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Tag: computers

iCloud Online

It’s been a while since I’ve sold my Mac and have been relying on Windows and Linux – almost a year has gone by since I got rid of the MacBook Pro. I’ve not really missed it since it’s been gone. In general, I’ve been well served by my Windows gaming rig and my Lenovo X220 laptop running Xubuntu.

In fact, I’ve tended to prefer open source software and my Xubuntu laptop. I’ve taken to using LibreOffice more than Microsoft Word and I’ve taken to using other open source apps, like GNUCash, Zim, KeepassX (and Keepass) and Clementine. I’ve not really had any issues using these over the commercial apps that I used to use.

I did have some issues previously – for example, getting Zim working on the Mac was a right pain and in the end it was part of the reason that drove me away (I was using Zim for some revision and I replaced Day One with as my journaling software 1 when Day One went to a proprietary sync solution which meant it was harder to backup and wasn’t supported on Android). However, in general, it’s been rare for me to think “Boy, I wish I still had my Mac“.

iCloud

Perhaps that is, until today. I tried to use LibreOffice and then Excel to try and setup a tracker (well, a table) so I could track my required Continuing Professional Development hours. My profession requires me to undertake 25 hours a year training and the easiest method of this seems to be the creation of a table and adding new items to it as and when needed.

However, I was put off by the results of both Excel and LibreOffice. Whilst I wasn’t expecting much from LibreOffice (it works, but nothing it produces could be considered other than functional really – it isn’t one for prettiness, at least not without some work), I was at least expecting Excel to produce something reasonable but it seems like I was mistaken.

Functional, but not pretty

It was at this point that I realised that Numbers would give me a decent enough table – but with no access to a Mac, I thought I’d be relegated to using my iPad and having tried to use Excel and Google Sheets on my iPad, this didn’t fill me with joy. Thankfully, iCloud is online as well, so I can make the document I need online via the iCloud website.

There was some initially some issues – iCloud doesn’t like Linux and complains that it isn’t supported (but seems to work fine). Windows has no such issues – at least not if you use a supported broswer. Currently using Vivaldi, and whilst it’s not on the supported list, as it uses Chrome as the base, it doesn’t generate a not supported message.

2017-03-03 17_17_52-CPD Record

Using Numbers online hasn’t proven to be to much different to using Numbers on the Mac. Yes, it’s not quite as nice as using the Mac version, but it gets the job done and I don’t have to use it on the iPad. I believe the version on iCloud is slightly cut back when compared to that of the Mac version, but for the simple table that I’ve needed to create, it hasn’t been an issue.

iWork

In fact, using the Numbers online again has brought back reminders as to how good the iWork suite actually is. Whilst Pages has a number of limitations when compared to Microsoft Word that’s meant that I didn’t use it much (a lack of referencing support made it difficult for using it for for academic reports), Numbers and certainly Keynote give Microsoft a run for their money. In fact, I prefer Keynote for presentation creation – Powerpoint feels quite far behind in comparison. However, Numbers isn’t going to give Excel nightmares when it comes to serious number crunching, but for general day to day use without macros, it performs well and I’ve not really had any issues.

There are a number of apps that I do miss from the Mac days – 1Password on Windows is a poor shadow of its Mac counterpart which is a shame, whilst Windows and Linux are also missing any serious markdown editors – Ulyssess is a fantastic app and something similar doesn’t seem to exist on the other operating systems unless you use something like Simplenote online. I tend to run all my blog posts through Ulyssess on my iPad before posting as it can tidy up any code that I write in Atom on the desktops.

A side effect of using Numbers today is that I’ve found myself defaulting back to the Mac keyboard shortcuts! Yet, I’ve found that I’ve moved a personal finance spreadsheet back into iCloud because the method of using tables in Numbers suits the creation of lots of little tables, rather than the enforced grid layout of Excel/LibreOffice.

It may come to pass that I’ll start using it more often over the coming months for various other items as well. I can’t pretend that the auto sync doesn’t come in handy as well, though without a Mac, backing up the files is restricted to manual downloads of a file, which perhaps isn’t ideal.


  1. You can read about setting it up here where I set up my iPad to create Zim compatible text files in Dropbox. 

Chromebook Review

So I’ve been using a Chromebook now for a few weeks and I thought I’d say a few words on it. I’ve seen it slated in various places because of what it is (basically a dumb terminal with access to the web). However, whilst that’s pretty apt, I thought I’d mention my thoughts on it.

Chromebook

I purchased the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook, partly due to it’s similarities to the Macbook Air. Yes, I’d probably prefer a Macbook Air but the cost is to high to justify on a laptop that I wouldn’t use much. The Chromebooks pricing was far more attractive. So yes, the Macbook style Chromebook beat the contenders from Acer for various reasons – size and battery life being big decider’s, even if the Acer one is an x86 based CPU machine and this Samsung one is an ARM chip (as it turns out, that makes no difference).

Samsung Chromebook

Weight wise and size wise, it’s a fantastic laptop to carry around. It fits my Pantagonia Mini Mass bag perfectly fine (without a case or cover) and that’s also with my iPad and Kindle in. I can suddenly see why people were raving about the Macbook Air.

Usage

In the run up to getting one, I forced myself to become more familiar with the Google ecosystem again (I left Mail and Calendar for iCloud when iCloud was released). I also forced myself to use Chrome over the more commonly used Firefox on my work and home machines. This move back to the Google Services eased my transition to the Chromebook.

The biggest move was from Dropbox to Google Drive – a few snagging issues there that I’ll talk about perhaps in another post but for now, the main points I found there was the slight difference in how Google Drive overwrites files you upload on the website (i.e. it doesn’t overwrite them!) – not something that applies to much to the Chromebook it appears.

However, when I got the Chromebook, I eagerly opened the box and got ready to get started.

Starting Up

So getting started with the Chromebook was simple – charge up the device (a bit a shame in comparison to Apple’s “buy, open and go” policy). However, once charged, you’re greeted with signing on to a wifi network (you’ll need wifi, the Samsung model has no ethernet connection). Once done, it asks for your Google account details (and supports 2 factor authentication for those that have it enabled) and it then checks for software updates. 15 minutes later and I was logged in and ready to go. I should point out that typical bootup time is as Samsung and Google suggest – 7 seconds or so give or take.

And that’s it – no downloading of programs or anything. Sign in and you’re ready to go. Simple.

Day to Day Use

My main concern was that of offline access. The Chromebook is designed to use web services and that means that without the web, the benefits of the Chromebook aren’t perhaps as apparent. It’s partly the reason I enabled the Developer mode on my Chromebook, solely so I could access the terminal/shell and through that, Vim. I’m not a fan of Vim but it lets me edit my LaTeX files offline. Which is what I need for editing my thesis on the go. However, when online, I use the excellent Neutron Drive application that combines nicely with my Google Drive account to allow me to edit my files. So therefore, the main reasons I bought the Chromebook is covered.

Day to day use is otherwise good – the syncing of the Chrome browser is great and allows all the extensions I use on the desktop to sync across to the Chromebook and vice versa. This means my workflow is unaffected by changes in platform less.

Whilst I initially disagreed with the use of Google Docs, I’ve become more of a fan. For basic documents, it’s not to bad. For anything academic or with some more advanced features, it falls down. Its ability to convert Word documents is lacking – it means I can’t edit work documents as the work template is completely mangled by the conversion process. But it works well for allowing me to write up notes, letters and magazine articles where I don’t need to insert references and cross linking.

Music wise, Google Music allows you to upload 20,000 songs and then stream them for free. This works fantastically well with the Chromebook where you have a decent connection. However, if you have the files stored on a USB or SD card, you can easily access them and play them locally which is a great boon for me as I love having my music nearby (to be fair, I do have a 120GB iPod with me most of the time that I would use as well).

Minor Niggles

Installation of new fonts is not supported. I can hack the Chromebook to allow me to install fonts of my choice but means that I can’t disable developer mode without a downloading and installing a recovery image from Google.

The other niggle is because I have enabled developer mode, the Chromebook displays a notification I have on startup – this remains on screen for 30 seconds or until you press Ctrl+D.

Overall

Overall I’ve been happy with the purchase – not only has it allowed me to stay mobile and get work done, more so than my iPad and keyboard combo, it’s helped focus me. On the move with no wifi, you can only open files that the Chromebook supports (and that’s if you’ve already downloaded them or they’re on a USB drive) and write Google Docs in the Writer. This means that the ability to turn off the wifi and I’m straight away plunged into a pure writing environment. Even better if I’m in Vim writing LaTeX, as it’s a full screen terminal with nothing else to distract.

As a second computer, laptop or a cheap computer, the Chromebook performs and provides the ability to do what most people need of a portable machine. Teamed up with Chrome Remote Desktop, it makes for a fantastic, lightweight, terminal for a remote server/desktop. Which I’ve got setup for those occasions that I need to access a server remotely and run something that the Chromebook can’t do (LaTeX compiling on my home Mac for example).

Musings on Engineering (Apple and Pi)

So I’ve now been a Mac owner for the past year and half, if not a little more and it’s caused me to be laughed at, ridiculed and insulted. I have thick skin, I can let that all go because you pay your money and take your choices in life. My choice was to go Mac. And I wanted to mention one reason why I went this way.

Engineering.

I’m an engineer – again, my specialism suggests to other general engineers that I’m not. The fact I hold an engineering degree and have the same engineering mindset as them doesn’t seem to hold sway in their eyes but that’s for a different rant/story.

To me, the Mac’s (well, the iMac and Mac Mini) epitomise the meaning of engineering.

en·gi·neer·ing
noun
1. the art or science of making practical application of the knowledge of pure sciences, as physics or chemistry, as in the construction of engines, bridges, buildings, mines, ships, and chemical plants.
2. the action, work, or profession of an engineer.
3. skillful or artful contrivance; maneuvering.

The third section of the dictionary covers what I’m getting at.

The Mac’s (and the Raspberry Pi – I’ve just got one!) make great use of engineering. I’m constantly told that the Mac’s use ancient hardware (and PC fanboys don’t tend to take to kindly to be told they do to unless they update for every CPU upgrade etc) and are underpowered. Underpowered compared to what? Apples and Oranges aren’t the same fruit so you can’t compare them. Windows is bloated and has required upgrades to continue running nicely (remember the hardware jump required for Vista?). It seems a little odd that people are getting hung up on that. People called me a fool for getting a 3GS iPhone. Why? they’d say – this Android is better. Better? Apple have supported my phone and they’re just about to release the iPhone 5. And I’ve still had software updates, both apps and iOS over that time. My Android phone came with an old version of Android and was never updated – it also slowed down when I installed a custom ROM. My 3GS is running as fast as it was when I got it.

The Mac’s are aesthetically pleasing and well built – to say otherwise is to lie to yourself. The performance of the Mac Mini is fantastic. For the price and size, it’s an amazing machine. And it’s quiet. I’m constantly berated for having it by owners of PC’s. That’s power hungry, fan spinning, noise generating, PC owners. Ones that game. Yeah, so the Mac Mini prime purpose isn’t to game so why are you comparing it? These people obviously don’t value the engineering that has gone into the Mac Mini and iMac’s to make them as they are. Why would I want a huge electricity sucking heat generating monster of a PC to complete my day to day work and browsing on? I turn my Mac on, it’s silent – my housemate turns his machine on and immediately your deafened by the noise.

What I’m getting at, is that the engineering behind the Mac is far above that in a normal desktop and I admire that. A lot. The solution does not rely on raw power to do tasks and uses good engineering to ensure that the Mac remains cool without detriment to the end user, such as fan noise. And whilst Apple continue to have a consistently high engineering approach, they’ll have a customer.