It is no secret that I'm a big Apple fan, so naturally when they release products my ears perk up. Yesterday brought a new line of iMacs, newly redesigned to be more eco-friendly in material construction and more like the new iPhone visually. This was no surprise as they essentially did the same thing a few years back for the iMac -- designed it to look like a big version of the white iPod. They look like great machines and if I ever have need for a desktop machine instead of a laptop I'm sure an iMac is what I'll end up with.
More interesting to me, however, was the release of new versions of iWork and iLife, the office and creative tools designed by Apple to be used by people who appreciate elegant, easy-to-use software tools. Do I sound like a shill? Well, at least I'm a sincere
got a new application called Numbers which sounds like a kinda-sorta spreadsheet application but with better tools for those of us who use spreadsheets like normal people, not like accountants. No offense to accountants, but I only ever used a tiny fraction of the functions of which Excel was capable, and some of those functions were too difficult to figure out so I didn't use them even if I wanted to. I suspect Numbers does a better job of making the most commonly used functions accessible and easy to use for those of us who aren't Excel wizards. I've heard similarly great things about Pages (the word processor/page layout program in iWork) and Keynote, the PowerPoint presentation package. I haven't bought previous versions of iWork and it's doubtful I'll buy this version, at least for a while -- because someone else got there first.
That someone else is Google. These days I use Google Docs and Spreadsheets
for almost all of my office tasks, especially if I need to share those documents. Both Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets are easy to use, readily accessible to anyone with a web browser, and free. There is still the occasional need to open an Excel file or Word document and for those I use Microsoft Office, but only because that is what opens automatically when I double click those documents. If I uninstalled Office and forced myself to use Google's tools for those things I could probably do without an office application entirely. Sure, Google has no Powerpoint/Keynote presentation app, but by the time I need one they probably will. The killer feature is being able to share the document for reading and/or collaboration with others -- I never have to worry about which version of the document I'm working on, and I can see in real time whether one of my collaborators is working on the document at the same moment.
Sure, Google's apps require that I have a web connection to use them, but in Austin I am rarely without service. Anywhere. I was in a coffee shop recently where they have free wireless but I wasn't able to connect, so I just hopped on one of the other three open networks nearby. The time is coming when every area of moderately dense population will have wireless connections everywhere, so the need for Internet connectivity isn't much of a stumbling block.
But I was talking about Apple, wasn't I?
The new iLife '08
is something I'll be picking up immediately -- or at least, as immediately as I can with my wife's educator discount. I use iPhoto almost daily for digital photographs, and Garageband and iMovie have their uses in both work, personal, and hobby life. I prefer other web tools to iWeb, but if iWeb improves past say, Rapidweaver
I'll probably look at it more seriously.
iPhoto's new capabilities look great -- Apple understands that a great software tool isn't just about manipulating the files you're working with, but also about organizing them. Enter the concept of "events," which lets you browse your photos by event times that you define (all digital photos are tagged with the date they were taken in-camera). Their "Web Gallery" sharing feature is a welcome addition for lots of folks, I'm sure, but again another web service has stepped in to make it less desirable for me.
For photo sharing, I use Flickr
. Flickr not only archives and shares my photos, but also lets me present them in a slideshow and all that great stuff. It brings a lot of social elements like comments into the mix. If I have a bunch of photos of an event, it can group them into an event-related set, or I can even upload them to a public group with other Flickr members' photos from the same event. Apple doesn't offer anything even remotely like that, so it's doubtful that I'll share my photos anywhere other than Flickr for a good long while.
Apple did have the foresight to expand the storage capacity on .Mac (their online mail and web tools service) to ten gigabytes, though this pales in comparison to Flickr's unlimited storage capacity -- at a quarter of Apple's asking price, I might mention. Apple does offer more features in the non-photo sharing realm than Flickr, including an e-mail address, but most of those features are so lame in comparison to other comparable web services (most of which are cheap or free) that Apple's $100 annual fee is laughably overpriced. If .Mac didn't have hooks into the OS X operating system -- so that I can sync my bookmarks and address book between multiple computers, for example -- I wouldn't use .Mac at all.
A quick sampling of .Mac's services and the competitor that trounces them:
- Web hosting - practically anyone does web hosting cheaper, though few do it easier. This might be worth it for home users who don't want to learn about nasty acronyms like FTP, CSS, and HTML
- IMAP mail & web mail - GMail is by far the best webmail client out there, though I do wish it supported IMAP.
- Groups - like YahooGroups or Google Groups. Haven't tried Apple's service though I'm sure the free services compare favorably.
- iDisk (online storage) - see web hosting.
- Backup - Apple's backup tool is a joke. I've been trying to use Mozy for a while now with little success but will fall back on SuperDuper to back up my laptop since I haven't done a full backup in a while. Mozy seems like a great idea (backing up to an online service while your Mac is idle) but it's so slow to upload that it seems practically useless. Another problem is that I tend to close my laptop when I'm not using it, so idle time isn't exactly abundant.
Wow - I had a lot of pent-up aggression towards .Mac (pronounce it "dot Mac"), but is it surprising? Apple does so many things so very well that when they drop the ball it really stands out. Why hasn't Apple built the killer online service, something worth
a hundred bucks a year? Why are they content to lag so far behind in this area, when they lead in so many others?