In case you’d missed it, this blog hasn’t been updated for some time. The reason is that my works situation changed and last year and I’ve had to reset my priorities.
So, after considerable thought, I’ve decided to shut this blog down. Rather than just kill it off, I’m going to close off comments and leave the content online as an archive.
Thanks to the many readers and others that I’ve met though this blog over the years. It’s been a blast.
I’ve not stopped writing or blogging. I’m now focussing my energies at Journo Advice where I blog about what I’ve learned about working as a freelancer.
With the dust settling on the opening of Apple’s new App Store, it’s clear that apps purchased before the App Store opened are in some sort of limbo. In my case, I was in that position with Pixelmator [App Store link]. I purchased Pixelmator on December 21 for about $47 after using a discount code. However, with the App Store’s opening, the new price is $29.99 and, just to rub salt in that wound, the App Store version includes a free upgrade to Version 2 when it’s released later this year. Rather than sit back and stew I decided to do something about this.
At around 1.00AM on 9 January, I sent a note to the Pixelmator folks using their contact page. Here’s what I wrote.
Firstly, I want to say that I think your software is fantastic. However, having purchased Pixelmator only three weeks ago I’m feeling very annoyed that it’s now cheaper and I won’t get a 2.0 upgrade through the App Store.
I made my purchase on 21 December 2010 (Order XXXXXX). Even Apple give its OS updates for free if users buy a system within a few weeks of a new release (heck – they’ll even exchange a whole computer if it’s superseded within 2 weeks of purchase).
Is there something you can do to rectify this?
I was about to go to sleep when I thought I’d check my mail one last time. I was very surprised to see that a real human has responded to my note within minutes of my contact. Here’s the response.
We can issue full refund and then you can buy Pixelmator in App store. Will that work for you?
We do not want to annoy you in any way.
To all the developers out there – this is how you make your customers happy and into advocates for your company and your apps.
I’ll be taking the Pixelmator folks up on their very fair resolution. The whole process, from when I sent my initial message to the refund being processed took about 15 minutes.
Thus far, I’m happy with the 11-inch MacBook Air but I have a short wish list for Apple to consider for the next version.
- 256GB storage
- backlit keyboard
With those two extras, the 11-inch MacBook Air would be just about perfect. Even though there’s no optical drive, it’s not a big issue for me.
Ever since Apple released the 11-inch MacBook Air I thought it would be a good match for me. The problem was that with a 13-inch MacBook Pro and an iPad already in my toolkit, the Air was redundant. However, the opportunity to sell my MacBook Pro for a good price presented itself so a switch was justified.
I started the transition by calling the two Apple Stores in Melbourne to find out if they had stock of the 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo with 128GB SSD and 4GB of memory. This is usually a build to order specification but the Chadstone store had this in stock.
I then completed my usual Time Machine backup of the old MacBook Pro.
Once I was back from the Apple Store, I unboxed the MacBook Air, turned it on and went through the usual start up process. When prompted, I connected the backup drive from the MacBook Air and used the Migration Assistant to move my applications and personal data to the MacBook Air.
The start up time from when I unboxed the MacBook Air until it was ready to use with all my applications and personal data was about an hour.
I’ve used plenty of netbooks over the last couple of years. Technically, the MacBook Air doesn’t fit the netbook category as it costs more, has a larger screen and a full-size keyboard. However, it’s as light as most netbooks. All of this means that while the MacBook Air has several compromises, they aren’t as great as a netbook. I can touch-type and do most of the things I need to without feeling cramped.
The one thing the 11-inch MacBook Air lacks that I’d expect is a SD card slot. However, Apple has wisely put one USB port on each side of the unit rather than adjacent to each other. Apple tends to put the ports too close together in my view. As a result, it’s often not possible to connect two USB peripherals simultaneously. This isn’t a problem with the MacBook Air.
The lack of an optical drive could be an issue althoughI rarely used the one on my MacBook Pro. If I go away and want to take a bunch of movies I can always put them on a portable hard drive or USB stick.
Those are my initial impressions of the 11-inch MacBook Air. What else would you like to know? Are there specific use-cases you’d like me to explore? Let me know in the comments.
It’s been a while since I last purchased a copy of Windows from a retailer. Typically, I either get a fresh copy with a new computer through Microsoft’s OEM arrangements with PC manufacturers or directly from Microsoft as a member of the media as I review new software when it’s released. I’ve just set up a new iMac for my family and needed a copy of Windows 7 for their use within a VirtualBox virtual machine. Now, I’m pretty tech savvy and have been around for a while and know my way through the Microsoft product range. However, I was left scratching my head when confronted with their in-store product display.
Given that this installation of Windows will only be used for playing a few games I was happy to grab the entry level Windows Home Premium version. The extra features of the Premium and Ultimate editions aren’t something I need. Microsoft only sells three version of Windows to retail customers. There’s a Starter version that’s only sold to OEMs with new hardware (it’s common on many netbooks) and an Enterprise version for business customers on specific purchasing programs.
As I wasn’t going to be upgrading from XP or Vista (the versions of those operating systems I have were given to me by Microsoft for review and this new installation was purely for personal use) I settled for the Windows 7 Home Premium. For some unfathomable reason, Microsoft offers a family pack for this version of Windows but it’s only available to those upgrading from Vista or XP. So, I end up paying an extra $100 for a single license of the “full” version whereas an upgrader gets three user licenses. What a rip off!
It turns out that each of the retail versions of Windows 7 has both a full and an upgrade version. So, even though there are three products there are six SKUs on the shelf. And telling the difference between each is an exercise is frustration. I can see a lot of consumers reacting with confusion when they stand in front of the shelves to buy software. Thankfully, I didn’t need to buy Microsoft Office as well – there’s another bunch of consumer confusion with several different products.
Microsoft ought to learn from Apple. Adjacent to the Microsoft confusopoly were three pieces of software – Snow Leopard, iWork and iLife. When an Apple user wants to buy an operating system there’s one SKU and includes everything. When Microsoft says that they’re offering customers choice – what they’re really doing is artificially creating products. Similarly, there’s one version of iWork. there’s no thinking about whether they want the “Student/Teacher” version or the Enterprise version. There’s one box and it includes the entire product.
One more thing – almost every tech company I know of is touting their “green” credentials. Why does Windows, which comes on two DVDs require so much plastic packaging? Even Apple’s Final Cut Studio comes in 100% recyclable cardboard. And let’s not start on the size of the Windows packaging. I imagine that a significant amount of the shipping cost is for the masses of air in the over-large packaging.
Windows 7 is a great operating system. I really don’t think that there’s a lot of difference between Windows 7 and Snow Leopard. Both have strengths and weaknesses but neither is significantly better than the other. But Microsoft needs to start making their software easier for consumers to buy.
A few years ago, when I first started freelancing, I needed to get some basic accounting software so that could raise invoices and track payments. My needs were modest as freelancing was a sideline to a fulltime job. But when I decided to become 100% self employed earlier this year, it was time to look at a more comprehensive solution. That’s why I went to Saasu.
Saasu is a cloud-based accounting solution that works on any platform including the iPad. Although I’m predominantly a Mac user, I need to be able access my accounts from several systems. Traditional, locally installed accounting systems rely on me having the computer with my accounts with me all the time. This just isn’t practical for me. Although I typically carry a laptop, I don’t like the idea of having my accounts on a computer than can be stolen, lost or damaged. I could keep the software on a computer in the office and remote into it but that’s a pain. While remote access software is pretty good these days it’s still not perfect.
Also, when I travel for just a couple days I travel with just my iPad. I needed a solution that was multiplatform. That meant a cloud-based solution was likely to be the best way to meet my requirements.
My shopping list of functions is fairly basic but I think typical of small businesses or sole traders.
- creating and sending invoices
- entering expenses
- creating my Business Activity Statement for the tax department
- running payroll
- bank reconciliation
- basic reporting
What I’ve found over the last few months is that Saasu can do all of this.
The first step in using Saasu is to go to the home page and create a user account. That gives you access to a test account so you can try things out as well as the opportunity to create your own business entity.
Once the account is set up, you are confronted with Saasu’s Dashboard. This is a snapshot of your cashflow, profit and loss, outstanding invoices and upcoming payments.
Entering invoices and expenses is very straightforward. All of the onscreen forms are nicely laid out. When entering data, fields are automatically populated where it makes sense. For example. when entering a sale, if you need to enter the payment at the same time, simply clicking in the payment date field will result in the date being instantly populated from the invoice date. Similarly, the payment amount is automatically filled in with the invoice amount.
If you need to run payroll, Saasu is already set up with Australian tax tables. Once an employee is set up in the system, all you need to do is enter the salary amount and all the tax, superannuation, Medicare levies, Fee-Help and other deductions are automatically calculated.
Reporting is well executed. For those who need to complete a Business Activity Statement for the tax department, Saasu generates the worksheet with just a couple of clicks, making it easy to complete the monthly or quarterly statement.
Now, I’m aware that many people are skeptical of cloud services. There are concerns around security and backup. Saasu provides information on how they backup data and how you can do your own backups. Saasu has 7 backup processes across 4 locations and it’s possible, using the Saasu API to have your own bespoke solution developed.
Saasu certainly isn’t the only cloud-based accounting solution. Xero is another, popular option. However, over the last six months I’ve come to rely on Saasu as an integral part of my business.
I’ve been using Adobe Photoshop CS3 for a while now – long enough that I figure it’s time to upgrade to something more recent. Since CS3 was released, my operating system has upgraded from Leopard to Snow Leopard and Adobe has released two more versions of Photoshop. However, the CS3 suites are pretty expensive and offer a lot of functionality that I doubt I’ll ever really need. So I found my self looking at alternatives. I’d used Gimp in the past but never really liked the interface.
Searching for alternatives led me to an App called Pixelmator. Running with the tagline “Image editing for the rest of us” the Pixelmator team have worked at creating a viable alternative to Photoshop at a fraction of the price.
The first thing that struck me with Pixelmator was that it really feels like a Mac application and not a port of a Windows program or some sort of compromised design made to fit both the Mac and Windows. Dialogs, palettes and toolbars all feel like they have been made for the Mac.
Pixelmator started off as a program developed by brothers Saulius and Aidas Dailide. The developer team has grown to nine now but the original vision of a great looking and functional app remains. Saulius is the architect of the user interfaces and website while Aidas’ focus is on features.
I’m not a graphic designer but I found Pixelmator to be easy to use. I’ve used it to tweak images I’ve downloaded and for creating simple website banners and other images. All of the basic tools I’ve required have been there and worked as expected.
I used Pixelmator to open and edit GIFs, JPGs, TIFs and PNGs. It can also open PSD files from Photoshop.
Pixelmator sells for just $59 USD – that’s way less that either Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. There’s a fully functional 30 day trial so you can try before you buy.
There’s a rumour doing the rounds that Nokia is in talks with Microsoft to produce handsets running Windows Phone. Now, those who can remember when a little company called Palm did the same thing and how that signalled the beginning of the end for that company.
If the rumour (coming from The Next Web) is correct, then it would seem that Nokia is finally coming to grips with the fact that Symbian is so far behind the smartphone OS game that it’s better off abandoning it and going with an emerging player rather than trying to play catch up. Most market analysts agree that while Nokia is still a huge player in the mobile phone business their days are numbered as Android and iOS are favoured by most smartphone users.
That said, there’s also a lot to like about this deal if it goes ahead. For a start, while Windows Phone 7 has lots of prominent OEMs making handsets, a partnership with Nokia could see them jump from also-rans behind Symbian, iOS and Android to leader in a big hurry. Similarly, it may give Nokia a sales boost, particularly in the enterprise space where companies looking for seamless Exchange integration are probably more likely to trust and end-to-end Microsoft solution than a third-party.
For a while, it seemed that both Microsoft and Nokia were going to struggle to stem the rising tide of Android and iOS. However, such an alliance could take advantage of Nokia and Microsoft’s strengths. Nokia has a string manufacturing and design heritage and Microsoft is, at its heart, a software company. If the two can make a deal, it augurs well for a market that has shown over the years that it desperately needs competition in order to drive innovation.
I’m currently engaged in an interesting discussion thread on a mailing list for Australian freelance journalists. The topic started with a journalist who is about to go freelance and would like to know what everyone else is using in their journalist’s toolkit.
Here’s my list.
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch: This machine is over a year old now but I recently swapped the original hard drive out for an OWC solid state disk. This has given it a huge speed boost. I use the MacBook Pro when I’m travelling for more than two or three days.
iPad: I bought the iPad before its local release as I was able to sell a bunch of stories about it to publishers before all the other local writers had theirs. I wasn’t expecting it become a regular part of my kit but for business trips where I’m away for only a day or two it’s far lighter than the MacBook Pro and just as capable for writing a story, blogging, keeping up with email and the like. If I’m on a plane, I use to to watch movies and TV shows and read books using both iBooks and Kindle. I’ve also accessorised with the Rubata Keyboard Case from PADACS and Apple’s Camera Connection Kit.
iPhone: In case you’d missed it – I’m an Apple user. The iPhone is my phone, mobile diary and email system and entertainment system. When I’m in the car, it’s my GPS as I’ve stopped using my old TomTom unit as it was just another gadget. And the sound recorder, camera and video camera are great for when you need to capture a moment and don;t have the entire kit on hand.
Zoom H2: Zoom’s audio recorders are simply brilliant. It’s able to record to an SD card, making it a snap to import content into iTunes. The H2 can record using two separate microphones in either mono or stereo.
VoIP: As my office is separate to the rest of the house, getting a second phone line connected with Telstra was simply too hard and was going to cost too much. I was fortunate enough to win a VoIP package from MyNetFone and am very happy (easy to say when it’s free but the service really is very good). I’ve got a Cisco IP phone and pay as I go. I rarely spend more than $10 per month for all my calls.
Canon MP640 printer: When I last needed a printer my requirements were simple. I needed a multifunction that could print to CDs and DVDs, duplex, had two paper feeds and WiFi. The MP640 ticked all those boxes. It hasn’t missed a beat in over a year.
iMac 27-inch and Magic Trackpad: When I’m in my office, I like to have a big screen so that I can have my current work and a web browser open side by side. The iMac is perfect for this. I used to use a mouse but find the Magic Trackpad far more comfortable. It also uses less space on the desk and makes it easier to drag the mouse from one end of the large display to the other.
My office network: As my house and office are separate buildings, I had to set my network up woth two routers. One’s an older Linksys WRT310N and the other is a Netgear N600 that I modded with DD-WRT. I’ll post the full story of the LAN set up shortly but if you plan to move files between machones on your LAN you need to make sure you get a router thay supports 802.11n for wireless and Gigabit ethernet for cabled connections.
Storage: With the increasing storage capability of computers and the vast quantities of data it’s simply too risky to not have a properly considered storage and backup strategy. In lieu of that, I’ve cobbled together something that works for me. I have a Thecus N5200 NAS (network accessible storage) that can hold 4TB of data. That’s the main data repository. I also have a second NAS, a smaller DLink DNS-323. I have a scheduled task on my Thecus NAS that copies my iTunes library to the DNS-323 so that if one NAS dies i don;t lose my iTunes library as that represents a significant investment.
The iMac and MacBook Pro each have an external drive connected to them for Time Machine backups.
I also keep my current working files synced to Dropbox and iDisk. Yes – I’m paranoid about data loss.
Cameras: I have three cameras I use regularly. For “serious” photography I have a Nikon D80 with 18-55 and 70-300 lenses and a SB-600 flash. Most of the time I use a Panasonic TZ10 as it can shoot great photos, has a manual mode and can capture excellent HD video. Camera number three is the iPhone.
Hardware I’ve stopped using: As a tech journalist, I often buy gear that I’ve reviewed that i think would fit my working life. Occasionally I buy something that I use for a while but falls out of use. One is my netbook. The iPad has replaced it.
The other is my video camera. It’s a great unit that shoots great video to tape but it’s not HD. I could replace it but the iPhone and TZ10 fill its purpose for me. If I was shooting professional video I might change my mind but that’s not something I currently do.
Software: Software is a very personal thing. What one person loves, another can loathe. But these are the apps I use just about every day.
Bean is a word processor for the Mac. Its free and gets rid of all the clutter that larger, commercial products include. As I file stories as plain text I like that it provides me with a word count and basic find/replace and spell check.
Saasu is a cloud-based accounts system. I use it for all my expensing, account managements, tax statements and invoicing.
Microsoft Office – I don’t use it often but as I often receive files in the Office formats I have to have it. Also, I sometimes do corporate work and I have to work with other Office users. I know Apple has iWork but I really can’t be bothered with the iWork to Office export process.
Parallels and VMware – From time to time I have to run Windows apps on my Macs. These programs let me run Windows within a virtual machine so I can run Windows on my Mac easily.
For FTP I have Filezilla on my MacBook Pro and Cyberduck on the iMac. I could use the same program on both but I like to share the love!