Sunday, 18 October 2020

Apple October Event


 This week Apple announced it's iPhone 12 in it's reassuringly impressive announcement videos. An Apple announcement is usually incredibly professional and wonderfully produced. It is the summer blockbuster of the tech announcement world. Other companies try to do the same but they all lack a certain something. Microsoft can't manage it because they are a company focussed on the technical. Microsoft also seem curiously unable to produce a flawlessly finished product that people can buy days after. Instead it always looks like a "pre-production" event. 

YouTubers can do a better job than me of breaking down Apple's announcements. However, I have a few thoughts. 

The HomePod Mini is a $99 home speaker with Siri. Welcomed by Apple enthusiasts as a realistic product to take into that device category. Their previous effort was the expensive $399 HomePod. It was really just a music player that only worked with Apple Music. No matter how it sounded it was just "something else". 

The $99 HomePod Mini is the $99 product in a $49 world. The current batch of Google and Amazon speakers have been the impulse purchase of the consumer. Apple's HomePod Mini is "cheap" by Apple standards but twice as expensive as the others.  For those deeply embedded in the Apple ecosystem it will work well. Most people have probably got and Amazon Echo or a Google device.  Apple's new HomePod Mini doesn't seem to support Spotify for music. The choice of millions of people. So again it doesn't really say "device for everyone". 

Privacy could be the big selling point. People don't like the idea of "big tech" listening to them. If  people feel home speakers need privacy then it could sell it to some people. 

The big announcements were about the iPhone 12. What struck me was the Iphone 12 Mini is a 5.4 inch screen device. The iPhone 8 Plus from just a couple of years ago is 5.5 inches.  Mini seems an odd marketing faux pas. It seems meaningless against the iPhone SE at 4.7 inches. 

The design is a revival of the square Iphone 4 look of 10 years ago. So it should look distinctive in a world of rounded edges of Android phones. Above all the selling point seemed to be 5G.  All iPhone 12 models have 5G but most people can't access 5G. It's something for the well connected. It seemed that Apple were trying to create a symbiotic relationship of selling 5G and thus selling iPhone as the best device to access it. 

If you are fully invested in the Apple ecosystem and want the latest then this will be enough to get you. If you have an iphone that's a couple of years old then the device you have is probably good enough. If you live in a 5G area and really need the speed then this could be worth an upgrade. Apple will sell millions of these but they remain premium devices at a premium price. 

Thursday, 17 September 2020

Maxed Out

 


The last stage of my MacBook upgrade saga has been completed. A late 2009 Apple Macbook was sold with 2gb and 4gb memory options. The 4gb option being the maximum supported memory configuration.  Macbooks have a long life. These days 4gb of memory seems like a minimum rather than a maximum. Could this vintage Macbook take two 4gb memory modules and have an unsupported 8gb configuration?

It turned out that several people on the internet have already done this. For a cost of £28.00 I could do it too.

After I took off the back plate, located the modules, and then replaced them 8GB was installed and working. 

The cost of the Macbook was now £179 for the Macbook, £28 for an SSD and £28 to max out the memory. 

The thing that couldn't be changed was the screen. It is lower resolution than what you expect today and the viewing angles are terrible. The processor is years old too. However, for email, web browsing and remote connection it works well. In fact it's more powerful than a similarly priced 2020 Chromebook.

As a project for a week away from work it was a bit of fun. 

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Catalina


Catalina is an island off the coast of California. It’s also the name of a version of the MacIntosh operating system. Catalina was released on 7th October 2019. It’s version 10.15 of a series of operating systems known as OS X. 

As a Windows user, both professionally and personally, I am more used to the twice a year updates of Microsoft Windows 10. These updates have a less memorable name. Currently called 2004. By which we mean the 2020 month 4 update. 

My recent purchase of a second hand Macbook from Ebay was a Mac released late in 2009. One thing I had to figure out was what version of Mac OS X would work with this computer. In the world of Windows a 2009 PC of the same age would probably come with Windows 7. Windows 7 itself, to business customers, had a 10-year life span. The Mac would work with High Sierra or version 10.13. This was released in September 2017 and is still supported. 

My Ebay Macbook cost £159.00. A further £28 got me a 250GB SSD. For under £200 I now had a working Macbook. Not the latest but a decent computer that could do a bit of wordprocessing, web and email. The screen was OK but it doesn’t have great viewing angles. The dual core processor is pedestrian but is helped by the fast disk. 

What more could I do? Could I get this MacBook to run the lastest OS?

The answer is yes! 

It is unsupported on this Mac but you can get Catalina to install. It needs to be patched and it is not a supported configuration. However, my Ebay Macbook was bought as a bit of fun. As an excuse to learn. I am going to do some Python programming on it at some point if it can take the strain. 

The installation requires a patch file application. There is a website to help with this. I had to make a special Catalina installer usb to boot the system and do the install.



It was a really slow process. Mostly because of having to download and create operating system images. Exactly what I expected. Once it booted the Macbook worked pretty well. I now have a 2019 operating system on a 2009 MacBook. Not bad. 

Can I improve this MacBook even further? 

The answer is again yes! 

Although the MacBook has a supported maximum memory of 4GB you can actually upgrade it to 8GB. At least that is the rumour. I have ordered 8GB of memory from Amazon for £28. If all goes well for just over £200 I will have a reasonably usable old MacBook. Not the best. Not even a UK keyboard. However, as a project to find out more about OS X as a project to home repair a Mac it is not a bad price. 

Monday, 31 August 2020

Apple IOS 14 is upsetting Facebook

 Facebook is getting upset with Apple. The new update going to Apple iphones and ipads this autumn will bring in new privacy features. Apple has been using privacy as a key differentiator of it's smartphones for some time. It has told the FBI that it can't hack it's own encryption. It says that it's imessage service is end to end encrypted. It has biometric access to devices via touch id or face id. This is in contrast to Google's Android where you do a deal with Google that for free services your data is used to deliver advertising.

Facebook adopts the same model. Your data is provided to advertisers. The Facebook app on smartphones tracks you. So if you have been searching the web for a new pair of trousers you suddenly find that Facebook is sending you deals for trousers on your feed. Tracking means that Facebook can tell advertisers what you are interested in. Its creepy and amazing simultaneously. 

With IOS 14 for the iphone each app will ask you if you want to be tracked. Say no and Facebook doesn't know what you want and will send you random adverts rather than targetted ones. According to Facebook it fears a reduction of 50% in its ad revenue because people will not consent to be tracked when they are asked. 

Privacy. The battleground Apple is choosing to fight for it's customers.  



Friday, 21 August 2020

Bart Simpson's MacBook

 


Sometimes an idea just hits you. I was scrolling through Ebay for no particular reason. With most browsing the aimlessness causes you to head off into various unexpected rabbit holes. On this day it became a list of Apple MacBooks. MacBooks are expensive. Although the word expensive is based on the sort of PCs most people buy. A premium Windows based laptop can easily cost the same as a Mac. Nevertheless most potential purchasers reach for a credit agreement or look at their bank balance before laying out cash for an Apple. Apple is a consumer brand.

Ebay is the destination for bargain hunters. A bargain being a low price for the highest specification possible. Matching the aspiration of high quality and low price being the buyer's challenge. The other challenge is avoiding those offers that are too good to be true, scams and counterfeits. 

What I saw was a reduced price MacBook. The previous week I had spotted it at £249. This week it was well below £200. The Mac was close to eleven years old. I discovered later it had a US keyboard. The memory was maxed out at 4gb and the hard disk was 250gb. The latter would be slow by the standards of 2020. The battery was probably shot and, in my own mind, would probably barely last a few minutes of mains power. On the positive side the OS was updated as recently as 2018, the keyboard would be good and a unibody MacBook of that era was going to be upgradeable. 

I bought it and a couple of days later it was at the house. The upgrade I wanted to do was an SSD disk. I had ordered a new screwdriver to match Apple's internal screws and I was ready to add an SSD.

Upgrading a MacBook

YouTube had some decent repair and upgrade videos. I found Ifixit the most useful site for information and step by step guides. 

Once I got down to business I found a stamp on the bottom of the Mac. It confirmed the device was secondhand. It also confirmed it was used in US education.


Barely visible were the words Property of Springfield School District. Had I got Bart Simpson's MacBook? 

He is a fictional character. I get that. However, the idea that this Mac kept Springfield learning was somewhat comforting. 

Once the SSD was fitted I booted the device from the old disk via USB, downloaded an operating system from Apple and got it installed. I put on Microsoft Edge as the browser, Office applications, Skype and made it a Microsoft Mac. These days Microsoft just want you to pay a monthly subscription for it's software and services. They no longer care if you use a Mac rather than Windows. It's the new Microsoft. 

Twenty four hours later the fast SSD disk is doing a good job and the Mac is working as advertised. I even found how to get a "£" on a US Mac keyboard. I might even name the Mac "Bart" in honour of it's history. 


Sunday, 2 August 2020

Microsoft Office for Free


Microsoft Office comes in several flavours. You can still buy a license for one PC. However, Microsoft would like you to buy a subscription. 

The single PC license still exits. It lets you use the Office applications on one PC. That's it. If your PC ends it's life so does your license. This is how many people used Office applications at home. They bought a copy of Office, usually at a discount, when they bought a PC. It got to the point where retailers just added in the cost and people assumed that Office applications were part of Windows. That was both good and bad. If consumers kept their PC for 5 years they never paid Microsoft any more cash. They also didn't get any enhancements from later versions. Suddenly they might get an Excel spreadsheet or a Word file with gibberish in the middle. A sign that a later version inserted a new type of data. 

A single PC license would cost quite a bit but it lasted for years. Students got lower prices that hooked them in to Office applications whether they used a PC or a Mac. Office across different devices became a larger business than Windows itself as the PC market declined and mobile devices took centre stage. 

Microsoft would prefer you bought a subscription. The subscription model is now branded Microsoft 365 Family. For a fixed monthly or annual fee you can have Office software for multiple people in your family for multiple devices with a large amount of cloud storage. The price over three or four years across the 6 permitted users and devices is significantly less the old model of upfront cash. You also get continuous upgrades and security updates. If you shop around on websites that highlight deals you can buy at an even cheaper rate. 

However, what if you really don't have much money? What if you rarely need a productivity application suite like Office? There is a way of getting Office for free. It's not all of the Office suite you can pay for but it's free. If you have a Microsoft Account (MSA) then you can go to Office.com and login for the web based version of Office. You may already have a Microsoft Account. Its any email address for outlook.com, hotmail.com, msn.com or any other of the Microsoft services. You get a 15gb Onedrive space to store your documents and web access. Its what Google offer with docs and drive. The difference being you can create and use Office like paying customers. 

Consumers often don't realise there is a free option for Office. There is. For most people it may be all you need. 

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Gmail does Teams



It might seem strange but you can now use Microsoft Teams for free with a Gmail address. Yes, Gmail.

Teams is Microsoft's collaboration tool for enterprises, small businesses and now for individuals. It allows you to create a team of people collaborating on a project. It also contains the ability to have video conferencing. 

Up until now the "free tier" required you to have Microsoft account based on one of the free Microsoft email addresses such as Hotmail, Outlook.com or live.com. A new step by step video allows you to create a Team based on a Gmail address. 

Teams is becoming an application platform of it's own, linking into a variety of Microsoft services and third party cloud applications. I am sure the idea is to lock people into Teams and then sell other subscription services. However, as a free service now people can benefit from Microsoft's experience in the area of business applications, privacy and security.