No Big Bang for The Big Mean Folder Machine

For the past 12 months, I have been working on a new product behind the scenes.

The original idea for the Big Mean Folder Machine came to me while sitting in the lobby of our holiday hotel to find some “stuff” on my haphazardly organized laptop. Now usually, I don’t spend holidays slaving over a laptop, but my (by then heavily) pregnant wife decided that this was the right time to sleep 18 hours a day and Malta in winter is well.. like everywhere else in winter..

Over a late machiato and a club sandwich, I started thinking about how nice it would be if everything was as neatly organized as the Apple Developer mailing DVD in the DVD drive.. you know what I mean: “everything in its place and a place for everything”.

Now the reason why I don’t keep a tidy hard disk is the same as for everybody else.. it takes time to organize “stuff” in the first place and once you have an organization it’s forbiddingly time-consuming to change it.

“What about the poor people at Apple or anybody else who needs to ship electronic deliverables and wants to make a good impression?” I wondered. “How long does it take them? How many people does it take to produce effortless organization?”

Surely those guys have a clever build script that does all the work for them.. or maybe they don’t… or maybe there are at least a few people out there who do not.. wouldn’t they appreciate a nifty little tool that does it all for them according to their own “recipe”?

This is how, the Big Mean Folder Machine was born. The basic idea was to help you create a neat folder structure for your files to fit in snugly and copy (or move them) over into the new structure. All this with the bare minimum of fuss.

Now, once you start thinking about it there are all sorts of situations, where this kind of tool would be useful. How about your 43GB photo collection that you can’t backup because it simply won’t fit on those tiny 4GB DVDs? Why not break them up into 4Gb “chunks” first? How about organizing your photos by year, month and (why not?) by file type? The possibilities are endless.

Now something I’ve learned in the past decade of developing A Better Finder Rename is that you never know in which direction your software is going to evolve over time.. at least if you are listening to what your customers actually want.

The design challenge for an application like this is to produce something that people can actually understand without having to read a lengthy manual. Good user interface design demands that you as the designer have a very detailed understanding of exactly what people want to do with the tool. iPhoto is a good example: it makes the features that people are most likely to want to use, easy and accessible and it hides away the “advanced” features where they are unlikely to get into the way of the casual user.

Now this is hard to do with a new tool for which nobody has an existing mental blue print.

Moreover, file utilities typically perform tasks that appear to be very straightforward at first glance, but that reveal themselves to have lots of hidden complexities that may or may not become a problem. Last but not least, you want total control over the end-result..

My solution to this design challenge was simple. Instead of attempting to create an all-singing-all-dancing user interface without much user feedback to go on, I’ve kept it simple and concentrated on getting the internals right. This has resulted in a simple step-by-step “assistant-style” interface, with each step being explained as you make your choices. Over time this will no doubt evolve into a “control center” interface that will satisfy even a big mean control freak like myself..

This brings me to an important part of my development philosophy: “Don’t design for what you don’t (yet) understand”.

It’s all the rage on the internet these days to find a 1.0 release, give it a spin, find a minor problem or gap in the functionality and then write it off “as junk”, but a 1.0 release is only a beginning, it’s not an end!

It’s the developer’s best (and first!) attempt at the problem. The question really then becomes “is it good enough for now?” and “will it improve over time?”.

A lot of the 1.0 mania is due to the “old” way of developing software: you make a big boxed version of something and then leave it alone for the next 3 years until version 2.0 comes out. In the meantime, you do your best to avoid hearing what your customers have to say (= complain about) and so pretty much guarantee that version 2.0 will be exactly the same (only more so) as version 1.0.

This is emphatically not the way I do things: I get something out early (before it gets too difficult to change things) and start listening to user feedback. Then I improve the software based on that feedback at regular intervals (say 4-6 weeks). As the tool and my understanding of what people really use it for matures, more fundamental changes become necessary, so there is probably a re-write or two in the offing..

Today’s first beta release then, is the beginning of a feedback-driven development process, so if you have any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms please share them with me at reiff@publicspace.net.

Finally, there is the matter of the name.. until last Sunday, the product was going to be called “Big Bang”, playing on the idea of exploding (and why not, imploding?) your file collections, but then I saw that freeverse have a whole collection of electronic board games for the Mac that all begin with “Big Bang” (they don’t look half bad by the way).. so it was back to the drawing board.

In the end, my struggles to communicate what the tool will actually do when it’s finished, lead to the new name: “Well, it’s like a Big Mean Folder Machine!”. At long last a fun name for what I hope will be a fun product..

Before you ask: the current styling and artwork is a left-over of the Big Bang concept and will be replaced with bigger and meaner artwork very soon.. as a result, today’s first public beta release is going to be on the quiet, understated, side.. a link on the website and a blog entry.

I hope you’ll find The Big Mean Folder Machine a useful addition to your tool collection.. if it looks at all likely that it could do something that would be of value to you, please do let me know, so that one day soon it just might..

Portrait Mode is Back!

Today’s Mac OS X 10.4.9 update finally brings us Mac Pro NVIDIA 7300 GT owners, the portrait mode whose absence I had lamented in my Mac Pro Review no less than almost 6 months ago:

Anyway, the Mac Pro does not support portrait mode! Arrgghhh… What do you mean NO portrait mode on a Pro graphics machine in the 21st century?

The nice people at Ergotron had felt a bit miffed by my report of how difficult it was to adjust their triple monitor stand from portrait to landscape mode and instead of suing me, convinced me to test their “new and improved” LX Triple Display Lift Stand, which I promptly reviewed on this blog.

Well, I’m happy to report that changing my monitors back to the long-awaited portrait mode was no problem at all and took less than 2 minutes; no outside help required πŸ˜‰

BTW If you have posted a comment on this blog recently, please do not be offended but it will probably never get out of moderation. Logging in today I see that there are over 10,000 comments for moderation and I don’t think WordPress is up to displaying all these in a web browser window. Sorry.

Correcting Exchangeable Image File (EXIF) Information with A Better Finder Attributes

Most photo management solutions, including Apple’s iPhoto and Aperture applications, use the date and time that a picture was actually taken rather than a simple file date to arrange photos by date. This EXIF date is embedded in the JPEG files themselves and is unrelated to the normal file system creation and modification dates that you may see in the Finder.

While it’s great to arrange photos by the time they were shot, it can cause serious inconvenience when your camera’s internal clock is out of sync.. your photos will not appear in the correct order and your photo library will quickly become disorganized.

Amateurs and professionals alike occasionally forget to set their camera’s internal clock correctly, but by far the most common problems occur when travelling to another time zone (whether you’re on your honeymoon or reporting from a distant war zone) and when using multiple cameras.

Failing to adjust your camera’s time zone while on honeymoon may mean that the pictures that you’ve taken at breakfast on the 20th of January may actually be filed under the 19th around 10PM. Professional photographers often use a variety of different cameras fitted out with different lenses to cover the same event. Say a wide-angle lens for taking group pictures at a wedding and a 50mm lens for the portraits of the bride and groom. When the clocks of both cameras are out of sync (and when aren’t they?) the “cutting of the cake” pictures will end up interspersed with the “best man’s toast” and can cause a lot of extra work.

Adjusting the EXIF timestamp is by no means easily achieved. This data is written in stone (why would you want to change the time from the actual time to some ficitious time anyway?) and programs that allow you to edit (or better yet batch edit) this timestamp are very rare indeed.

Enter A Better Finder Attributes 4.4 and its ability to easily and conveniently batch adjust EXIF timestamps.

In this short tutorial, we’ll take some pictures and “fix” their timestamps. We’ll assume that we’re using iPhoto, but it could be any other photo application.

Don’t mess with the photo library

The first step is to locate the pictures we want to modify. This point is important, so let’s spell it out in bold:

Don’t modify the timestamp of the pictures that are already in iPhoto!

Work on copies instead.

iPhoto and other photo organization tools arrange your photos into their own folder hierarchy and you should never mess around with this or you risk losing precious meta-data and experiencing problems working with the files.

We have two options:

  • if the photos are not yet in the library, we can perform the changes before importing them
  • if the photos are already in the library, we must first export them before changing them and then re-importing the corrected files

Whatever else you do: keep the original files safe somewhere and correct the timestamp of the copies. That way you’ll never lose a photo.

Importing photos without iPhoto

If you know that the photos have incorrect timestamps, it is probably easier to correct their timestamp before importing them into iPhoto. How can you do this, since you use iPhoto to import the photos in the first place?

The solution is simple. Mac OS X comes with a little known image importing utility that uses the same code as iPhoto itself: Image Capture

You can find this nifty tool pre-installed in your “Applications” folder.

Apple have a brief description of how to use this tool on their Help website and I have covered using it previously in a tutorial on how to automatically give your iPhoto files meaningful names using A Better Finder Rename.

Exporting your photos from iPhoto

If your photos are already in iPhoto, you need to first export them before changing them.

This is easily achieved by using iPhoto’s “File” -> “Export…” feature:

abfa44_tutorial_001.png

Keep the default values which will make sure that the original files are exported.

Changing the EXIF timestamps

First locate your exported or freshly imported image files.
Then make copies of them and keep them somewhere safe

Now for the sake of argument, let’s say we need to add precisely 6 hours (we’ve crossed 6 timezones) and 15 seconds (this is our second camera and its clock was 15 seconds slow compared to the first camera).

First we launch A Better Finder Attributes. (Just click here, if you haven’t downloaded it yet).

The dialog below will appear:

abfa44_tutorial_002.png

Now drag and drop your photo files into the preview table on the right:

abfa44_tutorial_003.png

Then select “Add or remove time from the date a JPEG photo was taken” from the “Action:” popup menu and fill in the dialog with the appropriate values:

abfa44_tutorial_004.png

Note that you need to check the “I accept full responsibility for using this feature” checkbox before you can proceed. This is another gentle reminder that you shoud back up your files before messing around with them πŸ™‚

Finally click the “OK” button and the EXIF dates are changed:

abfa44_tutorial_005.png

Voila!

Optionally delete the photos with incorrect timestamps from the iPhoto library

Hands down the best time to change EXIF dates is before you first import them into iPhoto. If this is no longer an option, you need to decide whether you want to keep the files with the incorrect timestamps or want to permanently erase them.

If you choose to erase them, your photo library will be in pristine condition with all photos arranged in correct chronological order, but you could potentially lose changes (effects, etc) to the files that you’ve already made in iPhoto. iPhoto is generally fairly good at dealing with this kind of thing, but I can’t vouch for it.. If you don’t erase the old photos you’ll end up with duplicates (the photo with the correct date and the original photo).

If you choose to remove the files from the iPhoto library, do so within iPhoto (pressing the Backspace key will transfer the selected pictures to the iPhoto trash). Never use the Finder to directly erase files within iPhoto’s Finder folder hierarchy!

Import your modified photos (back) into iPhoto

Choose “File” -> “Import to Library…” in iPhoto, locate your files and confirm the import.

Conclusions

As we’ve seen in this tutorial, changing EXIF dates with A Better Finder Attributes 4.4 is simple, but you have to be careful to let your photo management software know about it.

Most professionals will tend to use Image Capture, sometimes along with a few automatic scripts to import their files onto their Mac because this offers greater flexibility. If this interests you, you might like to read the already mentioned tutorial showing you how to use your own custom naming scheme with Image Capture automation.

I hope you will find this mini-tutorial useful.

Tutorial: Using A Better Finder Rename to import image files from your camera

Photographers, both professionals and ambitious amateurs make up a large fraction of A Better Finder Rename users.

All-in-one photo management and manipulation software like iPhoto assumes that file names are of little consequence and you’ll want to organize your images according to a project structure or meta data. This is fine as long as you never leave the photo management software, but of course you do so for all kinds of reasons: export the files to send to a third party, manipulate your files in a third party application, publish them to a non .Mac gallery, etc., etc.

In all these situations, you’d rather give your image files more meaningful names than IMG_66387.jpg. But how can you do this when all the files are managed by iPhoto software?

There are essentially two solutions: You can give your files meaningful names before importing them into your photo management software or after exporting them out of your photo management software.

Don’t ever try to rename files within the photo management software’s folder hierarchy! Applications, such as iPhoto, keep a lot of information outside of the actual image files and if you rename these files without the program knowing anything about it, you will lose valuable meta-data such as your albums, galleries, etc..

Using A Better Finder Rename to rename your image files after exporting them is trivial: simply drag & drop the files into A Better Finder Rename and let it do its magic.

Renaming the files before you import them is a little trickier.

Many Mac users do not know that you don’t need import your pictures directly into iPhoto. For the true professionals, Mac OS X offers a specialized application that does nothing but import images from your camera (and other image devices): Image Capture.

Image Capture lives in your “Applications” folder. Simply double click to launch it:

Image-CaptureScreenSnapz001.png

Now it’s time to connect your camera and switch it on. iPhoto will probably launch and ask you whether you want to import your pictures. Politely tell it that you don’t need it and quit it for now.

The Image Capture window will now show your camera:

Image-CaptureScreenSnapz002.png

You can do pretty much everything in Image Capture that you could do in iPhoto as far as importing your images is concerned. “Download All” will simply get all the pictures off your camera, while “Download Some…” will let you choose from the thumbnails which ones you want to import. Note that you can also choose which folder you want to import your pictures to. The “Options…” dialog also contains some useful features.

Once the photos are imported to the folder of your choice, you can use A Better Finder Rename to rename them and then import them using iPhoto’s import feature:

iPhoto_import.png

Voila.

But that’s still 3 steps and a little too complicated for you?

Careful examination of the Image Capture window reveals the solution: the “Automatic Task” popup menu. This specifies which program should be run just after file have finished importing.

For now let’s simply choose the “A Better Finder Rename” application as the automatic task by:

  • selecting the “Other…” item in the “Automatic Task” popup menu
  • navigating to the “A Better Finder Rename” application in the “Applications” folder

Pressing the “Download All…” button will now first download all the images from your camera and then start up A Better Finder Rename:

abfr_interactive.png

You can now use the full power of the tool to give your pictures more meaningful file names.

You can, however, still go one step further.

It is for instance often convenient to encode the shooting time and date in the file name; that way you always know at a glance when the original picture was taken. If you use this type of naming convention you can take advantage of A Better Finder Rename’s droplet feature.

Droplets are small, independent, applications that automate common tasks. You save a rename action and the correct parameters into such a droplet application and every time you drag some files on the droplet the files are automatically renamed according to these settings.

Instead of defining A Better Finder Rename as the “automatic task”, we can use a droplet that we have prepared earlier. In this case, I have encoded our naming convention into a droplet called “Image Capture Automation” and defined it as the automatic task in Image Capture:

droplet.png

Now as soon as I push the “Download All” button, the pictures are imported to the hard disk and once this is finished they are automatically renamed with our naming convention.

Looking for Pentax and Kodak RAW sample files

I am currently working on improved RAW photo format support for forthcoming A Better Finder Rename 7.6 and A Better Finder Attributes 4.4.

The biggest problem at the moment is that I have found it difficult to obtain sample images taken with different cameras.

So far I have been able to successfully test with the following file formats:

  • jpeg (with EXIF)
  • crw (Canon)
  • cr2 (Canon)
  • thm (Canon)
  • nef (Nikon)
  • tiff (camera)
  • raf (Fuji)
  • orf (Olympus)
  • mrw (Minolta)
  • dng (Adobe)
  • srf (Sony)

I think the code should also be able to work with:

  • dcr (Kodak)
  • Panasonic RAW format files

The problem is that I can seem to find any .DCR or Panasonic RAW sample files to test with anywhere on the internet.

If anybody has got a Kodak or Panasonic camera that use these file formats, could you please send me a file or two via email?

You don’t need to worry about the attachment size at my end. Should the files be too large for your mail reader to send I can arrange FTP access to my site for you.

I would really appreciate your help.

Best regards,

Frank

MacBreakZ 4 is shipping

mb4_0010.jpg

Today on the 29th of November after almost a year in development, three public betas and five private alpha releases MacBreakZ 4 is finally ready for prime time.

More than just protecting you from computer-related health risks (repetitive strain injuries, back ache, eye strain, headaches, etc..) the new version makes healthy computing fun. Based on ergonomic principles and almost 10 years of feedback from its users, MacBreakZ 4 makes it easier than ever to get out of bad work habits in order to work more productively and feel better at the end of the work day.

If you haven’t done so yet, check out what all this is about..

A Better Finder Rename 7.5 tidbits

With today’s 7.5 release ABFR is now getting towards the mid-way point to the next major upgrade and it is time to take stock of what’s happened since.

Version 7, of course, was a complete rewrite and that allowed a major step forward to be made. After close to a decade of pretty-much-monthly updates it was high time to do some clean up work.

Looking through the change history since the 7.0 release, a lot of the 14 (!) releases dealt with the fact that version 7 is a stand-alone application as well as a contextual menu item.

The ongoing “Should the Rename Button Quit the Application or Clear the Preview?” saga reared its ugly head again in the recent About this Particular Macintosh (Verdict: “Very Nice!”) review.. if I had one email from everybody who thinks that it should or should not quit, I’d have a lot of emails.. well actually I do.

In version 7.4.5, I thought I had finally settled this dispute by making the behavior configurable along the “Have your cake and eat it” ideology. Now I start getting emails that argue that having to tick or un-tick the check box to change the behavior is a bit sluggish.. ah, well.. how about making both options available via the “File” menu..

Having your cake and eating it with a shortcut key

.. and throwing in a keyboard shortcut while we are at it.

When I rewrote ABFR I left out a few of the more exotic features, some because I reasoned that “nobody is using this stuff”, others were pushed out of the initial scope to make time for more generally useful features.

Version 7.5 should now complete the transition by adding the last missing feature from version 6.9.6: alphabetical sequences are back!

The reasoning behind them is that sequence numbers can take up a lot of space in a file name, e.g. you need 9 digits for the first 10 billion sequence numbers (0..9,999,999,999).

I think this is fine for most people given that your file name can be up to 255 characters long, but it is true that using the 26 letters of the alphabet instead of only 10 digits (suckers) is more compact yet πŸ™‚

In other news, Apple apparently has removed the ability to read mp4 tags of (moderately) “Fair Play”-encoded files from Quicktime and thus the mp3 tag renaming feature no longer works with m4p files. Thanks Apple!

Apple now also seem to be using “bundles” (i.e. files that are actually folders such as OS X applications) for document files in GarageBand and A Better Finder Rename now makes sure that it doesn’t ruin your files by renaming the contents of the bundle as well as the top-level folder.

The “File List” features also see some minor user-requested improvements and that’s all until next month..

ATP Review A Better Finder Rename: Very Nice!

“About this Particular Macintosh” is a phrase that many veteran Mac users will recognize. In OS 9 it was the menu item that let you produce a profile of your Mac.

The eponymous site and e-zine ATP has been around for so long that it has become part of the Macintosh “ecosystem”. I was obviously delighted when they contacted me a while ago to review the latest version of A Better Finder Rename.

The result is an in-depth review in this month’s issue.

The Verdict:

verynice.gif

Ok, I’ll try to wipe that smile off my face πŸ™‚

Canon & the Mac: Lide 500F Scanner Review?

Having recently decided to Get Things Done, I have finally given in and purhased one of those “scanner things”.

Personally, I find that some things are just better on paper (generally paper things such as books) and others are best on the computer (generally digital things such as webpages, digital music, etc.). I thus don’t print out much and have even less desire to scan anything in.

Now my “big GTD master plan” involves building a searchable archiving system and I’ve gone with a wiki-kind of setup. Scanning in some of my paper notes would therefore be a good idea..

But which scanner to get? Here’s my feature list:

  • Mac compatible
  • small foot print
  • reasonably fast
  • reasonably cheap
  • possibly “luggable”

I don’t know about you, but lots of printers work only moderately well on the Mac. My wife and my sister between them, have gone through at least a dozen HP printers over the years and some (or actually all of them) play only moderately well with the Mac. USB port oddities, suddenly refuses to print, software is odd and doesn’t always work etc. etc.

Now what is the safest way of getting truly Mac compatible gear? I though buying it at the Apple Store would do the trick. Surely they know what works and what doesn’t.

Well, my scanner “of choice” was the Canon CanoScan LiDE 500F. I was aware of the fact that this gorgeous scanner was being replaced by the CanonScan LiDE600F soon, but Apple didn’t sell it yet and I don’t really care about having “twice the resolution” (= twice the file size) for my paper notes.

Why the Canon Lide 500F?:

  • It’s a Canon. I’m a Canon EOS digital camera fan
  • It’s sold by Apple and thus Mac compatible
  • It’s small and luggable
  • It doesn’t need a separate power supply (powered via USB alone!)
  • It can stand on its side saving desk space
  • It’s only moderately expensive (circa 150 USD)
  • It’s not an HP and thus has to be better

My experience: awful.

The scanner looks the part: small, light, well-engineered. Everything I ever wanted. What’s more it’s got one of those photo scanning (for your “legacy” photo negatives) devices, which could be fun.

I install the software downloaded straight from their website. I don’t even bother with the included CD since as a seasoned computer user I know that these are the buggy 1.0 releases of the drivers that aren’t likely to still work on 10.4 (let alone 10.5).

Now HP have this regrettable habit of bringing out a printer/ scanner/ all-in-one and providing a driver for the latest Windows or Mac OS X version available at the time of the launch (tough luck for those with “old” OS versions) and then doing absolutely no further work on the driver. This means that every time you upgrade your OS you are as likely as not to find that your printer/ scanner/ all-in-one no longer works. The solution: buy a new one!

This works out great for HP. You buy the same printer/ scanner/ all-in-one every few years with no real difference between the old models and the new ones, solely because the driver does not work anymore. Hhmm.. thus I don’t buy HP anymore.

Now Canon are different and Apple wouldn’t sell junk on their webstore? Yes, I know. How naive can you get?

To cut a long story short: there are no universal drivers for the Lide 500F, touching a button on the scanner will crash something called the “CNQL2410_ButtonManager” with a KERN_PROTECTION_FAILURE and ensure that you have to take your keyboard plug out and then re-plug it for it work again. The included software (Omnipage & some third rate OS 9-migrated photo editing software) is so old that it still proudly features 32×32 pixel icons and none of the included scanning software stays up for longer than a few seconds before you need to re-plug the scanner (or reboot your machine).

What you get for $150 from Canon

Thanks Canon. Thanks Apple. For nothing.

Unfortunately since I’m one of these “I never return anything because it’s not the reseller’s fault if I chose the wrong thing” people, I thought “I’ll just wait until they update their drivers. Surely they ARE updating the drivers to a device that is still sold today”.

Regrettably, however, that too is probably a bit naive. The software hasn’t been updated since 2005 and has apparently never really worked under 10.4, which has been out for a while now… in fact is going to be replaced soon. Nor has it ever worked on Intel CPUs which have now replaced the PowerPC in all current Mac models.

I have now (foolishly) kept the scanner for more than 14 days and apparently the AppleStore only allows returns up to 14 day after delivery. A seasoned “I return anything that isn’t perfect. It’s the reseller’s fault if they sell junk” person would have known that of course.

A word about the USB powered scanner idea: it’s not working. The scanner may not need much juice but it does presumably need an awful lot more than a mouse or a keyboard. Connecting the scanner to a USB hub is not recommended by Canon (they blame the poor USB hub quality of some third party vendors for this) and plugging it straight into a port on your Mac Pro won’t solve all the problems either. I find myself re-plugging my USB peripherals an awful lot since the scanner came along.. wouldn’t it be nice to have power lead?

The silver lining of the story is that apparently using OS X’s built-in Image Capture application (mentioned nowhere) seems to work ok. Panic over. Scanner work-able after all. Just not perfect. Or acceptable?

Now being somewhat disenchanted with Canon’s support policies and being a long-term HP sufferer (you may already know that when a peripheral somewhere in your family doesn’t work on a Mac, it’s your fault and you’d better get it sorted quickly), my question is:

Can anybody recommend a scanner that “just works” for an Intel-Mac running 10.4?

What is Epson’s OS X support like? Any other dark horses? Any non-evil printer/ scanner companies anywhere?

And what about the CanonScan LiDE600F that has recently been released and may be in the shops soon? It does have a Universal Binary driver but does it work?

And finally the big question:

How come Canon cannot be bothered to change the 5 lines of code it would take to port the Lide 600F driver to work with the Lide 500F that it still sells? Could it be a scam to get you to “upgrade” your brand new scanner? And do you want to buy anything from this type of company?

Mac Pro First Impressions

Well about a fortnight ago, my new development machine, the Mac Pro 3Ghz Xenon/ 2Gb RAM/ 500Gb HD finally arrived at my doorstep.

Installation

Installing the new machine, as always, was a breeze. Plug USB leads from my 4xUSB DVI KVM switch into new machine, plug in ethernet cable, put “old” G5 into Firewire target mode, connect both machine via a FireWire cable (found somewhere on my wife’s G5), plug additional 2 monitors straight into the DVI connectors on the additional NVIDIA 7300 GT graphics card and let Mac OS X do its thing.

After 10 hours of transferring files, everything works fine on the first boot. Excellent.

That’s when my first and only real gripe with the new machine strikes.

I’m one of those screen-real estate junkies with three 1600×1200 21″ LCD monitors plugged into my development machine. It’s a great setup for programming and web site editing and cheaper than getting a single 30″ screen (or at least it used to be when I was young).

I’m running the center screen in landscape mode and the two monitors at the side in portrait mode. That allows me to deal with “wide” stuff on the middle monitor and “long” stuff like documentation, web browsing and the like on the side panels. Also, especially on the left hand side, the left edge of the screen is so far off-center that you can’t really use it unless you physically move your chair. That’s why if you’ve got a two monitor setup, you are probably better off using a center and a right hand display rather than a center and left hand display. Unless you use a right-to-left script like Japanese, Chinese, etc..

Anyway, the Mac Pro does not support portrait mode! Arrgghhh… What do you mean NO portrait mode on a Pro graphics machine in the 21st century?

Admittedly, this is probably not much of a problem for most people, but especially given the fact that Apple targets this machine squarely at creative professionals with deep pockets, this is a big disappointment and many graphics artist may get more additional productivity from a multiple screen setup than from doubling processing speeds. I’ve heard whispers that the ATI XT1900 for an extra $250 will do portrait mode, but don’t take my word for it..

As a good Apple Developer Connection member I did my duty and promptly posted a bug report with ADC: Yes, I know this is hardly a “bug”, but Apple insists on getting “improvement requests” submitted as “bugs” via BugReporter.. turns out the “bug” is already known, meaning I was not the first person to complain. What a relief, there are other people like me out there πŸ™‚

After turning my displays into a 4800×1600 “panorama” setup (which is a huge pain with the Ergotron DS100 Triple Monitor Deskstand), I was free to continue my Mac Pro tour.

Something I was worried about was the speed and compatibility of my PowerPC-only Adobe products: the (dreadfull) Go Live and the(wonderous) Photoshop.. turns out that this wasn’t an issue. GoLive is just as sluggish and unreliable using the Rosetta emulation as it is on a proper PowerPC-equipped model; Photoshop is just as usable and wonderfull as it always is. Great stuff.

I made a moderate effort before “switching” machines to upgrade all my software to Universal Binaries, but there were some notable exceptions, such as MPlayer (Linux-based video player for those pesky avi movies). Not screamingly fast under Rosetta, but still good enough. Anyway installing all those updates was no problem and took no time at all.

Installation then (unless you are a sucker like me and need multi-screen portait mode) is a snap and all the normal stuff seems to run fine out of the box.

Speed

This would be the major argument for switching to the new machine unless you are a developer and simply need to make sure your stuff runs on Intel. I haven’t conducted any side-by-side benchmarks, because I’m not into that kind of thing. Does it matter that it’s 10% or 30% or 200% faster on jobs that already took no time at all? No.

The only places where you really benefit from the additional power is in tasks where your old machine made you wait, i.e. you’re faster than your machine. For a graphics artist this might be in Photoshop or Final Cut Pro, for a developer like myself it’s going to be during the edit-build-debug cycle. So I went ahead and installed XCode 2.4 and svn and gave it a shot.

Builds are incredibly fast now and even the usually somewhat sluggish GNU debugger “gdb” comes up reasonably fast. That’s what I got the machine for, so I’m happy πŸ™‚

In everyday tasks the response from the Mac Pro is almost always instantaneous, but that’s not a big difference from my “old” dual G5 PowerMac 2.7 (Single Core).

No Noise

This is the best new feature and one that hasn’t been given a lot of attention in the press.

If you have gone through sucessive multi-processor PowerMac generations like myself, you know all about the dirty old secret: The Dual G4 QuickSilver was a real leaf-blower and you could be excused for thinking that a helicopter just took off five inches from your head when it came on. Even changing the power supply that Apple graciously sent you for free to help minimize the problem, didn’t make much difference. The G5s were better but still awful and even the watercooled (!) G5 under my desk still manages an impressive roar when you make it actually do anything. Ah, I’ll miss the magical moments when you know that your build has finished because the “engine noise” drops by a few decibels. Nostalgia aside, the noise was a major annoyance especially in a quiet office.

The new Mac Pro manages to be fairly quiet even with two graphics cards installed. It is not as quiet as an iMac or a Mac mini, but while you can hear the fans, it’s easy enough to ignore them. For somebody upgrading from a PowerMac the drop into normality is a huge step forward. Shhhhtt! Listen. The quiet.

First Look Conclusions

All in all, the Mac Pro is an uncomplicated and worthwhile upgrade for anybody who needs an Intel-based machine or is looking for more raw speed. Even Rosetta apps run reasonably fast. The reduction in noise is a major bonus and if you are a long term PowerMac sufferer, probably worth the upgrade on its own.

If you are looking for excitement and “ahhhs” and “oooohs”, you’re going to be disappointed. There is nothing flashy about the upgrade. Even the box is almost identical. It’s just a faster, quieter version of the PowerMac.