Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My First impressions - Mac OS X compared to Windows 7

The Great OS debate

For quite some time now many of my friends and work associates have been telling me to get a Mac. It seems those who switch from Windows never look back. I’ve been a staunch user of Windows since version 3.1 however (I grew up with DOS … remember that?), but if you’ve read some of my earlier blogs you’ll know that I’ve often vented my frustration with the way Microsoft has been heading in recent times and the terrible debacle of Windows Vista still leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
Windows 7 is a vast improvement on the pitiful Vista but inherent Vista bugs still lurk behind the scenes in Windows 7. If you run a vast array of different software like me, then crashes, dead screens and locked keyboards are still a far too common an occurrence for an OS in it’s 7th generation. It’s precisely Windows poor performance at dealing with ‘rogue software’ and inability to provide the user a speedy recover that probably annoys me the most.
Well I’ve finally swayed to the dark side and have been in possession of a shiny new 15-inch, Core i7, MacBook Pro for several months now; probably just enough to get familiar with the new operation system and acquainted with the MAC world.  There’s no doubting the MacBook Pro is a sleek, ultra attractive, and highly desirable piece of kit, which on looks alone beats the competition hands down. But what about under the hood, can the Mac OS X persuade me to leave the Windows camp?

These are some of my first impressions:

Boot-up Time

Well the Mac OS X wins hands down on this one and has a significantly speedier start than Windows 7, even when compared to a brand new Windows 7 install. This is how a PC should start up. The more software you have installed on a Windows PC, the longer the start up seems to take, to the point you may as well go and have a cup of tea. I know this is largely due to installed programs loading memory resident (and largely un-necessary) utilities, which often check-in with the mother ship online first, before releasing your PC back to you. If you have a lot of software installed, these really start to build up and slow your machine. You can of course turn them off, but this is cumbersome and a major flaw in Windows efficiency. One to Mac.


Looks and Appearance

I can’t really pick a winner here. If we went back a few OS generations then the Mac OS was clearly better looking than Windows, but now Windows 7 looks as sleek as anything that Mac has to offer, and to be honest I think I prefer it (slightly) too. The MAC certainly has a certain style, which MAC applications tend to follow, but it works for some but not others.

Taskbar & Start Menu versus the Dock

I’m sorry Mac fans, the Dock is just awful and my opinion the single most detrimental feature of the Mac OS X. I know some of you may love the Dock but to me it just looks plain childish. The Windows taskbar is just streets ahead and the single biggest function that missing on the Mac OS. If there were a taskbar application for the Mac OS that emulated the Windows one it would go a long way persuading me to jump for good, but as it’s stands no.  The Dock is just about acceptable with a few icons, but once you start acquiring many more they soon gets too small to use. The Dock divider looks a tad naff, and the way your downloads folder arch's out into the screen is just plain odd. The Taskbar is neater, far more customizable, and just so much easier to use. Sorry MAC fans.


Explorer versus Finder

Another hands down win for Windows 7 here I’m afraid. I’m just not won over by Finder. The Explorer for me is far more functional and easier to use than Finder. Sure the fancy scroll view is nice and the link to Preview is very good, but copying, moving and transferring files is just so much easier within Explorer. The feature I really miss I really miss the folder tree view pane. I just can’t imagine why Apple didn’t include this. I also find files lists much easier to read in Explorer; the font combined with the alternated banding I just find harder to read, but that may just be me. I’m sure there’s a way to alter this, I just haven’t found it.

Aero Peek Versus Exposé

I’m not a huge fan of Windows 7 Aero Peek. This gives you a quick view of your desktop if you hover over the (unlabelled & un-iconized) Peek button at the far right of the taskbar (you can also achieve this by holding down the Windows key + spacebar). It leaves the outlines of any un-maximised windows on the desktop preview but quite why you would want to see these is is beyond me. If I want to see the desktop I’ll simple click the dam button and minimise everything. The Aero transparency I view as just a gimmick and turn it off as it needlessly uses up extra processing power. The old Alt+Tab key still allows you to cycle through the open windows (taskbar buttons), but the ‘procession’ graphics version via Windows Key + Tab, whilst looking flashy, I find I don’t use at all.  Mac on the other hand has Exposé which performs a similar function but shrinks all the open windows on the desktop you you can see what’s running. Exposé is invoked by the F3 key. What’s nice about Exposé however is that you can assign different functions to hotspots at the four corners of the screen which are then invoke by simply hovering the mouse cursor over hotspots. These can be further enhanced by using Spaces which gives you several virtual desktops in which you can already have a number of programs open and ready to use. Mac defiantly has the edge here in usability and I gather in the next OS X upgrade the functionally of Spaces and Exposé are going to be combined into one.

Internet Explorer vs Safari

I guess it’s a little unfair to compare these as Safari is available to both platforms, although in browsers circles it doesn’t really get that many plaudits. However, I’m reasonably impressed with Safari. It’s responsive, displays the content well enough and I particularly like the way you can add bookmarks and favourites in horizontal menu fashion just below the URL bar which is pretty neat. However, whilst I tend to use Safari on my Mac, I find I still migrate back to Internet Explorer when on my windows desktop even though Safar is installed. A score draw here.

System Stability & Crash Recovery

So far the MacBook Pro has performed admirably, although I have manage to crash it several times, however on all these occasions it’s just a simple off, then back on and the system recovers very quickly without any adverse affects. How I wish I could say the same about windows 7 but sadly that’s not the case. I will admit, I use far more software on my Windows system than I do on my Mac, so it is a rather unfair comparison, but I get totally fed up of crashes and then being forced to boot up in safe mode, and then re-boot again. It can often take 20-30 minutes to get back to where you were.
Windows system updates drive me mad too, and many has been the time my system has crashed after a System update has been installed and I’ve been forced to go back and initiate a system restore point. With the Mac it’s never had a problem doing an update. A windows seem to issue huge quantities of updates, can’t they just get it right in the first place?
Sleep mode: on the MacBook pro this works flawlessly; I can even just close the lid and it will restart exactly where I left off when the lid is opened in just a few seconds. With windows it’s hit and miss whether your PC is going to restart at all. Most of the time the sleep mode works fine, but is slow to resume, but sometimes it just locks me out all together and only a hard re-boot can restart things but then it’s the whole rigmarole of going into safe-mode and a further reboot.  Microsoft still haven’t cracked this one yet.  A resounding win for the Mac on this front.

Operating system Cost

If it’s by Apple, it’s going to be expensive right?  Well not in the operating system stakes apparently. I’m still smarting over the £170 I had to pay to get Windows 7 Professional 64-bit for my desktop, whereas those Apple uses who upgraded from Leopard to Snow Leopard only had to pay £25. Alright I know this is a tad unfair comparison, but even so you can buy a boxed set of Mac OS X Snow leopard complete with iLife and iWorks for £95 on Amazon. Who’d have ever though Apple would win on cost.


Bug BearS

My bug-bears with Windows are already well publicised but there are also e a few things with the MAC that drive me nuts too. The most annoying thing for me is not having proper functioning delete key on the MacBook Pro keyboard (well at least I haven’t found one yet). The DEL key operates like a Backspace key and deletes the character to the left of the cursor rather than the character at the cursor, duh! You can get it to function like a DEL key by holding down the Fn key first, but this is so annoying. Looking at the reams of stuff on this very topic online, I’m not the only one who finds this annoying. Another annoyance is that certain Windows do not maximise to full screen even when you click the green circle and I find I have to drag the margins manually. Why is this?
iTunes, Safari and Mail, all of which are Apple programs and probably some of the most frequently used by Mac OS X users. So why do they all looks so different? It would be nice to see some consistency of style adhered to.
And lastly, boy is it difficult to rename files. In Windows it’s a simple right-click and select Rename (or F2) and you’re in the edit mode, but in OS X you have to click with the mouse, very precisely in fact, otherwise you will end up opening the file … ugh!

The Round-up

Please remember that these are only MY opinions I have expressed as I know some of you may vehemently disagree with many of them (if not all?), but hey, debate is good isn’t it? It seems people who have grown up in the MAC camp will never like  Windows, and many won’t even contemplate anything to do with Windows at all, whereas those who have lived with Windows, like me, in recent times have been tempted to switch due to Microsoft's well publicised short comings. What’s usually the consensus is that you are either fully for the Mac or a full Windows aficionado; seldom do people sit on the fence.

I must be a strange fish, but I can honestly say at the moment, I’m neither swayed one way or the other. Both current systems have their strong points, and both have their failures. In some respects I’m probably never going to escape Windows as it’s the system of choice for most of the large corporations, especially within my field of work. Windows software is more prevalent, more accessible, provides far more choice and is, in general,  much cheaper than equivalent Mac software, although all these things may change with time and Apple’s increasing popularity.
One thing I will state though, if it hadn’t been for Apple switching to Intel processors and providing the ability to run Windows on a Mac, then I probably wouldn’t have even contemplated giving a Mac a go.

I have Parallels installed on my new MacBook Pro and I must admit it’s a pretty dam impressive piece of software. It allows me to run Windows quite seamlessly within Mac OS X and enjoy the best of both worlds. I think I remain, at the moment though, firmly having a boot in both camps. Whether I will begin to lean one way or the other only time can tell.

If you’re thinking of switching OS or have done so recently, I’d be most interested to hear your reasons why and what you thought of the switch?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Nik Software Announce Silver Efex Pro 2

Software Release


Yesterday Nik Software, the makers of several well known Photoshop plug-ins announced the impending release of version 2 of their highly popular black & white conversion software Silver Efex Pro. For those of you who don’t know Silver Efex Pro offers an All-In-One workflow to convert your RAW images to monochrome. The program can be run from Adobe Photoshop or accessed from within Apple Aperture or Adobe Lightroom RAW images processors. Not only does it provide superb B&W conversion, but offers a multitude of accurate film emulations, toning, grain, vignettes, burning and the ability to add local adjustments via Nik’s rather clever U-point patented technology.

Version 2 promises to be just as popular, and whilst improving on many current features with new improved algorithms, many new features have been added such as a History Browser, new Fine Structure, Soft Contrast, Dynamic Brightness, and Selective Colour, and it can now add Natural Image Borders. There’s also support for full 64-bit processing.

You can pre-order Version 2 from the Nik Software website which is currently offering a 10% discount. Version 2 is to be released on the 11th February, but if you purchase version 1 now your upgrade is free.

The full price is to remain at $199, which is pretty expensive for just a plug-in. However, if you’re looking for a one-stop quick monochrome conversion facility with realist film emulation and more, you be hard pressed to better Nik’s offering. The u-point local adjustments work very well, but the interface in version one was a tad clunky in parts. You can download a 15 day trial of version one from here. Lets hope the version 2 delivers the refinements Nik promises.


Friday, January 7, 2011

An Overview of Lightroom 3 Video Tutorials

Video Tutorials Review

With Adobe Lightroom 3 having been out on the market for a while now several of the big names have released commercial packages of Lightroom 3 Video tutorials. These range from view online flash videos, downloadable video files to DVD’s you can buy. So what is available and what do you get for your money?

The Luminous Landscape Guide to Lightroom 3

If you’ve never visited The Luminous Landscape web site then you’ve really missed out since it’s one of the premier photography sites on the net. It’s the brainchild of Canadian and Toronto based photographer Michael Reichmann but accommodates contributions from many other renowned photographers and contains a wealth of resources to interest any photographer. If you think I’m a fan then I have to say quite lr3graphic unashamedly that I am.  I’m a frequent visitor to the Luminous Landscape web site and subscribe to Michaels' video journals which offer truly unique insight into many aspects of photography which you can’t really find elsewhere. 
For this Guide to Lightroom R3 Michael once again teams up with Jeff Schewe, one of the co-founders of PixelGenius, and a chap who seems to hold significant influence with the Lightroom development team and whom certainly possesses a strong technically knowledge on the inner workings of Lightroom.  Michael is a seasoned presenter, and guides the tutorials along and makes sure that all the typical user questions are addressed. Together they make a formidable team.

The tutorials comprise almost 9 hours of video split into 52 individual video files which can be purchased online for the sum of $49. These can be downloaded to your hard drive so are then available for you to view at  your leisure and can of course, be watched time and time again without the need for an internet connection or a subscription. The files are in Quicktime (*.mov) format which unfortunately is not supported on the iPad (although you could convert the files in 3rd party software). If you purchased their Guide to LR2 they are still currently offering a 10% discount online.  Michael and Jeff have produced similar tutorials for Lightroom 1 and 2, but this is by far the longest to date and just about covers every Lightroom topic imaginable. They work well together, and have a pleasant rapport with a rather relaxed and casual, style of presenting. This personal presentation style may not suite all viewers, and there is significantly more joviality than on previous LR tutorials, but I find it quite entertaining as well as being very informative. Michael and Jeff are just so familiar with the Lightroom product however, that in parts they do tend to make some assumptions that I thought may confuse the absolute beginner. If you possess some familiarity with Lightroom or are an intermediate user than these tutorials will be a excellent resource to improve your workflow, and even though I consider myself a competent and experienced Lightroom user I still found out many new things. You can test drive a sample video here. Highly recommended.
  • Downloadable video files that you can take anywhere and watch at your leisure.
  • Huge content, 52 video files containing almost 9 hours of video.
  • In depth coverage of just about everything you need to know about LR3.
  • Detailed technical information of how many of the Lightroom processes work.
  • Good value compared to others available.
  • There are a few parts that may confuse an absolute beginner.
  • The presentation style may not be to everyone’s liking.
  • No iPad support.

Adobe Lightroom 3 Video Workshop by George Jardine

George Jardine is name probably familiar to Lightroom users who have been using Lightroom from release 1. George was one of the original Adobe Lightroom team members and the former Adobe Pro Photography Evangelist. He produced several excellent online tutorials on the original Lightroom release for Adobe, a task which is currently fullfilled by Julieanne Kost. image He continued with an excellent series of podcasts which many may remember, which were available for download on iTunes and via his blog. George left Adobe in 2008 go his own way and now, amongst other things, runs Lightroom Workshops.  In July 2010 George announced a Lightroom 3 Video Workshop comprising 16 online video tutorials on Library Workflow and Digital Photo Library Management which can be viewed by purchased a subscription. The online videos are Flash driven so can’t be viewed on the iPhone or iPad, however George will provide a link to downloadable iPad versions once a subscription has been purchased. In October 2010 a further 15 videos which cover the Lightroom Develop Module, but as yet there are no plans to provide any other series to cover the Web, Print and Slideshow Modules.
George’s indomitable style of presentation is much to be admired. You find no face shots here, nor will you detected and ‘umms’, ‘errs’ or pauses in diction. With George it’s straight down to a very business like delivery, full of concise and detailed instructions and he succeeds including an extraordinary amount of information into each of these videos.  Watch them over and over again and you notice more facts you failed to retain on earlier viewings; they are that good. These tutorials are excellent for users of all standards and ideal for the beginner too.
The first series of 16 videos can be accessed by purchasing a subscription for $29.95 via George’s Blog here and if you want to view a sample movie on Virtual Copies check out this link. The second series of videos on the Develop Module is also available as an online subscription for $24.95. No iPad/iPhone versions of the second series are available (yet?) for download but they can be acquired on DVD from for the sum of $34.95.

  • High on content,  yet concise, well produced and very informative.
  • Suitable for all levels from beginners to advanced.
  • Very professional and well presented.
  • Not all is downloadable.
  • Requires a live web connection and subscription to view.
  • Doesn’t cover all aspects of Lightroom just yet.
  • Only the Develop Module videos are available on DVD and at $35.00 is expensive.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Power Session WITH Matt Kloskowski

I’m sure almost every Lightroom user must have come across the excellent Lightroom Killer Tips web site hosted by Matt Kloskowski. It’s just about top of every Lightroom search on Google and has been since Lightroom was released. LR3PSMatt is part of Scott Kelby’s team and has release at DVD entitled Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Power Session.   It’s priced at $69.99 but if your a member of NAPP ( National Association of Photoshop Professionals) you can get get for $54.99.  You can find out more information about Matt’s DVD here, but there is no sample video to watch or DVD contents listed.
A perhaps more preferable option to access the Matt’s Lightroom Power Session Tutorials may be to purchase a subscription to Kelby Training online. This gives you access to hundreds of online video tutorials, and not just Photoshop and Lightroom, but many other design, video and creative applications. It also contains a section on Photography which has something of interest for just about every type of photographic genre. Unfortunately you can only watch the videos online and can not download copies to watch later. Subscription is not cheap and currently runs at $24.96 per month. If you are a member of NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals) your subscription is reduced to $19.99 a month, but as membership to NAPP costs $99 per year it’s not really a saving at all, although with NAPP membership you do get a  years subscription to the Photoshop User Magazine.  If you think this all smacks a wee bit of rather clever American marketing by the astute Mr. Kelby, then I’d have to agree, however much of the online content I’ve sampled thus so far has been extremely good. I just wish I could get the content on my iPad.
If you purchase the Lightroom 3 Power Session DVD you get access to 19 instructional video files ranging from 1:31 to 6:45 minutes in length, plus a brief introduction and conclusion, totalling just under 75 minutes. The videos are just as slick and informative as Matt’s online video’s and indeed Matt has a pleasant and relaxed style that is a joy to watch. The DVD videos are rather terse however, and lack the depth and detail of the Lumimous Landscape offerings. However, if you purchase a subscription to  you get access to 3 further courses of tutorials by Matt entitled Lightroom 3 In Depth, which cover the Library module (Part 1), Develop module (part 2) and Printing, Slideshow and Web modules (part 3) in some considerable depth. These cover aspects of Lightroom 3 such as integration with Photoshop, creating HDR and Panorama stitching, and 3rd party plug-ins. Currently there are also video course on Lightroom for the Web one of the other Kelby Instructors and video tutorials on culling and selecting photos from a fashion shoot and beauty retouching from Scott Kelby himself.

  • Abundant online content.
  • Well produced and lots of choice.
  • Content for all levels from beginners to advanced.
  • Professional and well presented.
  • DVD represent poor value compared the Luminous Landscape downloads.
  • Subscription content requires a live web connection for access.
  • Online subscription can work out to be quite expensive.
  • Unable to download subscription videos copies to your hard drive.
  • No support for the iPad unless you buy the DVD.


Photoshop Lightroom 3 Essential Training from

image is a huge online resource that provides video tutorials for just about every graphics package, web design and photo-manipulation software you can think of, and many more to boot. It even contains tutorials on Home Computing, iPhones, Business packages, Animation, and has recently been adding videos on Photography. It boasts at having the largest access to online training courses available, and looking at the list they certainly seem to be the granddaddy of the online video tutorial world.  It’s an odd name for a web site but that’s down to it’s founder Lynda Weinman. You can access just about anything, but it’s not cheap, ranging from $25.0 (basic) to $37.50 (premium) per month to $250-$375 for a full yearly subscription.  The basic subscription covers access to all videos, the Premium subscription provides access to Instructor's exercise files. The courses however, can only be watched online and thus require a live internet connection, and can not be downloaded to your hard drive.

For LR3 users they have a course entitled Photoshop Lightroom 3 Essential Training presented by photographer and designer Chris Orwig. Comprehensive details, video transcripts, course contents and 24 sample videos can be viewed and accessed here. The course details are very comprehensive and list over 13 hours of videos in 30 sections and contain over 200 individual video files covering techniques such as importing, processing, and organizing images in the Library, correcting and adjusting images in the Develop module, creating slideshows, web galleries, and print picture packages. The course is rich with creative tips and expert advice on photographic workflow and also includes exercise files to accompany the course if you have plumbed for a premium subscription.

The whole course can also be purchased on DVD for $99.95  which you can then watch at your leisure. The online subscriptions however, give you access the a multitude of other courses, so if you additional Photoshop tuition is in your remit, this could be the way to go.
  • High on content, thorough and very informative.  
  • Very professional and well presented.
  • Covers all aspects of Lightroom.
  • Online subscription covers many other software packages
  • Unable to download copies to your hard drive.
  • Requires a live web connection and subscription to view.
  • Could work out quite costly for a long subscription.
  • DVD price expensive compared to others.
  • No support for the iPad unless you buy the DVD’s

Free Lightroom 3 Video Resources

Of course you don’t have to part with good money to get Lightroom 3 video instruction as there are plenty of free resources on the web, many of which are linked in the side panels of this web page. I’ll try and cover some of those in another post.


It’s too difficult to select a clear winner here as each cater for slightly different audiences and provide differing levels of accessibility.  If you’re experienced user, you may find Luminous Landscape Guide to Lightroom 3 more to your taste, whereas beginners may be best suited to’s offerings, Matt’s DVD or George Jardine’s videos. If you’re looking for wider base tuition then the online subscription offer much more. Personally I prefer to have downloadable content that I can watch at my own choosing, irrespective of whether you have an internet connection or where I am. If value for money is an issue then I’d have to say Luminous Landscape takes first prize. The good news is, no matter what you choose you won’t be disappointed; they are all very good.  Do try out the sample videos first and see what appeals to you. The choice is yours.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2010 Gadget of Year – the Apple iPad

Hardware Review

There’s no competition really, whether you love them or hate them, Apple have changed the face of personal computing yet again. I’ve never been a particular fan of Apple equipment and  I’ve always thought them overpriced. I’ve admired the beauty of their designs for sure, but have never particularly bought in to that Apple ethic, until the iPad that is.

Some say the iPad is just a big iPhone without the phone bit (I don’t have an iPhone), true, perhaps it is, but who would 20091015_zaf_c99_002.jpghave thought that simple change in size would provide the most unique and innovative device of 2010.

I discovered the iPad quite by accident when I was thinking of getting iPods for my kids. All their peers at school seemed to have iPods and the paltry, but functional, little Sansa clip, MP3 players (no offence SanDisk) that I had bought them a couple of years ago were beginning to look seriously un-cool in the face of the latest touch screen iPods. It was while visiting my local Apple store in Sheffield that I chanced upon a young assistant demonstrating the then brand new iPad to some potential customers. Bingo! That’s just the device for my wife I thought. She’s never been particularly interested in computers, doesn’t really understand the internet (bless her!), and no matter how many times I’ve showed her how to send email on a windows laptop, something has always gone amiss whilst I’m away. Whilst all my work mates receive regular emails from their spouses when working overseas, for me it was a 2 to 3 time a year affair.

It was a strange birthday present (she’s not into tech), but I can honestly say the iPad has been a huge hit with my other half. Now she’s browsing the net, shopping online, exchanging emails with her friends, downloading the kids homework and school schedules, and even checking out relatives abroad on Facebook. These things she could never manage on a PC without getting into a muddle. I can honestly say the iPad has changed her life. OK, I had to set it up for her, synchronise it with iTunes and set up an account for her, but this simple little device has been a huge, huge hit.

I too was impressed with the iPad so plundered the piggy bank and bought my own not so long ago. It connects to the home WiFi faster and easier than any of my numerous laptops and desktops we have around the house. It was easy to setup, recognised all our email accounts, and is just so easy to use. I’ve never been a fan of touch screens (I have 2 redundant mobile Windows devices sitting in the bottom of my desk drawer) but the touch sensitive screen and inertia scrolling on the iPad just work brilliantly and so responsively. So much now I want every screen to work like that. I never though I could do without a keyboard, but typing on the iPad is a dream. And for browsing the internet, I haven’t come across a better device yet. If you’ve ever sat in bed trying to use a laptop (go on admit it, I bet you have!), whether it be for emails, late night work or just watching movies, you know it'’s just not designed for that, but hey, the iPad is a dream (no pun intended) to use. Now I can download and watch movies, watch my DVD’s, email, browse, listen to music or audio-books, read my blogs, journals, newspapers, magazines, my photography books, novels and much, much more, all in comfort on my iPad. I find I use the iPad around the house more than my laptop now. It’s just plain and simple fun and I can even use it out in the field on photo-shoot to back-up and review my RAW files.

Sure, it has a few caveats. Mr. Jobs in his arrogance, refused to implement Adobe Flash into the Safari web browser, so many websites (and that’s about 70% of them)are not fully functional, and what’s worse, I can’t watch the replays of the goals on the BBC football pages! It has no USB port although you can be duly ripped off by paying another 25 quid to Apple for a little plastic plug-in one. You can’t upgrade the memory, it has no SD card slot, and you have to do everything through the rather prohibitive and cumbersome iTunes. However, I can can live with all that, because I just love my iPad.

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