iMac Tidbits

Thursday, 2006-01-26; 05:29:00

So. Let's talk about the iMac G5 some more. (In case you're wondering, no, I am not posting at 4:40 AM in the morning. In fact, it is actually 11:40 PM by my reckoning, since I went to bed at 10 PM and got back up at 3 AM. So ha!)

Anyway, yeah. The IR remote. It's funny, but I've found it to be extremely useful. I never really needed one, but I think I'd be a little bewildered without it after using it for a few months. Yes, I use Front Row on occasion, which is the primary use for the remote, and it's a relatively well-designed media-centric application (except for the fact that it only shows only the first part of the filename given its large font). The 20-inch screen, which is also something I don't think I could live without anymore, doesn't hurt when using Front Row, either.

But the main use I've found for the remote is actually outside of Front Row: the remote's buttons control iTunes just as you think they would when you're not in Front Row (the remote actually controls QuickTime Player as well if it's the frontmost application, but I never use the remote for that). There's the play/pause button, the previous and next track buttons, and the volume controls. And since the iTunes mini-mode buttons are sometimes obscured or are otherwise quite small and require some mouse dexterity and a few seconds to click them, it's nice to be able to reach over and click a button on the remote to change or pause the song or something.

I actually sometimes keep the remote in my left hand and the mouse in the right. That way, when a song comes up that I don't particularly like, I can easily change it without interrupting what I was doing: no switching apps, and no moving the mouse away from what I'm doing. I love it.

The other thing that's nice about the remote is that it controls iTunes even through the screensaver that's locked through a password. Some might say this is a security risk, but whatever: it requires the person to physically be at the computer, it requires them to have the specific IR remote for your computer (since you can link your remote specifically to your iMac, and it won't respond to any other remote unless you go to System Preferences), and it also only allows them to ascertain to what kind of music you listen. Oh, and it allows them to screw up your play count ever so slightly. :P

Anyway, yes, it's nice to be able to control iTunes through the screensaver. When I get up in the morning or when I just want to listen to music, I just need to grab the remote, press play, and then snap it back to the magnetic "holder" on the side of the iMac. Music will start playing, and I can even control the volume or the song without entering my password to get through the screensaver. Sweet!

Also, since my room is largely made up white walls (which may or may not actually have anything to do with it) and is relatively small, I don't actually have to point the remote at the computer. Usually, I can point it anywhere and the iMac will pick up the remote's signals. That's also a key to the utility of the remote, because if I had to really make an effort to point it at the Apple logo (the IR sensor) on the front of the iMac, it would be as bad as having to move the mouse to click the relatively tiny buttons on the iTunes mini-mode window.

I just wish that the remote was customizable. It's obviously controlled by AppleScript -- if you go to /System/Library/CoreServices/ in the Finder, you'll find an application called "rcd". I don't know if it's a standard part of Mac OS X now that we're beyond version 10.4.2 (which is what came with the iMac), but this application stays in the background all the time and is what senses the IR commands. (Well, it's the app that executes the commands; whether or not it is actually what senses the commands is up in the air, but I doubt there's a reason to keep the two separate.) If you open the package and open the rcd executable, you'll get a bunch of gobbledegook (lol that word is in Mac OS X's built-in dictionary!) but you'll also see some AppleScript commands for controlling iTunes. (Actually, just from looking at it again now, the remote also controls iPhoto slideshows and DVD Player outside of Front Row, which I guess isn't really that much of a surprise.) So why didn't Apple just let us define which applications the remote can control, and use AppleScript to define the actions? (Insert another parenthetical anecdote here.) It'd be just like an AirClick USB, but one that doesn't suck up a USB port and is Apple-created! (Insert another witty parenthetical anecdote mocking the people who decry Apple "stepping" on third-party developers while creating its operating system.)

But nevertheless, the remote is really useful. I think people will like it when they start migrating across Apple's product lines (like it did with the MacBook Pro Intel PowerBook).

The other thing I wanted to talk about was the Mighty Mouse. Meh. It's a good mouse, no doubt about it, but it's not really anything to get excited about. I mean, despite the whole hoopla (note: also in the Mac OS X dictionary) about having to lift your finger off the left mouse button to trigger the right mouse button which isn't a problem for me but apparently is for some people, it's a decent four-button-plus-scroll-ball mouse. I've been using the second button and scroll wheel more and more, but I could easily live without that.

I have noticed, though, that the scroll ball is already starting to get a little annoying. Lately it's been having short periods where it just doesn't register my scrolls. It's like it isn't triggering the sensor that causes the scroll or something -- it either scrolls jumpily, or it doesn't scroll at all. Maybe there's dirt getting in around the sides of the scroll ball which is causing problems (and you can clean this out by running a paper clip around the edge of the scroll ball while it's depressed), but it's annoying sometimes. Also, I was having problems with a previous Apple optical mouse, but the Mighty Mouse seems to be a bit better in this regard -- this could easily be coincidence, though.

Also, the side buttons: just blah. They seem like a good idea, but I position my fingers there a lot of the time, and I would inadvertently activate these buttons all the freakin' time! I was surprised at how often is was to easily push these buttons without meaning to, and so I've turned them off. I would've liked to keep it on Exposé for all windows, but the inadvertent clicking just killed that. Note: you do NOT have to push in both side buttons to trigger the mouse action -- only pushing in one of the side buttons is necessary.

The main improvement I would add to the Mighty Mouse is for it to act like a proxy for any key on the keyboard plus a mouse button. Specifically, I'd like to configure the mouse button to be a Command-click rather than a Control-click, because I'd find that to be much more useful. I always command-click on the title bars of windows to see where documents are located and stuff, and you can't define any mouse button to be command-click. Oh well.

I guess I should be glad that Apple is including a multi-button mouse by default with new Macs now, but it's only a bit more than a gimmick for me. I really don't understand why people think multi-button mice are necessary. They're not. They're not even that useful.

As for the improvements in the new Intel iMac: I could easily do without the new Core Duo processors, especially since many reports around the web are saying that Rosetta runs most PPC applications at half-speed. That means that I would largely be getting a net decrease in performance for the first year or so. Speed claims aside, it's daily performance that I care about, and the Intel iMac wouldn't really provide that, even if it does some stuff faster like compiling in Xcode. The new iMacs also have slightly faster memory, but whatever. What I do like is the new graphics card -- from what I hear, the X1600 is substantially better than the X600 XT, especially if you opt for the optional upgrade to 256 MB of DDR memory instead of the standard 128 megs.

You know what also occurs to me? My iMac G5 is probably the absolute last PPC Mac that Apple will ever release. The PowerBook and iMac have already migrated over, and it's likely that the iBook and Mac Mini will migrate over as well in their next iteration (as everyone was expecting to happen at MWSF '06). It's unclear as to whether the Power Macs (or, for that matter, the Xserves) will be migrated to Intel processors on their next iteration, but I surmise that they will. So does that mean that my iMac will become a collector's item? ;) [UPDATE: Err, it looks like the last PPC-PowerBooks and Power Macs were actually released a week after the iMac G5 with built-in iSight was released. Nevermind then.]

So, yeah, I'm happy with my new iMac. (I already get impatient with my old iMac G4 at work now when it starts going slow.) Even in hindsight, I think I'd probably pick my iMac G5 over the new iMac Core Duo. I can't say that I absolutely would not take the iMac Core Duo if I had the choice, but I'm still a little biased in favor of the PPC right now.

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