CompUSA Goes Buh-bye!

December 7, 2007

My friend Rick Yaeger just tweeted some astonishing news about the national computer chain CompUSA. Apparently, after the holiday buying season is over, all 103 of the stores will be closing. For good. From Yahoo:

“Consumer electronics retailer CompUSA said Friday it will close its store operations after the holidays following sale of the company to Gordon Brothers Group LLC, a restructuring firm. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

CompUSA operates 103 stores, which plan to run store-closing sales during the holidays.

Privately held CompUSA, controlled by Mexican financier Carlos Slim Helu’s Grupo Carso SA, said discussions were under way to sell certain stores in key markets. Stores that can’t be sold will be closed.”

All I have to say about this is that thank GOODNESS Apple recently announced plans to open an Apple retail store here next spring/summer. Between January and the opening of the new Apple store however, there will be a huge hole for local merchants to fill. Best Buy will probably pick up a great deal of the slack, but the business potential for the new Apple store in Greensboro just got a whole lot brighter. As a side note, Twitter & Twitterrific wins points once again for the first point of contact for me with breaking news items.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth a googolplex, right? Yesterday Panic & The Iconfactory released CandyBar 3 for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard and it has been greeted with open arms by Mac users and icon enthusiasts alike. There’s a great deal of new stuff packed into this release, not the least of which is the blending of CandyBar 2 and Pixadex 2 into a single, unified whole. I thought an easy way to show some of these cool new features was to make a quick guided tour. Video artifacts and nervous jabber aside, I think you’ll find it helpful.

To get the complete skinny and download a free trial version, point your favorite web browser to the CandyBar Home page over at Panic.com. Then surf on over to the Iconfactory and download tons of great, free icon sets and their accompanying Leopard dock styles. Have fun and thanks for watching!

UPDATE: The guys over at MacMost have put together their own screencast of CandyBar 3 and it’s pretty nice. They show how you can manually drop in dock images instead of using just iContainers, which is something I didn’t cover in my overview. Check it out.

You Know, for Spite!

November 11, 2007

This is the true story of how MarbleofDoom.com was born. Those of you with weak constitutions should look away now because it’s not going to be pretty. As any artist knows, the creative process can often be sparked by a number of things; a bit of music, a friend’s comment, a favorite photograph or even just the desire to fill an empty niche. However, in the case of the MOD, no such nobel pursuits came into play. Nope, what we have here is a good ‘ol fashion case of spite. Yes, spite.

Before I get into all that however, I should back up just a little bit. If you don’t know what MarbleofDoom.com is, go check it out. It’s basically a fun, website where Mac users can enter how much time they’ve collectively wasted waiting for the spinning beach ball of death cursor. Users enter time and the site reports on the total number of hours wasted. What’s the point? I’m glad you asked.

The spinning beach ball has been something that Mac users have been dealing with in one form or another since the platform was launched. Back in the early days, Mac users knew it as the dreaded wrist watch cursor that would spin until a process had finished loading. When Mac OS X came along, Apple decided to spruce it up. I guess they figured if you had to wait, why not wait in style? With the advent of the Adobe CS suite of apps, Mac users saw the frequency and duration of the beach ball increase dramatically. I know what you’re thinking. MOD was created to spite Adobe, right? Nope, not by a long shot cupcake. Now sit back down and let me finish the story.

Back in June, two of my long-time friends, Bob & Jiffy Burke, told me via Twitter that at Jiffy’s office, they referred to the beach ball as the “Marble of Doom”. The name really struck a chord with all of us at the Iconfactory and we started referring to it by its new name all the time. We loved the name so much that in September, I decided to add the lexicon to the official Wikipedia entry for the spinning beach ball of death. This is the part where the spite comes in. I was so proud of contributing to the mythos of the beach ball, that when my addition was removed a little over an hour later by a user named Sdfisher, I could hardly believe it. I mean, it was just another name for the cursor, what harm could there possibly be in adding it? According to Sdfisher:

“marble of doom” has 10 google hits, only one of which is Mac related. Removed.

Ask any one of my friends and they’ll tell you I’m not a vindictive person. I don’t fly into fits of anger or wish ill-will on anyone. But when I read that Wikipedia edit from Sdfisher, something inside me snapped. I immediately formed a geeky plan to leverage Mac users everywhere and get “Marble of Doom” back up on Wikipedia. After all, I owed Jiffy no less. Or at least that’s what I kept telling myself.

Months earlier, I had decided to actually record marble spin time using the excellent time tracking utility, On the Job. Every time I’d see the Marble of Doom, I’d immediately add the time to the fake MOD project. After one month of tracking the cursor, I was shocked to find that I was kept waiting a grand total of almost 1 hour. This experience gave me the brainchild for what would eventually become MarbleofDoom.com. All of the guys at work got excited about the project and I even enlisted the help of the talented Wolfgang Ante, our Frenzic and xScope partner, along with our own Craig Hockenberry, to help code the back end. The MOD website became a fun side project that we worked on in the down time between client work. We launched it on 10/19/07 and its popularity soared as Mac users everywhere could finally vent their frustrations with their glassy overlord.

“Marble of Doom” now has over 40,000 Google hits and has given more than a few people a good laugh while they wait for their Macs to return from la-la land. The best part however, was that on 10/30/07, a user named Rory O’Kane re-entered “marble of doom” as one of the names for the spinning beach ball cursor on Wikipedia. Take that Sdfisher! I told you this wasn’t going to be pretty, and now you know. God, I love the Internet :-)

Dear NBC

October 30, 2007

With the news yesterday that NBC wanted to experiment with raising prices on iTunes, and asked for a cut of Apple’s massive iPod revenue, I thought I would voice my thoughts over at NBC’s newly beta Hulu site. As Corey pointed out to me this morning, NBC’s “slice” of the iPod revenue is the network getting their shows on the portable player in the first place. They are not entitled to profits from the sales of the hardware itself. Despite what Bill and Ballmer have done. Here’s my comment over at Hulu’s blog:

“So $15 Million dollars wasn’t enough for you guys from iTunes last year huh? What was the amount you were making for your shows online before iTunes came along? Oh yeah, right. Zero. Your vision is shortsighted, greedy and anti-customer.

If I can’t view your shows on my iPod or iPhone, can only see the last 5 episodes of something, can’t watch them outside the US, have to watch ads and need flash, then I’d say this grand experiment is a massive failure. Too bad too because I like your content, but I’ll never buy another NBC/U DVD. Ever.”

I meant that last bit. Mindy and I bought the first season of Heroes on DVD because I had missed it first time around. Although it’s tempting to buy season 2 when it eventually comes out, until NBC comes back to iTunes, I won’t be forking over any more money to Zucker and company. If you feel the same way, I suggest you head on over to Hulu and let your thoughts be known. Judging from the comments already posted, we’re not alone.

UPDATE: Upon further reflection, anyone wanna take a guess as to why the final season of NBC/Universal’s ‘Battlestar Galactica’ is being delayed until April instead of its planned January airing? Could it be that NBC/U wants Galactica to be their flagship show when Hulu leaves beta? Could be rabbit. Could be.

For those of you just tuning in, financial “analyst”, Scott Moritz of theStreet.com, has proven once again that he doesn’t know jack when it comes to Apple, how the technology sector works, or even the stock market. Moritz first spread rumors that Wall Street expected Apple to sell upwards of 1 million iPhones in the weekend launch of their new product. This despite the fact that no one but Moritz himself had circulated that figure to the press.

Then, later when Apple dropped the price of the iPhone, he reported that the move was because the iPhone wasn’t selling as fast as “some optimists” (read Moritz himself), had expected. According to Moritz, Apple dropped the price to keep sales brisk and catch up with Wall Street’s sagging expectations. More factless speculation on his part, especially since the iPhone eventually hit 1 mil units in just 74 days.

Now we can say with absolute certainty, that Moritz was full of crap on at least one other report he filed. On October 17th 2007, 9 days before Leopard went public, he reported from theStreet.com that Apple would be shipping an ultra-portable 13-inch laptop as a companion to the operating system launch. Do you remember Apple announcing a new 13-inch MacBook on Leopard’s launch day? No, your memory isn’t fading. You didn’t just happen to miss the news that day. Moritz’s prediction never happened.

Not only did it not happen, there was no reason to ever believe it in the first place. Apple has never announced new hardware in tandem with an operating system release. Never. And why would they? Jobs wouldn’t risk overshadowing an OS launch that has taken years for Apple to develop, test and ship with that of a flashy new sub-notebook or powerful desktop computer. Any “analyst” who tells you differently is blowing smoke up your ass for some reason. As I’ve speculated before, I suspect Moritz is either very bad at his job or is intentionally trying to manipulate Apple’s stock price. Either way theStreet.com needs to grow a spine and get a new Apple expert. All investors of AAPL need to know is anything that comes out of Scott Moritz’s mouth or published in his columns isn’t worth the time it takes to watch or read it.

Disclosure: I own stock in Apple Computer.

Leopard’s Little Things

October 27, 2007

Scads have been written about the big new features in Apple’s new OS offering. Apple has made sure to fill Leopard chock full of compelling reasons to upgrade, from Time Machine and Spaces to improved versions of Mail and Safari. All of these great features help to keep the Mac ahead of our PC using counterparts and give the average user even more reasons to consider a Mac for their next purchase. And while Time Machine, Boot Camp and any number of the over 300 new features make upgrading to Leopard worth it, for my money, it’s the little things that really make me happy. Here’s a list of just some of the things that make using a Mac even better under Leopard.

A Flexible Finder

It’s no wonder that Apple highlights the Finder on the Leopard home page. Users have been waiting for an update to this portion of the operating system for many, many years. The Finder’s often touted, unified appearance, is just the tip of the iceberg however. The sidebar now mirrors the structure of iTunes, which instantly gives non-Mac users a sense of familiarity. This single user interface change may help sell more Macs than any other aspect of Leopard. At first, I thought having the Finder mimic iTunes might be confusing, but after only a few hours, I could see the wisdom of this important design decision.

I suspect it was difficult for execs to sell the unified appearance in marketing meetings, and so Apple gave us Cover Flow in the Finder. This sexy little bit of code looks great, but I’m not sure how often I’ll be using it. Like the “genie effect” of days past, it gets old quickly and ends up being just eye candy. Even though Cover Flow is purely an attempt to lure switchers with “cool” parts of the Mac, if it helps build mindshare, I can deal with it.

For me, the real meat and potatoes of the Finder update are additions that make navigating my data quicker and easier. The Finder’s column view finally has options to sort by more than just name. For the first time, I can move through columns with recently changed items listed at the top. I can’t say how much I appreciate this addition. For those who like to view their Finder windows in List View, there is the new Path Bar. The bar gives navigational bread crumbs similar to the column view, but allows for maximum line widths in the List windows themselves. I may end up using this configuration even more than columns in the weeks ahead as I’m enjoying it immensely.

iChat Love

Without a doubt, iChat is one of my most used applications. Keeping in touch with Craig in Laguna Beach or Dave in Stockholm is critically important at work. Lately however, Apple’s lack of attention to iChat forced me to seek out Adium with its rich feature set like tabbed chatting and invisible buddy status. I’m happy to report that so far, iChat in Leopard has once again reclaimed the top spot for instant messaging on my desktop. iChat 4.0 has tabbed chatting, SMS messaging, invisible status settings, improved audio and video conferencing (something Adium is just now adding) and unlike Adium, file transfers work every time. One downside however is the ability to set invisible status directly from the menu bar pull-down. For some reason it is missing and must be activated by key command or by going to “My Status” in the main iChat menu. Strange.

In addition, iChat 4.0 adds all new emoticons including nerd, confused, sarcastic, crazy, thumb’s up & down and what may be the best little improvement in all of Leopard, a new “Stick your tongue out” smiley. Ever since iChat was introduced, it has always bugged me that the “Yuck” smiley, as it is called, has looked more like a goofy expression than “I’m sticking my tongue out at you!”. Someone at Apple must have thought the same thing, because the emoticon now looks like it should have. An expression of “Take THAT!” instead of “Whatever?”.

Random Acts of Kindness

There are lots of other little things that should help make Leopard a satisfying experience. Leopard’s new Quick Look feature is just great. I had doubts about this since Preview always seemed like an easy way to look at the contents of a file. But after having used Quick Look for just a short while, it runs rings around Preview. It’s “always on”, really is lightening fast and lets you view multiple files just as easily as one. Now if it just played Windows AVI files…

The dictionary in Dashboard now not only offers thesaurus mode, but also an “Apple” mode. Want to look up a term like “firewire” or find out what the heck “Keynote” is? Just set your Dashboard dictionary to Apple mode and search away. I tried looking up Steve Jobs, but alas, there was no entry.

John Gruber already mentioned about a neat little feature that I think is worth highlighting. When you click to rename a file, the Finder now automatically highlights only the name portion and omits the file extension. This is a tiny change, but one that will make life on the Mac just a little bit better. Lastly, on Tiger when I used to plug in my iPhone to charge, iPhoto would always launch just for the heck of it, even if I had auto-syncing turned off. I’m pleased to report that in Leopard this no longer happens. WooT!

Conclusions

So far I’m really enjoying Leopard. It seems a much more solid update than Tiger ever was. Of course, some people, like Talos, are having problems upgrading and may think differently. My upgrade went fairly smoothly, although I did lose all of Tiger’s keychain information. This would have been a major bummer, but I followed John Gruber’s backup instructions before upgrading and was able to re-import my keychain with ease.

There are things missing from Leopard that I had hoped would make it into the build. The most notable among these is the ability to sync Notes from my iPhone directly from Leopard. I’m a firm believer that Apple needs to provide a way to create and edit notes on the desktop for use on the iPhone. Creating a shopping list, for instance, would go much quicker if I could create it in the Finder.

Overall I feel that the move to Leopard will be one of the best upgrades Mac users have had to date. The promise of Core Animation, increased speed from native software applications, and Apple’s effort to bring data backups to the masses all add up to a real winner. Of course there will be bumps and bruises along the way, but in my book, the pros heavily outweigh the cons. Oh yeah, and did I mention 512×512 icons? :-)

UPDATE: Seems as though Talos isn’t alone. Lots of people are reporting problems being stuck on a blue screen prior to login after Leopard installation. If you’ve not upgraded yet, I really would urge you to check out Gruber’s post about how he installs OS updates. Did the trick for me. We’ll see how this develops.

UPDATE II: According to this support thread at Apple, it seems at least part of the problem with the blue screen hangs may be related to Unsanity’s Application Enhancer (APE) haxie. APE is used by Shapeshifter and other 3rd party system enhancers to alter the look, feel and behavior of the OS. While APE doesn’t seem to be the culprit in all cases, it seems prudent to uninstall it prior to upgrading. Hat tip to Louie Mantia.

We’re All DOOMED!

October 19, 2007

Forget ghosts, goblins and things that go bump in the night. Every mac user knows the true meaning of fear. It goes by many names: The Spinning Beachball of Death. The Marble of Doom. The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse. Ok, maybe not that last one. But the OS X spinning wait cursor is well-known and well-dreaded by Mac users around the world.

Now there is a fun way for Mac users to band together, share their frustrations and take solace. Thanks to the marvel of the Internet, MarbleofDoom.com lets Mac users vent their collective annoyance at being held hostage (5 or 10 seconds at a time) by this unwanted glassy harbinger of OS X.

Photoshop hung up for almost a minute? Is Xcode showing you the beachball love? Spin on over to MarbleofDoom.com and select the appropriate application, and the time spent waiting for it to relinquish control of your system. A running total of all the time wasted is displayed for all the world to see. The site also includes a more detailed data page where you can see how much time individual apps have contributed to the total. If misery loves company, then MarbleofDoom.com is a way of organizing one big, online therapy session for frustrated Mac users everywhere.

So don’t just powerlessly shake your fists in rage! Powerlessly shake them, then tell the world how long you were shaking them. All of us over at the Iconfactory hope you’ll spread the word far and wide, and remember, it’s all in good fun. Enjoy!

P.S. – Watch for a follow-up post about how MarbleofDoom.com came to be. It really is a funny story, so stay tuned!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.