and why he prefers it. Part Three talks about the problems that many say exist with Android, and Inhatko explains why he doesn’t agree. He also describes the very real problems with the platform, and tells how to handle them. He’s also careful to point out not to read too much into this switch, he still uses and enjoys Apple products. Simply:

I’ve switched from the iPhone to the Samsung Galaxy S III because it’s the best there is at the kind of things I need my phone to do. And as soon as something comes along that’s better, I’ll switch again.

Here’s an excerpt from Part One of his article on why he switched:

About a month and a half ago, I walked into an AT&T Store, handed over my iPhone 4S, and asked to be switched from my unlimited iPhone data plan to a new LTE data plan.

I bought the first-generation iPhone and I bought it early, during a brief and wonderful window before AT&T realized that offering an unlimited data plan on what would prove to be the greatest mobile Internet device ever created was aterrible idea. Those of us who still had Unlimited iPhone data could keep it, so long as we didn’t make any changes to our service.

The LTE Data Plan, in contrast, includes a monthly cap of 5 GB.

Any mathematician will confirm that 5 GB is indeed lower than infinite GB. I’d hung on to that unlimited data plan like it was a rent-controlled apartment in midtown Manhattan. I kept it even when unlimited data meant that I couldn’t sign up for tethering and Wi-Fi hotspot features.

I’m telling you all of this to make an impression. I wouldn’t have given up unlimited data unless I could swap it for something I wanted even more than the ability to stream Netflix 24/7… something that hadn’t existed during my previous five years as an iPhone owner.

A great Android phone.

Things have changed

Here’s what changed: Android got great. The OS got great, and the hardware got great. One of the sweet benefits of being a tech columnist is that I get to try out every significant new phone for a month or so. Time after time last year, I’d pack up and send back another flagship Android phone, switch back to my iPhone exclusively, and spend the following few weeks missing a great feature of the Android phone’s hardware or OS that I’d come to rely on during my testing.

And so, by the end of the year, the idea of continuing to use an iPhone exclusively, or even as my primary phone, was no longer appealing. That’s why I willingly parted with my unlimited data plan. On my new LTE plan, I can swap my iPhone’s SIM with other phones and get the high speeds all of the other digital features of the AT&T network.

My positive reviews of new iPhones and new editions of iOS have always been sincere. Wait, “sincere?” Sometimes, they’ve been downright florid. I’ve been so enthusiastic that I’ve often been accused of saying those things because I’m an Apple fanboy.

I’ve always had a standard response. “In 2007, I switched to the iPhone because it was way better than the Windows Mobile device I was using at the time,” I would say. “If someday in the future somebody makes a phone and an OS that’s a better fit for me and my peculiar needs than the iPhone, I’ll make the exact same choice.”

Yep: that day has come. I’ve had a Samsung Galaxy S III since the summer. Throughout 2012, I kept its SIM slot empty and I used it as a WiFi device, but that wasn’t good enough. When I switched my data plan in January, I imagined that I’d be shuttling my SIM between my iPhone 4S and the S3 several times a month.

Nope. There’s a SIM extraction tool in my wallet (tip: it’s the only way you can findthe damned thing when you need it) but the card stays in the S3.

Why would I put it back in the iPhone? My Galaxy S3 is working great, and with only one exception, I only notice improvements, not drawbacks. I made a slow, cautious, and careful examination of what I want and need from my phone, and at the end of this mobile warrior’s pilgrimage, I couldn’t escape the conclusion that the best phone for me is no longer an iPhone.

In this three-part epic, I’m going to walk you my decision. It’s the story of why Android 4.1 and the S3 got me to switch. No way is it an argument about why anybody else should drop their iPhones and switch to a flagship Android phone.

This isn’t the story about how Apple has lost its way and no longer innovates. It hasn’t and it still does. This is merely the story of one dude who got a new phone. Nonetheless, my tale presents a picture of the strengths of modern Android.

Follow the rest of the article here.

Here’s the link for Part Two.

Here’s the link for Part Three.

Two possible iPhone 6 concepts by 3D rendering artist Hajek

Photographs of what could be a new iPhone design have recently appeared on several Internet sites.

Before much more is said about them, some things should be made clear: first, these are not from Apple or one of its suppliers and should in no way be considered official. Second, these are “3D renderings” based on the expected evolution of the iPhone by designer Martin Hajek. Third–at this point no one is suggesting that any of these photos is or could be a new or future iPhone. The illustrations should be considered something interesting to look at, renderings of what a future iPhone could possibly resemble.

iphone6-blanc-studio-01-580x435

Credit: Martin Hajek

The photos here are from slashgear.com, as is the following excerpt:

The photos of the iPhone 6 you’re about to see do not tread lightly with those of you who aren’t all about keeping their phone safely packed away from the concrete ground you tread on. It should also be made clear that the images you’re seeing are mixtures of reality and concept rendering, using a real finger to make you see the rest of the device as real – dust and reflections as well. Once you understand that, hear this: the iPhone 6 you see in less than a year may very well look exceedingly similar to these artist’s renditions.

Martin Hajek's concepts of an iPhone 6, or beyond

The iPhone 5 is in the center. Credit: Martin Hajek

Designer Martin Hajek was the illustrator of these images while NWE‘s Steve Hemmerstoffer helped with the concept design work. What you’ll find here is a collection of influences, starting with the iPod touch and the iPad mini. With both of these devices we’re seeing a bit of a return to round, and though the concept images here don’t show it, we wouldn’t be surprised if a design like this saw more than just black and white.

The biggest deal with this device is the fact that it’s got more of an “edge to edge” display than we’ve ever seen in the real world. Here with some form of what we understand to be next-to-impossible display casing technology, the iPhone 6 sits in a chassis with no border but the metal that holds the front display’s glass down above and below.

You’ll also notice the lack of a home button – a piece of hardware that’s been a staple in every iPhone and iPad to date. Here these forward-thinking minds have decided that, like the touchpad on your MacBook, you’ll be able to push down the bottom bit of the front of your iPhone 6 to get that same home button functionality. Intrepid iOS 6 users will know that a quick visit to Settings – General – Accessibility – AssistiveTouch will bring you the ability to skip the home button altogether on any iOS device you like. Perhaps it’s a pre-cursor to the absence of the button in the hardware as well?

The designers of this device have actually gone ahead and made another break in the way Apple releases mobile devices – or has over the past several years, anyway. They’ve created the iPhone 6, then for an added boost in space, they’ve created the iPhone Plus as well. Though the display sizes don’t much matter here in this completely unofficial concept stage, you may enjoy knowing that they’ve decidedly placed a 4-inch display (just like the iPhone 5) on the iPhone 6, and the iPhone Plus totes a 4.8-inch display.

iphone6-noir-04-580x435

Possible iPhone 6, front and back. Credit: Martin Hajek.

There’s a slideshow at dvice.com with more of Hajek and Hemmerstoffer’s images.

A longtime iPhone user gives the Windows 8 phone a try

It’s a special bravery to admit that you could be wrong. Perhaps the brand you prefer isn’t the best one available…how many of us would be willing to take that chance?

I’m being a bit facetious here, but there is a point to be made. When it comes to things like cars, beer, sports teams or personal tech devices –like smartphones–some folks get pretty worked up, because everyone thinks theirs is the best. If you don’t, there must be something wrong with you!

Lives have been lost over such disagreements…property has changed hands, usually unwillingly. No one wants to take the chance that they might be wrong, and that the other guy’s car/beer/smartphone/sports team might be better than whatever you like.

So, give credit to Lex Friedman of Macworld.com for putting aside his iPhone 5 for a Windows 8 phone for one month. After only one week, there are already some surprises.

Here’s an excerpt:

I love my iPhone 5. In fact, I’ve loved every iPhone I’ve ever owned, and lusted after the few I didn’t. But while I’m well aware that Apple makes great products, I know it’s not the only company capable of making great hardware. For example, I mostly prefer my Roku (and TiVo) to my Apple TV; I use a Logitech keyboard and trackpad; and I have a third-party case on my iPad.

And despite my affection for iOS, I also have a few complaints. Microsoft’s release of Windows Phone 7, and then Windows Phone 8, piqued my interest about what was going on over on that side of the smartphone aisle. So when Microsoft offered to send me a Nokia Lumia 920, I jumped at the chance.

My plan is to stick with the Lumia 920 for no fewer than 30 days. I popped out my iPhone 5’s nano-SIM, and used an adapter to fit it into the Windows Phone. My iPhone remains off throughout the month, with the rare exception of when I need to test iPhone-related accessories or software for Macworld. But it’s never in my pocket; the Lumia 920 is now the phone I take with me.

I’ll post updates about my experience over the next several weeks. Which brings us to the first week of my Windows Phone experience, and the perhaps surprising headline: There’s an awful lot to like.

First impressions

An early version of my Windows Phone homescreen

After I knew I would be trying this experiment—but before I’d so much as touched a Windows Phone—I already had some preconceptions about how it would go. I expected to like a lot of what the phone could do, miss some of my favorite iOS apps, and wish I could build an amalgam of the two operating systems that could run all my favorite apps.

A week in, my prediction feels spot on, with one significant caveat: I like more things about the Lumia 920 than I expected, and I like them a lot morethan I expected.

The Lumia 920 is big and heavy. It weighs 0.4 pounds and is more than five inches tall. The screen is 4.5 inches, with a pixel density of 332 pixels per inch—slightly more than the iPhone 5’s 326 ppi Retina display.

I love it. I love the ridiculously huge screen. It’s big, bright, and crystal clear, and having more space on a phone’s screen works great. Yes, it’s bulkier in my pocket, and yes I sometimes need to work a little harder to move my hand from one corner of the screen to the other. But it’s worth it.

The larger screen means the OS can fit a more feature-rich keyboard without eating up too much screen real estate. (I’ll write more about the keyboard in another entry.) It means I can read more and scroll less. Just as iPhone 5 users acclimate to the larger screen and find themselves surprised by how short and squat previous iPhone screens feel, I’ve adapted to the taller, wider Lumia 920 screen. The larger surface area of the Lumia just the phone more usable—and that makes using it a pleasure. I didn’t expect that.

Stranger in a strange land

This is not my beautiful Tweetbot! But it’s Rowi, which is a feature-rich Twitter app for Windows Phone.

I dived into my Windows Phone without reading any manuals or guides, and at first, I was fairly confused—which is to be expected. Where my instinct was to swipe to delete things, I quickly learned that doing so often had unexpected consequences. Windows Phone apps often organize content by screens; where on an iPhone, you’d switch to a different tab, on Windows, you swipe the entire screen to pull the next “tab” into view. So, whenever I tried to swipe to delete an email, I instead swiped from, say, my inbox to a view of just my unread messages.

I’m also still adjusting to the hardware Back button. Some apps offer in-app navigation to go back to where you were, while others require that you use the hardware back button instead. I’ve developed a sense for it over time, but it still feels a little foreign to reach for a hardware button to navigate within an app.

I knew essentially nothing about the third-party apps in the Windows Phone store, and even though I had a $25 store credit that Microsoft had given me, I still wanted to make sure I avoided buying lemons. But there’s nothing to fear: You can download any app in the store for free, with all paid apps offering trial modes. It’s fantastic, and for me, really underscores how disappointing it is that Apple still offers no analogous option in its App Store.

I definitely miss apps I love: my standbys, like Tweetbot, Reeder, and Mailbox; apps I use to sync my fitness trackers like the Jawbone Up and Fitbit; apps that connect with my bank accounts; and apps that are part of Apple’s ecosystem, such as Reminders and Messages (particularly iMessaging).

But the apps I’m discovering on Windows Phone are often decent, frequently good, and occasionally beautiful. I’m using Weather Flow, Rowi for Twitter, Nextgen Reader for RSS, and I keep discovering other solid apps, too. It’s also worth mentioning that, despite the seemingly close relationship between Facebook and Microsoft, the Facebook app for Windows Phone is rather poor and clunky, and far less usable than the iOS and Android versions.

A new place to call home

My current homescreen. For today, anyway.

Windows Phone takes a markedly different approach to homescreen management. Where Apple’s still sticking with the app icon grid, Windows instead relies on Live Tiles. Both approaches come with their fair share of frustrations, but one week in, I think the Windows way is far and away the lesser of two evils.

Apps can take one of three sizes on the Windows Phone homescreen: tiny squares, large squares, or wide rectangles. And not every app needs to be on your homescreen at all. You can thus arrange only the apps that you use the most frequently on the homescreen. All of your apps are discoverable from a second screen, accessed by swiping across the main homescreen, where they’re alphabetized and searchable. iOS can do the searchable part, but the surprisingly handy alphabetical list feels like an obvious omission now that I’ve used it.

Windows Phone’s Live Tiles add a degree of intelligence to the OS’s homescreen. Instead of simply badging app icons, many app icons (tiles) can instead show actual data pulled from the apps in question: Your Twitter tile might cycle through recent mentions or direct messages, a weather app’s tile can show the forecast and current conditions, and the calendar tile can show upcoming appointments. What a given tile shows is defined on an app by app basis—and depends on how big or small you make the tile. Though limited by space constraints, the feature is clever, and it works well.

While you can choose what color Windows Phone uses for all the default apps’ tiles, and for any apps that don’t offer tile customization, I would prefer finer-grained control: I wish I could, for example, make the calculator green and the phone tile yellow, just so I had an extra visual cue to tell them all apart.

You’ll have to click on the link above (or here) to read about more of his experiences.

It’s not giving away too much to say that he was pleasantly surprised.

The Pixel Chromebook: Google’s answer to the MacBook

If you did not know already, a Chromebook is in most cases a less expensive type of laptop. In fact, some can be had for as little as $249 at places like Best Buy. There are several different manufacturers…the $249 example is made by Samsung.

Of course, you would be correct if you assumed that there was a catch. Well, it’s called a Chromebook because it features Google’s Chrome browser. And, there is no operating system.

Let me say that again: there is no operating system. At least, not in the traditional sense–no Windows, no OS X, no Linux. No iOS or Android. No Windows Mobile, even.

So what does that mean, exactly? Simple. Google has built all it thinks you would need in computer apps, on its own site. Need email? There’s Gmail. Need a calendar? There’s Google’s Calendar app. Need Word? There’s Google Docs. And, when you need a browser…well, there’s Chrome. So, it uses online apps, there aren’t very many built into the machine.

So you can’t add any software to it…at least–again–not in the traditional sense. It’s a “walled garden” app closed system, you get your apps from the Chrome Web Store. This really isn’t that much different than what Apple has done with its iOS Store for iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches…or Windows, with its Windows Store.

One of the things that has gotten a lot of press has been its amazing boot time: it starts up from a cold boot in around eight seconds. Yes, that’s correct. And waking from sleep is instantaneous.

Many of these devices have not gotten great reviews…obviously, to manufacture them so inexpensively, corners have had to be cut, and the quality of the different models is all over the board.

However, recently Google introduced a top-of-the-line Chromebook, the Pixel. It reportedly has a sharper display that even the MacBook Pro Retina, and is only $1300. Its fit and finish is reported to be as good as Apple’s laptops. In fact, there’s even rumors that Google is seeking to open its own retail outlets to better market the devices, like the famous Apple Stores and the more recently-opened Microsoft Stores.

Sounds like it could be a bargain, right? “Not so fast, my friend!” For another couple hundred dollars, you could own a MacBook that you could install Apple’s OS X apps on, and even run Windows with it. And for a lot less, you could have a Windows laptop.

Jared Newman of PCWorld.com has a review of the Pixel Chromebook. He likes it, but with reservations:

Anyone who thinks the Chromebook Pixel is a ludicrous idea hasn’t actually tried one—or at least that’s my theory after using the high-end Chrome OS laptop over the past few days.

In fairness, the $1300 Chromebook Pixel does seem pretty crazy on the surface. You can get many of the same specs in a Windows PC for a lot less money, and without sacrificing the ability to install desktop software. You can also spend $200 more and get a Macbook Pro with Retina display. And for the same money as the Pixel, you could buy no fewer than five Series 3 Chromebooks from Samsung and still have $50 left over.

But none of those options would give you quite the same experience as the Chromebook Pixel, with its 12.85-inch touchscreen and Retina display-esque 2560-by-1700 resolution. You’d also have a hard time finding anything with this build quality. The Pixel is one of very few laptops that stands toe-to-toe with a MacBook in fit and finish.

Now, I’m not entirely sold on the Chromebook Pixel. Despite its many alluring qualities, it’s still a bit too pricey for what it does, and its battery life—discussed below—is a deal-breaker for me. But after living with a Pixel on loan from Google, the idea of a luxury Chromebook doesn’t seem so misguided.

Performance: It’s all about the screen

JARED NEWMAN
A buttery-smooth display with nary a pixel in sight.

The Pixel’s display is gorgeous, with a 239-pixels-per-inch density that’s higher than that of any other laptop. The screen is glossy, but not obnoxiously reflective. You can tilt the screen or view it at off-angles without washing it out. Blacks are so deep that they almost—but not quite—blend into the laptop’s black bezel.

As with any device with this fine a screen resolution, you won’t see individual pixels at normal viewing distances. And with a screen ratio of 3:2, you can see a bit more of Web pages than you would on a laptop with a 16:9 or 16:10 display.

I suspect that Google spec’d the Pixel with a Core i5 processor because it wanted Intel’s integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU to drive the machine’s display. In actual performance, Google’s machine doesn’t feel like a huge leap over Samsung’s Series 5 550 Chromebook, which combines a Celeron processor with the same 4GB of RAM as the Pixel. In my ordinary work-related use, which requires some dozen open browser tabs for writing and researching stories, the Pixel never skipped a beat. But then again, neither did the Series 5 550.

It was possible to find the Pixel’s limits. In 3D games like From Dust, the action got pretty choppy, and the browser-based MMORPG Realm of the Mad God wasn’t nearly as smooth as it is on my desktop PC. Also, the newfangled touch response on the Pixel could be a lot better. There’s a noticeable lag between swiping your finger and seeing the result—more so than just using the trackpad.

(Newman has also written an analysis on what reasons Google might have had for creating the Pixel Chromebook.)

He goes on to discuss the design features of the Pixel and what he considers a deal-breaker: the subpar battery life. However, on making a decision on purchasing the machine, he advises:

The common argument against all Chromebooks is that other laptops—whether they run Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux—can do more. But “more” isn’t the same as “better,” and the truth is that the vast majority of laptops don’t provide a better Web browsing experience than the Chromebook Pixel. You may laugh at that statement, but a Web browser can be pretty useful. You just need to eschew Word, iTunes, and Photoshop, and embrace Google Docs, Google Play music, and Pixlr instead.

There’s the real question: Is that something you could do? Give up apps you’ve been using for years, for a different experience with a different machine?

“Different” is also not the same as “better”…but, nor is it necessarily the same as “worse.”

Apple confirms cyber attack on its employees

One of the things that Macintosh users have always lorded over Windows ones is that Macs don’t get viruses and are rarely the target of spyware or malware.

It looks like those days will soon be in the past, if not already, as Apple announced on Tuesday that some of its employee’s computers had been targeted by hackers who originated in China.

Most of the more knowledgeable Mac users, from what I’ve read over the years, knew that it was only a matter of time. Macs have always lagged far behind Windows users in sheer numbers. Those that create viruses and the like are looking for large numbers of computers to infect…and since there are far more Windows users, it’s always made much more sense to target them.

But knowadays, Macs have a more solid place in the computer world…even if the platform is still being outsold 30 to 1 at present. The point is, in 2004 PCs were outselling Macs 60 to 1…and the numbers difference has been narrowing every year since.

So, put all this together and it’s pretty obvious that it was just a matter of time before the Mac became a target as well. If you’re an Apple user, this is the price you pay for becoming more popular.

I’ve been using antivirus/malware/spyware software on my Mac for years, even way before viruses were known to exist for it. For one, I didn’t want to accidentally pass on virus-laden emails to friends on PCs. Well, last year’s Flashback virus proved that no Mac is safe, and it was time to take real protective measures.

Here’s an excerpt from the Macworld.com story:

The words “Apple” and “security breach” don’t often appear together, but on Tuesday the company said that some computers belonging to its employees had been targeted by hackers originating from China—the same group, reportedly, that last week infiltrated computers belonging to Facebook employees. The story was first reported by Reuters.

In an email, Apple provided Macworld with a statement on the breach, saying:

Apple has identified malware which infected a limited number of Mac systems through a vulnerability in the Java plug-in for browsers. The malware was employed in an attack against Apple and other companies, and was spread through a website for software developers. We identified a small number of systems within Apple that were infected and isolated them from our network. There is no evidence that any data left Apple. We are working closely with law enforcement to find the source of the malware.

Since OS X Lion, Macs have shipped without Java installed, and as an added security measure OS X automatically disables Java if it has been unused for 35 days. To protect Mac users that have installed Java, today we are releasing an updated Java malware removal tool that will check Mac systems and remove this malware if found.

True to its word, Apple released a Java update late on Tuesday for Mac OS X 10.7 or later that patches a number of security vulnerabilities as well as scanning for the most common variants of the malware in question and removing them. If malware is found, the user will be notified of its removal.

The patch also updates Apple’s provided version of Java to 1.6.0_41; the update is available by choosing Software Update from the Apple menu or visiting the Mac App Store and clicking on Updates. Snow Leopard users can check Software Update or download Java for Mac OS X 10.6 Update 13, which patches the same vulnerability.

In line with the company’s recent policy on Java, these downloads will disable Apple’s built-in Java plugin; users who try to run applets in their browser will instead be prompted to download the latest version of the Java plug-in from Oracle. One additional casualty this time around, for 10.7 and later, is the Java Preferences app that usually lives in OS X’s Utilities folder—Apple says it’s no longer necessary for configuration.

Apple is only the latest target in a recent spate of cyber attacks that have hit institutions like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal along with tech companies like Facebook and Twitter; most of those attacks have been traced back to China. The attack on Facebook, in particular, appears to have been committed via the same Java vulnerability as the Apple breach.

PC users, you can stop snickering any time now.