Top 10 Apple Products

At this moment I can not browse the web without running into a Top X list, and some are fun or nice to read, but the majority of them are just made without any thought. For example, there was an article on Digg about top25 movies from 2007, but a good handful were all made and released in 2006. But ok, maybe the author meant the ones he’s seen in the last year. What I haven’t seen yet is an Apple Top 10 list of products and services they offer through their stores. So I guess here it is. Yes, I am not doing any research either. I am going to wing it, but I will try to provide some arguments why I made the pick.

The categories are Software, Services, Accessories, iPhone, iPod, Laptops, Computers, Underdogs, Failures, and Rumored.

## spoiler ## And if you think ‘damn this blog is long’ let me spoil it for you. The winners in my eyes are for handheld devices and iPod, and media experience the iPhone, no doubt. And as computer system the new 24″ iMac has no competition. ##spoiler##

Ok, I have to be honest, they do not really have a lot of products, so the list is limited to the things I would buy because of reason X. I will just try to narrow it down. Here we go.

Software

The nominations are between Mac OSX 10.5, packages like iLife/iWork, Parallels/VMWare, and Games for the Mac.

The winner could have been the games, because I think it is awesome that they’re listening to those consumers who would love to play the later games on a Mac, and now finally can. I think we will see more of this in 2008. It made an impression on me when it was announced, but they did not overwhelm me with titles of games I personally play. From the software packages VMWare could have been a winner too with their dramatic improvements and catching up to Parallels. Or iLife with the improved integration with .Mac, the value for money can not be neglected and if you don’t own either iSoftware packages you should get your copy now. But the winner here is Leopard.

Mac OSX 10.5 is the winner in the software category. It surprised everybody that they used OSX on the iPhone, on the Apple TV, and of course the 64bit version on all the Mac computers. Why I picked it is because of the native 64bit support out of the box. UNIX certified, an utterly complete package. One version for everybody, with the exception of their server software. Great value for money and with touchscreen being big in 2008, it will only get better. The UI is smoother, cleaner, beautiful images and icons, and I keep getting impressed how pleasant it is to use it.

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Services

The nominations are between AppleCare and .Mac, buying online at Starbucks and iTunes, Customer support in stores, phone, and instore and online training.

From all the computer store support or help desk you can get for any system I have to admit that I have never been so much impressed as with the customer support from Apple. But it still just doesn’t cut it. There are too many stories about up-selling, exhausted staff, and weird repair stories gone bad. But, when you call in or go into a store you still get generally so much more better support because they know what they are talking about. The stores look great and the genius bar and online workshops and all that stuff is impressive. It is not a winner because I think this is how it should be for every store. This should not ‘stand out’, and therefor does not qualify in my book as something to reward them for. They just set the standard others should follow. If you want to be treated like a king you have to purchase an AppleCare which is quite expansive, so again .. this should be an affordable service for consumers and it doesn’t stand out. Not a winner either. I am however very impressed with the new .Mac they introduced. And I was very much surprised that you can use your iPhone in the Starbucks and buy from iTunes. I am also very impressed with how iTunes works as a product. It’s more and more a media-hub, and I really like that idea. Choosing a winner here is kind of hard. We’re talking services here.

The winner in the services category is iTunes. And I would almost have picked .Mac if it wasn’t for the simple fact that I use iTunes 24/7 and have no .Mac account. iTunes has won because I use it constantly. It’s my media hub. It lets me sync my iPod, or any other device from Apple I plug into it such as the iPhone, Apple TV or with Connect360 even my Xbox360. It is a single program for both the Mac and the PC and it works very well. It has beautiful cover art and with the use of SmartFolders you can make great playlists. It directly integrates with the online iTunes Store. Buying music is so easy. And it doesn’t stop there. You can get music, tv episodes, movies and ringtones, games for the iPod, podcasts, and more. Each section has unique great features. Such as ‘complete your album’ or ‘season pass’.

Another reason why they win is because they ‘get it’. The music industry obviously does not. They are trying to protect their business model so much they are so afraid of even considering changing it. Piracy is not an issue, it’s a way of life. People do not want to pay a million bucks in a store for a little disc that plays for 35 minutes with 10 songs. They want to get 2 of those songs in their computer, and get them on demand. They want to bring their music with them. This means if you listen to your music library and click on iTunes store, and find the song, pay $0,89 for it and have it. 320/DRMfree EMI music has won my heart and I spend hundreds of dollars on great music. I bought an iPod and I will buy more in the future. I support this model, and Apple found a way to make deals that both the music industry and Apple make money on, a lot of money, while the consumer pays less, gets more, and on demand. And can take it with them in wonderful little devices.  I only believe in 2008 and beyond we will see dramatic changes in this industry (for both music and tv/movies). iTunes has received frequent updates that only improved the software, without cluttering it’s interface, and it’s a great one in all solution for all your media. And it’s free.

And I will probably write about EMI in another blog.

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Accessories

The nominations for the category accessories are the Airport Extreme, Apple Keyboard, Apple Bluetooth Headset

Last year I was complaining that I wanted a new router, but didn’t get the Airport Extreme Router because it had 100mbit ports, and just three of them, and it had g, and not n for wifi. But they were updating all their hardware to gbit and n-wifi. They’ve now changed this, but .. I already bought a cheap linksys router. A little bit of goodness, a little bit too late. When my linksys router dies I will go for this Apple router and maybe it has potential to win next year. Another reason why it didn’t win is because it looks the same as the Mac Mini, and it looks the same as the Apple TV, but all three can’t get stacked (well, they can), because all three are a different size. I would love to have a stack / cube of Mac in my living room. From bottom to top: Mac Mini, Mac Mini External HD, Apple TV, Airport Extreme. A cool media hub in the living room that still looks good. What also did not win is the bluetooth headset. It looks very cool, very slick., very small and professional for both consumer and professional. But it doesn’t cut it to the winner, the keyboard.

The winner in the Accessories category is the new aluminum Apple Keyboard. It comes both wired and wireless and looks amazing. It types amazing and looks very professional. The wireless one is very cool for the living room and easy to put away. Want to surprise your friend with an affordable apple gift? Get this keyboard if they don’t have one.  I needed a bit of convincing, but it’s simply awesome. And with the pure lack of the Apple Cinema Display updates (Macworld 2008 hopefully) the keyboard is currently the winner for accessories.

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iPhone

The nominations for this category .. eh .. is the iPhone. I guess.

Ok, maybe a bit of a cheat, but I have my reasons. On the Apple site you can ‘Shop for Mac’, and separately they have ‘Shop for iPod’, and ‘Shop for iPhone’. Didn’t Steve say ‘this is the iPod ever’, so why isn’t it in the iPod category? Ok, maybe they want to give it a more prominent and easy to find location. They make a load of money on the iPhone with that contract vs a 80 bucks iPod shuffle. Maybe it implies that 2008 will offer multiple iPhones. But this blog is not about the future, but about the 2007 iPhone.

The iPhone is not the winner, because .. they charged a load of money from the first day, for both the phone and the contract (which is two years by the way). It’s also not a winner, because it still is not available in a lot of countries, such as the Netherlands. I had my mind on one for last November, but instead of the iPhone I’ve now got a dedicated web server (see one of my other blog posts about this). And I’ve purchased an iPod instead. More reasons why the iPhone is not the winner is because they are not allowing third party applications, brick customized (unlocked) iPhones. And because it is missing a lot of business features that the other smart-phones have. More about the iPhone in the next few categories.

The winner in the iPhone category is the iPhone. There is no doubt this is the most sexy device you can get from Apple that will turn heads and that’s from the first generation on. Because despite the above disappointments there is hope. They are already offering a web directory for applications for the iPhone, there are rumors they will open it up a bit more at upcoming Macworld. And Apple really impressed me that they’ve dropped their initial price by a full $200. And they are expanding the countries where you can buy one, including the true winner here:

The winner in the iPhone category is the iPhone in France. The only country in 2007 where you can buy an iPhone (through official channels) and unlocking it without the potential of having a brick, and in all honesty, Orange does this really, not Apple, but I am sure Apple does not mind – each sale is one step closer owning that certain percentage of the mobile phone industry they are after. Thank you Apple for not going ‘screw that, let’s not release in France’. The iPhone is the only iPhone at this point, but the unlocked one makes it a must have and hopefully 32GB or more and 3G in 2008/2009 will keep it a winner each year.

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iPod

The nominations for the iPod category are the iPhone, the iPod Touch, the iPod Shuffle and the iPod Classic. And the reason I didn’t pick the iPod nano is because the new one is pretty cool, but not as nice (in my personal opinion) as the previous generation. Which is why I bought the Shuffle and I love it. I was really impressed with it. But for the music lover, it just doesn’t cut it. So it won’t win. Then there’s the iPod classic in 160gb for the real music lover who needs that type of storage. And the new black and grey aluminum looks amazing. A very cool device. Go to an Apple store and hold it in your hand, it will be much more impressive then the computer generated picture on the web site. The reason it doesn’t win is because the iPod is for tv/movies too now, and despite the great storage you can’t compare it against the iPod Touch of iPhone’s landscape widescreen video experience. The reason the iPod Touch isn’t a winner is because it sits in between the iPod Classic experience and the iPhone experience. You have it and feel you need more space. And you have it and you feel you’ve undercut yourself and in your heart you really wanted the iPhone. If I am looking at my own wallet and thinking, which iPod would I buy? I’d buy the iPod Classic and consider it great value for money. And it’s a great mobile backup device too. But it isn’t the winner.

The iPhone is the clear winner in the best iPod category. And I will tell you why I think that. The iPhone is not just an iPod with a nice big screen so you can view video in landscape and enjoy your iTunes purchases more, it supports touchscreen just like the iPod Touch, and the interface is just beautiful and so clean and slick. Then there’s Wifi Store iTunes and buying directly at Starbucks, and it has all the features that iPhone brings with it. And to be honest, when I go jogging, or take a trip or something like that I always bring with me my laptop, my phone and my iPod. Just having one device that has both phone, internet, my movies, tv and music, the podcasts and a proper browser and everything else .. is lighter, easy to take with me and voids having both a phone and an iPod touch. So how can it not be better? Is this blog now getting boring, the iPhone the winner of everything? The next category is about handheld devices, and the iPhone is the winner there to? No .. it’s not. You’ll see.  But if you are traveling a lot, like to watch movies on your iPod, have your contact details and the internet in your pocket with you .. the iPhone is that solution.

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Handheld Devices (laptops)

The nominations in this category of devices you can bring with you on the road that has OSX, a monitor, keyboard, and internet connection are the iPhone,  the Mac Book and the Mac Book Pro. The Mac Book Pro is the device I would pick as winner initially because I am just so impressed with their previous version; The Powerbook G4, I can only imagine the Intel version being double the trouble. hehe. But, it is expansive, big, and if you need that type of power as a professional it will be a business expense probably. As a device for 2007 I wouldn’t pick it because it’s Mac Book, with power. More isn’t always better. The iPhone could be a winner, and it almost was. But there are some drawbacks besides all the good things I just wrote about in the above category. Why do I bring my laptop with me? First of all, because it has the internet, the iPhone has this covered. But mostly I bring it with me to show things to others, work on code, or check and write email. Or blog entries. Can you imagine me write this long blog on my iPhone? No thanks .. For the more serious things that are time consuming the iPhone does not cut it. I want to sit comfortably, have a bigger screen with good overview, run multiple programs at the same time and be able to share the screen with someone sitting next to me. Sorry iPhone, maybe check out the rumored category at the end to see how you can make it up in 2008.

The winner in the handheld devices category is the Mac Book. It is small, affordable (price is amazing to be honest if they made it 999) and has everything that your desktop Apple has. It does not have the downsides the iPhone has as I just described above. And it has the benefit over the big brother Mac Book Pro that the monitor is small, but big enough, it is powerful enough and when owning one you won’t desire you had the Pro version. It is great value for what you get, and it is an awesome product for students, parents, people on the road (or sitting at Starbucks), teachers, bloggers, consumers and professionals. If I needed to purchase a laptop right now, and the iPhone is out the question, I can be assured the Mac Book Pro is too expansive for me, and that the Mac Book is perfect and my choice. When people ask me which laptop to get I point them to the Mac Book. Don’t forget, it has everything built-in, bluetooth, wifi, camera, usb, firewire, external dvi port, etc. And it just looks gorgeous.  Especially the black glossy one. (Rumor mill: I can’t wait for the OLED display, Solid State hard drives and thinner, lighter Mac Books)

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Computers

For this category the nominations are a bit limited, since Apple only has a few computers, and I think one is the solid winner for everybody. But I will no break the way I’ve blogged about the other categories, and just get on with it. They are the Mac Mini, The iMac, and the Mac Pro. I haven’t included the Apple TV because it is a freaking failure .. ok, that’s overreacting, but they consider the Apple TV to be a hobby and in my ears that just sounds like ‘not taking it serious’, and that’s a shame. I rather see them discontinue the Mac Mini and the Apple TV and introduce a subnet media hub for the living room that’s a bit of both. The Mac Mini is better, it just doesn’t have HDMI. But there’s nothing wrong with DVI, which most HDTV haves anyway. The Mac Mini is a great device if you want an internet box in your living room or office and don’t need a power machine. I recommend it to my parents, my brother and my sister, especially if they would like to convert over from PC to Mac (which trust me, I try my best to do constantly). Anyway, it is not a complete system, it is not that beautiful and serious as a full fledged computer system. So it can’t win. I am also not impressed with the price increase it received after the introduction. They can take off 200 bucks of the iPhone, but increase the price on the Mac Mini? Common Apple, that’s not how you offer an introduction box to Windows users who are afraid of buying the Mac Pro.

The Mac Pro didn’t win either, I consider it a workstation slash server, and not a box for consumers. Who needs two cpu’s with multiple cores, up to 32gb ram and up to 4 TB of data storage internally? The price is kind of ok, it compares well against equal machines from Falcon Northwest, Hewlett Packard or  Dell. But I just don’t see my family or friends buy one unless they run a business or are into Digital Media like I am (yes, I have a Mac Pro -woot-) The clear winner here is the complete computer solution for everybody, consumer and business, at now (to be honest) very, very affordable prices for what you get.

The winner is undisputed the new 24″ aluminum with glossy glass iMac. Personally I wouldn’t even tell people to buy the 20″, unless you’re strapped for cash. Get the 24″ iMac if you can, and are looking for the ultimate in computer experience without having to worry about how to install it, how to operate it, how to set it up, etc. You take it out of the box, you plug it in. You connect the USB or wireless keyboard and mouse. And press the power button. You’re done. A single device on your table with the monitor and computer into one. And oh my, does it look delicious. The aluminum makes it look next generation, professional, and so sexy in your living room, or in your office. And the black border and the glossy glass finishes it off really well. Even the back has gotten some work and is a nice matt black that makes it look slim and huggable. Yes, I said huggable. When you get your iMac see if you can fight the urge to not hug it.  And yes, I have the Mac Pro, but for reasons not relevant to this blog. But I have had a really, really hard time not buying the 24″ iMac when it came out.

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If you do not own a Mac and are considering to switch, get… the… iMac (period)

This kind of concludes this Top-Apple-List as far as products of the year go, the next categories are not really considered relative, so I feel this is the moment where I inform you that I think from all the Apple Products I am the most impressed with the iPhone. And sharing first place with the iPhone is the iMac computer. If you’re a fanboy, a geek, and like to hug computer equipment or show off your hardware to your friends, these are the two Apple products of the year 2007 in my eyes.  Let’s continue with the final three categories and complete the Top 10 List of Apple Products.

Underdogs

The nominations for software or hardware that just didn’t cut it for whatever reasons, but still deserve a spot, … the underdogs .. are the Apple HD Cinema Display, the .Mac, the Apple TV, Product RED, iPod Nano, Microsoft Office 2008, and Games for the Mac. I’ve already talked about the games. I am keeping that short now, they are not impressive since I heard they’re just from EA, and they’re kind of emulated instead of running native. Surely this will change, 2008 hopefully impresses me. MS Office 2008 is announced for a while, but it still is not out for the Mac, and to be honest, Pages and TextMate are the only editors you need. Nevertheless the office 2008 suite is an awesome product. A good revamp, check out the demo when it is available. I think that team doesn’t get enough credit, so worth a mention at least.

I also talked about the Nano, what I didn’t say is that it got not enough ‘wow’ factor from even the fanboys. The pictures looked too bulky on the rumor sites, and on the official site once out it didn’t give the impression either that you wanted one. But .. go to the Apple Store and play with one. You will go wow then. It is impressive how much they can put in that little thing. Especially with that screen and the revamped menu. Worth a mention .. not the purchase. Either get the shuffle if you just wanna listen to some music once in a while. Or get the iPhone – the best iPod at the moment. But I already talked about that too. Product RED and Apple going more Green is worth a mention. If you like a red colored iPod, get the RED, it helps on so much levels. We can’t ignore it. And Apple going Green with smaller stuff to wrap it in, and all that .. that can’t be a bad thing. Both worth a mention. The Apple TV has so much potential, but as already discussed, they just don’t seem to take it serious. So .. can’t win; but it’s worth to not ignore it. Especially if you are interested in buying stuff on iTunes, and let it stream to your Apple TV overnight so you can watch it later on demand. A glimpse of what’s to come in the future of how we change the way we watch television and movies, or stream music to the rooms in our house.

I think a potential winner is .Mac. The price is affordable, and it offers great services, sync options, storage options, and integrates so smooth with iLife and iWork products. The web pages you can create and the web 2.0 galleries are amazing. Wow, this is already possible for this little money? Good job Apple. And finally the Apple Cinema Display which is still my choice of purchase if I would get a 24″ or 30″ monitor. Or is it? No! It’s not! And that is a shame. The only reason I would buy one now is because the quality of the monitor is good, because it has an Apple logo on it (yes, I know that is kind of sad), and because it looks amazing. It matches very well with my Mac Pro. But, it lacks everything the amazingly looking Dell monitor has. HDCP support, multiple in ports, component, HDMI, the ability to change height and a reasonable price. The Apple monitor also hasn’t been updated in ages. I was really hoping MacWorld 2007 would introduce a revamped version with iSight built-in and more ports, and perhaps even DisplayPort support for the new cards coming to 2008.

So, as winner I would pick the Apple 30″ HD Cinema Display. But, since it has not impressed me in 2007, and there are no rumors for 2008 that this will change soon (plz steve plz!) the clear winner here is .Mac, underdog category winner for 2007. It has received amazing updates, but hasn’t received as much praise as perhaps deserved.

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Failures

Hm, perhaps not worth a mention in a Top 10 List, but .. despite being an Apple Fanboy, and owning iPods, Mac Pro, accessories and spending lots of money on software licenses and digital media, and loving it all. There can’t be all good news right? Right! So they are worth a mention too. And the nominations are without a doubt the following: The Apple Mighty Mouse (wireless or not), the AppleCare program, iPhone’s AT&T & Others locked down contracts and bricking (legally) unlocked iPhones, and the iPhone Ringtones re-pay-for-what-you-already-paid-for feature. And perhaps the NBC deal going bad on iTunes, but .. I don’t care about that really. Screw television networks. I can’t view any of those music or tv or movies things here anyway, licensing and contracts prohibit people outside of the US to enjoy paying for it legally. Those industries have failed me epic in 2007 and haven’t impressed me. So not worth the mention (damn, but I just did!)

The winner of the failure category can not be the AppleCare program, nothing changed, I wasn’t impressed with the price and I doubt this will change any time soon. I was however looking up from my keyboard when I heard AT&T tied things down so hard with Apple. Yes, they did help make all this possible, but on the other hand. Why are you not allowed to change providers? Hello? Monopoly? Where is that class action suit? But this can’t be Apple’s fault, they wanted their product out and this is a downside to it. The iPhone still rocks. So can’t win as a failure. More ridiculous was having to pay for your music again if you want to have a fair-use-moment of the song as a ringtone experience. Yeah, that will teach your fans .. you love the music so much you want it as a ringtone? Cough up the cash. But I guess this is a result from how awfully lame the music industry is. Let them dig their own hole, while we continue to buy EMI music (for example).

No, the winner of the biggest failure of any Apple product  is year after year the horrible Apple (wireless) Mighty Mouse. They impressed me in 2007 by letting me know per email I could now buy a wireless version of their button-less mouse. I have to squeeze it now, or think I want to press and automatically my hand pushes a little, creating a click. Or use cool combinations to get a right popup menu to appear. Yes, you impressed me with your email that you need to fire everybody in that department and get some people from the other apartments to redesign the user experience, the product, the design, and the make an Apple-version of the Logitech Revolution MX mouse. I strongly recommend to eBay the mouse that comes with your awesome 24″ iMac as soon as you unpack it. Fanboys will probably still buy it cheap from you, especially when it has never been used. Never buy this mouse! Sorry Apple .. it just really is a bad product. http://mightymouse.epicfailed.us/

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Rumored

The nominations for the rumor-mill category 2007 (eh, 2008) are the new iPhone with 16 to 32gb storage on 3g, the sub level touch screen mac book meets iPhone, and the new Mac Pro with a billion cores. And I am rumoring myself here the new Apple Cinema Display. Oh, and getting ahead of the game by saying Mac OS 11 first info will be rumored in 2008. Which should a revolution in operating system progress. Ah yeah, I almost forgot the Mac Mini meets Apple TV merger product as Apple Media (let’s throw that in too).

The new iPhone won’t be impressive, just an evolutionary upgrade. The Mac Book Touch will be very impressive and a reason to upgrade my Powerbook perhaps and most realistically announced upcoming MacWorld. A new Mac Pro will also be an option, updated CPU/RAM/GPU and perhaps even a new case and blu-ray burner. I don’t care really. I got my Mac Pro and I think it will perform for a lot more years to come as my day to day workstation. If Apple would offer a trade + pay difference I wouldn’t mind upgrading, if I can move over my hard drives and RAM. Anyway. Some info about OS 11 from Mac would be really cool. I am super curious what the next generation of operating systems is going to be now that we’ve been introduced into Windows 7 and the Surface product, and handheld devices becoming more day to day affordable solutions, and linux showing of some cool tricks too. I’ve already talked about the Apple Cinema Displays, and more realistically this would be my choice. I want to upgrade my monitors to 24″ ones, and am simply waiting for Apple to impress me with something in 2008, or I will go with the Dell ones as usual. I am also very excited about hearing if the Mac Mini gets discontinued was a true rumor, and that it turns out the Apple TV becomes the new Mac Mini and is revamped as Apple Media which is a) a mac mini, b) an apple tv, c) a media hub with iTunes as central focus, and d) a game machine.

What I would dream about as an Apple Fanboy: A single device with n-wifi speed, that can be used as a media device in my living room, connects to my HDTV and has a smart stand and built-in bluetooth so I can use it as a desktop-laptop for when I want to write longer things with a real keyboard (and not touchscreen keyboard). It must have a touchscreen user interface, and this includes a touch screen keyboard. Runs 64bit OSX 10.5 and is a device that sits in between the iPhone and the Mac Book, and leans towards the 17″ iMac replacement (say 12″ monitor) and the Mac Mini (but with monitor built-in).

And I think that’s what we will not get, but something close to it. They impressed and surprised me with the iPhone, boom ! here’s a cool device.. Let’s see if they can do this again by introducing us with a device that comes close to what I can dream about. Yes, I wish they would introduce new Cinema Displays, but I can always get a Dell or Samsung. If Apple would introduce a sub-level notebook that blows my mind, then I don’t see others like Dell or Sony or ASUS do that too that quickly, so I declare the rumored sub-level Mac Book Touch notebook as winner for the Rumored category.

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And that’s it! Ten reasons that Mac was awesome in 2007, has great products and services, and that you should not use Windows haha. But more seriously this list is to show you what I feel about their products and services, what impressed me (or not) and what I am looking forward too. The reason I buy Apple products is because they look just amazing, are easy to use, and are becoming quite affordable. It is really hard to resist buying something and despite some mishaps or things I don’t agree to, I think I have improved my experience with using computers, operating systems, and software, so much by using Apple products and services.

Please leave some feedback, comments, your thoughts, etc about this article, Apple or go browse through my other blog entries. And I hope you enjoyed this list. I am looking forward to the new things in 2008 made by Apple. And if you would ask me which Apple product to buy. I would tell you to get the iPhone to replace your music player, your phone and your handheld device. And if you want to replace your computer, I would tell you to get the 24″ iMac. Both devices are worth their money; despite still being quite a bit of money.

Uncle Charles

Before the weekend we had the sad news that our Uncle Charles has passed away (peacefully) at the age of 89. Today’s the funeral.

We love you Uncle Charles and will certainly miss you. From when I was a child you spoiled me with elaborate gifts, and I enjoyed our conversations about your travels, old automobiles and your hobbies. It was nice seeing you again last summer. I am proud of my dad and his family for taking care of you in the past few years.

Goodbye.

Merry Christmas Everybody (2007)

Yep, it’s that time of the year again: Christmas!

So I want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas and have a great time with your family.

I of course am home alone sick. Boo! My sister had this great dinner planned but that cold / flu I’ve been trying to fight came back this weekend. Last night I got sick and spend half the night feeling totally horrible. I’ve downed some Advils and Ibuprofen for my back pain, but to no relieve. I had to cancel.

My niece and my sister probably made this great dinner I am missing out on, plus I really miss not being there with my family this year. The thought of food right now however (ugh!). Since I am not doing too well today I am keeping this blog entry short.

I just finished giving the staff on my sites a pat on the back (donation in paypal) for their hard work in 2007, and mailed out a December newsletter to the members on my site with a season’s greeting. But I am going back to bed now, because this flu is slowly turning me into the grinch (humbug!)

Merry Christmas!

Improving Online Security

Over the last few years I have taken ‘being online’ a lot more serious, especially the security aspect. Trojans, rootkits, viruses, naughty cookies, xss exploits in sites and advertisements, and all that nasty stuff is now a day to day matter. Not to mention fraud, scams, spam and id-theft.

Particularly with being ‘on’ 24/7/365 because of high speed broadband internet. Participating in online communities, social networks, online loans, online banking, online dating and e-commerce, etc. brings risks with it.

Sure, you can run a bunch of software and addons to try and prevent all this, but it is a second level of defense. I think that it is more important to start at the beginning. Your first line of defense is your own browsing behavior.

Instead of just clicking dialog windows, links on sites, and entering details in forms, etc. As a user you should learn to take a second to read the screen, realize what is going on. And learn to say no. Don’t read emails you are not expecting, don’t follow links from emails. Don’t click on dialog windows that should not pop up; things like that.

Aside from trying to improve my online behavior I try to improve my own security, to lower the damage if something does go wrong. I am making sure I use hard to guess, long, and random passwords. One for each login. I try to make a unique less obvious login name if a web site supports this (and use a public obvious screen name so people recognize me easily still).

I do not follow links from unofficial sites that point to (claiming to be) official sites. I open a new tab and type out the url or use my bookmarks. I do the same with emails. I never click on email links, I load a browser and type in the url. This is to ensure I won’t accidentally click on a phishing link or xss exploit link for online banking, paypal, ebay, and such. As for email, I try to limit this to plain text email only. Avoiding html emails as much as possible to ensure no naughty script could get through a filter. And as for attachments, I don’t even open them unless I am expecting someone to send me something.

For web sites I try to not store the passwords (remember me off) on the laptop, but for convenience I do use this on the workstation. But, as an extra layer of security I turned on the master password feature in FireFox so no data is entered in any form unless I manually confirm this.

When I do browse to sites where I have to login and know that the information is privacy sensitive I try to use encrypted connections only. Before I explain that I want to add to this that I hardly ever (almost never) use a public proxy or some proxy / or a free VPN site or something like that to browse sites where I need to login. I simply can’t be insured that my data is not mirrored to some naughty admin who will abuse it. So, where possible I try to login using https. This has an ‘s’ in the url, instead of just http. The s means the session is encrypted over a secure socket layer protocol. Making the data unreadable to anybody snooping on the line (man in the middle idea).

Example, you could just type in your browser gmail.com and end up on your web mail. But I have a bookmark that brings me to https://mail.google.com and ensures my login is encrypted and my mail browsing / composing and reading session is encrypted.

Where possible: take and use https – gmail uses it, online banking uses it and most payment sites use it.

Talking about sites where you can buy stuff, make sure the line is indeed secured and your session is over https. Your browser will display a small lock icon in the bottom of the browser. Also, make sure that if you do enter your credit card details that you’re doing this on a third party official and well known CC processor site. And not in a normal web page on the companies own web site. Why give them your name, number and security code and expiry date? Do you really trust them?

At this point you probably think ‘wow this guy is paranoid’, and I might agree with you. But. I’ve slowly learned how to adjust my online behavior and it has helped me feel more secure and be more secure. Once you changed the simple things like unique passwords for accounts. Not clicking links in mails and from unofficial sites, using https where possible, etc. You will quickly find it is second nature. I don’t even think about it anymore really. And it helps me have more time to just open my mail client and read those emails I was expecting. Instead of browsing through 75% garbage and risking getting infected. I just delete the garbage on the fly.

So, have fun improving your online security. Well, it’s not really fun – but it helps make things easier for you. You will quickly find that you can identify the garbage and identify real emails (sites, logins, etc).

Feel free to register on the blog and leave a comment, suggestion or other feedback. And please come back to find another blog about how I secured my network / internet connection.

What Goes Where On My System?

My Mac Pro has a bunch of hard drives right now, and I have been adding, swapping, and removing drives the last few months. It was time for me to get a bit more organized and I think that’s a great tip for everybody. It gives you a much better understanding of what is on your computer system.

You might think “What is so hard about finding stuff on your hard drive”, well .. let me give you a simple example: Your browser might store downloaded files on your Desktop, while you have an OS ‘Downloads/’ folder, or perhaps your torrent client stores it in ‘programs/client/downloads/’, making it a bit annoying having to browse around while a single link on your desktop to your ‘Downloads/’ folder might make it a lot easier for you.

First things first of course, what goes where?

My first drive in the Mac Pro is currently a 250GB drive (called MacHD) which is used to store the OSX 10.5 operating system and the programs I use. Most of the data that result from those programs are stored on the second drive which I called the DataHD, it’s 320GB. This drive has a folder called backup_machd where I store backups of certain files from the MacHD drive. The MacHD drive by the way has a folder called backup_datahd where I store daily backups of the DataHD folders. Since there’s enough space no the DataHD I also have a htdocs/ folder in the root where I have my localhost ‘dev’ stuff, such as a test instance of vBulletin, or the svn build from DeskPro, stuff like that. The MacHD (almost forgot to mention) has a folder called bash where I have my custom coded bash scripts that help me run daily or weekly crontabs to make archived backups of certain folders (among other things).

These two drives, the MacHD and the DataHD drives are being backed up with the ‘Time Machine’ feature from Leopard. I have an external USB 2.0 box with 2x 160GB hard drives. Not perfect, but when I have a bit of extra cash in 2008 I will upgrade these a larger size so I can have bigger backups that go back further in time. These are the only back ups I make of my internal drives. I do not really back up my media drives.

I have 2 more USB 2.0 external drives, but they’re used to back up data for a few web sites. I don’t use them, and the back ups are done automatically. I just check once a month if things are still going ok. But it’s kept separate from my ‘live’ system.

I also have 2 media drives. One is called MediaHD (320GB) which stores my music, movies, games, and downloads. I point all my programs to that download things from the net to this downloads folder, which has sub folders to keep it organized and easy to find. The other drive is called TvHD where I store my purchased TV shows. I really like good tv shows and I watch a lot. It’s a 750GB drive. The drive is split in 2 partitions though. A very small portion is used by Adobe and ProTools as a ‘cache drive’ to help speed up running filters and renders on huge media files. Since there’s over a terabyte of data on the media drives I do not back them up. It’s a risk I am willing to take. I don’t want to hog my system backup moment because it’s trying to backup and compress huge files that I can re-download from iTunes or Amazon.

The Mac OSX comes with default folders for Music, Pictures, Documents, Downloads, etc, but I really don’t use them. They’re useless to me as they are on the Main HDD and I store everything on other drives. It’s a bit of a hassle to change the original symlinks and I just dragged them out of Finder, and dragged my own entry point folders into the sidebar. I also made my own small stack folder which are quick links to all these folders. Making it very easy and quick to use.

My plan for the future is to add a 1TB drive into the system, replacing the 320GB MediaHD one. And use the 320GB MediaHD as an Ethernet network drive. I have 1 port on my router unused, and it would be nice if all systems in the apartment or visitors coming over, can use this network drive. Eventually I also want to replace the MacHD that’s 250GB with a bigger one. And move the 250GB as a dedicated MusicHD on the FireWire800 port. And if I ignore the lack of money in my wallet, I could imagine having the MyBook of 1 or 2TB as external backup drive on the other firewire800 port, for backing up the MacHD and the DataHD with TimeMachine.

For now I have enough space obviously, and there’s no problem making new space either. There’s enough data like old music, or a few movies or tv shows that I won’t ‘watch’ again. Or I could throw away backups older then 6 months.

But back to the topic. On my old PC I just had it where the OS threw it, or that particular program. And it was quite annoying to find it back, or to take the time and organize it. Or just accept that the Desktop is filled with icons. On my Mac now I have things a lot more organized in a way that it is, for me personally, easy to find. Media goes to the media drives, data goes to the data drive. And software goes to the Mac drive.

Now, if anything breaks, I loose either all my Data (which I have a backup of) or my programs (and I will still have all my data after a re-install) or I loose my media (and then I cry a little, but at least I still have all my data). Hard drives are a lot cheaper these days, getting a 500gb for around 100 bucks is kind of easy to find. The Mac Pro can have up to four drives in it. And it takes the 7200.11 Sata2 drives from Seagate which are 1TB. So that’s 4 TB of data! Then there are of course the options to expand over USB ports, Firewire ports, and eventually over the Network on Ethernet or even add Wifi drives.

Who needs DVD burners right?

Here are some pictures of me adding the new 320GB and 750GB to the system (which I done earlier this year)

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I Got Myself A LOLCAT

During the summer my parents got a pair of kittens, a brother and sister. Now that the weather is getting colder the cats are trying to figure out where they belong on the farm. In the barn with the other cats and animals, or in the house where my parents live, with the other cat and the dog. Uhm .. the brother has no problem fighting back and staying in the barn, but the sister gets a good beating and eventually decides to stay outside. That’s fine, sometimes she can go inside and sometimes she stays in the barn, but my parents noticed she stayed outside all night. And with the temperature dropping to freezing point, and with the beating the kitty gets from the other cats and the little dog, they’ve asked me kindly if I wouldn’t mind a new kitty. Who doesn’t want a lolcat?

My personal life is pretty simple right now, I can go and leave my apartment for a weekend or week or few weeks, etc. And that’s not a problem, I live alone right now and any girlfriend stays over for a night or two and isn’t living together with me. It would be nice to have a cat around, and a cat doesn’t mind if you stay away for a night. Plus, if needed, my niece or my parents could come over to take care of the cat if I am not here. So I’ve decided to say yes and take on the challenge.

Kitty is used to run around outside, and is used to jump on things and all that. So having her inside an apartment and not allowing her to just jump on everything will be a challenge, but surely it will be fine.

So far I’ve learned she’s very cuddly, loves the attention and has enough patience to wait for food. I left her alone for a few hours in the living room and she just went and played a bit and then jumped on the chair for a bit of sleeping. She seems to be quite happy here.

Here are some pictures, trust me, more will follow for many years to come.

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Organizing Important Information

Update: Since 2010 I have moved to 1password, because of continues development, browser integration, and iOS support. Strongly recommended!

Since I’ve moved away from Windows I’ve found myself wanting to be more organized with the way I store important information such as logins to web sites, private web addresses, shell accounts and what not.

In the past I’ve either written it down (with the risk of finding out the o might be an O or a 0, or simply being unable to find the paper, or … finding out that password is now outdated. I’ve also just placed details into plaintext documents. This got spread over the directories on the computer, or even worse, spread over my local area network. A solution had to be found. If not only to get the information organized, but also to improve security.

After trying a few programs that promised a) security and b) autofilling-in forms, and c) have some unique features, I was simply not satisfied with the way they were doing things (or they were too expensive). A simple requirement is a single file encrypted backup, or the ability to create categories for personal, business, shells and web sites, or have unique custom fields so I could have an entry for url or ssh port, aside from just title, login and password. One of my friends Chris (chroder.com) also switched to the Mac and he started to use info.xhead. I gave it a try, despite the lack of motivation at this point. I was pleasantly surprised; it basically has everything I want (without going into detail on this: What I want more is the ability to optionally store a file with an entry).

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The last few months I’ve been using it and started to get used to it. It is at a point where when I am not on a system where it’s installed that I really miss it and find myself troubled not having my details with me.

I’ve learned to simply take a few seconds and note down the information for a new blog login, a new shell account, a privacy detail from an email, and such, just to find out I have direct access to it from a central point. I also find out I keep the information up to date and that it is not a hassle finding it (in other words, it doesn’t disrupt my workflow).

The program is created by xheadsoftware.com and has a mac-feel to it. It’s easy to use, looks very clean and flexible, and properly integrates with Spotlight. It’s just $15, so certainly affordable to everybody. Once you open the program you can set it up the way you want to. Easy to manage categories, entries and items. I believe it uses 448 bit encryption method to ensure security. You secure the program with a single password. So if someone gets this very important (central point of information) file with your privacy details they will need a password too in order to get to it. Of course, if you forget that one entry password, you’re basically screwed.

A few additional cool features are .Mac support (so you can easily backup to .Mac and restore on another computer. Which I did for my powerbook) and data import. Other features that won me over is a one-click copy of data fields, and the easy instant search. About the import by the way. I’ve exported my FireFox form-data stored details with an add-on and converted this XML data to a CVS file with a spreadsheet program, and then imported it into info.xhead. It’s very cool, so I did not have to type-over those details or re-add all those details. However, it would have been nice if .xml import was supported.

Anyway, no more little files, little post-its, little entries on the whiteboard, outdated details on other systems, and what not. Just a quick little program to help me many times per day to get to my privacy data (that’s now also secure). Using the built-in password generator I have also improved my security since I am using a lot more unique passwords per login, that are very hard to guess, and are pretty damn long.

I don’t know what it is why having a Mac makes you want to be more organized with even the littlest of things like managing privacy details, but eventually it helped me speed up and smooth out my workflow. And that can’t be a bad thing right?

In a few future blog entries I will tell more about how I secure my system, network, and internet things such as email, ssl and FireFox.

Goodbye 2007

Yep, I did it. I’ve said goodbye to the year 2007. This means I am making a fresh start with my blog. New blog, new theme, new blog entries. So, this means Happy Holidays and a Healthy 2008 to all my friends and family!

Thank you all for browsing my blog site in 2007, I’ve received wonderful comments for the entries I’ve posted.

And if you wish to see my new blogs, check back once a week :).

Switched to Mac Pro from Windows 100%!!

My Mac Pro arrived, completing my switch from Windows to Apple 100%. I took pictures and threw together a gallery for my friends. (Build using just Lightbox2 / Prototype / XHTML  CSS) Bye Windows, you crappy crashing, data corrupting, poor performing OS. First impression: Boy what good looking, easy to upgrade, high performance, quality machine!

[edit: gallery no longer available]

Paying $700 More For Mac Pro In Europe?

After much anticipation Steve finally introduced to us his latest addition to the Intel powered Mac family, the new 2x Xeon dual core powered Mac Pro and, with an reasonable price of only $2499 I was ready to make a purchase. However, as always, the prices in Europe in Euros are the same as the US prices in Dollars.

Setting me back over $700, which I could have used to upgrade the Mac Pro, or purchase additional hardware, how honest is this gap? As a consumer I must say it does not feel that honest. Maybe ‘honest’ is not the right word, try ‘reasonable’ instead then.

Using the build-in Widget on my Powerbook I see that EUR2499 Euro is about $3208 USD. A difference of $709 USD. To compensate the difference I must downgrade the CPU to 2Ghz and the Hard Drive to 160GB.

I rather have spend the money to upgrade to the 3Ghz CPU and double my RAM, get the 500 GB hard drive and the ATI videocard. If I would do that now, the different would be even bigger. This would be $ 4149 USD, and in the Netherlands EUR4147 Euro. And EUR4147 Euro converts to $5324 USD, a difference of $1175 USD. I rather spend that money myself on a weekend to the US, fly there and enjoy the trip, scenery, meet my friends from the internet etc, instead of just throwing it away.

Is it worth yet to upgrade my Desktop from Windows to Mac, if I can get a proper Dell comparable system for less, only losing the ability to run OS X 10.4? And knowing if I buy the Mac Pro now that even more Euros get lost when Leopard gets released Spring 2007?

The standard configuration was equal in British Pound Sterling, perhaps I can assume this applies to Europe? It at least does here in the Netherlands. And if anybody knows why the difference is this big please post it as a comment. I wonder what Apple tells me when I call them with this question.

Be well,

Floris

Rebuilding The Office

Over the last six months I have spend quite a bit of time and money into updating my home entertainment system and my little office. Changes included upgrading my internet service provider account and purchase new hardware, and most recently replacing a few ugly wooden planks with a new, more shiny, bigger one. And there is more to come.

Let’s just call the computer room the office because it is from this room that I connect to the Internet using a dedicated workstation. And with dedicated I mean a computer system that does not change location, unlike the Powerbook which I move around with. I use the system as a hobby-, work-, and game station. It is nice to have a room like this and as work location where I can sit down and dedicate myself to doing work, and not be distracted by other things- keeping it separate from my living room. And if this office space is something I need to escape from I just pick up the Powerbook and continue what I was doing from my couch, dinner table, balcony or even from bed – or put it in my backpack and visit friends or family and Internet from there, or in their garden, wherever.

About a year ago I was on analogue television from UPC, had analogue phone from KPN and a small consumer broadband account from Chello. The costs were about EUR120 a month, and this did not even include the costs for placing phone calls. The Internet connection was around 2 to 4 megabit down-, and about 512 kilobit upstream. The TV had a limited amount of channels and the phone didn’t include any free services like voice mail or caller id. And I needed to save money to pay for increased bills and because I wanted to purchase new hardware like good speaker set or other computer parts, or just something like a whiteboard for the office. Earlier this year the UPC services changed their policy and offered a more expansive but more realistic broadband and introduced free upgrades to VOIP phone accounts and cheap introductions and upgrades to digital TV, etc. I looked into it and realized that upgrading my accounts actually saves me quite a bit each month. Currently I have a 20 megabit down-, and 2 megabit upstream internet broadband account with no traffic limit. Free VOIP phone account and almost 50% cheaper per minute costs for calling. Oh, and the VOIP has free calls between 19:00 and 07:00. And I now have digital TV with 120+ digital channels. All in one UPC account for EUR80 a month. And the costs for calling is around EUR5 if I make a lot of calls during the daytime. This saves me at least 50 a month. And in return I have better services like a faster Internet connection.

From the money I saved I purchase a few new things. Like a Logitech z-2300 THX certified 2.1 speaker set. Which was intented to be used with the Powerbook and PC, but after trying it out on my digital topset mediabox I am now using it dedicated for my TV system. Hopefully at the end of the year I have some money left over again to buy another set, perhaps investing now in a 5.1 surround system for the computers.

The other week my father helped me rebuild parts of my office. I starting with removing all my hardware and furniture, and cleaning the place up a bit. And we borrowed a big strong drill from the neighbors to drill some holes in the concrete walls where I needed to hang up some paintings, a plank and my new whiteboard. We put the whiteboard up and went to purchase the plank and placed the paintings on the wall again. In the meantime we also worked on repositioning a lamp in the livingroom. My two IKEA tables are back in the office again and the computer systems back in place. The electricity has been taken care off and there are less wires lying around and things like that.

The whiteboard was worth the money, I am using it daily now for planning and todo lists and whatnot. If you haven’t bought one yet, get one now. As great as a pen and paper might be. The whiteboard is easy and within reach. Easy to fix mistakes and helps with writing out an idea using different colored markers without running out of paper. And in the end I use Omnigraphl on the Mac if I need to share the idea and make it look pretty. No – some people might who swear by it, not me.

The next step is to actually clean and fix the PC but before I can do that I have to install a secure program on the Mac where I can collect all my passwords etc for reference. Otherwise if I format the PC and I forget to do that I will have a lot of trouble restoring all my access. I use hard to guess and remember passwords for every different login I have. And I have a big list of software licenses that have been purchased online, things like that. Right now the PC boots again so step 1 has been completed. And the Mac has been set up this week with SVN and Apache2, PHP and MySQL behind a secure setup. And the data from my PC ‘localhost’ have been moved to the Mac’s ‘localhost’. However, this week I won’t have time as I have to work quite a bit for vBulletin and my own web site – and I will not be home as much as I am now in the next few weeks, occupied with other events. The finalizing of the office and PC have to wait until the end of the month, unless I find some time inbetween.

I know, all in all it is not much. But I usually only do things in the house when I feel comfortable with doing them, and when I feel I have the time and motivation to do them. Little steps, improving each time, and eventually it will be like I want it to be. And right now I am quite happy with the improvements and progress.

Plans for the future are getting a new computer system as the current PC is breaking down, and 64 bit 4 quad is around the corner and I need a data storage server, and a media box and a switch to improve internal network speed and have access for when more people come over. But more about that in a future blog entry.

When I am done with the whole little office setup and the PC is fixed and put in place I will take some pictures and put them up.

Be well,

Floris

How About A Blog?

Every once in a while I have a friend or family member that asks me the question “Do you have a blog?”, or “What’s the url to your blog?” and I have to tell them no.

Truth is, I do have one, it just is not public. The private one I use as an outlet to the world and I post it on an anonymous domain by an anonymous name. The question for my blog url is being asked at least once a month now, and I think it is time for a more public one. So here it is. My blog site. Here you can read more about me and what goes on in my life; On line and off line. And I invite you to visit it once in awhile for updates, you’re of course free to link to it from your own site.

In the next few weeks I will probably feel motivated to publish my events, and hopefully I keep motivated to continue to do so. I am not blogging because of, uhm, how do some people say this “This is the new rock and roll”. I have to disappoint you as I am more down to earth, the reason for me to have a blog is to have a little (private) spot on the Internet where I can write away what I think and feel. And to let others know what goes on in my life. Since my first day on the web I have always tried to put a distinct line between my personal off line life and my on line one. Over the last few years this line has faded away and I have let more on line friends become off line friends too.

When I will post is as irregular as my sleeping pattern. It comes and goes, it can skip a few days or when I feel like it I might just post even twice a day. Most important about this blog site is that I take time away from everything I am doing and spend it on writing down my thoughts and think about what’s going on, put that in perspective and decide whether or not to share that experience.

Personally I do not find it important if a person comments, or even just reads my blog entries. But you are reading this now, so thank you, I appreciate that. I hope enjoy reading my entries, and I hope you can see the difference between when I am really serious, or when I am just blah-ing away, or when you’re supposed to take my words with a grain of salt. Regardless of how you take what I’ve written, if you agree or not, if you share my opinion or not > remember that this is about me; may it be my on- or off line life, it is real life.

Be well,

Floris