Posts tagged ‘Apple Macintosh’


The path of least resistance: we humans aren’t discerning enough sometimes

04.02.2018

I came across a thread at Tedium where Christopher Marlow mentions Pandora Mail as an email client that took Eudora as a starting-point, and moved the game forward (e.g. building in Unicode support).
   As some of you know, I’ve been searching for an email client to use instead of Eudora (here’s something I wrote six years ago, almost to the day), but worked with the demands of the 2010s. I had feared that Eudora would be totally obsolete by now, in 2018, but for the most part it’s held up; I remember having to upgrade in 2008 from a 1999 version and wondering if I only had about nine years with the new one. Fortunately, it’s survived longer than that.
   Brana Bujenović’s Pandora Mail easily imported everything from Eudora, including the labels I had for the tables of contents, and the personalities I had, but it’s not 100 per cent perfect, e.g. I can’t resize type in my signature file. However, finally I’ve found an email client that does one thing that no other client does: I can resize the inbox and outbox to my liking, and have them next to each other. In the mid-1990s, this was one of Eudora’s default layouts, and it amazed me that this very efficient way of displaying emails never caught on. I was also heartened to learn from Tedium that Eudora was Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s email client of choice (‘The most important thing I use is Eudora, and that’s discontinued’). I’m in good company.
   However, this got me thinking how most users tolerate things, without regard, in my opinion, to what’s best for them. It’s the path of least resistance, except going down this path makes life harder for them.
   The three-panel layout is de rigueur for email clients today—all the ones I’ve downloaded and even paid good money for have followed this. Thunderbird, Mailbird, the oddly capitalized eM. All have had wonderful reviews and praise, but none allow you to configure the in- and outbox sizes. Hiri’s CEO says that’s something they’re looking at but right now, they’re not there, either. Twenty-plus years since I began using Eudora and no one has thought of doing this, and putting the power of customization with the user.
   But when did this three-panel layout become the standard? I can trace this back to Outlook Express, bundled with Windows in the late 1990s, and, if I’m not mistaken, with Macs as well. I remember working with Macs and Outlook was standard. I found the layout limiting because you could only see a few emails in the table of contents at any given time, and I usually have hundreds of messages come in. I didn’t want to scroll, and in the pre-mouse-wheel environment of the 1990s, neither would you. Yet most people put up with this, and everyone seems to have followed Outlook Express’s layout since. It’s a standard, but only one foisted on people who couldn’t be bothered thinking about their real requirements. It wasn’t efficient, but it was free (or, I should say, the licence fee was included in the purchase of the OS or the computer).
   ‘It was free’ is also the reason Microsoft Word overtook WordPerfect as the standard word processor of the 1990s, and rivals that followed, such as Libre Office and Open Office, had to make sure that they included Word converters. I could never understand Word and again, my (basic) needs were simple. I wanted a word processor where the fonts and margins would stay as they were set till I told it otherwise. Word could never handle that, and, from what I can tell, still can’t. Yet people tolerated Word’s quirks, its random decisions to change font and margins on you. I shudder to think how many hours were wasted on people editing their documents—Word can’t even handle columns very easily (the trick was usually to type things in a single column, then reformat—so much for a WYSIWYG environment then). I remember using WordPerfect as a layout programme, using its Reveal Codes feature—it was that powerful, even in DOS. Footnoting remains a breeze with WordPerfect. But Word overtook WordPerfect, which went from number one to a tiny, niche player, supported by a few diehards like myself who care about ease of use and efficiency. Computers, to me, are tools that should be practical, and of course the UI should look good, because that aids practicality. Neither Outlook nor Word are efficient. On a similar note I always found Quattro Pro superior to Excel.
   With Mac OS X going to 64-bit programs and ending support for 32-bit there isn’t much choice out there; I’ve encountered Mac Eudora users who are running out of options; and WordPerfect hasn’t been updated for Mac users for years. To a large degree this answers why the Windows environment remains my choice for office work, with Mac and Linux supporting OSs. Someone who comes up with a Unicode-supporting word processor that has the ease of use of WordPerfect could be on to something.
   Then you begin thinking what else we put up with. I find people readily forget or forgive the bugs on Facebook, for example. I remember one Twitter conversation where a netizen claimed I encountered more Facebook bugs than anyone else. I highly doubt that, because her statement is down to short or unreliable memories. I seem to recall she claimed she had never experienced an outage—when in fact everyone on the planet did, and it was widely reported in the media at the time. My regular complaints about Facebook are to do with how the website fails to get the basics right after so many years. Few, I’m willing to bet, will remember that no one’s wall updated on January 1, 2012 if you lived east of the US Pacific time zone, because the staff at Facebook hadn’t figured out that different time zones existed. So we already know people put up with websites commonly that fail them; and we also know that privacy invasions don’t concern hundreds of millions, maybe even thousands of millions, of people, and the default settings are “good enough”.
   Keyboards wider than 40 cm are bad for you as you reach unnecessarily far for the mouse, yet most people tolerate 46 cm unless they’re using their laptops. Does this also explain the prevalence of Toyota Camrys, which one friend suggested was the car you bought if you wanted to ‘tell everyone you had given up on life’? It probably does explain the prevalence of automatic-transmission vehicles out there: when I polled my friends, the automatic–manual divide was 50–50, with many in the manual camp saying, ‘But I own an automatic, because I had no choice.’ If I didn’t have the luxury of a “spare car”, then I may well have wound up with something less than satisfactory—but I wasn’t going to part with tens of thousands of dollars and be pissed off each time I got behind the wheel. We don’t demand, or we don’t make our voices heard, so we get what vendors decide we want.
   Equally, you can ask why many media buyers always buy with the same magazines, not because it did their clients any good, but because they were safe bets that wouldn’t get them into trouble with conservative bosses. Maybe the path of least resistance might also explain why in many democracies, we wind up with two main parties that attract the most voters—spurred by convention which even some media buy into. (This also plays into mayoral elections!)
   Often we have ourselves to blame when we put up with inferior products, because we haven’t demanded anything better, or we don’t know anything better exists, or simply told people what we’d be happiest with. Or that the search for that product costs us in time and effort. Pandora has had, as far as I can fathom, no press coverage (partly, Brana tells me, by design, as they don’t want to deal with the traffic just yet; it’s understandable since there are hosting costs involved, and he’d have to pay for it should it get very popular).
   About the only place where we have been discerning seems to be television consumption. So many people subscribe to cable, satellite, Amazon Prime, or Netflix, and in so doing, support some excellent programming. Perhaps that is ultimately our priority as a species. We’re happy to be entertained—and that explains those of us who invest time in social networking, too. Anything for that hit of positivity, or that escapism as we let our minds drift.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, design, internet, politics, publishing, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


The religiosity of the superbrands

10.02.2014


Another friend asked the Windows laptop v. Macbook question on her Facebook today.
   You can predict what happens next. The cult came by. As with the last time a friend asked the same question.
   The cult always comes and proclaims the superiority of the Apple Macintosh. And it is a blinding proclamation, of messianic proportions, where one must behold the perfection and divinity of said technology. There is always one person who posts multiple times in an effort to convert you—bit like how one religion’s missionaries do those ten visits in an effort to get you to join. I think they might operate on a similar counting system.
   As someone who uses Mac, Windows and Linux regularly (Mac and Windows daily, Ubuntu twice weekly) and usually enters into the conversation with ‘At the end of the day, it’s just a computer,’ I find it unsettling.
   How unsettling?
   Basically, as unsettling as my atheist friends would find someone imposing religion on them. Their stance usually is: hey, good on you if it works for you. If it makes you a better person, great. But I’d rather you not preach about it to me.
   The proclamations are usually so one-sided that they leave holes for attack. ‘They are better’ is not really good evidence, and ‘a six-year-old machine can still run the latest OS’ is only dependent on the RAM. The existence of Windows crapware and a clogged-up registry are more the function of the user rather than the platform. I also level a lot of the blame on Windows’ clunkiness on Microsoft Office: I don’t use it, and I am happier for it. (In fact, Office may be the worst thing to happen to the more Windows OSs, as they let down what I regard as a pretty stable platform.)
   I don’t dislike the Mac ecosystem. I use it daily, though the hard grunt I’ll do on my Windows 7 machine. I love the way the Mac handles graphics and sound. Without speccing up my Windows machine, I wouldn’t have the same quality. Apple’s handling of type is better than Microsoft’s Cleartype, in my opinion.
   I like how the platforms now communicate readily with each other.
   But I have problems with the wifi dropping out on a Mac, though this happens less often after Mavericks came out. However, it’s on the Mac forums as one of those unsolved issues that’s been going on for four years without a resolution. InDesign, at least for us, crashes more often on Mac than on Windows. (Your mileage may vary.) Some programs update more easily on Windows—take my 79-year-old Dad, who would prefer clicking ‘Update’ when a new Flash arrives more than downloading a DMG file, opening it, and dragging an icon to the Applications. It’s harder to learn this stuff when you are nearly 80. And don’t get me started on the IBM PC Jr-style children’s keyboards. They sucked in the 1980s and there’s not much reason they don’t suck today. (I replace the Imac chiclet keyboards with after-market ones, though of course that’s not a realistic option if you are getting a Macbook.)
   Sure, these are minor issues. For each one of these I can name you Windows drawbacks, too, not least how the tech can date if you don’t buy expensively enough to begin with, and how you can still find innovations on an older Mac that Microsoft simply hasn’t caught up with. And even with some of the newer monitor-and-computer desktop units out there, none of them are as neatly designed and beautifully modernist as an Imac.
   The biggest problem I have with the Mac world is this. As I told my friend: ‘Any time I post about Windows going wrong, the Mac cult always surfaces and cries, “You should buy a Mac!” as though they were stalking my social networks. Any time I post about Macs going wrong … the cult hides away. You see, you are shattering the illusion that the machines are perfect.’ It’s been like this for years.
   It is and it isn’t a problem. It doesn’t sway me when I use the technology. But it’s hard for me, or anyone who sees through the fact that these are just computers, to want to be associated with that behaviour.
   The more level-headed Mac users—a few have helped me on social networks when I raise an issue, though they are far fewer than the ‘Buy a Mac!’ crowd—probably don’t want to be seen to be part of some élite, either.
   I should be more tolerant of this given my qualifications in branding. Good on Apple for creating such fervour. This is held up to us as something we should achieve with our own brands, with the traditional agencies usually naming Apple at number one. Kevin Roberts and Saatchi used to go on about ‘lovemarks’. It’s great that people see a bunch of bits as something so personal, so emotionally involved. Google is in the same boat—go to the forums and tell the senior support people there that their by-the-book, Google-is-right, you-must-be-doing-something-wrong answer is incorrect. You will simply be ignored, because it doesn’t fit into their world and their belief system.
   In both cases, I wonder if there is such a thing as overbranding: where consumers love something so much that it goes beyond comprehension, into the creepy stage. Some might call these ‘superbrands’, but there is an uncomfortable element of religiosity to it. I’m not so sure whether this is the function of branding—and we thus come back to what we wrote at the Medinge Group in 2003, where we proposed in Beyond Branding that brands really centred around humanism, integrity and transparency.
   I don’t recall anything about fervour.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, marketing, technology, typography, USA | 3 Comments »


Water trumps fire

09.02.2014

Since I used to post updates of the web browsers I used: I have switched to Waterfox, replacing Firefox.
   Since the latest Flash updates a few weeks back, Firefox has been crashing twice a day. Other weird things have happened, too, like the save file dialogue box failing to appear after several hours’ use, or the mouse pointer flickering like crazy.
   I also haven’t had Waterfox change pages on me automatically, a bug that has been with Firefox for years but remains unsolved.
   Firefox for Windows is not designed for 64-bit machines, but Waterfox is. Since changing browsers, I have had a crash-free existence.
   It’s not the first time I downloaded Waterfox but abandoned it last time. I can’t remember the exact reasons but it would have been either losing some of my settings, finding that its speed was worse than the 32-bit version, or its high memory usage.
   The last of those three still holds true—Waterfox will eat through over a gig of RAM—but everything from Firefox comes across perfectly and it is slightly faster.
   Sadly, I have had to remain on Firefox for my 32-bit laptop running Windows Vista, where it has been crashing regularly since the last Flash update.
   I’m still on Firefox on Ubuntu and Mac OS X, but it looks like there is some major issue with Firefox and Flash when it comes to Windows. This is not the first time, either, but it is enough to have me stay on Waterfox for the foreseeable future.

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Posted in internet, technology | No Comments »


Apple’s brand evangelism can have a negative effect, providing an opportunity for rivals

01.04.2011

What a great post today from Eric Karjaluoto on his blog about Macs v. PCs.
   He outlines his gripes on a number of fields and doesn’t believe Apple holds a great advantage any more.
   I have to say I agree with him.
   On his Facebook, I wrote the following.

Well said, Eric.
   What has annoyed me for years is that whenever one of our PCs throws a wobbly, all the Mac evangelists swarm over my Tweet and say, ‘Buy a Mac,’ more quickly than you’d get a Sarah Palin endorsement at an American tea party rally.
   Yet whenever I complain about a Mac bug, the Mac evangelists are silent. Nowhere to be seen.
   I probably complain equally about the platforms relative to the amount of time I use on each, and the pattern above always holds true.
   The Mac brigade really has got to an extreme, hoodwinked by the marketing.
   Like you, in 1995 or thereabouts, I would swear black and blue about the superiority of the Mac. Not any more.
   Even as early as 2000 I began noticing the memory limits on Macs, on some programs where Windows could handle them better at the limit.
   In 2011 these two are as different as Buick and Chevrolet. I no longer care which is which, but the whole Mac evangelism is as annoying as catching a cab with a religious taxi driver who tries to convert you during the ride. If anything, the extreme Mac fans (not the everyday ones) are hurting their brand by coming across as tossers.
   All I can say is that the virus attacks on the Mac have been rare, but with the larger Windows’ user base, I’m not on hold to Apple Australia for two bloody hours because I haven’t been able to solve the problem myself. Do I save time using Macs? On the whole, probably not.

   I’m not saying Windows is superior. Like Eric, I have no real preference. They are tools, and as long as they get the job done, that’s OK by me. If they mess up, I feel I should complain—or at least record it so others who face the same issue can feel reassured they are not alone, and they might even be able to read of a resolution in the comments or a follow-up post.
   In part, that’s why I document my glitches here (the other part is catharsis). Many a time I have been able to go back to my blogs and repeat the instructions.
   But while most brands could do with a bit of evangelism, I have to say that the fairly unfounded evangelism by the extreme fans is annoying. That goes for any product or service, not just Apple.
   Mac users can justifiably claim superiority over the virus issue, but I don’t see a huge gap on other things any more.
   Brand evangelism is like any other type of endorsement: when it gets to an extreme, it has the opposite effect.
   In fact, the Apple name no longer has the halo effect it did for me in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
   While I had my tongue in my cheek for some of what I wrote on Eric’s Facebook, the analogies aren’t too far off.
   Yes, Mr Auckland Taxi Driver, it was annoying when you told me about the descriptions of heaven in the Koran for five minutes after my cab ride. I respect your religion, and I respect your holy book, but there’s a time to take a hint and let your passenger out of the car because, well, you’ve arrived at the destination. (It’s not restricted to Islam—a friend recently told me of her experience with a Christian taxi driver. I’m sure there are examples from every religion in the world.)
   Equally, the blanket ‘Buy a Mac’ is an unhelpful response to a complaint when I know full well the Mac has trouble with a similar issue.
   From a brand point-of-view, there’s not much Apple can do.
   It needs those big profits and premium pricing for the sake of its shareholders, and to maximize its return on investment. They are more stylish machines on the whole. And we are almost conditioned to pay a little more for something smart-looking, and to heck with whatever’s on the inside.
   For years, it’s relied on snobbery—which was, as I said, once justified. And the failure of growing the Mac line under John Sculley is still fresh in the leadership’s mind. Apple is convinced that the current path is the right path for its brand.
   And while it’s relied on snobbery, none of its communications are really that snobby, at least down here. In fact, they are quite down-to-earth and cleverly done. Apple just manages to elicit that emotion.
   The key to letting folks know the truth is simply consumer awareness and education—and, on that note, some of the Windows-based manufacturers are doing a less convincing job. They only have themselves to blame.
   The landscape has changed so that we peasants now can buy things that look reasonably cool and perform as well.
   Yet so few have managed to be consistent enough in their branding and marketing to say, ‘We chart our own path, and our machines are excellent.’
   It sounds like a huge opportunity to me, especially if the evangelists’ din annoys.

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Posted in branding, business, design, marketing, technology, USA | 6 Comments »


Where do the Mac evangelists hide when Apples go, ‘Boom’?

05.03.2011

Once again, I posted a Tweet (which went on to my Facebook) about Apple messing up (this time, about Mail with disappearing attachments). There were no replies.
   Interestingly, whenever I post about a Windows bug, the Mac evangelists all swarm on to it, usually with the sentiment, ‘Get a Mac.’
   They all disappear whenever I post a problem about the Macintosh.
   Yet, the Windows users don’t swarm all over and say, ‘Get Windows.’
   While through most of the 1990s, I would agree with the Mac sentiment, since around 1998, I’ve been able to crash Apples as regularly as Windows-based machines. (I do not have enough Linux experience to make a judgement of that platform.)
   I’m not sure where this supposed superiority complex comes from any more, other than the Mac buyer being financially better off and paying more.
   But paying more, as a 1990s Rolls-Royce owner might attest, does not get you something better.
   However, as Rolls-Royce knows, perceived quality plays an awfully big part in brand equity.
   The reality is I’ve had everything from font embedding errors and missing icons to corrupted file transfers and programs crashing on opening on the Macintosh.
   They are every bit as serious as what I experience on various Windows platforms.
   And while I get fewer Mac viruses, the ability for an average Joe like me to troubleshoot is severely diminished because of the smaller user base—and, consequently, the dearth of support pages out there.
   Or, the conspiracy theorist must ask: is it due to the brand being so hallowed that users don’t post information about their supposedly perfect computers?
   It’s all the same to me: computers are computers, and they all crash at some point.

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Posted in branding, internet, technology | 7 Comments »