Apple and Adobe

Much has been written lately about Apple falling out with Adobe. Here’s my version of that story.

Apple is always keen to get its customers pushed forward to the next release of their operating system. In the most recent case, they offered a very cheap mini-upgrade which didn’t even change its name all that much (Leopard to Snow Leopard). This is important for Apple, because it makes life better for developers coding for the platform, and, remember? Developer, developers, developers, de… you get the picture.

Adobe put a dent in Apple’s plans when they caused a kerfuffle about possible incompatibilities of CS3 or even CS4 with Snow Leopard. This may have put some customers off upgrading, and detracted from Apple’s long-term strategy. I could fully understand this if Adobe felt they had been loyal partners to Apple all along, and were now being left out on the iPhone. Perhaps Adobe never really understood, or perhaps had no tolerance for, the fact that Apple’s reasons for leaving out Flash are far deeper. The reason is myspace, youtube, and facebook: music! Apple budged a little bit when offering H.264 encoded videos in a special Youtube application, but the key here was that Apple could keep tabs on what was and wasn’t added, and could prevent both hit singles and blockbusters being shared free of (its) charge.

Apple knew that Adobe would be mad that Flash isn’t going to be on the iPad either, so Steve decided to lead a pre-emptive strike by shouting very loudly about how terribly Apple has suffered at the hands of evil Flash (my observation is that no browser crashes as frequently and effectively as Safari, and to make things worse, it doesn’t have any recovery either, but that’s just a by-the-by for Steve’s personal introspection).

Meanwhile, the fact that Adobe keeps a product-for-product edge in market share over Apple’s Pro apps (Aperture, Final Cut Studio, Logic Studio) would be that Adobe also serves Windows customers. So in spite of the fact that Adobe’s files are not always compatible cross-platform (well, neither so are Microsoft’s), they do at least give themselves this appearance. How to describe Adobe’s position? Well, it needs to make sure that it is tolerated on the growing Mac platform. However, at least for the time being, Apple can’t afford to lose Adobe. Adobe stands to lose the most coercive product from its lineup if the web of the future doesn’t do Flash, but if youtube et al found their way unencumbered onto Apple’s mobile devices (via jailbreaking perhaps), Apple would lose a big chunk of its iTunes store revenue. So these two companies can hurt each other a lot, and at the moment it doesn’t look like Apple is going to play nice (all the while taking the mickey out of Google – not that I have any sympathy for that latter company given its recent anti-privacy antics).

Apple’s Mac mini timing, or, where is the spec bump?

A lot has been written about the Mac mini’s imminent demise, since at least May 2007, and again recently. I’ve never been particularly willing to believe this speculation, because the Mini is the product most in demand for shared desktop computing facilities in educational establishments. In the university I am most recently familiar with, this accounts for at least 100 machines in the libraries alone. That’s not including what individual departments may have in their computing labs (another 100 to 300 maybe?), or any orders by individual researchers, particularly where low spec machines are desirable, e.g. for grad students (scientists sometimes opt for iMacs because they have enough cash, and spare screens tend to be consumed by Windows machines or dual head set-ups; the main opportunity to target here is students who are “visiting” a lab for small projects, either undergraduate or Masters research projects, or grad students visiting from other universities, typically abroad; a completely untapped opportunity is arts students and staff, for most of whom any word processing machine will do, so why not buy a cheap Mac?). If you scale this to the number of universities in just the English-speaking world alone, you can clearly see a market of a size that Apple would want to harvest. In addition, in a “catch ’em young” world, Apple cannot afford to lose those markets – or the revenue it makes from more unusual applications of the Mac mini, such as server farms. The compact size of the Mini remains quite competitive, in spite of being somehow spared the slimming frenzy that Mr. Jobs put the iMac, Powerbook/MacBook Pro, and lately MacBook lines under. I suspect the reason why this myth remains popular is that these educational markets are to a large extent invisible to the tech writers, who tend to focus on street and internet retail rather than large corporate/educational orders or wholesale.

It does not need saying that the anticipation of a longer recession will spur sales of low spec machines, a job description superbly fitting for the Mac mini in its current incarnation. Nonetheless, it may be true that Apple has decided to delay a spec bump until after the holiday season, to not steal the show from its re-engineered laptop line. Remember that at 1.31kg (2.9 pounds), the Mac mini is among the most portable non-laptop computers ever, and will give you much joy as long as you have a screen available in each location you want to use it (e.g. home and office; I also recommend buying a second power adapter as these are somewhat bulky, with attendant unwieldy cables, and take away from the weight advantage; final word of warning: it’s not entirely designed for being lugged around, so do treat it kindly!) So it would be a shame for it to go, and possibly too great a loss to AAPL for them to really consider this step.

A recent macminicolo article has outlined that company’s reasons for believing in a refresh of the Mini, and a response from Apple Insider points to the possibility that the Mini is an efficient way for Apple to divest of old component stock from other product lines (in this case, possibly the Core 2 Duo chip, but it’s not the only candidate I can think of, with the move away from Intel integrated components). As far as the rumours of the demise go, I can only agree with the above-cited articles that the mini is here to stay for some time yet.

Update 2008/12/17: Further evidence that Apple is making the right decision. Interesting tidbit is that the Mac mini has continued to be one of Amazon’s top five selling items, apparently all the way through 2008, in spite of the ageing hardware!

Seven Mac trialware outfits you ought to know

  1. Panic – makers of the highly acclaimed FTP client Transmit, and all-round web creation suite Coda. They have some free stuff.
  2. SmileOnMyMac – they have a couple of brilliant utilities, my personal favourite being TextExpander. Also recommend looking into BrowseBack.
  3. Ambrosia – search utility iSeek for quick access to popular general or topical search engines (e.g. Google or IMDB), and deep system software for video and audio capture, and arbitrary iPhone ringtone upload.
  4. Rogue Amoeba – more and similar deep system software, including stuff for audiocasting wirelessly or to the web.
  5. DEVONtechnologies – sell a suite of software that includes a desktop web search engine (it uses your CPU rather than Google’s and gives slightly different results), an application that combines bookmarking, PDF management software, and general file management in one interface (called DEVONthink), and a note taking application. I haven’t been able to make up my mind over whether I’d profit from using any of their software, but their search utility is good when you need more results than Google provides (but it’s not better than Google, it just returns a different set). Also haven’t been able to verify for myself that they have useful artificial intelligence in their software – which they claim. They have freebies.
  6. Unsanity – makers of the well-known ShapeShifter application. Many of their applications are concerned with bringing back useful features from Mac OS 9. There’s some free stuff as well.
  7. Freeverse – quite a ragbag of applications, including several applications for diverse graphics and audio creation tasks, as well as the free “Think!” – a window-shading app. You’ll also find a whole bunch of Mac games on their site which are quite entertaining.

Update: Mac OS X apps I will probably buy

This is an update to an older post of mine. I was curious whether I would still fork out for the same things that I said I would a year ago – and whether I’d actually have bought any of them. NetNewsWire, which I bought before making the first post, is now free, so we can scratch that off the list. Other than that, the list remains pretty much as was

  1. Text Expander – this is very, very likely to be my next buy, even though it does mess with the paste buffer. I got Typinator in one of my bundles, and I’m not even going to set it up, because I know it doesn’t do cursor position, so it loses out in the coding department, especially.
  2. Little Snitch – haven’t bought yet, but it’s a wicked utility indeed.
  3. Path Finder – still thinking about buying this.
  4. Parallels Desktop – still the best way to run Windows – even, by the looks of it, beyond VMware Fusion 2.0. Parallels still has the most seamless file integration, something so far overlooked by Fusion, which relies on shared folders that you have to specifically set up. So you’re always shuffling files around. Not good. Parallels FTW. And yes, I bought it as part of the mupromo bundle (about which otherwise, the less said, the better).
  5. CSSEdit – elegance incarnate. This was sitting on the substitution bench at my last commenting, but I bought it as part of MacHeist. Still loving it as ever.
  6. Mathematica – haven’t bought yet. Still a possibility.
  7. Transmit – I now think that I will end up buying this eventually. One of those really powerful and still usable apps for the Mac, every bit like Path Finder.
  8. Delicious Library – What a gem, except I don’t have a camera, may not buy one soon, and I’m not convinced that version 2.0 is so much better than the original. I might give it a spin, though. Maybe there is a way to downgrade if necessary.

And if I ever got serious about web design, I would add the following:

  1. SubEthaEdit – still looks good, but getting pushed further down the list. Is now getting competition from several open source efforts, but seems to still be the best of breed in spite of everything. For one, it has syntax highlighting for every language with a shaking stick attached.
  2. Coda – I think this would be a good investment if I got serious about web dev. Not likely to happen right now.

On a further note, I’m still looking for a tabbed, syntax-highlighting text editor that recovers an entire crashed session (not like Vim, where you have to remember which files you were working on to have them re-open). Also, Cocoa would be nice. I was working with Smultron for a bit, but I’ll have to ditch it because it kills my files when it/the OS crashes (yes, surprisingly, Tiger does crash – I’m sure Leopard does, too). I’m also beginning to think that BrowseBack is kind of a neat idea.

Apple for seamless backup

Bear with me for a few seconds more. I’m the first person to see shortcomings in the MacBook Air, and I was disappointed with Apple’s MacWorld announcements in general, BUT their backup concept is beautiful, and finally coming together. Time Machine was included in Mac OS X Leopard, and initially looked like a bit of a gimmick. The 3D representation for time going backwards is of course well known and established in many academic fields. Nothing new there. However, further research reveals (and their marketing material won’t satisfy here) that backup is incremental, that is, it focuses on the files that have actually changed. And now it seems you can use your laptop anywhere in your home and send files to the imo very reasonably priced $299 or $499 Time Capsule (essentially a network drive). The maximum data rate based on the 802.11n specification used, would seem to be 31MB/s, with a range of about 70m through walls (using SI units, m=metres). It remains to be seen exactly how seamlessly Time Capsule integrates with Time Machine and multiple user accounts on multiple computers. It also remains to be seen whether connecting a 1TB drive externally is seamless and, once connected, invisible to the Time Machine user. I have a suspicion that although using hubs, you can in principle connect up to 128 (iirc) devices through a single USB port, Time Capsule may not support this at the data rate one would hope for. On the other hand, I would be quite upset having to buy multiple Time Capsules and not know which one holds the data I want. Certainly, a recent software update re-enabled Time Machine backups to USB drives connected to an Airport Extreme or Time Capsule. It’s not clear what market Apple envisages for the device, because 1TB is not enough for people who seriously work with video, so the eligibility of Time Capsule for that market will crucially depend on whether several devices can be connected by USB, and whether the device keeps performing well under such conditions.