North Western Winds

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Archive for the ‘Apple’ Category

Nisus Writer Express

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Today is my first day experimenting with Nisus Writer Express, a Mac Word-processor that has been around a while, but which is new to me. I have a number of word processing programs available to me but have to admit that all of them have issues to some degree or other that make them less than ideal homes for composition.

On the PC, I used to use the free and open-source Open Office suite. It wasn’t beautiful, but it fit into the Windows desktop and did everything I needed it to do. It was also reasonably quick. Open Office is available for Mac OS X in two forms, neither of which is what I want in a Mac word processor. The main port of Open Office for Mac runs in the Unix environment called X-11. That isn’t a terrible problem, but it does give it some behaviors that are unlike those of normal OS X programs. The menu-bar doesn’t function normally, for example. It also looks and behaves just like Open Office for Windows. That might be a bonus for people who work in both environments, but since I made the switch to Mac I have tried to work in the Mac environment whenever possible. In truth, I like it OS X such that in it’s wince inducing to go back.

There is an Open Office port that is designed to fit into the Mac environment and play nice, and I have taken a long look at it. Neo Office, as it is called, is getting better with every release but it is dogged by two problems. The first is that it is a terribly slow program to fire up. The other is that while it does play nice with the Mac, it still does not feel like a Mac program. It looks like an open source copy of MS Office running on a Mac. That’s probably because that’s exactly what it is. You can see this phenomenon in screenshots of various Linux distributions too. In trying to appeal to Windows refugees, the designers’ slogan appears to be something like “our gulag is better than their gulag.” As a result, their programs look like cheap-o versions of Windows. Crashes, bugs and security issues aside, the Windows environment is not something designed for the use and enjoyment of human beings and I’m loathe to let it find its’ way back into my life.

What about Apple’s light Office suite, iWork? The short and sweet answer is that it’s OK. Pages, the word processor, looks nice and behaves as one would expect from an Apple program. It’s clean, functional and not difficult to use. It’s strength appears to be document formating, so that you can quickly make shorter documents that look great and will play nice with Keynote, the other half of iWork. Pages isn’t, however, the trusty companion of the long distance writer.

I’ve been playing with Nisus Writer Express for all of about fifteen minutes and this feels like the best word processor I’ve used in some time. I’m writing in a razor sharp full screen mode. It’s easy on the eyes and offers no distractions. I haven’t had this feeling while writing since using Word on DOS, and that certainly wasn’t as pretty as this. If I had to run it windowed, Nisus Writer makes it very easy to knock out all of the toolbars so that you’re composing in a window that looks like it could be a simplified TextEdit. When you need to do formating, the toolbars come back with one or two clicks.

Nisus also offers four clipboards, for pasting frequently used text, and an “auto correct” feature that you can add words to. Or shortcuts to words. These two features are huge time savers and very sexy. They may not be original, but neither is sex. A replacement tool is available as a stand alone product called Textpander, which sells for $30. I suppose it has the benefit of working in all of your programs, but Nisus Writer Express costs only $45 and has a lot more functionality. Why not compose there and just export/import any text you need in another program?

Nisus Writer is also fast enough that it can plausibly serve as a notepad, a function that I sometimes like to have when I’m gathering information on the web. I had been auditioning Mac Notepad, which is not a bad little program, but it doesn’t have nearly the functionality and is expensive ($20) for what you get. Those two programs alone would be more than Nisus and still wouldn’t match it. Then there’s another thing I like about Mac software – you can often buy “family packs” and get more licenses (usually three) at a reduced rate. Nisus offers a three pack for $80, which works out to $27 per copy.

For someone like me, who likes to write, and with other family members who could use a good Mac word-processor, this looks like a good find.


Written by Curt

April 13, 2007 at 11:46 am


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John Gruber at Daring Fireball takes a look at “AAC means lock-in” arguments, which were only ever valid about music purchased at the iTunes store, in light of Apple’s no DRM deal with EMI. An easy thought experiment sets us right:

Daring Fireball:

Let’s imagine for one paragraph that Microsoft’s and Apple’s digital music positions were flipped: that it was Microsoft that shipped the world-changing Zune in 2001, that they had sold 100 million Zunes to date, and that Microsoft’s online music store had 85 percent market share for legal downloads — all of them protected by Microsoft’s proprietary DRM. Can you imagine, in this scenario, Steve Ballmer or Bill Gates publishing an open letter like Jobs’s “Thoughts on Music”? Can you imagine Microsoft volunteering to switch from DRM-protected songs to an unprotected industry standard file format?

Me neither.

Microsoft would have told EMI to stick their DRM-free tracks up their ass. And the classic Microsoft, the Microsoft with a set of balls, would have told EMI that if they wanted to sell DRM-free tracks elsewhere, at other stores, that they’d suddenly find the terms changed for their songs at the market-dominating Microsoft store.

Apple is not the “Microsoft of digital music”, and everyone ought to stop trying to view their actions as though they were. Alas, that’s too much to hope for, and so in the meantime, now that Apple has proven its commitment to DRM-free music downloads, keep your eye out for anti-AAC propaganda from those pushing an anti-iTunes or anti-Apple agenda


Follow up post here.

Written by Curt

April 10, 2007 at 8:35 pm

Windows 3.1 Add Font Dialog Still In Vista

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Aside from a growing reluctance to deal with MS’ often poorly concived and executed software, I long ago suspected that Vista wasn’t going to be any fun. Even if it is very shiny.

What can one say about this, for example?

Windows 3.1 Add Font Dialog Still In Vista – Forums

No? How about a more common interface problem?

At least I’m not alone in my apprehension. Chris Prillo describes Vista as ‘lipstick on a pig‘, or the OS iteration of the Phantom Menace.

Not that it will matter. People who think cases like these are cool will buy it in droves because it’s cheap – or so we thought. Here are a few bits to mull over:

Common retail price for Windows 95: $89.95

For Vista: Depends on user configuration. Upgrading a PC from Windows XP would cost as little as $99 for Vista Home Basic edition, up to $259 for Vista Ultimate. Suggested retail prices for those versions range from $199 to $399.

Number of lines of code in Windows 95: 11.2 million

In Vista: 50 million is a commonly cited figure, but Microsoft refuses to confirm that officially.

Approximate number of Windows 95 programmers: 200

For Vista: More than 2,000, according to one Microsoft developer’s blog, but Microsoft also won’t confirm that.

Too many chefs is a problem here, but the bigger underlying issue is that the PC/business world’s sense of design was stillborn long ago. It was once a given that a PC was the best buy. Is that still true when you can use web apps for simple stuff and Open Office for more substantial jobs – and share those files easily?

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Written by Curt

January 23, 2007 at 6:11 pm

Ripping LPs

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I’m on holidays this week, and that probably accounts for the increased posting of late. As I’m writing these posts, a lot of the time I’m also using my iMac to digitize some old LPs that my parents have. You see, I gave my mother a 30GB iPod for Christmas, which at this point she can barely operate. She likes to listen to music or audiobooks at work on a CD player or iPod shuffle, so this seemed like a good gift. I suggested we buy some new music for her from the iTunes store, and I’m certain we will do that again. What she really missed, however, was her old LPs, which she hasn’t listened to in years and years, and which she is deeply nostalgic for.

She wanted to buy a turntable that would plug in to the computer via USB, and bring her collection into the digital age. Given her large lack of computer skills, and the amount of work this represented, I suggested using the money for the turntable to simply buy new versions of these recordings, either in CD or directly from the iTunes store. Unfortunately, she was right in assuming that a lot of these LPs are not sold in the iTunes store or CD. I learned this the hard way, about which – later.

So she bought the LP recorder against my advice to simply move on and buy whatever was available in CD or AAC format. I think she did this primarily because she has little conception of what will be missing in any direct recording of an LP – ie. meta data, and containing each song to a single file. Playlist? Shuffle? Search? What’s that? I was left wondering how I could teach her – or Dad – how do this this right when I had never done it myself. The open source program that shipped with the turntable was a Windows program, which is OK. Mom and Dad have an old PC that runs it fine. It had an ugly interface and more critically, it had no tools for splitting the LP sides into songs.

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Written by Curt

January 18, 2007 at 1:03 pm

iPhone factor

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Wired’s Cult of Mac on why the iPhone is remarkable – even if some features are not new. Writer Pete Mortensen is surely right about this. Newness alone could never be the be-all, end-all of cool.

Cult of Mac:

I have to roll my eyes at this article about the chilly reception of the iPhone among Japanese cell phone enthusiasts. I think the general thesis is probably right — that the iPhone looks significantly more breakthrough to people in the States, simply because available services are so much better in Japan. On the other hand, you don’t prove that the iPhone is boring by pointing out that people can buy movie and sports tickets from their cell phones in Japan. That’s like saying the Wii isn’t much of a breakthrough because the PlayStation Portable can play movies in UMD. True, but pretty much irrelevant.

The article also discusses how baseball games and other programming can be watched live on cell phones…like they can in the United States with Slingbox. This is the sort of analysis that shouldn’t even be performed unless you can characterize the problem correctly.

The innovation of the iPhone is first, next and last about its incredible multi-touch interface and fantastic integration with iTunes. It will take features that have technically existed on cell phones for years and years and years and make them something my Mom could actually figure out how to use. Honestly, I’m not sure if she’s ever even sent a text message in her life. She would with an iPhone. It’s an adoption curve problem. Features might come first to other phones — and certainly to the Japanese market — but Apple will make sure people understand how to use it and that it’s meaningful for them. Features are irrelevant if people don’t know how to use them. More than irrelevant — alien, non-existant.

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Written by Curt

January 15, 2007 at 11:19 am

Posted in Apple, Tech, Uncategorized