This week has been a short one due to the holiday but it’s been packed with activity. This column is my look back at the past week at my home office, Mobile Tech Manor, and if you’ve read it before you know there’s no telling what I’ll share with you. There’s usually gadget news and my impressions of using them and I also share my experiences with new software I use to keep my office running.
This week has covered a lot of varied ground. I’ll recount my installation and usage of the new Parallels Desktop 4.0 on the MacBook and we’ll look at how well Windows Vista Ultimate runs in a virtual machine. The Verizon Blackberry Storm has been all over the news this week and gotten some pretty poor reviews. I’ll tell you why I think that is and why my own impressions are different from a lot of reviewers.
My main setup
My office computing setup has been largely unchanged for a while although I find I’m using the aluminum MacBook more and more. The 17-inch MacBook Pro is still right in front of me on my desk but frankly the new MacBook runs faster and cooler for most of my work. The coolness of the MacBook is actually a bit unnerving as I find it doesn’t run warm, much less hot. It’s always the same temperature and I can’t remember the last time the fan kicked on. It’s the first laptop I’ve used in a long time that runs as cool as it does.
I am enjoying how portable the 13-inch MacBook is and I find myself working all over the house with it. Right now I’m sitting in front of the TV writing this column while watching the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. I love the old Charlie Brown shows.
When I do use the MacBook Pro I have the two Macs sitting side by side on the desk and use Teleport (which I covered last week) to share the wireless keyboard and mouse. This week I picked up MultiClutch which has opened up an entire world of utility on the new MacBook. The MacBook’s multi-touch trackpad natively adds a lot of functionality to several core Apple applications but that functionality has been sorely missed in the other programs I use frequently. I have especially wished that I could use multi-touch gestures in Firefox to perform functions I use heavily and I can do that with MultiClutch, a free utility that has rocked my world.
MultiClutch lets me assign multi-touch gestures like swiping left to right to any program I run. It’s easy to configure and it has revolutionized my usage of Firefox. All of the standard gestures still work such as two finger scrolling but now a three finger down-swipe instantly transports me to the end of long web pages. Swiping up takes me back to the top. Rotating two fingers left or right (like rotating photos in iPhoto) now jumps to the page tab left or right of the current one. Swiping three fingers left or right takes me Back or Forward to other web pages in the current pane. I find myself jumping all over the place with just a few finger touches on the trackpad and it has increased my productivity in Firefox tremendously. This is important because I am in Firefox all day and it is the most used program no matter what computer I use. MultiClutch does what it does superbly and never fails. Great utility.
Coexistent operating systems
Parallels Desktop is a nice virtual machine system that works on the Mac and I installed Vista Ultimate for those times I need access to Windows programs. My MacBook only has 2 GB of memory so the Vista virtual machine is usually running with just 1 GB of memory but so far that is enough. I find very little lag when I do things in Vista on the Mac and it’s worked well so far. I plan to bump the MacBook’s memory to 4 GB soon since memory is so cheap.
I have years worth of notes in Microsoft OneNote notebooks and having access to those notes was my main driver for installing Vista. OneNote is a superb note-taking program and I use it on the Mac under Parallels when I need to do serious note taking or access existing notes. I am impressed with Parallels on the Mac and this new version 4.0 is really snappy compared to past versions I’ve tried. I haven’t experienced any problems with Parallels yet but I’m keeping a close eye as user forums have a lot of activity claiming problems with this upgrade. I’ll report on any I find but so far so good. I suspect my lack of problems probably stems from this being a new clean install and not an upgrade. A lot of those having problems upgraded from version 3.x and this might be the cause of the problems they are experiencing.
One thing really spooky that I’m doing with Parallels has to do with the Teleport utility I mentioned. My mouse and keyboard are connected wirelessly to the MacBook Pro and shared with the MacBook over WiFi with Teleport. The spooky part is using the mouse and keyboard on the MacBook while I’m in the Vista virtual machine. It works flawlessly but it’s strange to be using them on the MacBook with both operating systems. Teleport doesn’t seem to care what OS is running, it lets me share the mouse and keyboard anyway. Very productive and lets me get on with my work without thinking about what I’m running or how.
An imperfect Storm
Last week I covered the new Blackberry Storm and I have now been using it for a week. I’m still impressed with the utility the Storm provides me despite not having a real keyboard but not many reviewers agree with me. David Pogue of the New York Times published the most scathing of those reviews and commented here when I mentioned it. I believe that Pogue accurately reported his experience with the Blackberry Storm so I’ve been giving a lot of thought to why my own experience is so different.
I believe that the proper customer for the Storm is someone who has not used a Blackberry. I think that experienced Blackberry users who have become proficient at using those good keyboards the phones have will be disappointed in using the virtual keyboard on the Storm. I have never been proficient with phone keyboards so I find the Storm on-screen keyboard to work OK for me. It’s not the best keyboard in the world but it’s better than any other virtual keyboard I’ve used on a phone, and that includes the one on my iPhone. The important thing is the keyboard works as it’s designed, and it’s a personal thing whether that feels right or not.
Pogue and other reviewers have blasted RIM for the buggy software they’ve encountered and that leads me to believe that there is some sort of quality control issue with the Storm. I simply have not experienced system freezes or lags that some have mentioned and this confuses me. The Storm provided to me by Verizon has worked as expected so something is not right with all the units that apparently have problems.
This past week I have let many people play with the Storm in various settings and I have yet to find someone who doesn’t like typing on the virtual keyboard. I have handed the Storm to quite a few folks who have never used a Blackberry but who do a lot of texting on their current phones. To a person they have quickly gotten the hang of typing on the on-screen keyboard and expressed satisfaction with the key-click feel of the experience. I have watched repeatedly as they’ve become very good at typing on the screen in just a few minutes so that tells me that RIM has done a good job with this technology.
I think it comes down to what type of user a given device is good for. I believe that the Storm is a good phone for Blackberry novices to use to get familiar with the great Blackberry messaging experience. Maybe those folks will end up moving on to a "real" Blackberry with the great keyboards and that will be a good thing for RIM. I am not ready to write off the Storm yet, not by a long shot.
eBook of the week
This week I read the latest book in one of my favorite suspense series by Jonathan Kellerman. Bones is the continuing story of Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis and the story is their latest romp with a serial killer in LA. I must admit it’s not my favorite book in the series but I’m glad I read it. I hope Kellerman returns to the more familiar formula of earlier books in the series as this one took a very long time to develop. I’m usually engrossed in these stories from the beginning but this one seemed to take forever to get me involved.
That wraps up my week at Mobile Tech Manor and I hope you enjoyed sharing it with me. There are always new gadgets coming in the door and I’ll continue sharing them with you. Now it’s time to get back to real work so thanks for stopping by, I’ll see you next week.