Friday, March 30, 2007

Visual Studio Annoyance #001: Why is this dialog so small?

I have been working a lot the last couple months in Visual Studio 2005. One of the pages I worked on directly uses a GridView, and I have been trying to use the graphical editor to create the field markup. I really don't think it is to much to ask that if I choose to use the graphic editor, it doesn't look like this:

No I didn't resize that to make it smaller, it is exactly 512px wide. This looks insanely ridiculous on a 1280x1024 monitor, which is where I have Windows running on. It actually looks something like this:
Pretty silly.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

iTunes Store quietly launches Complete My Album

Macrumors (aside: this is true, so why is it on Macrumors ;-)) repors that iTunes added a Complete My Album feature! Looks like the report in the NYTimes that I posted and commented about was a lot closer than anyone thought. I kinda dispute Macrumors saying this launched on Tuesday, I mean I logged on and you couldn't see the button on the left (click to Complete Your Albums), but maybe it was enabled if you stumbled on albums you previously bought a single from.

Anyway, when I click on the button, you see a list of all the albums that are eligible for the discounted Complete My Album price. I have 65 listed. See this where you get the details of the deal:
  • Even though I have 65 albums eligible, there is some double counting with special album editions vs. standard, or explicit vs. clean. Cool, I like that level of flexibility
  • Completing all your previous albums is a (as pictured) limited time offer. All my eligible albums price amnesty expires on June 26, 2007.
  • For albums you buy from now forward, you have 6 months to complete the album and get the discount.
  • The discount is a straight subtraction (or at least it appears to me) of the single price off the album price
  • Not sure if when you browse the store you are always offered the Complete My Album price or if you have to go through the special Complete My Album section of the store. Right now, it looks like you have to go through the special list through the Complete My Album link.
However, I still found a hole in the Complete My Album experience which I would love to see fixed. I bought The Rolling Stones You Can't Always Get What You Want off of the Let It Bleed album (cover art pictured). It's a great rock song and I picked it up after never being a Stones fan because I heard it in the Season 1 finale of House (uh hello, iTunes Store, time to add House to TV Shows for download). This is what the song list looks like when in Complete My Album:

But then I was looking through the rest of the eligible albums, and I saw Hot Rocks 1964-1971 because I bought Paint It Black. But what's this, on Hot Rocks is also You Can't Always Get What You Want, but I don't receive credit for this song on Hot Rocks! See for yourself:

I know, that's different albums, this is called Complete My Album, not Complete My Collection, but it would be great if they extended this to credit you on greatest hits type albums, which Hot Rocks clearly is, as well as regular albums. Perhaps I ask to much, but this is a great improvement. As soon as I am in the office, I am grabbing the rest of Dummy by Portishead.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Review of Paul Thurrott's Review of Apple TV

As expected Paul Thurrott has posted his review of the Apple TV and another his Internet Nexus site a Part 2. Why a part 2? To respond to John Molloy's criticism of Paul's original review.

It seems business as usual that there are problems with a Paul Thurrott review of an Apple product. John Molloy takes exception with this suggestion from Paul:
For the same price, you could get an Xbox 360 (see my activity center and review) and use that device to stream media from any XP- or Vista-based PC, access live and recorded TV, various online music, movie, and photo services via its Media Center Extender functionality and a Media Center PC, or download rented and purchased TV shows and movies, many in high definition (unlike iTunes, which only offers standard definition video). It also plays DVD movies, and, heck, it can play high-definition video games too. Yes, the thing sounds like a wind tunnel, especially when its playing games, but it's far more versatile and powerful device than the Apple TV. And it costs exactly the same price.

John says Paul is wrong, that the Xbox Core is $399 and the Premium is $499, not anywhere close to the same price as Apple TV's $299. Paul correctly calls him out since the Xbox 360 retail pricing in the US is $299 (no hard drive, no wireless controller) and $399 premium (20 GB HD, wireless controller). John's pricing is unfortunately wrong for the US market, but he's posting on a UK site, but even using for Xbox 360 pricing information and converting from Pounds to Dollars, the core is 189.99 pounds (amazon is discounting a bit off the 199.99 retail) which converts to $372.22 US, and the premium is 269.96 pounds (again, 299.99 retail) for $529.61 US. The Apple TV is 199.00 pounds, which is $390.40 US. So no matter what, John's Xbpx 360 pricing is wrong.

But there are multiple problems with Paul's comparing the Xbox 360 to the Apple TV (Disclosure: I have both the Xbox 360 Premium and the Apple TV, more on that in another post) and his review of the Apple TV in general. He is absolutely being disingenious when suggesting the Apple TV and the Xbox 360 Core (both $299) over the same functionality at the same price.
  • Xbox 360 Core can "download rented and purchased TV shows and movies" as Paul says. Wrong. The Xbox 360 Core has no hard drive, which you need to do either of these things from Xbox Live Marketplace. The cost to add that to the Xbox 360 Core is $89.99 on, which you guessed it nearly puts you at the $399 Xbox 360 Premium
  • Apple TV doesn't even come with a cable to connect to your TV. This is true, but the Xbox 360 Core only comes with Standard AV cables, which means non-HD. Sure, this could get you going, but you aren't doing any High Def gaming with these 1980s cables.
  • Xbox 360 has all this extra Media Center Extender functionality. Right, and of course you need a Windows XP or Vista Media Center PC, remember a PC, to use that streaming and all those extra services. Paul can't have it both ways. You can't tout all this connected PC functionality with Xbox 360 to PC and then deride Apple TV for doing the same thing. And the Apple TV requires the free iTunes (clearly acting as a server), while Media Center PC is non-free. Oh, and of cousee, iTunes works on Mac or PC.
  • Buying Xbox Live TV Shows or Movies is ultimately the same as buying them from iTunes, or better. If you are a "tool" as Paul says for buying content from iTunes, you must be bringing the whole shed when you purchase anything from Xbox Live Marketplace. True, some Xbox Live Marketplace is in High Def, but that is where the goodness ends. Content you buy for the Xbox 360 is not-tranferrable to a PC, any portable device, or even at this time another Xbox 360. You can't back them up (though you can re-download some stuff again from Xbox Live Marketplace), and you only have 20 GB of storage to play with. Clearly with iTunes, you can use the content you buy on any desktop (Mac+PC)/laptop (Mac+PC)/iPod/iPhone/Apple TV. It is tremendously more versatile, and you can leverage all the storage options a computer allows to hold as much content as you need/want/have. No, video quality is not up to HD standards yet, but its only a matter of time with iTunes, and buying HD on the 360 makes the storage problem acute. One more thing, you buy from iTunes in real currency, and not in some pseudo denomication called MS Points meant to confuse and earn interest on the float of your money.
  • With Apple TV, you have to hop off your chouch to purchase content and wait for it to sync. Partially true, you do not have to wait for it to sync. Apple TV streams the content from any Mac or PC in your house. So buy content on your laptop, then stream it to the Apple TV. Oh, and you don't even have to wait for something to finish synching, you can start playing content as soon as "enough" is synced to the Apple TV, I know, I did it last night, and you can tell because Apple TV shows you what is synching at any time.
  • Apple TV Remote doesn't even change TV volume. And neither does the Xbox 360 Core system or the Xbox 360 Premium, you have to buy a remote, and the MS brand one is the Xbox 360 Universal Remote, $19.99 on And then you have to program it for your TV, and its here where you lose the majority of people, including me. I have this 360 remote since I use the 360 as my DVD player. I have tried a couple times to program it with my TV, and succedded, but it always loses the setting, so I stopped bothering. Programming remotes I think replaced 12:00 AM VCRs as unused consumer technology feature that the techies say you gotta have, but normal people don't use. Oh and the Xbox 360 wireless controller sucks as a remote, since it always powers down. The Xbox 360 Core includes a wired controller, so it could act as a tethered remote, like I had on my 1984 cable box
Let's review pricing to achieve same or similar functionality with either Apple TV or Xbox 360:
 Apple TVXbox 360 CoreXbox 360 Premium
Cables for HD (HDMI or Component)$20 (Component bought from Apple store)$20 from AmazonIncluded
StorageIncluded (40 GB for caching, unlimited on computer)$90 from AmazonIncluded (20 GB, have to buy 20 GB HD add-ons for $90 for more)
Totals$319$428.97 (still no wireless controller for games)$418.99

You can argue whether Apple TVs limitations (doesn't play games, manage content through iTunes) or the Xbox 360's limitations (content bought on 360 stays on 360, limited storage) make one more valuable than the other, but for the 360 to achieve functionality similar to what the Apple TV offers (I didn't included wireless networking with Apple TV has and is another add-on to the 360), either SKU is absolutely not cheaper as Paul suggest. As many have figured out too, don't buy the Core system, if you want the 360, you get the Premium. Now of course, if you want to play games, then you can't do that on Apple TV at any price. As to whether the games you can play on the 360 is worth buying the console, well that is a discussion for a different post. If you want to play DVDs only, then you could easily buy a dedicated DVD player ($52.99 on for less than the difference between the Apple TV and the Xbox 360 premium. And oh yeah, the 360 is a power hog when playing DVDs, consuming 112.1 more noisy watts of power than a dedicated DVD player. Oh, and the Apple TV is reported to have a 48-watt power supply, pretty miserly. Of course I will be ripping DVDs...

Apple to offer credits for albums where a single has been purchased

Just say this NY Times articles The Album, a commodity in disfavor where the following is detailed.
At the same time, the industry is straining to shore up the album as long as possible, in part by prodding listeners who buy one song to purchase the rest of a collection. Apple, in consultation with several labels, has been planning to offer iTunes users credit for songs they have already purchased if they then choose to buy the associated album in a certain period of time, according to people involved in the negotiations. (Under Apple’s current practice, customers who buy a song and then the related album effectively pay for the song twice). But some analysts say they doubt that such promotions can reverse the trend.

I agree in that I don't think you can reverse the trend of consumers buying singles, but you can stop some of the bleeding. On multiple occasions, I would have "upgraded" to complete album if I weren't double paying for the 1 to N songs I had already bought. The same concept needs to apply to TV Show season passes or after seasons have completed. I have bought a few episodes of The Office this season from iTunes, and with Apple TV now, I might be included to upgrade to the full season, but there is no way I am paying again for those episodes, so I do nothing. And time bombing the discount to album upgrades is wrong headed. I could understand making it more enticing to consumers by making the discount for people that already own a single to buy the full album bigger, say $7.99 for the next month, but then it should revert to straight deduction of the single costs, so $8.99 using typical pricing.

Friday, March 23, 2007

"Getting" why Apple TV is revolutionary

It is stunning to me that some people don't "get" the Apple TV. But Carl Howe at the does and nicely explains it for those that don't.

I have written about this before here and here about when Apple TV was called iTV and what was still missing in iTunes 7 to make iTV really take off.

Then there is Paul Thurrott in his WinInfo Short Takes. He hasn't written a full review, and he will, but he calls Apple TV an iPod for your living room and his quick hit thought is:
In short, it's good but not excellent. It doesn't have DVR capabilities and you can't even change the volume with the limited Apple remote. Eh.
So once again, let's reiterate why Apple TV does what it does and nothing more:
  • Apple TV has no DVR for my cable/satellite!iTunes is you DVR, stop worrying about programming a DVR and paying cable/satellite for programming you never use (Home Shopping Network I am talking about you).
  • Apple TV doesn't have a DVD player! No, and neither did your VCR or DVD player. Did your iPod come with a CD player? No. iTunes can't rip your DVDs yet, but a lot of tools can. Just add the files to iTunes and enjoy on your Apple TV
  • Apple TV's remote doesn't control my TV/Xbox/PS3/VCR/Dolby Digital Receiver/Kitchen Sink! No, that's why those things have their own remotes. As a rule, Universal remotes usually suck and only geeks can program them anyway.
  • Apple TV doesn't play my Divx/WMA/WMV/ETC files! Right, reencode them, MP4 or H.264 work just fine.
  • Apple TV only works with Widescreen EDTV or HDTVs! May not exactly be true, if you have a SDTV with component video input, the Apple TV has a 480i setting (this is what you need) so it may work. This would be how I start using the Apple TV, so I am going to try this first
  • I have to use iTunes and Apple TV can only play content from the iTunes Store.!Yes you have to use iTunes, it serves content and syncs the Apple TV just like an iPod, but any content you import into iTunes formated for the Apple TV can play (say video podcasts, ripped DVDs), not just stuff bought from the iTunes Store
  • I can't rely on Apple TV because iTunes doesn't have insert your special content here or it's not in HD. It's only a matter of time before all content is on iTunes, and in HD. Buy the DVDs instead, rip them.
  • There is no live TV!No radio didn't slow down the iPod. Use HD free over the air TV broadcast. It worked for your dad

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The cause, at least for me, of the runaway airport proces on Mac OS X 10.4.8

An anonymous commenter informed me that CheckPoint has released Build 002 of SecureClient for Mac OS X. You can download here. This update completely solves the Airport process problem. I can once again let WiFi do its automatic thing, its beautiful again. I was suprised all over again how fast OS X acquires a WiFi connection when waking up from sleep. It almost made me cry...

Mac OS X 10.4.9 did not solve this problem. No previous version of OS X was released with a higher then 10.x.9 final operating system update. If Apple follows the trend, this is the last 10.4 update, excluding serurity updates (10.3 Panther received a big security update when 10.4.9 was released). Checkpoint still has not released an update for SecureClient, and my money would now be on either the 10.4 client never being updated, or only when 10.5 Leopard ships. Actually, that is the cause for me of a lot of concern, if SecureClient doesn't work with Leopard, I can't use it when it ships, except from a seperate installation, it can't be my main OS. Assuming the worst for 10.4 and that the client never gets updated, what can people do about this problem? Well I kinda of stumbled on a variant of not adding preferred networks to the Airport list, which I am absolutely convinced is what triggers the Airport process to spin up, and something in the SecureClient kernel components is causing the infinite loop. Anyway, what I stumbled on was that you can add a preferred network (my home network is now WPA secured) to the Airport Extreme network configuration and then delete it. Why would you want to do this? Because apparently the password for that network remains in your Keychain even after the entry has been deleted. Honestly, I don't know if this was a bug (I got into this state pre-10.4.9) but now all I have to do is select my home network through the Airport icon in the menubar and boom I am on, no password entry since that's in the Keychain and automatically get's used. So the runaway Airport process no longer affects me, again.

Anonymous posted in the comments for this post possibly a more complete solution I certainly never thought of. I haven't implemented it yet, since I worked around the runaway process entirely, but Anon's solution might work for you. It certainly would have the benefit of always killed the Airport process.

Apple has created a Support Article that address this specific issue. Basically, the onus is on VPN software manufacturers to update their software to work with 10.4.8. And I spoke to soon, I saw the issue yesterday, 12/7/06, even though I hadn't seen it in a month. For CheckPoint's SecureClient, an update still isn't available to address this issue. My guess, Apple made a change for security reasons and cannot change the airport process back to the pre-10.4.8 way. Common CheckPoint, update already.

Original Post
One software package that makes using an Intel Mac viable as my Windows developer platform is Check Point Software's SecureClient VPN-1 R56 for Mac OS X, Universal Binary. My company uses this VPN solution exclusively, and given that I work from home a decent amount, I need connectivity to the office. Before buying the Intel Macs, me and my co-workers did testing on a personal Intel Mac and my PowerPC Macs to see how well SecureClient for the Mac worked. It certainly worked as well as on Windows so we had no qualms.

A funny thing happened though in the window between our testing, purchase, and then reliance on the MacBook Pros to get work done, Mac OS X 10.4.8came out. Why is this notable, because after upgrading to 10.4.8 a system process, called airport would consume 100% of CPU resources and never give up doing whatever it was doing. As you might guess, SecureClient had something to do with this, but it took me weeks to fiure that out. See the problem would manifest itself when you the Airport WiFi card would save a preferred network and then try to connect to one after a sleep/wake cycle for example. The default configuration of OS X is to save wireless networks you connect to so reconnection in the future happens automatically.

My co-worker first experienced this, and my immediate reaction was a corrupt prefernce file. So we deleted her airport pref file, and this solves the problem because there are no preferred networks anymore. But as soon as you connected to another WiFi network and executed a sleep/wake cycle, the problem would return. We then reinstalled 10.4.8 on her machine, which didn't work. I even repaired permissions on my MacBook Pro, which did hardly anything and I checked the disk for corruption all without a change. I considered downgrading to 10.4.7, but there is no uninstaller for OS X updates, one of the Windows features that Apple should mercilessly steal for 10.5

I say on the Apple Support Discussion board that other's were having the same problem, though no one had pinned down a cause. I posted my workaround, which was to stop the Airport adapter from remembering preferred networks. But then another thread popped up and I posted about my workaround to the airport process problem and confirmed that uninstalling SecureCllient returned the airport process to normal operation even when remembering preferred networks, so clearly the intersection of 10.4.8 and SecureClient R56 Build 001 for OS X was the cause of the problem.

But the most interesting thing is that I reinstalled SecureClient and everything still works! This was stunning, but I had tried this anyway because I needed SecureClient to work from home. One new wrinkle though is that I had already had a preferred wireless network defined when I installed SecureClient. The other possibility is that my succesful tests so far had been without a site configured in SecureClient. But I am back up to full configuration now and I will see how OS X responds to a sleep/wake cycle when I am done for the day, I will keep my fingers crossed. This is probably the worst software interaction, and probable bug, I have yet seen on OS X in my 3.5 years of using the OS.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Troubleshooting application crashes in Mac OS X 10.4.x

What do you do when an application(s) in Mac OS X 10.4 start crashing? Before the Mac OS X 10.4.9 update, applications and processes were sometimes randomly crashing. How very Windows like? I thought at first this might have been a problem with Parallels 2.5 (Build 3188), because one of the OS X Parallels network daemons crashed, but then Safari went down a few times loading normal (aka not porn), and then Notes, but it wasn't edidemic really. Then I installed OS X 10.4.9 using Software Update, and crashes did become epidemic, user mode applications (Notes, Safari, etc.) were crashing and system processes like mdimport, mDNSresponder, lookupd, and a few others went down. Oh shit, 10.4.9 is horribly broken, Apple released this before it was ready, right! Not so much.

When that many apps are crashing, the most likely problems are file system structure corruption, physically memory is broken, or the OS files itself are not all on the correct version or corrupt. Since crashes started happening before 10.4.9, I knew that couldn't be the root cause, but since it got worse with 10.4.9, I theorized that when I updated to 10.4.9, a OS file mismatch or corruption was made worse because more files expected a newer version of some file(s) that were broken. Apple uses two forms of OS updates with OS X, delta and combo. Delta based updates apply only the changes between the immediate previous version of OS X, 10.4.8 in this case, and 10.4.9 to get you system up to date. Combo updates are used in all other cases, so if you were running 10.4.7 when 10.4.9 was released you get the Combo. A 10.4.9 system updated either delta or combo based should be identical. Why use one method over the other? Software Update automatically picks the method that it thinks is best based on your system, it should and does Just Work. What are the differences? To the end user, download size and convenience. Software Updates offers you an update, you take it, its either Delta or Combo. Combo is always larger than a Delta update. Other software updates, like security updates, are not flagged as either delta or combo, and given the size of those downloads, really why bother. John Gruber at Daring Fireball had some apt comments on this, and he recommends you just use the OS X update that Software Update gives you, and I agree. I installed 10.4.9 using the Delta update Software Update offered, so it looked to me that the Delta update didn't update a file I already had on my system that it thought was the correct version for 10.4.9, but which was broken.

I checked the file system and repaired permissions first, just in case, and some stuff was fixed, but my crash problems persisted. Then I installed the 10.4.9 Como update, and I haven't had a single crash of anything since, so I am pretty sure I am fixed! So what pre-10.4.9 update could have caused my problem?

After looking at the crash logs in for everything, I am pretty sure it was the above selected update, Security Update 2007-002, that was giving me problems. I am actually extremely thankful 10.4.9 was finally released because without it I woulddn't have had the Combo updater to solve this problem. In theory I could have reapplied the Seurity Update, if that's what is was, but the Combo update wiped out all my problems.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Mac OS X Web Market Share Numbers

Net Applications February Share for OS and Browser Share are out. Same trend as last month, OS X and Safari up:
  • Mac OS X (PowerPC and Intel) - 6.38%
  • Safari - 4.85%
I updated the chart too:

Original Post
This past week it was pretty widely reported that Firefox brower share had gone down, and Safari brower share had risen according to Net Applications and this was startling to some because Safari is OS X only. I hadn't even mentioned it, the numbers obviosly showed Safari at 4.7% in Jan 07 and the trend was clear, slowly but steadily making share gains year over year from Feb 06 at 3.13%.

Of course the other interesting part of the story is OS X's market share. Again according to Net Applications OS Share Numbers, OS X web market share was at 6.22% in January 07, up from 4.31% in February 06. But some people get confused on Net Applications Mac OS share number because they have two numbers, the one labeled Mac OS is for PowerPC Macs, and MacIntel, well that is pretty self explanatory. Too me what is really interesting is that the MacOS number trend. This is impossible to see on the Net Applications chart unless you drill around a lot, so here it is by itself:

See how MacOS was rising until May last year, then took a dip, then rose again, then another dip, and is now rising again. Each time a new Intel-based Mac was announced last year, Mac OS number took a dip as people replaced those machines and eBayed them, but replaced PowerPC machines didn't end up in landfills, people bought them and are actually using them:
  • iMac Core Duo - Released January 10, 2006
  • MacBook Pro - Released February 14, 2006
  • MacBook - Released May 16, 2006
  • Mac Pro - Released August 7, 2006
  • iMac Core 2 Duo - Released September 6, 2006
  • MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo - Released October 24, 2006
  • MacBook Core 2 Duo - November 8, 2006

This makes sense too, given the higher sustained resale value of Macs. Of course, some people see what they want to see, like Paul Thurrott. His weekly WinInfo Short Takes column hits all over the technology map, mostly Microsoft of course, but he mentions the market share numbers being a Firefox fan of course and he is always there to bring "reality" to any Mac market share discussion, because you know the Mac "crazies" might build up to much steam. Here is what he wrote (as of this posting):
Firefox Stumbles as Safari Gains Mozilla Firefox actually lost market share last month, according to Net Applications, while Microsoft's Internet Explorer held steady at about 80 percent market share. Firefox fell a bit to 13.7 percent of the market, down from 14 percent the previous month. But Firefox has had its ups and downs before. The big surprise in January was Apple's Safari browser, which runs only on Mac OS X. According to Net Applications, Safari usage jumped to 4.7 percent in January, up from 4.2 percent in December and 3.1 percent a year ago. This indicates, perhaps, that OS X usage is up a bit, though it's unclear if Net Application's numbers are US-only or worldwide: Net Application's OS share statistics show OS X holding about twice the worldwide market share that Apple actually commands, for example: 4.3 percent according to Net Applications, vs. about 2.5 percent in reality.

And here is what I wrote back to him in the comments:
Actually Paul, on OS X market share according to Net Applications, you got the number wrong. They report it at 6.22%. The number you reported, 4.3, is for PowerPC Macs only. You have to add in the MacIntel number which is 1.88%, bringing you to 6.22%. And if you look at the trend for both numbers, you can see they have both been increasing: You love to trumpet the Mac worldwide market share number, but you are really doing a disservice to your readers because the Mac share numbers have risen, more sharply in the US than in the rest of the world, but to bury your head in the sand and say there hasn't been an upward move is stupid, anyone who wants to can see the numbers. The difference between the Net Applications numbers and the absolute market share might be easy to explain. Since the PC market is comprised of every machine sold, including servers and point of sale and kiosk PCs, the web market share nubmers might be more meaningful for showing the OS trend amongst consumers, and those results are pretty clear year over year: XP - up Win 2000 - down Win 98 - down Mac - up Other - down The most widely used OSes then according to these numbers are XP at 85.02% and Mac OS X at 6.22%

I don't care about personal opinion or subjectivity on whether you like Windows or OS X better when we are talking about data that shows a clear trend. Thurrott just keeps running around saying 2.5%, 2.5%, which is near or close to the worldwide market share for Apple, but you also have to look at the US number, and that is according to Q4 2006 preliminary numbers, Apple has 5.1%, up from 3.7% from Q4 2005, a 30.6% year over year increase. Apple As I See It has a great breakdown and analysis, with charts!, of Apple market share numbers going back several years. He uses IDC, so the numbers I just quoted above are slightly different for US share, but look at the numbers for worldwide share near the bottom. Clearly slower than the US, but still the trend is clear, Apple's worldwide share is up the past 2 years. It may be small, but it's still growth. Also, this post at Apple As I See It makes it pretty clear that making tremendous gains in the PC market for Apple requires massive growth.