Stark Contrast between OSes

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As I write this, I’m downloading updates for Windows in the background. Yes, you read that right. Windows. But wait, aren’t I a Mac guy?

Yes. Absolutely. But I also teach computing in a mainly Windows environment, and it still makes sense to be able to use those few apps that I need in a classroom situation in their native platform environment, and that means Windows. Although I personally prefer to use Mac versions of most applications, it gets too hard to teach a class about the Windows version of Word when they look up and see my Mac version on the data projector. (Despite the fact that everything is there in both versions, the Mac version has a slightly different IU and a few added features, so it doesn’t look identical.)

Anyway, I figured the simplest solution would be to just use the Windows apps for those few times when I need them. There is also a proprietary Markbook app that the school uses that is Windows only, and I would like to run that occasionally too.

As you may have read in a previous post, I was pretty blown away with CrossOver. And despite the fact that CrossOver worked well for Microsoft Office, it still didn’t support Access and Frontpage at all, nor the Markbook app.

So I decided to give Boot Camp a go. Boot Camp lets you dual boot an Intel Mac into Windows natively. No emulation or virtualisation involved, it just runs native on the Intel DualCore processor in the Mac, much as it would on a Dell, Toshiba or ThinkPad. There was really only a handful of apps I was interested in on Windows, mainly Office, so I pared off a 5Gb partition from my 100Gb hard drive and used the Boot Camp installation assistant to package up all the required drivers, etc, stuck the Windows XP disk in, and an hour or so later had a dual boot Mac that easily runs both OS X and Windows XP. Just hold the option key down at startup, choose your operating system, and off you go.

Anyway, it’s always interesting getting a Windows machine up and running. Despite the fact that I really only want a very minimal machine to use occasionally, I’ve just spent a good couple of hours setting it up. I had to install an antivirus program, and my computer is currently in the middle of downloading 59 – yes, 59 – updates for Windows. These are mostly security updates, critical updates, patches, malicious software removal tools, etc. I’d forgotten just how much effort has to go into simply maintaining a Windows box. Add to that the several dozen antivirus update files that AVG needed to pull down, installation of basic utilities like Acrobat Reader to allow me to read a simple PDF file, and I’ve just spent the last 2+ hours simply updating this machine so it’s safe enough just to go online. What a joke.

By contrast, when I got my Mac I just opened it up and started to use it. No driver issues, no AV issues, no missing utilities, and only a couple of updates – mostly version updates for iLife apps, not security updates. The updates were all done in a couple of minutes.  Back in Windows I’m experiencing the usual symptoms – “menu lag”, unacceptably long delays between clicks, excessive hard drive activity, hung applications, and a system that gives error messages at shutdown. This is a clean install for goodness sake!! That’s pathetic!

It’s installing those updates now, only 42 more to go. Seriously, I’m SO looking forward to rebooting and going back to an OS that Just Works.

9/11 + 5

I just watched the most amazing documentary on the 9/11 attacks from 5 years ago. It was just called, simply, 9/11.

It was on TV last night, and had a bunch of footage that I’d never seen before. Considering the huge amount of press coverage that the attacks got when they first happened, and how well documented the events have been since then, I was surprised to find that there was still such a large chunk of footage that I’d never ever seen before.

The documentary was made by two French filmmakers that were actually making a doco about a young firefighter who had just joined the FDNY. They’d been following this guy around, fimling and getting to know the other fireys for a few months and had been taking their cameras out on shoots to local fires, etc. They just happened to tag along when the guys were called out to attend an unknown event on the morning on 9/11, not really knowing what they were in for. Turns out that one of the filmmakers got caught up in the foyer of the building with all the NY fire chiefs during the main part of the disaster. It was a real insiders view of events.

Our recent visit to Ground Zero was an amazing experience and made the events of five years ago so much more real. As I say, I’d never seen any of this documentary footage before, and found it to be quite compelling viewing. Well worth a look if you get the chance.

Dropping like Flies

What on earth is going on back in Australia??

First I awoke the other day to the news that Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, was killed. I’m amazed at the response here in Canada and the USA. I can understand the outpouring of emotion back home is Australia, since Stevo was a well known and mostly well liked bloke who did good things to promote the environment and wildlife. Despite the way Irwin often came across as just a bit too over-the-top, he was absolutely passionate about what he did and that showed through. Even if he got on your nerves a bit, he was still the real deal… a genuine Aussie bloke that was just excited about life. Such a shame to lose him like that.

It has been amazing though to see the way that his death has been mourned and reported here in North America though. I had no idea he was so well known and loved by so many people outside Australia. There have been endless news stories about the incident since it happened, and current affairs feature were still talking about it days after it happened. I’ve heard it mentioned on the TV and radio here numerous times… a surprising amount of airtime actually. Just goes to show what a great job Steve Irwin did of promoting Australia. Vale Stevo.

And then today I heard the news about Brockie. OMG, I couldn’t believe it. Peter Brock was one of the most well known racing drivers in Australia. Nine times winner of the gruelling bathurst race, Brockie was the undisputed King of the Mountain for many years. He’s another one who is just a fair dinkum, down to earth, good bloke. To have him die in a targa – a minor rallying event – is just unthinkable. He was a major promoter of road safety, did heaps of great charity work and you just couldn’t help but like Peter Brock. Australian motor racing has lost a legend, and the Australian people have lost a great Australian. You’ll be missed Brockie.

Let’s hope things don’t really happen in threes.

Oh, and Germaine Greer…  why don’t you pull your head in and piss back off the UK.  You’re talking shit.

Just a thought

I want to see if this works.

It’s a voice recording made in GCast, a web based podcasting tool. Since Edublogs don’t appear to support podcasting, I’m curious about ways to create/store an audio file somewhere and then link to it from inside the blog post. What intrigues me about GCast is that you can create the recording for free using a telephone. Just call the phone number provided and enter your PIN, then record you message. Hmmm, interesting. What can we do with that idea?

The dial in number is US based, but I suppose you could always Skype it. Otherwise just record locally with Audacity and upload the audio file to GCast as usual.

It’s not technically a podcast if you just link to it like this, as there is no RSS feed involved, but it still has possibilities.

Swept up in Blogging

With all the hype about Web 2.0 in the classroom, I have been very keen to explore the use of blogs as a learning tool and have been busy reading lots of articles and blogs, listening to podcasts, etc, trying to absorb lots of ideas on how this might be best done. I don’t think anyone really has any clear strategies about edublogging… a handful of teachers are just trying out different ideas and I guess the most effective uses will just bubble their way to the top eventually.

In the meantime, I decided to set each of my students up with a learnerblogs account and attempt to create some sort of blogging ecosystem in the classroom. Of course, I hope they expand and link to idea way outside of just the classroom, but it’s a start.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Crossing Over

I’ve just been playing with a very cool piece of software for the Mac. Or is it a piece of software for Windows? Actually, it’s kind of both.

Crossover is based on the work of the WINE project – a curiously-named self-iterative anagram that stands for Wine Is Not an Emulator. WINE has long been used in the Linux community as a means of getting Windows programs to run under Linux. When I first looked at it several years ago it was still very raw and new and difficult to use. However, in the last few years, WINE (and in fact Linux too) has come a very long way. Linux development moves forward at an amazing pace and the last few distributions I looked at were very impressive indeed.

Back to Crossover. Although it’s still only in Public Beta, Crossover runs as an application on either the Mac or Linux platforms and it allows genuine Windows applications to be run natively on either of those OSes. Not emulated. Natively. That means you can take a Windows program and install it on the Mac (or Linux) and have it run as just another application under Mac OSX. It works by translating the API calls of the Windows app directly to the equivalent API calls in the Mac OS, effectively allowing the program to exist in the new OS environment. It’s an incredibly clever piece of software engineering that I think is greatly significant for those of use who don’t want to be restricted in our choice of operating system.

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The neat thing is that it truly does run the program under Mac OSX, so the speed of the programs is pretty much the same us it would be under Windows… it’s not an emulation like Parallels, and it doesn’t require a reboot like Boot Camp. It just runs the program in OSX as though it was in Windows. You can copy and paste between the two environments, and the Windows app has full access to the Mac’s file system. The application toolbar resides in the window, just as it would under Windows, while the Mac toolbar shows the Mac as running Crossover… very neat! The installation was very straight forward, and sports a long list of supported Windows apps, including several versions of Photoshop, several versions of Office, plus a bunch of others, including games. You can also try to run other Windows apps, but obviously they can’t test everything. I suppose that’s why it’s still a Public Beta.

It’s kind of weird seeing Windows apps running on my Mac. I don’t really have a need to do it, since there is a Mac program to do do pretty much everything I need to do. I suppose it would be good for software training, as you can effectively use one machine to run an application for whatever platform you need. Other than that, I’m not sure why I’d even want to run a Windows app on my Mac. Still, it’s pretty cool that it can be done, and opens up a whole range of options for those people who would really like to switch, except for that one Windows program that they just can’t live without…

We live in interesting times.

Sensing that Spirit

My daughter Kate and I went to the Sherway Gardens shopping mall in Toronto on Saturday morning to check out the opening of the new Apple Store. Apple Stores are somewhat of a novelty for me, since we don’t actually have any in Australia. (What’s the story SJ? Aussies want Macs too, you know!)

Apple Store, New York City.  Click to Enlarge

Since living in Canada I have visted the store at Yorkdale Mall in Toronto, where I bought my MacBook Pro, as well as the store in Galeria Mall in Cambridge Boston, where I had to buy a replacement power adapter for the one I left in a hotel in Sydney, Nova Scotia. (I eventually got that power adapter back btw). I also visited the very cool and funky Apple Store in Fifth Avenue, New York City when I was there last month. These stores all do basically the same thing – let you try and buy the whole range of Apple products.

The funny thing is that the product range for Apple is quite finite. The do a couple models of MacBooks, a couple of desktop models, and about 7 different iPods. There’s also the accessories and software and various bits and pieces. It’s a wide range of stuff but it’s not so big that it’s mind boggling. And every Apple Store looks more or less the same, has the same sort of feel to them, and has the same products on display. Prices are fixed by Apple so they don’t really do discounts or special deals. The just sell and display the whole Apple range.

So why did I bother going to the opening of the Sherway Store? I knew I wasn’t going to see anything I hadn’t already seen. I was pretty sure the pricing would be standard (not that I planned to buy anything anyway). The offer of a free T-shirt to the first 1000 people was kind of cool, but hey, a T-shirt is a T-shirt right? The reason I went was just to check it out, “soak up the vibe” and be able to say I’d been to an Apple Store opening.

Well, the store opened at 9:30 and we got there about 9:35. As we approached the store, the line to get in stretched back down through the mall, out the doors, across the plaza and into the carpark. It was probably 400 metres long. It took us nearly 40 minutes to get in the door, and when we did we got a T-shirt, spent about 20 minutes looking around (at products we’d seen many times before) and then we left. With any other store, I would never have waited in a line like that, but somehow, Apple seems able to create a buzz, a hype, and a sense of wanting to just be a part of that. I don’t quite know how they do it, but it’s very real and the sight of the long line of people waiting to visit the new store was just a testament to Apple’s ability to somehow draw people with that indefineable spirit that only Apple seems to be able to generate.

Steve Jobs once touched on it in an interview when talking about Apple’s early products…

“It’s the same thing that causes people to want to be poets instead of bankers … And I think that that same spirit can be put into products, and those products can be manufactured and given to people and they can sense that spirit.”

Interestingly, there was a Dell store not 100 metres away and it was totally deserted. Not a single person even browsing. I guess people can sense Dell’s spirit too.