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And then there were two...

 •  Filed under nerd

Windows Central reporting:

Microsoft's Corporate Vice President for Windows, Joe Belfiore, has today clarified the company's stance with Windows 10 Mobile and what it's currently doing in the mobile space. In a series of tweets on Twitter, Belfiore states that as an individual end-user, he has switched to Android, and that Windows 10 Mobile is no longer a focus for Microsoft.

To me, this remains the second-biggest business story of the 21st century (the debut of the iPhone, tied directly to this story, is the biggest.) It is shocking how Microsoft was the biggest and most influential software maker of the last 35 years and yet completely missed the boat on mobile. Their mobile OS strategy is now completely dead.

Let that sink in: the mobile revolution happened, and Microsoft is only a surface-level player. They make apps and provide services for mobile operating systems and hardware which is not their own.

In hindsight, Steve Ballmer's 13 years as CEO of Microsoft marked one of the most catastrophic missed opportunities in the history of business. Microsoft had all of the incentives, resources, and experience it needed to put together a compelling competitor to the iPhone in 2007. Case in point, after the iPhone debuted, Google immediately changed gears and shifted Android from a Blackberry competitor and into something that looked a lot more like an iPhone.

From 2007-2010, Microsoft continued to fumble around with Windows Mobile 6.5 and eventually Windows Phone 7. They did not understand or appreciate what was happening to the market which they themselves had created.

Microsoft never managed to bring to market a mobile product which was compelling enough for consumers to purchase in enough numbers that made the platform compelling enough for developers. I think Windows 10 Mobile could have been that product, but it came five years too late.

Satya Nadella has done an incredible job pivoting Microsoft into a focus on services, entertainment, and hardware. But imagine what could have been! Instead, today Bill Gates carries an Android...

Old Mail

 •  Filed under nerd

Ernie Smith has a great history of Eudora, one of the most important computer applications of the 1990s.

In early 1997, two applications were in the process of taking over the internet, and both had roots in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. One of those applications, Netscape, became a bedrock of how we surf the web. The other, Eudora, put a graphical twist on email.

I wasn't much of a Eudora user myself. I envied the powerful filtering abilities it possessed, but I never much cared for the UI.

My client of choice in that era was Claris Emailer, which was both gorgeous and functional. These days I use MailMate and Mail.app (the latter because MailMate doesn't support Exchange.) If you look at those apps (and really, most other email apps, including gross Outlook) the influence of Eudora is undeniable.

Dear Angry GOP Donors

 •  Filed under politics

In Politico today:

With the GOP’s agenda at a virtual standstill on Capitol Hill, the party is contending with a hard reality. Some of the party's most elite and influential donors, who spent the past eight years plowing cash into the party’s coffers in hopes of accomplishing a sweeping conservative agenda and undoing Barack Obama’s legislative accomplishments, are closing their wallets.

Here's some Real Talk: you spent the last decade-plus funding candidates who treat conservative ideology more like a religion than a governing philosophy. When there is no room for compromise, even within our own party, and those who are willing to make deals which might otherwise conflict with their ideology are labeled “RINOs” in primary ads, then this is the disfunction you get.

Some exasperated givers are turning to Steve Bannon, Trump’s hard-charging former chief strategist and a McConnell nemesis, to vent. Bannon met with several contributors who were in Washington this week for an RNC gala and has eagerly stepped into the role of donor-whisperer. He is looking to establish his own finance network to fund an effort to unseat Senate Republican incumbents in 2018.

Hahahahahahaha. Yeah, Bannon is the answer to building a functioning majority. Sure. Don't forget, Bannon backed this guy.

Tim Cook Gets It

 •  Filed under nerd, politics

From his recent commencement address to the MIT Class of 2017:

Technology is capable of doing great things. But it doesn’t want to do great things. It doesn’t want anything. That part takes all of us. It takes our values and our commitment to our families and our neighbors and our communities. Our love of beauty and belief that all of our faiths are interconnected. Our decency. Our kindness.

I’m not worried about artificial intelligence giving computers the ability to think like humans. I’m more concerned about people thinking like computers without values or compassion, without concern for consequences. That is what we need you to help us guard against. Because if science is a search in the darkness, then the humanities are a candle that shows us where we’ve been and the danger that lies ahead.

A Review of the 2016 MacBook Pro 15”

 •  Filed under nerd, reviews

Forward

I started drafting this review a few weeks prior to the 2017 updates to the MacBook Pro line. Those updates (Kaby Lake, speed-bumped AMD graphics) are negligible improvements, so I’m not too worried about this review being outdated even as I publish it.

Introduction

I’m a long-time Mac user, starting with the platform in the late 1980s, and using it full time since about 1992. There are a lot of MacBook Pro reviews out there, but I think my Mac credentials can offer things that might be missed by other reviewers who never used a Macintosh SE, or never had to use Mac OS versions prior to X.

Ordering and Configuration

I’ve been needing/wanting a new MacBook for a while, as my old machine has been slowly failing in peculiar ways.

I use my Mac full-time for work and for my personal needs, which can include a lot of web work (many open tabs across two different browsers); graphics work, including Photoshop and Lightroom; transcoding video (client videos or my own DVDs/Blu-Rays); the occasional game. The 15-inch model continues to serve these needs the best, as I need the extra screen real estate and the faster GPU.

As I have done since Apple’s online store debuted, I placed an order for a custom configuration.

I started with the base model, which is the only way to get the slower 2.6 Ghz CPU. I often value battery life over raw CPU speed, so I'm comfortable sacrificing CPU speed for some battery gains (this "slower" CPU is still faster than the i7 in my much older machine.) To this base model I then added the Radeon 460 and 1TB of storage.

My new machine arrived in about a week.

Build Quality

I’ve been using this machine for two weeks, and I can safely say that this is the most solidly-built Mac portable I’ve ever owned (a list which includes a couple each of iBooks, PowerBooks, and MacBook Pros.)

When you pick it up, it feels like a solid piece of aluminum. No creaking or flexing anywhere. Using only touch, you cannot even feel the seam where the bottom panel meets with the main body. That is excellent overall engineering and quality control.

The new MacBook Pro charges with an 87-watt USB-C power supply and cable. The power supply brick looks like any other power brick Apple has included for the past 15 years. The cable is the big change. The beloved MagSafe connector is dead, and USB-C is the new do-it-all plug. I’ll miss MagSafe, but USB-C seems fine. The ability to charge my MacBook from any of the four ports is pretty handy.

The build quality of the new charging cable is excellent. It is thicker than previous cables, as well as being replaceable (on previous generations, if your power cable broke you had to replace the entire $80 power supply; now you can just swap out the $20 cable.) The strain relief on the ends seems much more robust than previous cables. Overall, I think the new cable is the best that Apple has ever shipped with a MacBook.

Living that USB-C Life

Alright, so as of June 2017, the USB-C standard is a mess. Excluding Thunderbolt 3, there are at least 4-5 very different USB-C cables with very different specifications (specs which determine how well it can charge your device, or if it can carry video, or how quickly it can move your data.) My Nerd IQ is pretty damn high, but I still find the USB-C "standards" to be unnecessarily confusing.

Unfortunately, USB-C style ports are the only ports available on the MacBook Pro, in the form of Thunderbolt 3. Thunderbolt 3 is awesome. It's super-fast and fulfills the dream of having a single port which can do everything. I picked up a CalDigit Thunderbolt Dock through which I can connect Ethernet, a 4k display, and 8 USB devices to my Mac with a single cable. No third-party drivers needed, and my desktop isn't a mess of cables.

Once I leave my tidy desktop though, I'm living in a dongle hell. USB-A to USB-C adapters everywhere. But it will get better.

Veteran Mac users have survived many of these situations in the past. SCSI gave way to Firewire; ADB to USB; Firewire to Thunderbolt. Dare I even mention the 68k to PowerPC and PowerPC to Intel transitions? Being a Mac user means living a life of transition, those are what allows the platform to continually move forward.

In the PC world, most of their desktops still carry PS/2 ports, for mostly unnecessary reasons. I'd much rather trade that space for a few extra USB ports...

In the case of USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, I have to live with some dongles for a while. I’m okay with that. The long-term gain is that we will have a single port that can do everything. That's the future we've dreamed of, right? Well, at least until we can replace ports with wireless tech that doesn't suck (but I'm not going to hold my breath on that one.)

For perspective, here's the evolution of ports on Apple laptops since 2005 (from my collection):

15” PowerBook: Who were all of these people who needed an S-Video port on their computer? I guess maybe for the camcorders of the era?

15” Retina MacBook Pro:

15” New Hotness:

In Day-to-Day Use

It’s fantastic. Everything is faster.

The updated display is noticeably brighter. The new GPU can drive both the built-in display and my external 4k display with buttery smoothness; on my old machine it would occasionally turn into a slideshow as it attempted to move all of those pixels.

The keyboard, it’s not great. I use a fully-mechanical keyboard at my desk, but the keyboard on this new machine has so little key-travel that it’s almost like typing on an iPad. I’ll get used to it. Look, it’s not as offensive as the hockey puck.

The Touch Bar is fine. Reaching my pinky for the Escape key and finding only glass is a little weird, but I think it’s a feature with a bright future as developers figure out the best ways to utilize it. It’s the first step toward a Mac keyboard which is just one big sheet of programmable glass. I bet the 2020 MacBook either goes all-glass, or has dual-Touch Bars (now also consuming that bottom row with the modifier keys and arrows…)

I consider Touch ID an indispensable feature of my iPhone, and it is quickly entrenching itself the same way on my Mac. A single swipe of my finger to unlock my system or 1Password? Yes, please.

Conclusion

It’s a great machine. If you need a laptop that’s both powerful and lightweight, it’s hard to do better than the MacBook Pro. There is plenty of griping about this machine, and I’ll admit that the USB-C port situation is sorta painful, but it really is a solidly engineered machine. It’s not built for all users in all situations, but what computer is?

So many reviews of this machine were written at a time when it appeared the Mac was stagnant and this one new MacBook Pro would have to serve all “pro” needs. But as of this week, we've got all refreshed portables. We have higher-end iMacs with really fast GPUs (and the iMac Pro was announced for the end of the year.) A few weeks ago we learned that the Mac Pro lives, and will get a full re-design sometime after this year. Even the MacBook Air got an update. There are Macs for everyone!

I’m curious how those original reviews of the 2016 MBP would change if they had been surrounded by all of these other updated Macs? I suspect they would be a lot more positive.