Apple, Computers, hackintosh, Mac, MBA, Personal

Upgrading my MacBookPro’s hard drive (tweaking some hardware)

Yes, I’ve been busy lately. I know. Building an airport and acting as a globalisation agent is hard sometimes. If you also need to find time to study, things even get trickier. And then your loyal ally tells you that its hard drive is full… well, you get the picture.

Don’t ask me how I managed to fill my 160 gigs hard drive. I just did. And while I was away I realised I wanted a windows emulator at hand because interchanging files between Mac’s Office 2008 and PC’s Office 2004 is not that easy. Sometimes weird things happen (thank-you Microsoft) and you need a bridge inbetween.

Yes, I do need to carry most of my music with me wherever I go. And I like watching StarGate and Yes Minister from the computer while I’m flying somewhere. I am not ashamed of that!

The thing is that I needed a bigger hard drive. And instead of going to the closest Apple center and paying 300€ for the operation I decided to buy a 60€ Fujitsu drive, the same quality that Apple offers of course, and do it myself. The tools: a torque 6 screwdriver, a Philips ++ screwdriver and a sound methodology not to mix and lose the screws.

The first two you can find in any hardware store. The latter at this website: www.ifixit.com, as well as any accessories you might need.

First of all I made a copy of my hard drive. SuperDuper is the application to use. You can find it here. Encase your new hard drive in an external USB or Firewire unit, format in GUID, copy the whole drive and you are done. After you have an external copy verify it by booting from it holding the “Option” key at boot.

Opening a MacBook Pro to change the hard drive is trickier than one might think. Thanks again to ifixit for this comprehensive foolproof guide. I won’t bother you with the procedure, some highlights may suffice:


Opening the case after removing almost every screw, scary, huh?

The guts of a MacBook Pro. The hard drive is on the left. That’s the moment when you have to detach the wires connecting the keyboard (top center) and hard drive (left). Will they ever work again?


The final moment of glory: when you swap the old 160 gigs Hitachi for the new 320 gigs Fujitsu. In any case the hard drive is still Japanese.

Then I did the same steps in opposite order to put back every single screw in its right place, crossed my fingers and voilà, the thing simply worked. I love my Mac. Even with a virtual PC inside it, that I only needed to copy from my other computer. Right now my virtual PC is upgrading to XP service pack 3… and I’ll need an antivirus…

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Apple, Computers, Mac, MBA, Personal, Thoughts

Operating Systems strategies (why Windows and Mac OS are going in opposite directions)

Vista has not accomplished its expectations. Albeit more than 140 million copies sold, that only represents around 13% of the installed base. And if you take into account that Vista has been around since november 2006 and an average lifespan of five years for any computer, only because of natural growth that figure should be around 20%. What’s happening?

When a company has such a great market share as Microsoft, and a killer and omnipresent product like Windows, it wouldn’t be fair to say that those figures mean trouble. Not really, only unfulfiled expectations, that’s all.

But users are not massively upgrading to Vista. Many prefer their new computers with XP (and still get counted as new Vista licensees) because it’s simpler, faster, and you already know your way around. I myself like the aqua, sorry aero, look in Vista, but still struggle to find my way to simple things. I’d rather use a simpler system: I get tired of so many questions and confirmations and having to navigate tortuous paths.

Simplicity gets its reward in speed. Ask any Linux geek and he will tell you how he manages without lots of small utilities incorporated in your software that you use daily. The good thing is that he also manages without hundreds of utilities that you seldom or never use, and without hundreds more that you never knew they existed and, if you ever had needed them, you wouldn’t have even sought. (Do you really know how to insert an horisontal line in Microsoft Word or how to query an ODBC source in Windows?)

Then, there’s us, people that use MacOS. A sometimes despised and bashed minority (around 3%) that happens to be growing above average with a dangerous tendency to be self-conscious. In a mass consumption society, isn’t it great to be special in something? More stable than Windows, more usable, a better user experience (yes, that is completely subjective, but believe me in this one) but still not bomb-proof in its latest version: Leopard. And more visible than ever because of iPods, iPhones and, of course, the incumbent’s spoofs.

But, following the initial reasoning, which are the strategies behind the operating systems? Which should be next move? Apple has recently uncovered a few words about their new version of MacOS: from Leopard to Snow Leopard. Doesn’t sound very different, does it? What’s behind it and why is it important? It’s not easy to deny that Apple knows a lot about emerging trends that tend to be imitated by the rest of the market.

I’ve drawn the following model thinking about operating systems in two axis:

  • on the horizontal axis the sophistication of the operating system, measured in terms of “eye candy”, as it is easy to observe and doesn’t focus on the utility of that eye candy (that would increase the analysis’ complexity and introduce a lot of interpretation), but it’s obviously correlated with the utilities offered to the user.
  • on the vertical axis is the complexity and size of the code what counts: the system weight.

First of all, the dangerous zone is on the top level: heavy systems. Heavy systems tend to be unstable, usually because they build on foundations laid out many years ago by legacy systems that don’t exist anymore but that they need to preserve. This is the case increasingly both by Windows and MacOS: the first because it has compatibility with a sheer list of devices and still with good old MSDOS, the second because, albeit being much more selective with hardware, still hasn’t recovered from the trauma of having two very distinct CPU platforms: the PowerPC and the Intel platform. Vista still is far higher in this classifications making a very heavy system, to the point that requires the latest hardware to fully function while still being compatible with everything else. That’s why many prefer XP.

The massive side for an operating system is not that good either. XP was clearly short of functionality, while with Vista the effort has been made to try to compensate, but jumping too far away, adding cumbersomeness to the menu. Vista is only a street away of being annoying, and that’s another reason to still prefer XP. In any case it’s also a proof that with XP you’re going to miss things too.

MacOS stays in a comfortable middle position. Still, Leopard increased functionality and usability, as well as eye-candy, but paying a price for it: increased system sophistication and weight. That means, of course, instability issues.

Linux users sit in a comfortable corner table: a simpler system that is lighter than anything else, with good and bad consequences.

Where is the future going to be?

This is the part that is supposed to be explained in Nostradamus’ prophecies, but I think I have a clue to offer. Many Vista users are still downgrading to XP, and there must be a reason for that: the seeking of simplicity. We need more stable operating systems, not nicer ones. Don’t get me wrong, we like eye candy, but we are ready to trade some off in exchange for better performance. Windows should aim back, somewhere in between Vista and XP, going down in the stability road… and down the chart back to the safe green zone, still losing some screens and complexity in its way.

That’s what Snow Leopard is all about. The same animal, only changed by a couple of colours, but ready to live in a much hostile environment. Trimming the OS, making it more hardware selective, only optimised for the newest hardware platforms. No human-machine interface overhaul but a lot of kernel and essential applications rewriting. That’s, in my humble opinion, the way to go. And the way Microsoft should follow too.

Because, when with a laptop, energy consumption depends on CPU consumption, and thus in the cleanliness of the code, and the megabytes taken by programs to run. After all, those bytes need to be read from the hard disk, paged in and out of the memory, and can potentially make your computer run out of fuel faster.

Taken from Roughly Drafted, a web you cannot miss if you want to know more about Apple, this is what the apple folks have been doing to the Snow Leopard basic programs:

Interesting backoffice work, don’t you think? :)

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Apple, Computers, Mac, MBA, Personal, Thoughts

Doggie jumping on my MacBook (a.k.a. a moment of truth)

Last Sunday my doggie decided to jump on my MacBook. Doggies have the ability to change from a quiet and relaxed mood to an excessive joy in a matter of seconds. I can’t describe the sensation I had seeing my middle-to-large sized beloved dog on my highly-priced adored computer. But she did.

Guess what happened? The computer withstood valiantly the assault. The momentum wasn’t able to join forces with gravity. It never fell down. But one of the keys jumped in revenge and tried to catch the doggie. Utterly broken, there was no way to reattach it.

A broken key. I felt like possessed by a sudden illness. Now it was my time to change into a gloomy mood.

The worst thing a patient can do is try to impersonate a doctor and use the world-wide-vademecum, that’s the internet and its information about hundreds of patients that have gone through the same illness. Why is that that the bad experiences get blogged far more often?

I encountered dozens of stories about broken keyboards, computers kidnapped at the technical service for weeks or even months, and then returned scratched to their unfortunate proprietors, about huge repair bills, bad and worse experiences, voided guarantees or even frauds.

So my mood went from gloomy to desperately depressive, collecting the dismal, dreary and dispiriting tonalities all in one.

I even tried to investigate how to solve the problem. I found a couple of websites that sold individual keys. That was the first good news. The bad news was that the gone-missing key is not standard but from the Spanish keyboard. My computer is in English but of course with a Spanish keyboard: I need a few more symbols to be able to write Spanish or Catalan.

The missing key was the one with both the symbols < and >. The English (both American and European) keyboards, have those symbols in two separate keys. That meant that they probably didn’t have my key in stock. The cost wasn’t that important, but the expected delay was significant. What should I do?

Well. Monday came and I went to the nearest Apple service centre in Barcelona. Only 300m from home there is that nice place… Microgestio. Let me tell you about my experience with them.

There were no queues. Just a nice couple at the counter. They called a technician that was with me in a matter of seconds. Then he left with my hapless computer. And I was there left waiting… I felt naked… it felt like a long wait… but it was only for a couple of minutes. Then he came back. The key was there. Everything was covered, no questions asked. Just a nice, emphatic smile. Just what I needed: no delays, no retreats, only an efficient solution.

That was like a moment of truth, a defining moment. I enjoyed and experimented good service… a rare and elusive taste. For Apple it was a small expense: the cost of a key. But what they got in return was loyalty. Immediate pay-back, and a greater, by far, net present value.

One key for another apostle. Is there a better deal?

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Apple, b-school, Business, Mac, MBA, Personal, Thoughts

2008 IT trends, what they mean for Apple and where Microsoft is wrong

I’ve been reading Gartner’s key IT predictions for 2008 and beyond. (If you don’t have access to the full text you can access a summary here.)There’s one prediction regarding Apple:

“By 2011, Apple will double its U.S. and Western Europe unit market share in Computers. Apple’s gains in computer market share reflect as much on the failures of the rest of the industry as on Apple’s success. Apple is challenging its competitors with software integration that provides ease of use and flexibility; continuous and more frequent innovation in hardware and software; and an ecosystem that focuses on interoperability across multiple devices (such as iPod and iMac cross selling)”

The reflection about the failures of others it’s directly aimed to Microsoft. In a political analogy, the incumbent presidents are the ones to lose elections.And apart from the recent “downgrade” riots where many users want to go back from Vista to XP, there’s something wrong with Microsoft’s strategy. A misalignment that is growing worrisome for the huge company, accustomed to not being able to detect trends at their beginnings. Let’s think about it.vistaultimatexp.jpgWhy is people downgrading from Vista? It’s not because it’s ugly, it is not ugly enough for that, and XP wasn’t the most handsome kid on the block either. People are trying to avoid vista because it requires too much hardware, because takes too much resources to run, because it’s not as snappy as it should be.Think of it from the personal computer cluster’s viewpoint: additional requirements from OSes mean more opportunities to sell more advanced hardware, and thus a growing market. The more sophisticated OSes become, the more complex hardware is needed. And the different companies are, of course, happy to indulge and sell.But that’s not what users want. There are no new necessities covered. Applications are fancier, yes, but there are no new killer applications. In fact I still have to see an application that makes full use of Vista’s new graphics engine. Everything could still be done from XP, no transparent frames, true, but who cares?After seeing Vista, people still prefer to focus their hardware on a better working machine, not on a better looking but buggier one. And they look the other way round… to XP and sometimes Apple.That’s where Apple’s new market share comes from. In evolving their Mac OS X system they have not used the extra power inherited by Moore’s law to rejoice in extra-sophisticated graphics and a huge coverage of legacy systems. Instead they have used it to get snappier applications, providing a secure and limited environment, even excluding their oldest hardware from compatibility. Once their compatible hardware (yes, all of it PC compatible hardware) has been short-listed, they have focused on making it work better.And then they have favoured usability over trendiness (without forgetting the latter). Simplicity over a spree of hidden options, users’ needs over hardware providers’ needs.diferencias.jpgBut that’s not the only thing going around.And there’s still another trend going on here: from more powerful portable computers to simple ones (that are still very sophisticated by the way) but focus on doing simpler things and rely on other machines and network capabilities. We will no longer need that huge hard drive in our laptop when we will be able to store and synchronise our files on-line. Or, as the MacBook Air does, we don’t need to have a DVD unit in our laptop if we are able to access other’s people DVD drives.And sometimes, as gadgets like Blackberrys, iPhones et al have demonstrated, we can do most of the things we are requesting from our laptops if we can have better screens, better connectivity and better input methods.Or with network shared utilities and storage, as well as web-based applications (look out for some Google office hardware soon). Those web applications will increasingly have the ability of working off-line and syncing when needed. That will mean less reliance on your “own” computer and easier usability of both shared and simpler devices.googleoffice.jpgThat’s three dilemmas identified in this post:

  • Using the additional power to provide snappier applications versus fancier looks.
  • Focus on support a limited list of hardware and make the most efficient usage of it or try to keep all users (and providers) happy paying a price on performance.
  • Relying on shared and simpler net-powered devices or having your own computer the more powerful the better.

As I see, Microsoft has focused on the second options of the three dilemmas, while other companies, namely Google and Apple, have focused on the first. And it’s the first trend that, IMHO, will dominate. Users do not want or need complete overhauls of operating systems that are operating within normal parameters. Only a big leap ahead in productivity could justify a radical change. That’s not the present case.What users do need are incremental and continuous improvements to operating systems that enhance productivity, stability and security without adding unknowns and uncertainties. And Microsoft is not walking the proper path.picture-1.pngApple, without being that brilliant (Steve Jobs *is* brilliant indeed), is doing much better by comparison… better enough to reclaim part of the market share that the incumbent is going to lose. Try a Mac OS X and tell me :)

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Apple, Computers, Economics, hackintosh, Mac, Management, MBA, Personal, Thoughts

Apple’s scarcity rent (MacOS X in your PC: the hackintosh is born)

I think there’s little discussion that Apple’s operating systems are much more usable and friendly to the user than the ones created by Microsoft. Given the fact that the first used to precede the latter that could mean also a lack of observation skills by Microsoft, but that’s not the point. The point is that denotes a different strategic positioning for each company:

  • Apple is focused towards customers. No redundant or extra menus, just the basic essential needs. utmost usability. But the trade-off also comes to one price: lack of support to several devices or open platforms. To ensure a controlled experience, controlling the hardware becomes necessary.
  • Microsoft is focused towards providers. They define an open system and they build hundreds of thousands of drivers to be able to include each and every hardware even made. They are backwards compatible, ensuring the incorporation of legacy systems. The downside: too much variety hampers your ability to control the user’s experience.

The focus to providers, to the whole industry, means building a cluster of companies around that are able to freely introduce their products to an interoperable market. That’s quite interesting, isn’t it? Companies are able to build their own standards, to compete, and Microsoft simply supports them.It seems that a user should choose between a system tailored for her or a system thought for interoperability. Tough choice, huh?macpc.jpgSimplified like that one would say “let’s choose a system designed solely for the users”. But that’s not quite true. Both systems have users in mind, only a divergent focus. But a focus towards the industry means being able to access a pool of competing hardware. And that means lower prices… ain’t that nice for the user? Maybe the focus wasn’t the user, but she is directly benefited of having an interoperable and open hardware industry.That’s why the nerds simply won.But history makes strange turns. And Apple has changed a lot through the times. Two important swerves:

  • Intel was PC, Motorola was Mac. Intel was winning in price and product. Mac switched.
  • PC was MSDOS, and always backward compatible. Mac wasn’t, and in a bold move decided to switch to UNIX. Now Mac is more stable.

And the result is that Mac is standardised in its kernel and equipment, dwelling in the well of PC-compatible hardware and leaving behind its own proprietary hardware.There’s no real hardware difference between a PC and a Mac any more. Only slight differences that make them slightly different. That’s all. And, on top of it, a very different OS working in (almost) the same setup.And then Apple made another bold move. Decided to go open source. I could write a lot about open source, but the main point of it is releasing the sources so that developers can make better working programs and the quality of the applications and the user experience can be enhanced.And some hackers just did it. Netkas, ToH, BrazilMac and many more rebuilt the system kernel and adapted a few drivers so Mac OS would work in a standard (and advanced enough) PC setup. And voilà. MacOSX was born. Hackintoshes were born.

picture-1.pngtake a good look, this picture is for real, MacOS in my PCIt works, I promise. I have both systems installed (for educative purposes of course) and MacOS X simply rocks. It makes the most of your hardware. Far more stable, far faster, far more usable.MacOS X version 10.5, also called Leopard, was hackintoshed just one week after its launch. So, if it can be done, why aren’t they?Why keep making software for a minority instead of addressing a big market share? Apple wants to keep selling its hardware… that’s a reason enough. Apple wants to segment its public, that’s another reason too. Is Apple learning from hackintoshers or would prefer them silenced?Let’s say it all loud. PC and Macs are no longer different. Many of us, PC users, could be able to choose between two operating systems tomorrow. Microsoft’s monopoly could be broken, and Dell could be providing alternative hardware to Mac users tomorrow, breaking Apple’s monopoly too. Two monopolies that do their best to help each other, regardless of appearances.Why must we be constricted to only one OS? Why should the OS determine who you buy your hardware from? There’s no objective reason for those market imperfections that are simply hampering consumers.Unless Apple decides to fire first…get-a-mac-1.jpg

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