Over the years, I have wandered from computer platform to computer platform searching for one where I could remain comfortable for the long years ahead.
Having started with the Sinclair ZX81, I quickly outgrew it and moved on to the 48K Spectrum, followed by the 128k Spectrum, I even moved briefly to the Commodore Plus 4 (a strange hybrid of the Commodore 16 and a business computer) before settling for several years with Amstrad’s CPC range of home computers. Nevertheless, even they could only keep pace with me for about eight years.
After the Amstrad I moved to the Commodore Amiga (I had several, starting with an A1200, then an A3000, then an A4000 – even a lowly A600 passed briefly through my hands), and although I through myself fully into the community, helping to run the Kickstart user group, writing for several Amiga mags and even working on a few interesting pieces of Amiga productivity software over the years, the platform became too slow, unstable and expensive to run (after all, Commodore had gone under several years before I quit the Amiga, as had Escom, and the current holder of the marque and the technology might as well not even exist), while at the same time I became increasingly sick and tired of the pathetic squabbling and infighting that existed within what was left of the UK Amiga scene.
After I finally gave up on the Amiga world, I became fully engaged in the world of Windows. While I had been running Windows PCs alongside my Amigas for several years, it was with the launch of Windows 95 that I became fond of them, and started getting stuck into the platform. Many may remember the extensive coverage I wrote for several titles about the fundamental problems with Windows NT4, or maybe the 20-page Windows 2000 launch special we put together at Computing. Windows has been the core of my day-to-day computing life for the best part of 10 years now.
However, the stability I have enjoyed in the PC world is under threat once again. Last month I bought a Mac – and whilst not the first one I have ever owned (it is my third), it is the first one I ever bought brand new. Having invested a little over £300 in a Mac Mini 1.4Ghz from Amazon.com, I waited patiently for about a fortnight for the release of Apple’s latest operating system – Tiger.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I think Panther is an excellent operating system, and is extremely reliable, but Tiger represents a major step change in the evolution of Apple’s young Unix-based operating system. It was incredibly brave of the company to dump their original MacOS operating system and start completely from scratch (something that Microsoft has never managed to actually do: Windows right up to 98 contained MS-DOS underneath, while versions from 2000 upwards still retain a great deal of code from Windows 95), let alone embrace a wealth of Internet technologies as new and untested as those in use within Tiger.
For example – RSS: Really Simple Syndication, or RSS is probably the most extensive XML application in use today, yet it serves such a simple purpose – the ability to keep tabs on multiple web sites and/or pages from a single application, monitor changes and updates and few those updates in a quick, simple summarised form. A nightmare for Internet advertisers, but great for end users. Apple has done what neither Microsoft nor Mozilla have dared, and integrated RSS feed reading capabilities right into the browser itself. Moreover, it works so well and looks so good. A rare example of style AND substance from Apple.
Then there is Dashboard: Little ‘widgets’, or rather mini applications for doing useful, often Internet-related tasks such as query train times, monitor web cams, look up stock quotes, or my favourite, real-time weather information. Simple, very effective, and implemented in a way that is convenient and can be built-on by third party developers.
Finally, I will mention Spotlight: The next version of Windows (code named Longhorn) was set to contain a database file system called WinFS, that would create repositories of data, make use of file scanning and metadata searching to provide more intelligent and faster searching of information on users PCs. Except it won’t, as its been cut from next release (it’ll follow on in a Service Pack if we are lucky). Apple on the other hand has delivered exactly the same product – under the name Spotlight – and it actually works. From a simple search bar on the desktop, you can search filenames, inside files, metadata tags, inside Mail databases (it even picked up on cached IMAP emails), applications and so on. In addition, it searches and refines as you type, not once you hit return.
There is still plenty wrong with Tiger – some stability issues in the browser for a start, performance issues across the OS which result in you gazing at the spinning disc that passes for a processing indicator for ages, and also the lack of a number of network security tools like a proper integrated firewall, but these will hopefully be addressed in the frequent service packs that Apple produces for its products.
Now – if only we could get some of these features into Windows XP – or at least the browser (which after all could only ever be a benefit over Internet Explorer).