Stories by Tom Yager

  • AMD sets its sights on laptops

    At the logic level, MacBook, the benchmark for success in mainstream notebooks, is unremarkable -- indistinguishable from every PC notebook built on Intel Core 2 and its chipset-integrated graphics. Why, then, can't anyone with the same parts list emulate Apple's growth in an otherwise stagnant notebook market? Because Apple painstakingly hand-optimized its OS for a tiny variety of hardware architectures, presently Intel Core 2, while Microsoft wrote Vista to run on absolutely everything. No PC notebook maker can take the proprietary route that Apple plays to such advantage.

  • One switcher's tale: Once you go iMac, you never go back

    I've been relating the story of a professional colleague who, some months ago and under semi-voluntary circumstances, made the switch from Windows to the Mac. Her twisted arm now nicely healed, she has not only switched, she has an unshakable conviction that even the fastest, newest PC would be an embarrassing hand-me-down next to a mature Mac. If I were to swap her early model MacBook for a quad-core PC desktop, she'd accept it with the graciousness one brings to the gift of a fruitcake (or one from a fruitcake), and then covertly scan eBay for a PowerPC Mac. It is not the particular machine or its performance to which she has become attached; indeed, the hardware is, to her, invisible. The Mac platform is home to her now, not out of religious devotion or some wish not to disappoint me, but because it clicks with both halves of her brain in a way that Windows cannot.

  • Apple's little big iron

    If I'm not otherwise engaged next Thursday morning, I just might spend my economic stimulus check to enter the PC server business. I could go shopping for a wholesale 1U bare-bones rack server, with my primary criteria being that it boot DOS from a floppy and require you to take your server off-line to change basic system settings. I'll stuff that two-socket black box with RAM, CPUs, and disks; charge you for your choice of Windows or Linux; and unless you're buying these things by the gross, stick you with desktop-grade support. Since I had no involvement in your server's design and engineering, I'll rely on BIOS and driver updates from my volume motherboard supplier. I'll selectively pass these on to you, flagged with warnings about how they may render your system unusable if you misapply them, until my supplier stops issuing them. Don't worry, you'll have a solid year before that happens.

  • AIR gets rich apps right

    The modern browser makes an appealing client for Web-based applications, but even browsers like Safari 3.1 that incorporate features of HTML 5 and CSS 3 have limitations that keep them from competing with native .Net and Java desktop applications. In those areas where a browser falls short, such as video and audio playback and local file access, the developer must resort to a plug-in that is not fully controlled by the browser script, or ugly call-outs from script to native code. Browser-based applications can't be packaged or signed for consistent and safe installation, and the "click to launch" capability that users expect from native applications can only be approximated. When you're running a browser-based app locally, there's no mistaking it for native software.

  • AMD's ready to scale you up

    Architectural traits reaching back to Pentium remain present in the Intel-powered servers of today. The limitations of those servers aren't likely to be noticed as long as the routine of IT and commercial server buyers is to add capacity by scaling out, purchasing new two-socket servers. But the time will come when adding a rack server, or a rack of servers, is no longer the wise person's path to increased capacity. Smart planning will lead you to handle bigger workloads without more servers.

  • Windows Server 2008, the host with the most

    A standing complaint about Windows Server is its resource footprint. Those in IT just take as rote that it requires lots of memory, lots of CPU, and lots of disk to put any substantial services on the air with Windows Server 2003. I think it's safe to say that the typical x86 rack server's characteristics reflect the requirements of Windows Server. Microsoft's big OS has always been designed under the presumption that it will have a full physical server to itself.

  • Happy new ear! My picks among Bluetooth headsets

    In my September roundup review of mobile devices, I neglected a vital category of technology: Bluetooth headsets. It's a given that no one wants to hold a bricklike cell phone or PDA to their ear, and with so many blister-packed headsets hanging from pegs in stores now, I thought I'd throw in a few of my recommendations. I'm happy to see that we're snipping the wires on music players, too, especially when one headset pulls music and phone duty.

  • Leopard Server: The people's UNIX

    Apple's desktop Macs are incomparably well suited for the full range of uses from general productivity to technical and creative design, with the entire user skill and requirements spectrum covered by a rich, engaging, intuitive platform. It took Apple several years to get its head out of hardware long enough to perfect its client software. But the combination of broad feature set and usability that Apple brings to desktops, with the idea that one can sit down and start working immediately, didn't stand a chance of making it to servers.

  • Perfecting perfection: Mac OSX Leopard, part 1

    No one is unhappy with Mac OS X Version 10.4, known as Tiger. OS X is not an application platform (I bristle at using the term "operating system" for OS X; I explain why below) that needed repair, speeding up, or exterior renovation. Motivations for major upgrades of competing system software -- roll-ups of an unmanageable number of fixes, because the calendar says it's time, or because users are perceived to have version fatigue -- don't apply to OS X. Apple wields no whip to force upgrades because Tiger stands no risk of being neglected by Apple or third-party developers as long as Leopard lives. Despite the absence of a stick that drives users into upgrades of competing OSes, or perhaps because of it, Apple enjoys an extraordinary rate of voluntary OS X upgrades among desktop and notebook users. Why? People buy Macs because the platform as a whole is perfect, full stop. Leopard is a rung above perfection. It's taken as rote that the Mac blows away PC users' expectations. Leopard blows away Mac users' expectations, and that's saying a great deal.

  • Intel FUD versus AMD fact

    At the AMD CTO Summit held last week in Monterey, California, AMD put a few members of the press under nondisclosure and gave us an unusually detailed look at unpublished products and plans. Much of it is to be kept under wraps, but we were given leave to carry a few facts home to our constituents, including some related to the state of AMD's manufacturing process engineering.

  • Ahead of the Curve: Mac sense and nonsense

    A couple of columns ago, I introduced you to a friend and lifelong professional Windows user who agreed to let me observe and document her trial run at switching to the Mac. I set her up with a can't-lose bargain: She would swap her desktop Windows PC for a Core 2 Duo MacBook running OS X Tiger but retain her PC as a Parallels Desktop virtual machine. To switch or not to switch is entirely her decision to make; I'm just watching.

  • Where x86 hits the wall

    Your desktop computer is fast. It's faster than you can type, faster than you can browse, and unlike you, it can do many things at once. Sure, you multitask. You can be on a conference call with your boss while you're buffing your nails, but when you're asked a hard question, what happens? You stop buffing your nails until you come up with the answer. Humans are not wired for parallel execution.

  • Ahead of the Curve: A PC switcher's tale to Mac

    By my calculations, based on Steve Jobs' claim that half of all Macs are sold to first-time buyers, roughly 9000 people switch to the Mac every day. They're buying new iMacs, MacBooks, MacBook Pros and Mac Pros, most of which come in at sticker prices of $US1200 and up, plus add-ons. With OS X Leopard and iPhone hitting in June, I expect all hell and hallelujah to knock over those fence sitting switchers. I'm looking forward to that.