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The Desktop Pet arrives

Little guy that lives on your desk!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005 by Draginol | Discussion: Personal Computing

Just in time for Christmas, Stardock has released the Desktop Pet.  The Desktop Pet lives on your Windows XP desktop. He will interact with various included desktop objects. A sophisticated artificial intelligence engine helps bring him to life by giving him needs such as hunger, sleep, boredom, and even (ahem) the need to take a potty break. 

Users can set the various included desktop objects to be automated or take care of the feeding and cleaning up on their own.  It also includes options for muting sound, pausing, and unloading. The pet is saved to disk regularly so that if you close it or reboot he will be back to where he left off when you bring him back up again.

Stardock hopes to keep updating the pet after release to keep adding new behaviors, additional objects, and new habits to help keep the experience fresh and to respond to customer input.  The Desktop Pet is a fun $10 diversion and makes a great stocking stuffer for the computer user in your family. 

The home page for the Desktop Pet is 

Whining about "Stealing ideas" is pointless

Adventures in software development

Thursday, September 22, 2005 by Frogboy | Discussion: Personal Computing

It seems every time a larger company incorporates a feature that a smaller company has that a bunch of people start screaming bloody murder.  Shrieks of "copying" and "stealing" come up.  What's the point?  Last year the folks who made Konfabulator made a be stink when Apple incorporated Dashboard into the OS.  I totally agreed with Konfabulator's developers that it was pretty lame on Apple's part but in the end, complaining just looks bad I think to most people.  The fact is, if you make something good, other people will want to make something similar. That's life.

And I say that with some experience...

Object Desktop in 1995/1997

This is a screenshot of Object Desktop taken in 1997.  Mind you the product originally was released in 1995 and was in public beta testing in 1994.  It had features that were quite new (Windows 3.1 was the OS in 1994).  It provided featurs such as a skinnable UI for the entire OS (what we call WindowBlinds today), treated .ZIP files as compressed folders, allowed users to package up desktops (Object Package), Had a big sidebar on the right side with virtual desktops, system info, a clock, etc.

So when Microsoft and other companies started treating ZIP files like compressed folders, we didn't make a peep of complaint even though we were the first to do it.  Why? Because we didn't think the idea was non-obvious. 

Similarly, even though (to our knowledge) no product or OS had ever done a sidebar quite like this (NeXTStep's dock is pretty dissimilar), we haven't made a peep about other sidebars and such when they came along.

Even in 2001, when Microsoft incorporated GUI skinning into the OS using the exact same mechanism as WindowBlinds (uxtheme.dll in Windows XP might as well be WindowBlinds LE or something) we didn't complain or make a huge uproar. 

When in 2003 Konfabulator came out with a program that essentially did a subset of features of what DesktopX had been doing for 3 years, we didn't accuse them of stealing their ideas from us.  The only thing we objected to was their claims that they had somehow invented the concept.  It should be noted that we never claimed to have invented the concept.  We were inspired by IBM's work on an OpenDoc based desktop back in 1996.

And when we learned that Microsoft was going to be doing gadgets some time ago, we could have made a huge stink about that too.  Gone to CNET and Wired and other media outlets and talked about how Microsoft was "stealing" from us.  But we didn't.

Why don't we? Because nobody likes a whiner.  And in our experience, each change brings a new opportunity. Software companies must endeavor to adapt and change to new circumstances.  The only metric that should be used in my mind is whether a change is good for users/customers or not. 

To be sure, it's annoying when users will say "Oh, Stardock's screwed." Or even more annoying when someone else gets credit for what we were doing first simply because they squeaked louder.  But the reality is, in the long-term, changes bring new opportunities.

For example, looking at that Object Desktop screenshot from 1997 (which has the same features as were present in 1995) you can see a proto-Sidebar, Compressed Folders, ObjectDock, widgets/gadgets, WindowFX, WindowBlinds.  But changes have spark new innovation.

Most people don't realize this but WindowBlinds didn't really take off until after Windows XP shipped.  When Microsoft embraced GUI skinning, it opened the door to far greater opportunities.  It legitimized what we were doing.   Similarly, we had long discovered that users were generally not willing to pay money to run someone else's widget, we had already begun to migrate towards stand-alone widgets (gadgets).  But for us, the challenge was, how do we spread the word about why they'd want to use gadgets? Voila, Microsoft comes in and is going to do much of that evangelizing for us.  People don't care how their little RSS reader is made.   Does anyone care what compiler we use to make TweakVista? No.  Will people care what program is used to create gadgets? No. They will only care about what the gadget does.

Object Desktop in 2000.

This pattern will keep repeating itself as long as we continue to make software that extends and enhances the operating system.  And those that bitch and moan the loudest about being copied from will probably continue to receive unfair credit for "innovation" over us. But in the long term, I think people are more comfortable dealing with companies that look challenges as potential opportunities rather than looking for pity. 

Coming to a tube near you...

Monday, September 5, 2005 by LifeIs42 | Discussion: Personal Computing

Nerd Tv, finally after about two months of wait, Nerd tv will be starting tomorrow i.e. 6th Sept. and i can't wait to enlighten myself with the wisdom of the zen masters Max Levchin, Andy Hertzfeld and Bill Joy, although www is the only way for me to view it, i will be going in for a full length mp4,

so keep your calendar free for next 13 weeks and yes, dont touch that remote....

Linux vs XP vs the World vs Linux vs Bill Gates vs Linux vs

How Linux and Linus Torvald Save Bill Gates' Butt through Apache

Sunday, June 26, 2005 by Chuck | Discussion: Personal Computing

Listening to the various arguments almost on a daily basis involving Microsoft, Linux and various other operating systems causes a ringing in my ears that very few painkillers alleviate. I am fortunate enough to have many good friends involved in the computer industry at various levels and listen to them attentively picking up interesting bits of information for application applied in my own technical field. They are, however, torn primarily between Linux and Microsoft operating systems; and argue good naturely over the validity of each until a good high colonic is suggested by myself to end the perpetual argument. Of course, my high colonic suggestion is met with suspicion not only to my educational background and military service, but my supposed interest in high colonics which is vehemently denied.

Fairness and objectivity is something applied to many arguments in my fields of history and computers. A striving is needed to understand the relative merits of both Microsoft XP, in this case and SUSE Linux 9.2, shall we say since familiarity is known through usage of both. Personally, there are merits and disadvantages of both systems, but some commonalities that stand out. There is no doubt Microsoft has increasing become a memory hog in each new operating system unveiled while SUSE Linux can run very easily on meager memory. My desktop operates on 768MB of memory which is enough to sustain Windows XPSP2, but makes Linux 9.2 whiz like a champ through many applications.

Obviously, there are many more applications available for MS XP than Linux 9.2. Linux has seen more software companies swing over in the past few years as well an more American cities and various nations adopting this operating system. The hope is more well known software companies will develop applications for Linux since more US localities and nations are utilizing the system. IBM has been a strong booster for Linux for a few years now, but major computer manufacturers vacillate between offering Linux on systems in addition to Microsoft. Dell did for awhile, but charge more than it did for MS XP which made little sense other than they sold far less than the MS equipped ones. There seems to be a lot of commerce talk now indicating more computer companies will be offering Linux, but that remains to be seen.

What are the advantages of Linux? It takes less memory to function with as mentioned before and seems to be a safer system overall. There have been some security flaws in the system, but they have been quickly met and patches issued in a short period of time. In fact, various patches, etc., are always available whenever one goes up on Linux pending whatever one decides to apply. I also enjoy the security available on Linux utilizing both a uder id and password to enter, period. One can neter XP, encounter a security screeen and bypass by merely hitting cancel, but that is not the same on Linux. Secondly, any change to inner Linux is accessible only by password which again is very easy to access through XP. Another aspect is various GUI one can use in Linux ranging from Linux to GNome. There are wonderful selections depending on whatever your desires are. So we have operating on neglible memory, various GUIs, securty and a wonderful patching system readily acessibly to.

On the other hand, Linux is a system that takes adjusting to if you haven't operated it before. It demands a different mindset and the ability to absorb a Unix based system instead of the prevalent MS type most are familiar with. XP's installation idea, for example, is to simply download the desired program, click twice and the installation begins with limited intervention needed by the user. Linux 9.2, on the other hand, is slightly different and requires much more user attention to protocol than MS in addition to familiarity to a different type of file system. Make no doubt about it, you have to do your homework and a bit of studying pays off in the long run with a smooth running operating system. Best thing to do is visit a bookstore and buy a SUSE Linux book which outlines all the various operations, functions, etc., and familiarize yourself with it before actually doing some hands on operations. It pays off in the long run with greater understanding not only of Linux, but of the subtle differences with XP.

Linux has made substantial GUI changes with each new edition and has done well with SUSE Linux 9.2. My Linux Guru friends rant they are making it too much like MS while others state it is necessary to develop attraction by former MS owners. Regardless, the current GUI is easy to function with once you are familiar with the process just like other system. In fact, Linux has more to offer in terms of customization that XP and generally, what you don't find can be download by some genius who has written code for the very thing you desire. Linux research and development is among the people and not confined to Redmond as MS is. This vast pool of Linux developers adds so many unqie contributions that can only be reviewed by constantly going to the various Linux websites from around the world. Though Linux is free code, there are various companies like SUSE, Redhat and others who sell Linux for a small fee. The development, however, is till among the millions of adherents who develop everything from Tux to a small clock to tell time in Russian, for example. Its truly an amazing example in international cooperation at work on a wonderful project.

One thing continually tiring about XP are the numerous security updates not only for XP, but also the various components such as Office, Outlook, Internet Explorer and Outlook Express. There were eight two weeks ago, but the number this year alone is staggering in comparison to Linux which is confronted with very few in comparison. So one asks why the problem with Microsoft? My guess is two fold with the primary being Microsoft didn't accomplish a great deal of research and development before unveiling a product to the masses for sale. I sense their concept was to present it for sale and then meet each challenge as it arose instead of finding various major during during an expensive and time consumed r/d period. One can also call this profit motive before r/d expenditures whereas Linus research and development is constant involving millions of people worldwide on any given issue. Secondly, it also appears Bill Gates, himself, gain many enemies due to his management style, aggressiveness and monopolistic desires that, in turn, manifested itself in creation of a multitude of hackers who developed a sole mission to find as many flaws or security holes in MS products as possible. In all fairness, there are many reputable laboratories out there which also find flaws and report them to Microsoft and Redmond gives them credit accordingly when announcing the hole and subsequent game plan for it. Regardless, a combination of the two aforemention reasons seem to illustrate the continual need for security upadates, SPs and various other changes issued by MS on a regular basis to those operating Microsoft operating system and products.

That in itself is enough to make even the most faithful to MS wonder what in the heck is going on. Take this example to consider>Outlook Express has a tendency to lose all print in the preview pane at times and also in the email when clicked to read. A diligent search of MS revleas only to a reinstall a dll thrun the run command on an interim basis with no permanent solution to the dilemma. This has ocurred to several of clients' systems and I gave up after exhaustive research for a solution and recommended they use Mozilla Thuderbird instead. All clients agreed this was an excellent recommendation after an initial breaking in period and now will not use anything else. Accordingly, they have also switched over to Mozilla Firefox due to security consideration after difficulties Internet Explorer has experienced and my recommendations. Bottom line was security and no permanent MS solution available even after email contact with MS techreps.

I have found no major problems with Linux nor Mozilla; and those encountered have been quickly resolved through the massive system used by both to encounter and resolve these needs. Linux has a massive knowledge base on SUSE and questions can also be directed to a LIVE PERSON for resolvement who actually emails you back within a short period of time. I was amazed since no waiting time was involved as with MS and secondly, I didn't find myself talking with someone from either China or India, with respect, that difficulties were encountered understanding due to cultural differences. It appears MS has made great strides in this area, but they still lack on the customer service side.

What is the end result for me? I have one hard drive devoted to Linux 9.2 shortly to be upgraded to 9.3 which will be used to develop more knowledge and expertise with; a second harddrive with MS XPSP2 on for the same purpose; and a third on with Windows 2000SPR to remember the good old days. I could list all the difficulties had with XP, but will save that along with solutions for another rant. It will be interesting.

Gain as much knowledge as possible on all operating systems since both MS XP and Linux are being pushed hard throughout the world. They both have good selling points, but Linux is a bit ahead with a low cost tag and safer system; MS pushes on the availability of much software, but has to really work to convey safety. Personally, I would rather see Bill Gates arguing with Linus Torvald at some site in acity where it was all taped for future viewing. Not that Bill would ever do this, but it would be interesting to see and hear what both had to say about their respective systems. I placing my bet on Linus Torvald since Linux is stil surviving after years of being bad mouthed by Bill; particularly that served Gates onces stated was his greated nemeis-Apache. So good, MS installed them at Redmond and during one nasty bug night, these servers saved his butt, but Bill didn't like the annoucement being made Apache had achieved this. In fact, his ego needed massaging after that.

Understanding Adware, Spyware, Logging, Hijackers & Phishing

Mac Attack Is Preferred To Weasly and Rascally Entry (WARE)

Saturday, June 25, 2005 by Chuck | Discussion: Personal Computing

Many nasties exist in cyberland just waiting to plant themselves on an unprotected computer. In fact, recent studies have shown 74% of broadband users had spyware or adware on their computers; 67% had no antivirus or had outdated software on their PCs; and nearly 50% do not currently have a firewall. Statistics can be deceiving, but nearly 85% of computer users do not have adequate protection (antivirus, antispyware, firewall) on their systems placing them at risk. This last statistic is simply amazing considering the amount of information about viruses alone commonly known.

What risk, you meekly ask with a wry smile? Why the risk of spyware, malware, hijacking, logware. viruses, worms, trojans and phishing to name the more popular ones with new ones propagating faster than earthworms in summer. The bad guys are constantly creating nasties to invade the good guys' systems which many owners are not even aware of. I was recently called to aid a nervous friend who had no idea whatsoever what was happening to her system. She had recently subscribed to broadband (and I won't mention ComCast by name) and the tech had installed everything by the book. Yes, by the book, except he did not inform her she need a current antivirus, antispyware or firewall to protect her investment. My diagnostics found and removed 1,263 pieces of spyware, 8 viruses, 4 trojans and 6 worms which fortunately had done no permanent damage to the unit. She was encouraged to contact that company I won't disclose (ComCast), but probably didn't since chances are no responsibility would have been taken. Also, this company doesn't offer any free security software for subscribers like Cox Communications does. So it goes.

The first step in diagnosing any problem regarding WARE (weasily and rascally entry) is to closely examine your computer operation. Turn on the unit and then set back to watch the booting up. Here is a checksheet to help you:

1. Turn on your system, set back, relax and watch the advertising show. Quite a show will be displayed if you have sufficient inundated adware (advertising spyware) and you will notice continuous popups. The products displayed are many, but more so is the rapidity of each popup taking up your windows memory as well as bandwidth while demonstrating subliminal advertising to the hilt. It is safe to assume you are infested with adware if this occurs, but the products shown aren't that good. Make one check mark.

2. Lets say you turn on your system and it has difficult booting up. In fact, you have problems entering safemode and mutter to yourself: "damn Microsoft." It may not be Microsoft's entire fault, but a small portion is. Spyware can invade many different portions of your system and be transporting worms or viruses to make your life more exciting as well. Where did they come from, you ask? Probably not from the bar you were hanging at last night nor from the date experienced, but could have came from the email received afterwards; or from that free piece of software you installed; or from just being on the internet. WHAT!!!!! Yup, just by being on the internet.

The internet has changed substantially from years ago. Duhhhhhh!!! A system is at risk these days simply by going on the internet without sufficient protection-nasy bots hang out there testing individual computer protection and zoom onto an unprotected one after sending back sufficient information to bring the equivalent of the Red Sea spyware to you computer's front door. This may sound exaggerated, but not that much since the nastie technology has advanced substantially and for every protection released by a recognized laboratory, a counter-nastie is devised by someone out there to attack it. It can be described as evolutionary to the full extent and is an ever crusading battle for truth, justice and the American way. Where is Superman when you need him?

Back to spyware which plants itself on your computer and sends back information to a server ranging from your marketing habits, sites visited, personal information, etc. It is not a good thing to have on your computer and should be removed as soon as possible.

3. Hijackers-these little devils do exactly what the name implies>hijack your computer and without you even being aware of it. Hacks come onto your system, look around for personal information like passwords, financial information, telephone numbers, etc., and then proceed to do things like download illegal software onto the harddrive, make numerous phone calls, credit card purchases, etc., while your computer is identified as the one used for all transactions. Normally, they are discovered when the credit card or telephone bill arrives indicating $3000 worth of charges in Singapore and you scream!!; and perhaps when something peculiar happens with the computer like bouncing around or programs not there before. Either way, by then the damage is done and the culprits have skipped out leaving you with the aftermath of perhaps identity theft, numerous long distance and international phone calls, tons of credit card purchases and the need to cry all night long. All you can do is prevent it from even happening again after reporting identity theft to the authorities and Barney.

4. Loggers-these devices are implanted on your system to record and transmit everything you log onto your keyboard. Imagine, everything you key into the system has been transmitted to a server somewhere with the idea of obtaining personal identity such as social security numbers, checkings/saving accounts, and any other preferably financial information that can be gleaned. It's mind boggling!!

5. My new favorite is entitled Child Protection or Surveillance reality its another device which takes snapshots of your entire harddrive or individual files for transfer to a server located in some unknown place where another computer examines for personal information. Very advanced, very sophisticated and demands a good antispyware with current definitions to find on your system.

6. Malware, also called Riskware, is anything that poses malice or risk to your system. This can range from a latent threat which may lay dormant for awhile and then come forth to deliver a potent virus, worm, logger, or hijacker. It depends upon which form deviousness the programmer had in mind when conceiving or if he or she had been to mass recently. Regardless, they can be identified with a good antispyware and dispatched to nastie heaven in the manurepile of digital bliss.

7. One last latter day creation Phishing. Phishing involves professional looking email from what appears to be your bank, ISP, etc., usually stating they are reorganizing financial information and would like for you to resubmit yours again. NOTTTTTTTT!! Its not the real thing and will go only to a server probably out of country where good use will be made of the information given. New security packages now have developed anti-phishing packages, but the best thing is common sense. REMEMBER THE FOLLOWING:

1. Nothing is free will always receive something in the background if download.

2. Never open emails you don't recognize. Opening one is sufficient enough to insure an abundance of spam and possible unleashing of nasties upon your system.

3. Never respond to spam. They take it as consent has been given. Best thing is to simply brand it as junk mail, let your system remove it, or delete it, and then report it to your ISP.

4. Don't be taken in by official looking email that resembles your financial institution, ISP or something similar. It probably isn't and could prove far more devastatin than you can imagine. Ignore all Selective Service Draft Notices.

5. Always beware if downloading something, like software, and it comes in a bundled package. Generally, this is an indication it provides products for you to evaluate which involves spyware. Always go to reputable sites for software.

6. USE COMMON SENSE with everything. Keep you antivirus definitions current; update your antispyware consistently; and be aware of your firewall, keep it current and see what it stops.

7. Check your checkings/saving account statements; any other financial investiments; phone bill; credit card statements, etc., to insure nothing out of the ordinary is happening.

8. Never give a contribution to anyone named Barney who claims to be purple and sings a weird song beginning with "I love you, you love me..." Chances are its not Barney, but someone named Bluto seeking enough scratch to find Popeye for a hit. Don't be fooled.

We now come to the part where a discussion of good antispyware products is necessary. Well, this must be prefaced by determining broadband including DSL or using dialup yet. I heartily recommend the use of a router with NAT for broadband/dsl even if only one computer is used. Secondly, choose a good antivirus, firewall and antispyware. I currently utilize an excellent D-Links router with NAT and two anti-spyware programs, SpySweeper and counterSpy. You can't lose with two antispyware programs, but may have difficulty running two antivirus programs simultaneously, i.e. Norton and McAfee. My system only uses one antivirus, Kaspersky Personal Professional and one firewall, Zone Alarm For Wireless. In total, they all work superbly and provide excellent protection for my needs.

I run a wireless for my laptop and use the same two antispyware programs, Kaspersky Anti-Hacker and Kasperky Personal Professional. Again, the protection is superb and no noticeable problems have been noted since configuring both the desktop and laptop.

Now, do you know enough to go out there and fight the good fight. Probably, but you will learn a great deal in the future as the evolutionary struggle continues. You can always visit sites like McAfee, Symantec, Kasperksy, etc., to view the latest virus/worms/trojans; and there are excellent sites for spam like The Spamhaus Project ( or the following for WARE:, and has a wonderful guide entitled Truth About Spyware and Adware. There are also psychiatric/psychological sites if you ever become confused to the point of believing you are one with your computer. Feel free to write the following in Google: whyme, hit enter and wait for the results. Help is on the way and you will find your personality again!!!

The Mac of Today - Is it Time to Switch (Part 2)

Readjusting to the MacOS Interface

Wednesday, April 13, 2005 by Zoomba | Discussion: Personal Computing

Part 2 - Readjusting to the MacOS Interface

Welcome back! This is the second part in a five part series examining the Macintosh to see whether it has come far enough to seriously entice PC users to jump the fence and try living the Steve Jobs way. Part 1 was meant to establish a bit of background so you know where I'm coming from in these articles. Essentially I started on Macs, made the jump to PCs in 1996 and have just recently returned to the Mac fold so-to-speak. This segment will focus on the User Interface of MacOS X.

My Powerbook's Desktop

The Hard Adjustments

It's never easy switching between Operating Systems, they all do things differently. While many features are at least similar in location and behavior between platforms, some changes just toss you for a loop. Several times in OS X, both my knowledge of the old Mac world as well as Windows completely failed me.

1) The New Apple Menu

The new and improved Apple Menu

The new Apple Menu is something that took me a while to get used to. Under the old MacOS, it was a sort of catch-all space for you to place shortcuts, get quick access to system configs etc. Think of it as a disorganized Start Menu. The new Apple Menu is streamlined and you can no longer hide shortcuts within it for quick access.

Now, the menu is meant for quick access to the core system tools. You can get to the System Preferences (Formerly called Control Panels), make changes to the Dock, determine which location you are at so your computer can utilize the proper network settings (I have configs for my apartment here in CT as well as for my parents home in PA whenever I visit), access to recent items, system software updates and the core Shutdown/Restart/Sleep options as well as a logout choice.

So basically, out of the box you have nothing in OS X that comes close to the Start Menu in Windows, or the old Apple Menu from days long gone. This meant I had to relearn where a lot of system tools were hiding. This led me to my second adjustment problem...

2) Where the (&$#@ are the printers?!!?

Ok, if you are familiar with the old MacOS, you know that the printers are handled through the Chooser, which you get to from the Apple Menu. The Chooser was sort of a swiss army knife as it was where they threw in all the system functionality they couldn't fit somewhere else. This was where you handled printers as well as connecting to network drives etc... Well problem number one is the Apple Menu as I knew it was gone, so I had to find out where they went and hid them. First I went running off to see if they were hidden in the System Preferences (Control Panels)... nope. I was left to dig through the directory structure manually to find it. I finally found it as a Printer application within the Utilities directory under Applications. Now in retrospect this is a logical place for a Printer tool to be kept, but it is counterintuitive to what Mac and Windows has done in the past.

Once I got used to where it was, I found the Printer tool to be incredibly useful and very easy to use!

3) Why won't it sort the icons how I want them sorted?

I'm accustomed to the Windows way of sorting items within a folder. Folders first, sorted alphabetically, then files sorted alphabetically. This allowed me to quickly find a folder if I was looking for a folder, or a file if I was quickly looking for a file. Unfortunately, in OS X it seems to want to force me to always list in pure alphabetical form, mixing folders with files. This is such a disconnect to how I'm used to working that I *still* haven't grown accustomed to it in the year I've been back on the Mac. This is one of those cases where I butt up against the Apple mindset that they know best how I should use my machine, and lock away certain customizations. There HAS to be a hidden config somewhere that changes this, so I can get things sorted the way I like, but I've yet to find it.

Old vs New - The Old MacOS to the New OS X

When you look at the older versions of MacOS and then at the new OS X, it looks like you're dealing with a completely different interface that holds little in common with the old version. In some cases, that's certainly true, but in many cases it's the same functionality with a new, pretty set of graphics over it.

Pre MacOS X
  • Contains Macintosh Hard Drive
  • Displays external media
  • Contains Trash Can (Recycling Bin)
  • Contains Macintosh Hard Drive
  • Displays external media
  • Contains Dock
Folder Navigation
  • Available Display Modes: List, Icon, Column, Tree
  • Sorts all items alphabetically
  • Defaults to open new folders in existing window
  • Available Display Modes: List, Icon, Tree
  • Sorts all items alphabetically
  • Defaults to open new folders in new windows
System Configuration
  • Each system component managed by individual control panels accessable by drop-down from the AppleMenu
  • All system components rolled into a single System Preferences application. Accessable from the AppleMenu or the Dock
Accessing Open Applications
  • Could select Application from the App Menu on the top right corner of the screen. Once in an application you could then flip through windows
  • All open Applications listed on the dock, click-and-hold on an icon to get a pull-out menu listing all open windows.
File Sharing
  • Activated through the File Sharing Control Panel
  • Connect to other shares over AppleTalk through the Chooser
  • Activated from the Sharing panel within System Configuration
  • Connect to other shares on the network (AppleTalk, Windows, Samba, any major standard) through the "Go" menu

There are a multitude of other common activities that map between the two systems, but the above suffice to show the differences and how, while different, remain pretty similar in form. It's not too hard to figure out the new way of doing things if you're used to the old way.

But comparing the how the two are similar and accomplish the same tasks is pretty boring, and since most people reading this are pretty computer saavy this is all painfully obvious stuff. The real fun with OS X is what it brings to the table in terms of NEW stuff...

New Toys!

So what new and flashy things does MacOS X bring to the OS world that have been sorely lacking from other standard Operating Systems? Well, lots of stuff actually. Now, some of these, such as the Dock, have been recreated by other developers for the Windows platform. I'm not looking at these as features that are necesarily EXCLUSIVE to the Mac, just ones that are bundled as standard features. It's all well and good to be able to add functionality through third party software, but it's at times preferable to have some functions built into the system, allowing for greater stability, as well as interesting hooks into other applications. I don't need a flood of comments like "Oh you can get that functionality with Software XYZ!" That's not the point here.

There are four new aspects to the User Interface that I particularly like. These are by no means the ONLY UI improvements you'll find in OS X, as there is a LOT of functionality built right into the Finder (such as CD Burning), these are just my favorite ones.

1) Exposé

Exposé is probably one of the neater features bundled with MacOSX as of 10.3 (Panther) It allows you to quickly gain access to several views of your system with just the press of a key. This is a function I don't think I've seen in any version of Windows, MacOS or Linux, but I bet we'll start seeing it in the next major versions in the coming years.

There are three views you can activate with Exposé, the first being the ability to essentially "Zoom Out" and view every window of every application you have open on your computer by pressing the F9 key. You are presented with a series of thumbnails of your currently open windows, mousing over them gives you a little bit of information on the window such as the application and document title. Clicking on an item will zoom it to the forefront. This is great if you regularly have a dozen windows open and become confused or forget what else you have running, or whether or not you already have a file or web page open in the background.

The second view you can access by hitting F10. This will show you all open windows within the current application. This is nice when you have multiple word documents, or multiple browser windows open. Once again, clicking on a thumbnail will zoom that window to the forefront.

The third and most familiar mode to Windows users would be the Show Desktop mode. By hitting F11, all windows zoom off to the edges of the screen, clearing the way back to your desktop so you can quickly access your hard drive, any disks, or downloaded files you may have sitting on the Desktop. In this mode, along the edges of the screen you'll see a darkened region, sometimes with the edges of windows showing. You can just click on the darkened regions to bring back all the windows that were hidden.

To de-activate any view, you can also hit the corresponding function key again. It will return you to the window you were previously in.

Exposé screenshots and captions taken from

2) Dock

This is the one part that most people visiting this article (either through JoeUser or WinCustomize) are the most familiar with. Apple added a "dock" to the system that acts much like the task bar does on the Windows side of life. Active applications reside here, as well as shortcuts to commonly used programs and games (or whatever you want to put on there). This is also where they've decided to place the Trash Can, removing it from the desktop where I'm used to it being. The dock can be customized a number of ways. You can position it on any side of the screen. It defaults to the bottom, but I have it aligned to the right of the screen. You can also scale the Dock to any size you like, turn icon maginification on or off, add or remove shortcut items as you like etc... If you've ever used Stardock's Object Dock (free or Plus) you know how the Dock works, and you know how useful it can be. It fits in with the entire OS X motif in ways that the old AppleMenu or a taskbar from Windows would not.

3) Spring Loaded Folders

This is one of those features that once you use it you think to yourself "This is just so obvious!" I'm sure everyone has had to drag and drop a file from one folder to another, but first had to click through a ton of folders in between to find the destination, then, with both the destination folder and the origin folder open, drag and drop. Seems simple because that's how we're used to things working. Well, OS X does it much better! You have an application on your desktop that you want to move to your Applications directory. Click and hold on the file, drag it over the Macintosh HD icon, it will automatically open the Hard Drive in a window. Continue to hold down the mouse, and now drag the file over your Applications folder icon, it will then open that directory and you can just release the item in the window. Ta-da! It's incredibly easy and intuitive to move files and folders around, reducing the amount of clicking you have to do.

Notes for Windows Users

There are a few points that are going to confuse life-long Windows users about the UI. I'll try and address them now...

Program List
  • Start Menu -> Programs
  • Macintosh HD -> Applications
Active Applications
  • Taskbar & System Tray
  • Dock
System Configuration
  • Control Panels
  • System Preferences
Delete Files
  • Recycling Bin on the Desktop
  • Trash Can on the Dock
  • Start -> Settings -> Printers & Faxes
  • Macintosh HD -> Applications -> Utilities -> Printer Setup Utility
Mouse Menu
  • Right Click
  • Control-Click
  • Plug in a 2 button mouse and right click
Kill Frozen Application
  • Ctrl-Alt-Del -> Task Manager -> Select Process -> End Task
  • Cmd-Opt-Q -> Select App to Force Quit
Quit Program
  • Alt-F4
  • Cmd-Q

Those are the big-difference items that every user new to Macs coming from the Windows world should know.

Ok, that's it for this fast-and-furious tour of the main UI features to MacOS X. I could have spent days just examining this aspect of the Operating System, but I just wanted to hit on the high points, compare and contrast it to the older systems and to Windows. The UI for OS X is clean, well laid out and good looking. It doesn't allow you the same sort of customization many will be used to from having used WindowBlinds and the rest of the ObjectDesktop suite, but I've found little need to tweak the default appearance of my Mac. In fact I've picked up Steve's MacOS X Tiger theme suite for my PC to make my experience a bit more uniform as I move back and forth from Mac to PC.

Part 3 will focus on Software for OS X, taking a look at the bundled apps you get with the system, what major software packages are available from third party vendors, as well as what sorts of games you can expect to be able to play on the platform. Keep an eye out for that article around the end of the week.


Mozilla Foundation ends Suite development

Monday, March 14, 2005 by geekinthecity | Discussion: Personal Computing

Just over a year ago, I defected from Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Outlook Express when I switched to Mozilla Suite a web broswer, e-mail client and web page editor all in one program. When I found that I could surf the web without being deluged with pop-up ads I was hooked. I was slow to embrace tabbed browsing at first but once I found how useful it is I will not surf the web without it. I found the e-mail client built into the Mozilla suite was far more capable that anything that Outlook Express had to offer. The single that stands out is the adaptive spam filter. I just told the spam filter what e-mails were spam and then after that spam e-mails were tossed away automatically.

The Mozilla foundation has released separate web browser (the wildly successful Firefox) and e-mail client (Thunderbird). I have found that I love the tight integration of web browser and the e-mail client. Open just one program for both web surfing and e-mailing. There are features found in both the web browser inside the Mozilla suite and Firefox that are just a lot more well executed in the Suite. One of these is the cookie manager. In Mozilla suite the cookie manager is found right in the tools menu while in Firefox the cookie manager in found in preferences under privacy.

It was with some shock and sadness that I learned that the Mozilla Foundation is ending development of the suite. There won't have any more new versions the program that has made the web and e-mail so much safer and enjoyable. Although news development on Mozilla Suite will be ending soon the Mozilla Foundation says there will be bug fixes and security updates for the forseeable future. Don't get me wrong, Firefox is a great browser however it just needs to mature before I switch. I don't doubt that when all support for Mozilla suite comes to an end and I have to switch I can tell you for sure it I won't be going back to Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Do Something Useful With Your CPU

Join the Stardock/ Folding@Home team today!

Sunday, December 19, 2004 by GreenReaper | Discussion: Personal Computing

Does your computer sit there doing nothing most of the time? Worried that using a $1000 computer just for web-browsing is a bit wasteful? Are you thinking that SETI@Home or may be fruitless endeavours? Well, you just might be interested in Folding@Home! Have your computer spend its time doing some useful calculations for medical research (see the FAQ) rather than letting those cycles go to waste, and download a client now!

I've made a Stardock/ team - all you have to do is enter team ID number 41029 when asked by the Folding@Home client. And that's it! It will automatically get new blocks of work from the internet every so often and send results back, but you shouldn't have to touch it unless you want to. I chose to have it installed as a service, and the only way I know it's running is that CPU is at 100% or thereabouts all the time. It's all idle use, so it's not stealing the cycles from anything I want to run, and I have the satisfaction of knowing that my computer is working on something useful . . . even when I'm asleep. Give it a go!

Google wins in trademark suit with Geico

Keyword generated ads do not violate trademarks

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Personal Computing

Google scored a big legal win Wednesday when a federal judge ruled that its use of trademarks in keyword advertising is legal.

Judge Leonie Brinkema of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia granted Google's motion to dismiss a trademark-infringement complaint brought by Geico. The insurance company had charged Google with violating its trademarks by using the word "Geico" to trigger rival ads in sponsored search results. Geico claimed the practice diluted its trademarks and caused consumer confusion.

The judge said that "as a matter of law it is not trademark infringement to use trademarks as keywords to trigger advertising," said Michael Page, a partner at Keker & Van Nest, which represented Google.

The ruling is a triumph for Google in that it derives as much as 95 percent of its advertising revenue from keyword-triggered ads, which appear next to Web search results. Trademarks play a central role to the sale of such ads because people often use Web search to find products and services with common, trademarked brand names such as Nike or Geico.

The ruling also could inform similar trademark-infringement cases online, legal experts say. For example, Google is being sued by American Blind and Wallpaper for trademark infringement by its keyword ad program.

Read the whole thing: CNET's

MPAA targets core BitTorrent, eDonkey users

The MPAA strikes again

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 by Frogboy | Discussion: Personal Computing

The Motion Picture Association of America launched a new legal campaign Tuesday targeting the BitTorrent and eDonkey file-swapping networks, two technologies widely used to trade movies online.

Ratcheting up its previous online antipiracy efforts, the Hollywood group is working with law enforcement agencies in the United States and Europe to target and arrest individuals who play a critical role in the functioning of each type of network.

Full article: [Here]