Thursday, September 30, 2004

Why Apple needs a "headless" Mac

Chris Seibold on AppleMatters recently wrote why we won't see a "headless" Mac. I recently posted why I Apple needs a sub-$1000 Mac. I expand on that a bit in the comment, reproduced here, that I posted on AppleMatters in response to how unlikely they view the "headless" Mac:
But I disagree with your conclusions. The point of a low cost Mac is not to maintain profit margins, those will have to be sacrified somewhat, but to grow market share at the expense of profits. Growing share diffuses one of the main criticisms from PC partisans, and it's also a defensive strategy as Linux desktop share grows. If Apple can get their share above 5%, the positive feedback loop of share driving software development decision efforts will guarantee the continued existance of the Mac platform. Apple needs to maintain existing app develeopers and expand the pool. A large percentage of growth in the PC market is coming from the low-end, and though a $1299 iMac is close, sub-$1000 is the magic number. I am not saying Apple is doomed if they don't get into the low-end market with a more PC-like headless machine, but I don't see them achieveing significant share gains without it.

Monday, September 27, 2004

GDI+ Detection Tool...Horrible

MS04-028 is perhaps one of the worst security vulnerabilites discovered in the recent past. Windows XP SP2 fixes the hole in Windows, but it seems like the afflicted DLL, gdiplus.dll, is everywhere. On, there is an open letter to Microsoft about how poor an implementation the GDI+ detection tool his. I just ran this tool and told my system is vulnerable, here is a UI fragment: When you click on the "Yes" button, the user expects they will see what they have to do to cleanup the latest security mess. Which takes you to this page: How to Update Your Computer with the JPEG Processing (GDI+) Security Update Step 1 on the page above is to run Office Update Office Update tells me I have no patches to install, so I go back to the GDI+ Security Update page and I read it again. I have nothing left to do because I am on Windows XP. Quick recap: I patched everything up, and the GDI+ Detection Tool still tells me I am vulnerable, but I am left with no instructions on how to fix it. Good Job Microsoft! I am not the only one, I am starting to get questions from users on this too.

NY Giants 27, Browns 10

I am a huge NY Football Giants fan, and they sure did look impressive today. Like a lot of people, I thought most of the team was suspect and might revolt under Coach Coughlin's regime. But they have impressed me so in the massive defensive assault against the 'Skins and the near domination of the Browns. With football I believe in jinxes, so I am knocking on the wooden table to ward off the spector of a collapse against Green Bay next week. This will be a real test, if the Giants can hold on here, we just might have a season!

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Apple needs an Xmac, or iMac G5 Mini

I have seen this proposal time and again, here is the latest at The Mac Night Owl First off, I love the new iMac and intend to get one as soon as all my old PC components are sold on eBay. Apple pricing the iMac extremely competively. There is no premium price in the iMac compared to PC box builders all-in-one machines, look at the Gateway Profile That said, a friend is in the market for a new computer, and I mentioned the new iMac. He said is looking to spend about $700. He loved the look and styling of the iMac, but price is a sticking point. I believe Apple is leaving a lot of money on the table by not having a stand-alone consumer/busines computer without LCD. A lot of people already have LCDs or monitors that work perfectly fine (ugly as they might be). I would call this machine the Xmac, which fits perfectly in the naming scheme with Xserve, Xserver RAID, Xsan, and Xgrid. With the engineering brilliance demonstrated in the iMac G5, Apple could build an extremely small machine and price it in the $500-$700 range. This would look even more iPod like than the new iMac and sell like hotcakes. I too believe Apple has a lot of positive momentum, the stock price is sure banking on it. Another name just came to mind, perhaps even better branding and marketing synergies: iMac G5 Mini

Thanks Robert for organizing the Geek Dinner

Robert Scoble's Geek Dinner was a really fun event last night, thanks Robert!. Here are some attendees: Phil Kirby Jeff McManus

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King Special Extended Edition

Details of the Return of the King Special Extended Edition were finally posted on

Thursday, September 23, 2004

I visited the Mothership

Did you know that Apple sells swag through their retail Company Store in Cupertino?!?!? I previously posted that Apple should sell swag (e.g. Mugs, T-shirts) in the Apple Stores. Last week my wife googled for places online that sold Apple gear. She thought our 4 month old son would look adorable in an Apple onesie, plus she wanted her own T-shirt. I have the t-shirt from the flagship Apple Store San Francisco opening, but I wanted another one. She found a couple places online, but she hit paydirt when she found a blog post saying Apple sold swag through their retail Company Store in Cupertino!! I can't find the blog post now, but if I do I'll link to it. I dropped the wife and son off at SFO yesterday to go see grandma in PA, so Cupertino was only a scant 30 miles further down the 101, so I decided to go. The store is only open 10-5:30 M-F. Since I live in the East Bay I don't get down that way often, so I had to go. I picked up a t-shirt for the wife and I and a onesie for my son. One t-shirt I really wanted said "I visited the Mothership" on the front, but they were out of my size (L), so I settled for a standard black with white Apple on the front. Here is a picture from my cell phone: I just found this prior art by The Mac Observer posted 3 years before me where they say Apple should sell merchandise in the Apple Stores, and executives were soon to put that strategy in place. I never said my idea was original, but looks like The Mac Observer timeline prediction was a little off ;-)

NetNewsWire Lite...First Impressions

I have been using NetNewsWire Light on Mac OS X as my RSS reader of choice (FYI I use RSS Bandit on Windows at work). Ranchero just released NetNewWire 2.0b3, and here's what's new. The Lite version hasn't received the mammoth overhaul the full version has, here are some notable features: - Atom Feed Support - Speed and UI Responsiveness Improvements - Simplified UI - Much improved application icon I am seriously thinking of getting the full version, but with Safari RSS coming out in 8 months or so, I just don't know.

MarsEdit...close but no cigar

I posted here that I really wanted a Mac OS X app to post to Blogger instead of using the Web interface. It felt like Christmas yesterday when I fired up NetNewsWire Lite and not only was it updated to 2.0b3 (more on this later), but Ranchero Software introduced MarsEdit, a new stand-alone blog posting tool for Mac OS X. Apparently NetNewsWire (maybe not the Lite version) has had some blog posting capabilities in the 1.x line, but I never realized it :). MarsEdit looks great and performs extremely well, there is just one problem, the Blogger API it supports sucks. Apparently the first Blogger API had no programmatic way to manage post titles!!! That seems like a showstopper to me on the API side, but who knows why you can't programmatically manage titles, but I sure get/set them through the Web interface. Anyway, Ranchero says the only way to get titles with Blogger is to use the Atom API, which they won't implement for MarsEdit 1.0. I think I am going to make a Blogger posting tool using the Atom API my first Cocoa dev project.

Star Wars Battlefront...It's Ewok Hunting Season

Lucasarts done right. They finally released a Star Wars game that combines battles from Episodes 4-5 and 1-3 into a single package on Xbox and the game doesn't suck. Far from it, this game rocks. Gamespot gave it an 8.2 rating, and on rating aggregtor, its got an 80% rating. I played single player for 2 hours tonight, completely addictive. I never played Battlefield 1942 or its sequels, so maybe I have been missing out on something big for a while. Regardless, the developer of Battlefront, Pandemic Studios, has done an amazing job of putting together infantry, vehicles, and ships all on huge maps to fight it out on either side, Rebels or Empire, Republic of Sepratists. The single player is fun, but is really just training for multiplayer. I really got this game for Xbox Live battles. Unfortunately when I tried to test this tonight, the servers were overloaded. I don't think they expect the apparenthuge demand for this game.

Star Wars Triology DVD...WOW!

Got the Trilogy on Tuesday and watched Episode IV: A New Hope (I just had to type out the whole title) immediately, and I was in slack jawed amazement at what I was watched. The visuals and sound were simply stunning. A friend of mine still has the Trilogy on VHS and did a little side by side comparisions of the DVD, he couldn't believe he was watching the same movie. The team at Lowry Digital that did the restoration and clean-up really earned their pay. Check out this article for a description of the process. I was thinking "impressive, most impressive" as I read this part:
At the Lowry Digital Images facility, over 600 Macintosh dual-processor G5 computers utilizing over 2400 gigabytes of RAM and 478 terabytes (over 478 million megabytes) of hard drive space processed each of the classic Star Wars films for over 30 break-neck days to create the stunning new versions fans will see in the Star Wars Trilogy DVD set.
If you have ever enjoyed Star Wars, you simply have to see the Trilogy like this. And it looks like George is going to make crazy money on this.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

iMac G5 First Impressions

Finally got into an Apple store over the weekend to get a first hand look at the new iMac. I am absolutely getting one of these, the design is fantastic. I wan't the 20", but the 17" might fit better in my apartment, decisions decisions. Don't listen to the naysayers either, like this from Mary Enderle:
What bothers me most about the iMac is that the design seems rushed. The base seems too narrow for safe use and appears to be directly pulled from Apple's monitor line. On monitors the screen is relatively light, but when you add the PC functionality, you also add a lot of weight. This shifts the center of gravity up and makes everything less stable.
Full article here. This is just plain wrong. Go to the Apple Store and move the display around, the unit is perfectely balanced, wires and all because the display models are not wireless. Or you could buy the Gateway Profile. Wow, this thing hit every branch of the ugly tree.

Blogger Growing Pains

I have been blogging with Google's Blogger since June and have had a generally positive experience. Only issue I have had with the service has been the absence of RSS feeds instead of Atom. I don't care about yet another standards war. But lately I have started to see performance problems with Blogger when accessing my blog administratively, creating new posts, and publishing updates to the blog. I guess this is a sign of a blogger explosion, but I might have to investigate alternatives soon. I especially want something with a Mac OS X application I can post from, but I just haven't had time to do the research yet.

Are you ready for Halo 2?

I am a huge Halo fan, so I read the guide posted here with amusement and excited anticipation. About the only thing I won't have on this list if a day off from work, everyone at the office games, it's just to obvious and it's probably going to be a company holiday anyway ;-) Scoble provided the link to the Halo 2 readiness guide here

Monday, September 20, 2004

A hoax or a good joke?

Scoble has unsubscribed from Manalang because of a hoax photo. This seems like a big over reaction to me. I am one of your readers and I don't feel like you lost credibility, I had a good laugh, real or hoax.

Are bots playing online poker?

I haven't been playing a lot of online poker, and never for money yet. And maybe I never should as MSNBC raises the spectre of bots raking in the dough in this article

8 ways to get this blog discovered

Scoble has posted 8 ways to get your blog discovered. So I am following Step 1 and linking to the man. Help me get Scoble to subtly notice me by clicking on the link to his post, that will get my blog in his referrer logs. I could just email him, but this is more fun. :-)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Group Policy Management Console incompatibility with Windows XP Service Pack 2

I may have missed the boat on Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) reports (had a lot of other stuff going on to create this post), but I hope this helps someone having the same problem I was. I have been using Group Policy Management Console (GPMC) SP1 to configure policies that are deployed via Active Directory to our Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 machines. The settings are largely based on the Windows XP Security Guide and the Windows Server 2003 Security Guide When configuring settings for System Services (i.e. NT Services) in GPMC SP1, an incompatibility is created for a few (that I have found) specific services in SP2. This incompatibility stops, at least, Automatic Updates and the Windows Firewall services from starting even when set to automatically start. With XP SP2, the Automatic Updates service is required for access to Windows Update. Tracking this fact down alone took some time, because I hadn't seen it mentioned publicly anywhere. When you configure a Service in GPMC, it prompts you to define an Access Control List (ACL). An ACL you ask, Services don't have ACLs! I had no idea on this either until this incident, but yes Services have ACLs. Of course you can't look at the ACL on a service (e.g. by looking at the Properties on a Service and viewing the Security tab like on every other OS object with an ACL), you can only see the ACL in a binary value in the Registry. Here is the ACL for the Automatic Updates service in XP SP2: HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\wuauserv\Security\Security How do you see these binary value ACLs in human readable format? I can't find anything to do this, and the only tool that allows you to set the ACL is GPMC. This MS Knowledge Base article has the details on this and the steps needed to configure your machine: How To Configure Group Policies to Set Security for System Services The article has one critical flaw though. It says the default ACL GPMC creates for your services contains the permission of Everyone - Full Control. Under XP SP2, this is not true. The default ACL looks like this: Administrator - Full Control Interactive - Read System - Full Control For Automatic Updates pre-SP2, this setting does not present a problem. Under SP2, it would appear that both the Automatic Updates and Windows Firewall services are configured to run as Local System, but in fact launch threads running as Network Service. What clue do I that this in fact happening? I happen to have failure audits on through Group Policy, and the Network Service account on the Object Name wuauserv was generating a failure that it didn't have Accesses: READ_CONTROL... As soon as you add Network Service - Read to the ACL for Automatic Updates, everything operates flawlessly. Windows Firewall would seem to operate the same way. If I hadn't turned on failure audits, Windows just silently fails the Automatic Updates service since it actually starts, then kills the process once the thread logging the failure can't read to service configuration. My main machine is in a Windows domain of course, so the Security Center would not normally be enabled to notify users that the Windows Firewall is disabled, but I enables this XP SP2 feature to look the screens. This took close to an entire day to debug. It halted my companies XP SP2 rollout until I figured out what was causing the problem with Windows Update. I just happened to stumble on the Windows Firewall having the same problem because we wanted to set that to Automatically start like Automatic Updates, and it started failing on my test machine in the domain. This is one of those gnarly problems that is just not obvious while testing on a single machine, you need all the pieces together to expose the issue. Nasty.

Airport Express...More Impressions

I have had the Airport Express now for a few months and been using it a pretty good amount. I finally settled on using it connected to my stereo in conjunction with my existing Microsoft MN-700. I had to change the wireless channel on one of the devices to use them sitting right next to each other. I read this in a forum somewhere that I can't find the link to right now. The wireless channel I guess should have been obvious, just like a cordless phone, but I just never had to do this before so it wasn't obvious to me. One of the things the AE was touted as was a portable network solution, and I have really been using it like this and it rocks! First I took it to a friends house to use their broadband with the iBook. This worked very well once I reset AE to wipe out my existing home configuration, which was configured to join a wireless network, not create one. Then I took it to the Reno Hilton and plugged it into their ethernet connection in the hotel room. This worked really well, as I could use the iBook from an adjoining room flawlessly. I used the same configuration from my friends house without incident. Good thing I had the extension cord from the iBook that is interchangable with the AE since the Ethernet connection was nowhere near a power outlet. Here is a tip though, if you setup AE to use the 'net access in the hotel room, don't disconnect AE and use your laptop directly or you might get double billed. A lot of hotel rooms authorize based on MAC address. I switched to the Ethernet port on the iBook to see if this would happen and it did, but the hotel was kind enough to wipe out the double charge and all other Internet charges for my "inconvenience". Sweet!!!

World of Warcraft....WoW

MMORPG's as a genre have always intrigued me, but I could never justify paying $50 for a game that I have to pay $10-$15 a month extra for to play. The game is a total paperweight if you don't like it. That said, I tried Star Wars Galaxies because I am a huge Star Wars fan and I just couldn't resist the concept. The price was always a sticking point for me though. I played for about a month, and I just couldn't get into the game. Things didn't feel done, player cities felt busted to me since no one ever had a reason to go there, and the mission grind felt just like that, a grind. But WoW feels different. I only played the game for a couple days, but I am impressed and I am defiinitely getting the game. First the graphics, character and world, just feel polished. SWG never felt awe inspiring, occasionally that was true, but in general I was not completely impressed. WoW really stands out. In one of the early Orc cities, I climbed to the top of a structure just to look out on the landscape, it was that good. Character models are equally fantastic. But the part that really stood out in WoW was the way the newbie area leads you into missions. Everything is well laid out, and you just don't kill monsters on the landscapel, you actually get into a dungeon on like the fifth mission! Maybe other MMO's are like this, but after SWG this felt like a revelation. The friend that got me into the Stress Test got to a lot higher levels than I did, so he got to experience the PvP, and he sounded like a heroin addict that can't score another fix for a long time :)

Mac Gaming: Better Than Expected

I loaded up my first Mac only game experience this weekend. This means I never played the game on the PC, I only played it on the iBook. That would be World of Warcraft (WoW), Blizzards upcoming MMORPG. I got into the Stress Test Beta for a days from a friend at work. First off, the minimum CPU for the game is a 1 GHz G4, this iBook has a 933 MHz, so the game tells me things may not work. My first thought is, I didn't buy the iBook for gaming, so let's just give this a try. WoW launches and just like everything on the Mac, the attention to detail stands out. I am talking about the transition from Desktop to Game and Game to Desktop. On Windows, this transition is almost always seen with crazy painting problems. Explorer slowly repaints the desktop, the disk grinds for a while as apps come back into memory and repaint themselves. In a word: ugly. Not so on the Mac, transitions are nicely faded or without repaint problems. Moving out of Full Screen to Windowed mode is also seamless. In Blizzard games anyway (I don't have any others to test) the command is Apple-M. WoW itself ran pretty good once I turned down the graphical detail. The only thing that was absolutely necessary was a 2 or more button mouse. I have been using my Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical with the iBook pretty much since I got the iBook, it worked nicely in WoW. Since all the PC propoganga goes out of it's way to suggest there are no games for the Mac and that they suck anyway, I was pleasently surprised by my experience. Blizzard rocks.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Fixed .Mac iDisk Syncing with....Windows XP

I previously blogged about my .Mac iDisk synchronization problems I finally fixed my issue with Windows XP. This is not a Mac slam, but it does show what happens when you hid stuff from users sometimes and the software can't fix itself. I installed the iDisk utility for Windows XP to upload an image to my iDisk's Public Folder while I was at work on my XP box. You could say I was surprised when I saw a hidden .Something file in the Public folder. In my previous post, I mentioned that I was trying to upload a large file, and the upload timed out at one point. Well it seems pretty clear that the .Mac iDisk sync engine can't sort itself out in some cases, because it left this dead file behind and on the Mac as a regular user, wouldn't tell me about it. I deleted the file from Windows XP and got all my space back. I could have solved this on the Mac too by telling the Finder to show me hidden files or using Terminal, but I just expected this to work, even the failure cases, and it never occured to me the iDisk sync wouldn't keep a record of the attempted file upload and clean-up after itself. I suppose a transactional file system would have solved this too, perhaps "Tiger" will match the transactional NTFS in Longhorn, if it isn't cut :)

I finally got Quicken 2004 for Mac to work with Citibank

In my campaign to go Mac only at home, the last piece of data to get migrated was my MS Money data. I thought this would be a no brainer since Quicken 2004 for Mac was included with the iBook and everybody reads QIF files. I read in a Macworld forum that with Quicken I could directly download transactions from Citibank from within the program and pay bills, I didn't have to use the Citibank website and no double data entry like I had with Money!!!! This may not seem like a big deal, but I started using direct online banking with First Union (nee Wachovia) in PA. When I moved to CA, no bank offered direct banking and I hate double entry, in Money and on the Citibank website. I stayed with First Union for months to avoid double entry. But with Quicken 2004 for Mac and Citibank, single data entry was again a reality. I enrolled in the Citibank Direct Connect program ($9.95 a month, no double entry is worth it) and patiently waited for my connection kit. I got that in early July, promptly did the setup, but no transactions would download. A call to Citibank revealed I was using the wrong Customer Number, they wanted my wife's SSN, and it wasn't specified on the setup document. With that problem solved, I was making a connection to Citibank, but still no transactions. Citibank didn't understand the problem, so I couldn't get my transactions. I resigned myself to either falling back to using Web statements or switching to another program on the Mac. Web statements looked unpromising, because the Quicken Web Connect format wouldn't import and I had to use the Quicken '98 QIF format. This meant no transaction matching on import, which is totally unacceptable. I started researching why Quicken Web Connect, which does have transaction matching, wouldn't import. The Web Connect file is an XML file, how hard could this be to suck into Quicken? I opened the file to have a look, and I was also seriously thinking of started my own develop effort, and I noticed my Citibank account number looked a bit dodgy, but I couldn't put my finger on it, maybe too short, it didn't hit me yet. I installed and setup another finance program on the Mac (here is a list on Macworld) called Moneydance. This too can download transactions directly from Citibank. I picked up a Citibank statement since I couldn't find the checkbook, but the info in Moneydance, and in a John Madden BOOM, I had transactions. And then all the pieces fell into place in my head. When I had entered my Citibank account number in Quicken, I happened to have the checkbook handy and read the number directly off of that. The account number on my checks looks like this: 0123 4567 8912 In the Quicken Web Connect file and on my paper Citibank statement, the account number looks like this: 123 4567 8912 You will immediately notice there is no leading 0. I changed the account number on the Checking account in Quicken, and now I have every transaction with, so far, really good matching on already entered items. What a timesink. In total, it took me 2 months to debug this and I never saw anyone else online mention this when having problems getting transactions from Citibank with Quicken.